Sierra Wireless
SIerra Wireless' Voq smartphone runs on Windows Mobile 2003 OS.
By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 9/14/2004 4:29:29 PM ET 2004-09-14T20:29:29

I wonder if manufacturers are running out of unique names for their products. How else could you explain the name Voq? I understand the possible roots: V-o could mean voice or voice over – plus using the letter q is especially interesting when used without the letter u. Fortunately, in this case the unique name takes nothing away from the product. Sierra Wireless has come up with one heck of a smart phone.

Sierra Wireless has made wireless communications products for years. I still longingly remember using their Ricochet wireless cards. I ran my home LAN on one in the years before cable wired my neighborhood for high-speed service. And three years ago, in the hectic days after 9/11, I had an emergency Ricochet card for use in my Ground Zero neighborhood.

It’s a giant leap from producing wireless communications cards to creating a full-function smart phone, but Sierra has done just that. After much planning, thought and testing the Voq Professional phone is now available. Where it’s available is a story all by itself.

First, however, the phone itself. At first glance, the Voq looks like a standard cellular handset.  It’s 5.2 by 2.1 by 0.9 inches and it weighs 5.1 ounces with the standard battery.  It’s a tri-band GSM phone with Class 10 GRPS service.  The Lithium-polymer rechargeable battery is said to provide up to six hours of talk time and 100 hours of standby time.  In playback mode you should consider 10 hours typical. The Voq charges through its mini-USB port.

Inside is a 200 MHz Intel XScale PXA262 processor, 48 MB of flash and 32 MB of SD RAM.  The 2.2 inch, 64K color screen is 176 by 220 pixels. There’s also a built-in speakerphone, a mono/stereo headset jack, and a SD memory card slot.

Flip-open keyboard
The phone is the first smartphone reaching the market to employ the Microsoft Mobile for Smartphones 2003 operating system. Yes, I know it’s almost 2005, but for some reason, 2003 devices are just being released at this time.

Microsoft Mobile for Smartphones is very similar to Microsoft Mobile for Pocket PC PDAs. It has Pocket Outlook for PIM and e-mail functions, Pocket Internet Explorer, Pocket MSN, MSN Messenger, Windows Media Player, ActiveSync, games and much more.  In short, there is a Pocket PC stuffed inside this innocent looking phone handset. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Sierra Wireless
Flip back the keypad and you find this smartphone's smart little QWERTY keyboard.
So, there is the age-old problem of input. It’s nice to have all this stuff inside a small, portable device, but how does the user get words and thoughts inside? Sierra Wireless thought long and hard about this –- and came up with a unique solution: a flip-open QWERTY thumbpad.

The bottom third of the phone opens to reveal 46 little buttons in a typical keyboard layout.  The buttons are small, but functional.  Use a Voq for a few days and you begin to get very fast inputting data.

Smart e-mail
As for the phone itself, it worked just fine in all my tests.  I had a very early Alpha version of a Voq at the beginning of the year.  I was impressed with its e-mail handling abilities.  At the time, I was still able to use portable devices to retrieve e-mail from MSNBC servers.  Utilizing VoqMail software, the device has the ability to receive e-mail via VPN –- a very clever solution to running software on the server or via desktop redirector software (like a Blackberry).  It worked flawlessly. Nine months later, VPN is no longer an option for me -– so I tested the Voq with POP3 and IMAP mail from some Internet service providers. It did very well at that too.

Where the Voq needs a little help is speed.  It’s not as fast as other smartphones using other portable operating systems and web pages take a long time to load. Watching and/or listening to streaming audio and video is somewhat painful, but definitely much better than with the last version of the Windows Mobile OS.  Until I get to play with other smartphones running the 2003 software I can’t tell whether the speed bumps come from the phone, the new OS or AT&T’s GRPS network.

If you’re considering buying a Voq (and you should at least put it on your shortlist) you have some interesting choices. Voq is not being sold by any cellular provider, only in retail channels.  Voq is being sold through computer dealers Insight, MobilePlanet and RCS Computer Experience as well as Intel’s Product Dealer program to active dealers of Intel products -- such as TigerDirect and Tech Depot (an Office Depot company). 

The Voq Professional phone is approved for use on the AT&T Wireless network and will sell for $499 with AT&T activation.

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