Many boaters who start shopping for an onboard mobile phone are bound to encounter one of the hard truths of today's market: mobile phones that work wonderfully on land are not always the best choice for marine use.
For example, Blackberry phones are ubiquitous in the business world, where their excellent capabilities with email have afforded them a sterling reputation. Roughly 14 million devices were sold in 2007 with reports of over 8 million phones sold in the third quarter of 2008 alone. Even more popular is the Symbian operating system, which is not well-known in the United States but is the number one seller abroad. Over 77 million units were sold in 2007; Symbian shipped over 38 million units in the first half of 2008.
But despite their successes, both Blackberry and Symbian have significant limitations when it comes to onboard use. Blackberry phones do not display web pages well and are not widely compatible with third-party applications. Symbian phones are not well supported by U.S. mobile carriers and have very few marine-specific programs available.
Both offer great service on land, and if you have one they can be pressed into service on a boat. But if you are buying a mobile phone for marine use, there may be better products out there.
Blackberry mobile phones are known for excelling when it comes to email - and they certainly do. No other mobile phone handles email faster or smoother. Setting up your email accounts is simple even for multiple accounts, and there some very cool email-friendly features. For example, when entering an email address, the first time you hit the space key it inserts an "@" character. The second time you hit the space key it enters a period. How does it know?
Blackberry mobile phones have an excellent physical full QWERTY keyboard that is known for its good tactile response, a requirement for heavy email and text users. The layout of the keyboard and trackball make it natural to use a Blackberry with one hand. With the exception of the Blackberry Storm, they do not have a touch screen, which is something we strongly recommend for a mobile phone on your boat. But they are known for having good battery life, another must for business users.
Like many brands, Blackberry offers a selection of models that often represent compromises for marine users. The Blackberry Curve 8310/8330 comes with a 2 mega-pixel camera and flash, and a built in GPS but does not have Wi-fi. The Blackberry Curve 8320 has WiFi but no GPS. The 8310 and 8330 have Quad-band support for GSM/GPRS and EDGE networks, while the 8320 supports Dual-band CDMA2000 1X EV-DO networks. Other Blackberry devices offer differing functions, and you can check the RIM website for more information.
The Blackberry Curve is almost as slim as the iPhone and also has a sleek, elegant and glossy look. A nice touch, however, is black mat plastic on the sides that provides some grip, which is a good thing to have in the damp environment of a boat.
The Blackberry Bold has a high-resolution screen that is bright, sharp, crisp and, well, bold. It has a built-in GPS with Blackberry Maps that gives you onshore street directions. It comes with quad-band GSM and HSDPA/UMTS support. It also includes Wi-fi and Bluetooth, as well as the multimedia support Blackberry mobile phones are known for.
The Blackberry Storm is the first Blackberry with a touch screen. It's large, high resolution screen make it popular for multimedia use. A 3.2 mega-pixel camera, built-in GPS with Blackberry Maps, Bluetooth, and long battery life have made the Blackberry Storm a popular phone.
Where the Blackberry falls short is web browsing. The web browser that comes with the Blackberry does a very poor job, making web pages difficult to navigate. Fortunately, Opera Mini, a free web browser from the same company the produces Opera Mobile, supports the Blackberry. Opera Mini uses an online server to format the web pages, which increases the speed at which they are displayed. It lacks true end-to-end security, but it does send all information in an encrypted format. If you want to use a Blackberry for anything but the most minimal web browsing, you should download Opera Mini.
Another major drawback is the limited availability of third-party applications. The problem is that Blackberry mobile phones only support Java-based programs, which is a serious constraint. Because of this, there are currently no native marine navigation or tide and current applications for Blackberry mobile phones. There are, however, two Java-based tide programs, MuTide and mobiletide that will run on most Blackberry devices. They are very basic Java tide programs. You can also access web-based tide, current and weather applications - but it will be painful unless you have a third-party web browser like Opera Mini.
Certain Blackberry devices come with Tethered Modem software from RIM. This application allows you to "tether" your Blackberry mobile phone to your laptop and use the phone to gain Internet access. You can tether using either the Bluetooth connection or the USB cable provided. (For a full story on tethering, see Connecting a Laptop.)
Overall, we do not recommend a Blackberry mobile phone for your boat, if you are buying a dedicated device. If you have one already, by all means use it for what it does well. If you want to use a mobile phone for marine-specific functions, you may want to consider purchasing another phone. For more information about Blackberry devices visit the RIM website or CrackBerry, a website dedicated to Blackberry devices.
Symbian mobile phones are the world's most popular mobile phone operating system that you've never heard of. The Symbian operating system runs on more mobile phones than any other - more than 77 million were shipped in 2007. While Symbian mobile phones are almost nonexistent in the U.S., they are the best-selling mobile phone in the rest of the world.
So why hasn't Symbian found more success in the U.S.? And why has it done so well throughout the rest of the world? The Finnish company Nokia is the single largest producer of mobile phones, with more than 50 percent of the worldwide mobile phone market - and every Nokia mobile phone supports the Symbian operating system. The result is that most international mobile phones are Symbian based.
In addition, Symbian mobile phones support GSM, a data transmission protocol not supported by two of the biggest U.S. carriers, Sprint and Verizon. There are some versions of Symbian with support for CDMA, but they do not support the high-speed data protocols.
Another factor is that the major Symbian vendors like Nokia, Sony Ericsson and NTT DoCoMo are not U.S. companies. However, in 2008 Nokia purchased Symbian and agreed to unite Symbian's assorted mobile operating systems into a single, open, royalty-free system. They also formed Symbian Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the Symbian operating system. Members of the Symbian Foundation include AT&T, LG Electronics, Samsung, Texas Instruments and Vodafone, and it is anticipated that we will see more Symbian devices being introduced in the U.S.
SYMBIAN MOBILE PHONES
Symbian mobile phones are known for being stable and reliable devices. Start up time for Symbian mobile phones is very fast, as is the load time for their applications. The operating system is designed for low energy usage, which gives them long battery life - a very nice feature on a boat.
Of course with so many Symbian mobile phones sold every year, there are almost endless choices. There are Symbian mobile phones with built in GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-fi, high resolution cameras and high speed 3G data transfer. Multimedia support includes 3D graphics, video and audio capture and playback, TV tuners, multi-megapixel cameras, and multiple displays. Last year Symbian added touch screen capabilities, and Nokia soon followed with several touch screen enabled devices. Expect to see more Symbian touch screen devices in the near future.
The Symbian operating system provides a variety of email support including Microsoft Exchange and Blackberry. It has multimedia, text messaging and web browsing built in. It supports 2G and 3G data and voice transmission, including HSDPA and HSUPA.
As for third party applications, Symbian rivals Palm and Windows Mobile. Handango lists more than 10,000 third party applications. Unfortunately, Symbian mobile phones lack marine specific applications. There are no native marine navigation or tide and current programs. However, with built in web browsing capabilities, you can access web-based information. Symbian mobile phones work well running Java applications and support Flash Lite, so you can also use MuTide.
It is possible to tether a Symbian mobile phone to a PC or Mac using one Nokia's free software suites.
For those interested in Symbian, we like Nokia's new N Series phones, which offer beautiful devices with high-end features. If price is no object, there's the Nokia N95 with a large, high-resolution screen, built-in 5 mega-pixel camera with an integrated flash, built-in GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-fi, and pre-loaded Nokia PC Suite software for tethering. The N95 supports both CDMA/HSDPA and GSM/EDGE transfer rates. Unfortunately, it does not have a touch screen. Unlocked versions can be found on the Internet for $400 to $750. To learn more about the Symbian operating system and Symbian mobile phones visit www.allaboutsybian.com.
So do Symbian mobile phones fit on your boat? Right now, if you are boating in the U.S. only, then Symbian should not be a consideration if you are buying a new phone to handle marine use. If you plan on boating extensively outside the U.S., you may want to consider a Symbian phone.
Of course, this assessment could change as the market shifts. Given the alliances that have formed between Nokia, Symbian, AT&T and others, we think you will be seeing more Symbian mobile phones appearing in the U.S. The platform has many strengths and a strong following. When better support becomes available from U.S. mobile carriers, we think a Symbian mobile phone could be a good choice for your boat.
Indeed, the mobile phone marketplace - and mobile phones in particular - is changing at a remarkable speed. As with any high-tech industry the discussion is never over. The assessments we have made in this series can and will change as new products emerge and technologies evolve.
There will always be new devices with better, faster and more abundant features. In fact, new mobile phone operating systems hover on the horizon right now, with Google's Android and various Linux-based mobile phones beginning to appear last year. It's impossible to predict how these may or may not impact the market.
We are continually asked which mobile phone to buy, and whether one should buy now or wait for the next generation of technology to appear. Not only is it impossible to definitively answer these questions, there wouldn't be one right answer for everyone even if we could. A mobile phone that is right for you won't be right for someone else - and there are multiple devices that would work for each person.
Fortunately, we are boaters and we understand compromises. You will need to approach your mobile phone the same way you approach decisions on your boat. Hopefully we have provided you with enough information and experienced opinions to help you ask the right questions, understand the answers and decide which trade-offs are right for you.
There is no perfect mobile phone - just as there is no perfect boat. But, like boats, there are many great models out there in all price ranges that will expand your capabilities on the water, making you feel safer and more confident. So don't wait for the perfect phone. Do your research, make some decisions and get out on the water. We'll see you there.
- 01 - Introduction
- 02 - Boost Your Signal
- 03 - Locating Cell Towers
- 04 - Calculating Line Loss
- 05 - Navigation
- 06 - Adding a GPS
- 07 - Memory Cards
- 08 - Weather Forecasts
- 09 - Tides and Currents
- 10 - Other Applications
- 11 - Connecting a Laptop
- 12 - How to Buy a Phone
- 13 - Palm OS
- 14 - Windows Mobile
- 15 - Apple's iPhone
- 16 - Blackberry & Symbian
- 17 - Bluetooth Headsets
- 18 - Power Accessories
- 19 - The Bahamas