For all the hype over the Palm Pre and the new $99 iPhone, for my money, the real small-business smart phone story of the hour is the re-entrance of Finnish handset ubermaker Nokia (Stock Quote: NOK) into the U.S.
In the compendium of American tech-business dumbness—after the slaying of the original Napster, or the 1980s firing of Steve Jobs from Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL)—there should be a lengthy chapter on Nokia getting skunked from the North American smart phone business.
Like all divorces, the actual facts are lost in the fog of time: Apparently, carriers like Verizon (Stock Quote: VZ), AT&T (Stock Quote: T) and Sprint (Stock Quote: S) were furious when Nokia attempted to cut them out of a lucrative content business. Nokia insiders, in turn, had about enough of dealing with the idiotic, only-work-in-the-United-States cell infrastructures and Balkanized politics. Either way, in spite of the fact Nokia is the planet's dominant smart phone maker—with something like 40% of the market—Nokia is lucky to get 2% of the domestic smart phone business. Apple, Research in Motion (Stock Quote: RIMM), LG and HTC simply get too much carrier support.
Well, no more.
In May, in a glasnost of sorts, AT&T started to sell an important Nokia smart phone: the sleek E71x ($99 with plan and rebate).
I have been testing this unit for the past of couple of weeks, and while it is far from perfect, the E71x shows that Nokia has learned a thing, or three, about smart phones. And the company definitely has a bead on gaining back the North American smart phone market.
What you get: This phone really does offer a third small business option to the iPhone and BlackBerry.
Quite simply, the E71x is a reaaaallly nice smart phone for the small business person. For starters, it's priced right. At $99, it is right there with the newly discounted iPhone and the BlackBerry 8800. It is durable, made of a fungible, scratch-resistant black metal. No iPhone condom needed, nor was I afraid of busting the cheap plastic found in some BlackBerrys.
The E71x has a unique, elegant, easy-to-use (and read) keyboard that even my stumpy fingers and fading vision could manage. I particularly liked how the numbers were laid out for call dialing, eliminating the keyboard bugaboo that plagues the BlackBerry and iPhone.
The Nokia has a decent, if small, 2.4 inch-display and all the smart phone bells and whistles: e-mail support (both Web mail and Microsoft Exchange server (Stock Quote: MSFT), a decent HTML browser and the usual communications protocols: WiFi, Bluetooth and 3G connectivity on the AT&T EDGE network. Plus, 12 days of standby time, up to 8 GB of expandable storage, a 3.2 MP camera. You get the drill. This is a first-class smart phone.
And here is the best part: The E71x is just 0.4-inch thick and weighs a feather-light 4.4 ounces, a fraction of the iPhone and BlackBerry Bold. As much as I love my Bold, it's a beast. I could put the E71x in my pocket and not need suspenders to keep my pants up.