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Nugget Gear

I don't often get a new cell phone; I realize that in many ways this puts me behind the curve when it comes to having the latest and greatest; on the other hand when I do buy a cell phone, I typically aim for the best intersection of "latest and greatest", "practical function", and "long service life" that I can achieve. On the gripping hand, the circumstances that drive me to get a new cell phone are frequently spectacular in nature.

For example, for a long time I had a Motorola V8160. It was essentially the successor to the StarTAC (which itself remained commonplace for quite a while), and I loved it - it was tiny, functional, and tough. I don't know how many times I dropped that phone, but it always shook off the impact and kept right on going. The one fall the V8160 couldn't shake off, alas, was an eleven-story drop down an elevator shaft at the Argent Hotel in San Francisco. To their credit, the Argent front desk dispatched an engineer to the shaft, and he actually retrieved the twisted remains of the phone — and it powered up, but was unusable.

Since I needed a new phone on an emergency basis, I went to the T-mobile store in SF and snagged a Motorola V70. It was a clever idea whose execution was flawed: the display washed out in sunlight, the keypad buttons were tiny, and to top it off, when I got home I discovered that T-mobile's coverage area at the time did not include my living room. So, regretfully, I returned the phone and went crawling back to Verizon and picked up a V60i which gave me great service for a couple of years…

…until the V3 "RAZR" phone was introduced. This phone, combined with Verizon's shrinking selection of decent phones (and the declining quality of what they did offer) motivated me to switch to GSM once and for all. I got a V3 from Cingular long before they became commonplace (and, unfortunately, while they were still pretty expensive, even if subsidized). The expense of the phone wasn't a huge issue, since I planned to keep the phone for a long time. (And as a bonus, the phone was actually unlocked, something practically unheard of at the time I got it.)

The V3 was a very nice phone, but not a great phone. I loved the compactness, the Bluetooth support was very handy (though, frankly, none of the available Bluetooth earpieces I tried held a candle to the sound quality of the wired B&O earpiece that I had used with the V60i), and the phone's UI was an improvement over the V60 and V70. On the downside, the phone had an annoying number of glitches (most of them Bluetooth-related as I think of them now), and although the UI was better than what I was used to, it was still pretty bletcherous. (My biggest complaints revolved around the address book, which required way too many keypresses, but #2 on the list was the fact that every damn day I turned on that phone, I would press the green button, wonder why the phone wouldn't turn on, and then curse and press the red button.)

But for all of that, the V3 was a good phone; like the V60i and V8160 before it, it was tough - it got dropped a bunch of times onto various surfaces, but always shook it off and got back to business.

What did the V3 in, finally, was my diligent housework: the phone was in the pocket of a pair of pants that I ran through the laundry, which I didn't realize until I was taking the load out of the washer and the battery came flying out. (For a wonder, it didn't short.) I was actually able to dry the phone out pretty effectively using a hearing aid dryer that happened to be close at hand. After drying, the phone did power up (with only a couple of small brown spots on the main display, which I could have lived with), but unfortunately the microphone didn't work. Nuts.

So, the SO and I did a little phone shopping, and she pointed out the Sony Ericsson W600i. It's a "Walkman" phone, which means that it's got an integrated music player, and frankly I could give a crap — I have an iPod that I use in the car, a Squeezebox at home, and I don't need a phone that plays music. Plus, my last close look at a Sony Ericsson phone was the T68i, and frankly I thought at the time that it was a cheap plastic toy. The T616 that followed it wasn't so bad, but I really prefer clamshell phones to candy bar phones, so I never gave it serious consideration. (I'd certainly consider a twist phone, of which the W600i is an example, or a slider phone, but the sliders I've seen are all quite expensive.) The W600i, however, looked interesting, so I resolved that I'd give it a once-over in person and if I didn't like it, get a replacement V3.

As it turns out, the W600i resolved most of my concerns about the Sony Ericsson phones. It's reasonably well made (the number pad is a bit cheesy, but will do), the UI is a leap ahead of the Motorola UI that I was used to, and it actually works better with my Motorola-branded Bluetooth accessories (car handsfree, earpiece) than the Motorola phone did. Go figure.

My only complaint about the W600i is that it's a bit on the chunky side. I'd gladly give up the camera and music playback for half the thickness. Still, it's a nice little nugget phone and I can see myself keeping it as a "bridge" phone, until the next generation comes along. And I'm prepared to wait for as long as that takes or until an unfortunate accident befalls the W600i, whichever comes first…

That brings me to the next nugget:

For my birthday, my sweetie whisked me away for an early weekend in Maine. To help me find the way there, the night before our departure she presented me with a Garmin StreetPilot i3. The i3 is a portable little nugget - about the size of a child's fist, and it has a nice color screen and a great built-in map.

The unit's UI is pretty easy to use, with just three buttons (one of which is a clickable scroll wheel), a clear color screen, and good audio. I used it in the car with the windshield sucker mount (which, oddly enough, seems to be illegal in CA and MN) on battery power so as to eliminate the trailing power cable. Battery life (two AA) seems reasonable.

Unfortunately, Garmin doesn't have Mac client software for the StreetPilot yet, so you have to do the initial map setup and any subsequent map downloads using a Windows XP machine. (I haven't yet tried using the Garmin client software for Windows on my MacBook Pro under Parallels just yet, but I intend to do so relatively soon.

If you don't have a GPS navigation system in your car, I strongly recommend that you investigate the i3. In-car-installed GPS nav systems are pretty precise because they're wired in to the car's electronics to provide a direct reading from the speedometer; using the car's power system to drive the system also relaxes a number of space constraints and lets the system designer provide a DVD-ROM system for data storage and a large screen for display and interaction. However, it's really expensive either as a factory option or an aftermarket installation; the i3 costs a fraction of what an installed system would, and it works very well — it's a great way to get started with mobile map-based GPS navigation.


Very interest discussion of phones. I have a Treo 600 (GSM unlocked) but is flaky in humid conditions.

I have been looking around and have the same kind of ideas. I carry an iPod so don't need music playback, don't need a camera but do need:

- Contacts that include addresses
- Bluetooth syncing with iSync + Salling Clicker
- Calender with To Do list
- Half decent UI (fully decent would be great)
- Small but durable and well made

I prefer candy bars over flip phones but am willing to give a slider a try.

Nothing springs to mind although once The Missing Sync gets Windows Mobile 5 support the Cingular 2125 might be worth a look, it has a really great screen.

Warning: missing ')'

I liked my SE T68i, but it went very strange in at first subtle ways. The Moto v400 interface is an abomination. I've used my dad's Samsung just enough to know I could never love that phone -- the interface has all of the flaws of the Moto interface, and is somehow backwards to boot. I think from now on I'm sticking to basic Nokia candy-bar type phones.