Sometimes it's the little things that matter. When it comes to cell phones, that statement holds very true. Certain aspects of my phone and those I review, along with the services that power them, drive me nuts. So I've come up with a wish list of sorts, things that would make handsets work better for all of us. Here are my top ten requests.
10. Improve the design
All mobile phones, regardless of the manufacturer, should have a standard connector for the AC adapter.
Here's a situation where this would be useful: If you've invested in accessories for one phone that you either lose or replace, you could use those same tools with your new handset. Similarly, all cell phones should also use a standard headphone jack. Some already do, but some models are equipped with a very tiny jack that requires a special adapter (another expense) to accommodate mainstream headphones.
Some people also gripe about the keys on dial pads being too slippery. One solution to this problem is for handset makers to use a material that has a better grip. Motorola's svelte Razr V3 (even coming to BT Fusion soon), a World Class Award winner, has at least partially addressed the issue with the rubber grips interwoven on its dial pad.
Another design annoyance: the lack of easily accessible volume controls. I've frequently encountered this in Nokia handsets. To adjust volume on some Nokia phones, you have to use the dial pad and the phone menu - a clunky process that's almost impossible to execute when you're talking on the phone. Why not place volume control buttons on the side of the handset?
9. Label phones with the model name
It seems like such a no-brainer to put the model name on the phone. But instead, I'm seeing phones splattered with the carrier's logo. Sure, the phone maker and model is provided when you buy the phone; it's typically on the packaging. But what if you need that information after you've discarded the box?
On many phones, the model name is under the hood - for example, beneath the battery. But why make users go through the trouble of removing the battery to find out what kind of phone they have? What about making it easy for users to identify their specific phone model so that, for example, they can find out if it's compatible with third-party software? Put the make and model on the exterior of the phone, not inside where the information isn't easily accessible.
8. Enable every aspect of Bluetooth
A Bluetooth headset is a nice option, but it's not the only thing Bluetooth can support. If a phone has Bluetooth, why not let users get everything they can out of the technology, including the ability to wirelessly transfer files from a PC to the phone, or to use the phone as an external modem?
In the US, some Verizon Wireless customers are unhappy about the company's decision to strip away certain Bluetooth functions on devices like the PalmOne Treo (read Treo 650 review). By eliminating the possibility of using Bluetooth to transfer files, Verizon is effectively encouraging customers to subscribe to a data plan and use up their bandwidth allotment to transfer files over the network.
7. Add a USB port -- and supply a cable
A USB hookup would come in handy for syncing and transferring files (such as your phone book, pictures, and music) between a phone and a PC. Unfortunately, many mobile phones lack a USB connection - although PDA phones and a few high-end handsets have one. I understand that this may help keep handset prices low, but if the added cost is a concern, vendors should at least offer customers the option of purchasing a standard USB cable and the software to smoothly transfer files between handsets and PCs. Either way, they should still equip handsets with the necessary port.
6. Simplify the user interface
Many cell phones have layers upon layers of menus, which makes them very cumbersome to use. Some menus tend to be hidden and require a combination of keystrokes to access. Nokia, for example, uses tabbed menus that can be easily overlooked because they're buried. Part of the problem is the small display on cell phones. But there must be some way to design a better user interface while keeping phones compact. Vendors, back to the drawing board.
5. Enhance the speaker and the microphone
When it's windy or noisy, it's often difficult to hear the person on the other end - and vice versa. Many of the phones I've reviewed lack the necessary volume on both the sending and receiving ends. Yes, I've seen phones with relatively powerful speakers, but I have yet to see a phone with impeccable audio quality on both the speaker and the microphone. The microphone should be able to tune out background noise, such as howling wind, and the speaker should be sufficiently powered so that you can hear your mates loud and clear.
4. Make it easy to unlock GSM phones
GSM handsets use a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card to store all the information that identifies a specific subscriber, such as the phone number. In theory, users should be able to change service providers without changing phones by replacing the old carrier's SIM card with one from the new carrier. But this is often impossible because the carriers "lock" the phones, preventing them from reading another carrier's SIM card.
This practice is particularly inconvenient when I travel abroad and would like to use a prepaid SIM from a foreign phone company, which can cost a lot less than paying a US carrier for overseas roaming. Some carriers say that they will unlock your phone if you ask.
When I was shopping around at my local Cingular store, the sales reps told me that Cingular doesn't unlock phones. But one rep suggested that I could get a Cingular-branded handset unlocked at a third-party phone store - for a fee. So that's one option. Another is to buy an unlocked phone to begin with, usually from a third party that isn't a major carrier. But generally these phones are pricier than the same models purchased from a carrier.
3. Allow data backups on carrier servers
How many times have you lost or dropped your cell phone, or just wanted to replace it? When you finally get a new handset, how do you transfer your phone book, photos, ring tones, games, and other data to the new phone?
Some high-end handsets and PDA phones come with a USB cable and PC syncing software for data migration. Also, there's third-party software, such as FutureDial's SnapSync and SnapMedia, that can sync data between your phone and PC. But the software doesn't support all handsets. If you're one of the unlucky ones, you have to re-key all your data into the new phone. What if the carriers provided a data backup service? If you could set up nightly automatic backups for your cell phone, you'd avoid a whole lot of hassles.
2. Improve network coverage, especially for voice calls
Although several of the major carriers have enhanced their network coverage in the US, in the last year, some areas remain spotty. In San Francisco alone, I've noticed that Cingular and T-Mobile coverage in parts of the Noe Valley and the Western Addition neighborhoods is erratic, especially indoors. Here's another pet peeve: When I lose the network signal on my phone (for example, when I go inside a building or into an elevator), it sometimes takes a while for the signal to return.
We should be at a point where voice coverage is 100 percent reliable, especially in metro areas. Carriers should refocus their attention on enhancing voice coverage instead of pounding away at faster data networks. Okay, it'd be nice to have both; but let's not forget that most of us still use our cell phones to talk to people.
1. Improve overall performance
The lengthy start-up time for mobile phones annoys me. And when I punch in a number, many phones that I've tested are so pokey it's almost like they're dialing in slow motion. Given all the features that manufacturers are packing into handsets, they should be able to include faster processors, more memory, and whatever else it would take to boost performance - and allow me to power up my phone instantly, like turning on the lights.