Sprint PCS Vision Smart Device (PPC-6700)
On paper, the Sprint PCS Vision Smart Device (PPC-6700) would appear to have everything it needs to dethrone the reigning smart-phone champ, the : a larger screen, a better keyboard, three flavors of wireless (including EV-DO and Wi-Fi), and a 1.3-megapixel camera. It also sports Microsoft's new Windows Mobile 5 operating system, which does a better job synchronizing with Outlook and playing media files than Palm's outdated OS. A few kinks, however, keep the PPC-6700 from outpacing the Treo completely. It's not as sexy, it's not easy to dial one-handed, and it relies on a nonstandard memory expansion slot. But those wrinkles don't change the fact that this is probably the best Windows Mobile-powered smart phone so far, one that's still destined to give the Treo a run for its money. Just be prepared to pay a price, as the Sprint PPC-6700 will run you a wallet-stretching $479.99. Where smart phones are concerned, size can make or break the deal. The Sprint PPC-6700 (a.k.a. HTC Apache) measures 4.2 by 2.3 by 1 inches and weighs 6.1 ounces, making it a hair shorter and lighter than the Palm Treo 650. So why does it feel bulkier? Probably because of its thicker, soap-bar design, which unlike the Treo, isn't tapered on the rear face. The phone is pocketable, but you may find it more comfortable to clip it to your belt with the included leather case.
With just six buttons and a joystick below its screen, the Sprint PPC-6700 looks less intimidating than the button-packed Treo. What, no keyboard? It's there--it's just hiding. By sliding the entire front face of the device to the right, you gain access to a roomy, thumb-friendly QWERTY keyboard that's vastly superior to what most smart phones offer. At the same time, the screen automatically rotates to landscape mode, leaving you with a two-handed device that's more similar to the T-Mobile Sidekick II than the Palm Treo. One note about the sliding mechanism: It's not the smoothest we've seen, and occasionally it stuck midslide. For best results, we recommend you use both hands to open the phone.
Despite the quirk, we liked the bumpy, responsive keys, especially the backlighting that makes the letters glow white and the secondary characters (numbers, punctuation, and so on) red. It takes a bit of practice to learn the double functions of each key, but once you've mastered them, you'll find the Sprint PPC-6700 extremely comfortable for composing e-mail, sending instant messages, and even a little word processing.
Overall, the Sprint PPC-6700 is a bit awkward to operate one-handed, especially if you want to dial a number not already in your contact list. You have to tap a relatively small onscreen dial pad with your thumbnail--not exactly convenient. That said, this type of keypad is typical for Pocket PC phones, and at least the backspace button is big for correcting mistakes. If you do want to dial a number in your contact list, you have to scroll using the phone's tiny joystick. It's not a bad system overall; when you hold the joystick down for a few seconds, the scrolling gives way to a last-name letter selection, so you can alphabetically quick-jump to any section of the list. But the joystick itself is too small and has limited range of movement, hence the awkwardness of the operation.
With the keyboard tucked away, there's plenty of room for a good-size display, and the Sprint PPC-6700 doesn't disappoint. The device's screen measures 2.8 inches diagonally, giving you almost 50 percent more viewing area than the Treo but at a slightly lower resolution. Even so, the 320x240-pixel, 65,000-color display is sufficiently sharp and bright--as long as you stay inside. The screen has serious visibility issues under sunny skies, washing out to the point where it's almost unreadable.
Spanning the left side of the device are an infrared transmitter, a volume-control slider, and a pair of quick-launch buttons--one for the voice recorder and another for Internet Explorer. We constantly hit one of these buttons by accident, usually when we were in the middle of doing something else, but fortunately, you can easily reprogram or disable the buttons, thus saving yourself a lot of frustration. There's a single, less accident-prone button on the lower-right side of the PPC-6700 that launches the camera mode. It requires a 3-second press to engage--why can't the left-side buttons work similarly? The camera lens resides at the rear of the phone, where a tiny switch toggles between standard and macro modes.
Disappointments lurk at either end of the Sprint PPC-6700. At the bottom, it's the 2.5mm headphone jack, which not only is inconveniently located but also is too small for standard headphones. At the top, there's the expandable memory slot, which accommodates only the Mini SD slot, unfortunately. We understand that concessions need to be made for the sake of size, but the PPC-6700 looks like it could easily accommodate standard SD media. Thankfully, Mini SD cards cost only a bit more than their full-size counterparts. We also disliked the two unlabeled LEDs at the top of the device. They blink different colors to indicate Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and CDMA network status, as well as charging status and message notification, but good luck remembering what the different colors mean and which LED is for what. Yet, the real problem is that it's often difficult to tell whether the phone is on or not. A tiny onscreen icon is the only reliable indicator.
The Sprint PPC-6700 comes with a docking/charging cradle with a slot for a spare battery (not included); a leather belt-clip carrying case; and a stereo-earbud headset with an in-line volume control/microphone and a button for answering calls. Although the plastic buds are a bit uncomfortable, it's nice to find a headset included in the box. Also, because the PPC-6700 has a standard mini-USB port, you can connect it to a PC without using the cradle. Sprint supplies an unusually good manual--clear, comprehensive, and with full-color screenshots.With its 416MHz Intel processor and 128MB of SDRAM, the Sprint PPC-6700 promises sufficient muscle to run programs and phone functions quickly and smoothly. However, the installed software consumes more than half the available memory, leaving you with around 55MB, so a high-capacity Mini SD card is all but essential for bringing along music, movies, and other media. What's worse, the seemingly high clock speed belies the processor's real-world performance (see ).
The PDA side of the Sprint PPC-6700 centers on Windows Mobile 5, the latest version of Microsoft's operating system for handhelds. In addition to tried-and-true PIM functions, the update includes feature-enhanced versions of Pocket Word and Pocket Excel--now Word Mobile and Excel Mobile, respectively--and a new presentation viewer, PowerPoint Mobile. Word Mobile and Excel Mobile now support charts, tables, and embedded images, and we had no problems viewing such items when we transferred some test documents on to our device. We were also able to open and view PowerPoint presentations without any problems, but unfortunately, you can't edit the content on the slides.