Smartphone packs a lot into tiny package

Cingular Wireless LLC's new 8525 smart phone is a slick device that packs a lot of features into a small package. Most notably, it uses the newest generation of data input for small devices that not only makes entering information simpler but also helps make the entire device easier to use.

The first wave of data input was handwriting-like shorthand, which was made popular by early Palm Pilots. The second wave was thumb-typing keyboards embedded into the front of the device, first popularized by the BlackBerry.

Cingular's 8525 more satisfying approach is a small keyboard that slides out the side of the device. As the 8525 proves, this approach offers a relatively large keyboard -- for a smart phone -- without sacrificing screen size or creating a bulky device.

The slide-out keyboard allows Cingular to use a 2.8-in., 320-by-240-pixel display in roughly the same size as similar devices. My Treo 700w, for example, is about the same overall size but has only a 240-by-240 display. Like other devices with slide-out keyboards, the screen operates in portrait mode with the keyboard stowed and switches automatically to landscape when you slide the keyboard out. The wider landscape display on the 8525 comes in handy when browsing the Web and gives the screen more height when the keyboard is retracted.

In addition, Cingular did a good job with other aspects of the 8525's interface. For instance, almost all of the buttons on the face of the phone are duplicated on the keyboard, except the buttons for starting and ending calls. The device also has a jog-wheel on the side and some assignable buttons. The reset is mercifully located on the bottom of the phone, so there's no need to pop back covers, as is the case with the Palm Treo. There's also a button on the side reserved for Cingular's upcoming push-to-talk service. Notably missing, however, is a volume control or audio silence button; you must find and use the volume control menu to change or turn off the speaker.

Communications Swiss Army knife