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Experts choose best devices of 2005

Wireless e-mail and the need for connectivity drove the mobile device market in 2005. Research In Motion, Palm and Dell all made waves by filling that need.

The market for mobile devices in 2005 was centered on one thing: connectivity.

Wireless e-mail and messaging, access to mission-critical applications and the need to retrieve data quickly drove PDAs and smartphones to the forefront, a pair of experts said.

"The biggest factor driving the enterprise mobile device market in 2005 is wireless e-mail capabilities," said Todd Kort, principal analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "A rapidly increasing number of enterprise workers are finding that anywhere/anytime access to e-mail is valuable, and they are using smartphones or wireless PDAs to enable this."

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Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at New York City-based JupiterResearch, agreed. "We've seen growing awareness of this notion of connectivity," he said. "And we'll continue to see this going forward in 2006."

Leading the pack of best and most useful devices, Kort and Gartenberg said, was the BlackBerry from Waterloo, Ontario-based Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM). But other devices, like the Palm Treo, the Dell Axim X51v and the Nokia 9300, continued to make waves and closed in on RIM's lead.

Here are Kort's picks for the top five devices of 2005:

  • RIM's BlackBerry 7290 and 8700c: The 7290 PDA features phone, e-mail, Short Message Service, browser, instant messaging and organizer applications; operates on several wireless networks; and supports Bluetooth. It has integrated attachment viewing and ample memory for application and data storage. The 8700c has all the standard BlackBerry features and also includes access to 10 separate e-mail accounts, attachment viewing, Multimedia Messaging Service, 64 MB of memory and contains an Intel PXA901 processor at 312 MHz. "The RIM Blackberry devices are undoubtedly the most useful for most enterprises," Kort said. "The BlackBerry 7290 is the most prominent of these. The 8700c was only recently released, and its impact on the market is just beginning."
  • Palm Treo 650: The smartphone has an Intel 312 MHz processor, Web browser, messaging, camera, camcorder, multimedia and a host of other functions like integrated Bluetooth. It holds 23 MB of memory and runs on a Palm operating system 5.4. "The Palm Treo 650 is not only popular, but it holds appeal with enterprise users and consumers," Kort said. "The upcoming Treo based on Windows Mobile 5 will likely be the most important Palm device in the company's history, extending Palm deeply into enterprises and re-establishing Palm in Europe, where they have been slipping."
  • Dell Axim X51v: The PDA is the first to use Microsoft Windows Mobile 5 software. It has an Intel processor, integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, 64 MB of internal memory and dual expansion slots. "The Dell Axim X51v is important because it is the state-of-the-art Windows Mobile 5 device and is priced within reach of many users," Kort said.
  • Nokia 9300: The smartphone supports Bluetooth and can manage multiple e-mail accounts. It also features speakerphone, conference calling, several messaging options and the full Microsoft Office line. It has 80 MB of internal memory and high-speed connectivity. "The Nokia 9300 is the first data-centric clamshell device with a full keyboard to achieve wide success, and this hopefully will be only the first of many such models to use this form factor," Kort said.
  • Symbol MC50 and Intermec CK1: The Wi-Fi enabled Symbol MC50 handheld runs on Microsoft Mobile Pocket PC 2003, has 64 MB of memory and contains an Intel XScale Processor. With a Linux-based operating system, the Intermec CK1 barcode reader has 16 MB of memory and a 67 MHz ARM 7 processor. According to Kort, "In the industrial handhelds market, the Symbol MC50 and Intermec CK1 bridge the gap between traditional PDAs and expensive, heavy ruggedized handheld computers."

Regardless of RIM's rocky year with battling a four-year-old patent infringement suit filed by NTP Inc. that could result in an injunction and a nationwide BlackBerry shutdown, Kort said he wasn't surprised by BlackBerry's strong 2005 showing. He added that BlackBerry is positioned to continue with its growth into 2006 as well.

"RIM reached 1 million subscribers in February 2004 and surpassed 4 million by early November 2005," Kort said. "RIM expects to surpass 5 million subscribers before the end of February 2006, assuming [the judge presiding over the patent infringement case] does not issue an injunction before then."

Gartenberg agreed that BlackBerry has a stranglehold on the market, but said other devices are starting to make a stir, especially those using Windows Mobile 5, Microsoft's mobile platform, which was first used this year on the Dell Axim X51v and will be prevalent on PDAs and smartphones in the coming year, including a soon-to-be-release Palm Treo.

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