more thoughts on mobile phones

So, it’s funny that I ended up with a phone that can’t iSync, because this morning as I was walking to work, I was thinking about what I want in a cell phone. I wasn’t sure about everything I want, but I knew that the first thing on the list was iSync. “If it can’t use iSync,” I thought, “it’s out of the running.”

Obviously, there are things more important than that: it must, for example, be able to make and receive phone calls, and must work with my current provider. I think those are the only things that actually rule a phone entirely out of the running.

Just to help organize my own thoughts, here are the things I want out of a phone, in order.

The Features I Want

Synchronized Contact Phone Numbers and Email

Really, I don’t demand iSync, I realized today. I need to be able to easily put all my contacts from Address Book into my phone. I don’t need two-way sync. I don’t need street addresses or photos. Those things are all nice, but I can live without them. I have 172 contacts in my “Phoneworthy” group, and there’s no way on Earth that I’m going to key them all in on my phone.

The downside (I speculate) of the way I’m forced to sync on this phone is that I must delete before I update. That means, presumably, that will lose the speed dial information I’ve set up, not to mention custom ring tones. Adding a vCard for a current contact results in a duplicate, not an update.

Basically, iSync is really, really great, but vCard dumps will do in a pinch.

Programmable Shortcuts

I want to be able to set up shortcuts on the soft keys for all the things I run a lot. That’s something like: contact list, recent calls, alarms, and calendar. Moreover, I want to be able to disassociate annoying things from softkeys. For example, pushing the select button on my phone’s idle screen brings up the phone’s obnoxious web browser. I can’t find a way to change that keybinding. Every time I accidentally press the middle part of the directional shortkeys, which I can change, I launch the browser and have to wait to be able to quit it.

I should be able to see what’s where. On the RAZR, I could say, “display all the shortcuts on the idle screen.” On the Samsung, I can’t, I just have to remember, or look it up in settings. (Well, I can also hit the button and see what happens, I guess.)

Anything that shows up in a menu should be assignable to a shortcut key. Since I won’t be using this phone’s calendar, I thought I’d put the countdown timer on my shortcuts. I can’t. Why not? I can’t tell.

Synchronized Calendar

It’s great to be able to flip open my phone and see what I’ve got on my calendar. I’m not constantly making plans to do things, but it’s nice to be able to see when my next game is, or to note that I can’t go in next Wednesday because MJ is going to the doctor.

Good Contact List

Maybe every phone is now like this, but it’s important to me that my contacts be listed as people who may have multiple phone numbers or email addresses. I really don’t like two “Signes, Ricardo” entries, one for work and one for home. I haven’t seen a phone that couldn’t work this way in a while, but I bet they’re still out there.

Good Alarms and Timers

I am totally unreliable at home. I say I’ll get up and do something early, then I don’t. I put water on for tea and let it boil away. I just forget about the small stuff. (I take “don’t sweat it” too far, I guess.)

I really, really got a lot of use out of my RAZR’s alarms. I made a few for the various times in the morning that I’d have to get up, and sometimes I’d make one for whatever time I had to do something, like “19:27 - steep tea.”

Having alarms and timers is great. It means I can say “tell me when it’s bene five minutes” when I’m heating the oven, or “wake me up at 5:30” when I’m taking the early bus. Unlike the RAZR, my Samsung has timers. Unfortunately, I have to dig through menus to get to them. Its alarms are worse, too. I can only have three, and they’re named “Wake-up Call” and “Alarm1” and “Alarm2.” I can’t rename them, which means I can’t tell, by looking at them, what they’re for.

Who designed this, anyway?

Charging via USB

Bluetooth is great, but I don’t need it. I don’t use a headset very often. I don’t have a big preference between USB and Bluetooth for synchronization, but there’s one reason that USB is useful: charging. If I forgot my phone’s charger, I could always plug it into my laptop overnight using the USB cable I carry for my camera.

Not a Ridiculous Shape or Size

I can’t use a phone that’s so small that it only reaches from my ear to my cheek. I can’t us a phone that’s thicker than my wallet. I’ve used a lot of different form factors, now, and I think that flips and sliders are what I like. Both of these also have the benefit of making it harder for me to accidentally make calls while they’re in my pocket. The RAZR v3 was a pretty good size, and so far I also like the SGH-D807.

Third-Party Applications

This is pretty low on my list, but it means a few things. The most important one (which is saying something) is free games. It also means Opera, if I have internet access on my phone. It means ssh, maybe, and possibly a few other little things like Google Local.

The Features I Don’t Care About


I have a nice little digital snapshot camera. I’ve taken a few photos with my phone, and it was convenient, but it’s not worth considering when making a purchase.


This includes MP3 players, ring tones, and radio tuners. I want my phone’s ring to sound like a phone, not like music. I don’t listen to the radio. The only way I will use my phone to replace my iPod is if it does everything that my iPod does, which means two-way syncing with iTunes.

Email and MMS

I suppose it’s possible that someday I will see an email client on a phone that doesn’t totally disgust me, but I am dubious. If I can send a brief text message to an email address as I would to an SMS number, that’s great. If not, whatever. As for MMS, I have never yet been able to send a multimedia message from my phone to anyone or anything else reliably. My RAZR sent messages to my Flickr account reliably, I guess. I haven’t been able to pull that off with the new phone yet.

I’d rather have Shozu work.


Well, the first one is obvious: the SGH-D807 was a lousy choice, mostly because of the lack of iSync. Some of its other shortcomings are things that I wouldn’t have been able to see looking at most reviews, but I would’ve noticed using it in the store. The problem was, of course, that I didn’t try using it in the store. Even if I had, most stores don’t have their phones turned on to play with – but the T-Mobile store I went to today did, which is a good sign. Now that I’ve made myself a list, I’ll know what to look for, specifically, in my next phone.

I think, all told, my next phone will probably be an iPhone or Blackberry. Then again, maybe I need to dig into the secret world of Linux-powered phones. iPhone won’t be customizable enough, and Blackberry … well, I need to look at the new generation of Blackberries.

At least I feel like I can cope with this Samsung for the next year or so.

Written on October 6, 2007
📱 phone