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Sun 14 Mar 2010 04:00 AM

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Inspecting gadgets

ACN rounds up the latest and greatest executive gadgets, from the new Sonim armoured phone to the solar powered, Puma-branded touchphone.

Inspecting gadgets
Sonim XP3.2 Quest Pro.
Inspecting gadgets
Samsung Wave S8500.
Inspecting gadgets
PUMA Phone.

ACN rounds up the latest and greatest executive gadgets, from the new Sonim armoured phone to the solar powered, Puma-branded touchphone.

Tougher than the average bear

A very long time ago - somewhere around the Mesozoic age - mobile vendors jumped on a bandwagon to build "tough" devices, targeted at ‘extreme' lifestyle enthusiasts; ie, people you typically find on the sides of billboards snowboarding, skiing or climbing Alpine peaks. The phones were invariably advertised as being toughened up with thicker screens, dust and waterproof cases to protect delicate innards against whatever Mother Nature could throw at them, while shockproof enough to withstand a stamp from an angry rugby player.

Now, I don't enjoy what anyone would describe as an "active" lifestyle, but I'm ashamed to admit that I bought into the marketing and picked up one. After all, I reasoned, if it could deal with being dropped into the snow, what harm could a few raindrops do? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

While I'm still very sceptical about the supposed toughness of these devices, there's no denying that Sonim has built up an impressive reputation over the years for rugged devices that are specced at military levels of durability. But the phones themselves remained quite basic devices - until the release of this, the XP3.2 Quest Pro, which brings it bang up to date.

By which I mean, it now features A-GPS to let you figure out exactly how lost you are. For an outdoorsy kind of phone, that actually is a useful addition and one we thought Sonim would have added on earlier. In other respects the handset is largely unchanged, although it now does feature Pilkington's "Gorilla Glass" for the screen and lens which claims to be even more scratch and shock-proof than earlier versions.

Apparently, Sonim claims the XP3 supports a number of "enterprise applications" such as e-mail. Take our advice - put your Blackberry in a Perspex case and take that on your next camping holiday instead. The Wave of the future

This should be a momentous occasion - the launch of the first device to feature Samsung's own OS, rather than an interface slapped on top of either Symbian or Windows Mobile. And yet, the new Wave S8500 doesn't really impress as much as it should.

Perhaps it's because it really isn't that different from its predecessors. On top, it's still sporting the Touch Wiz interface which should be familiar to users of earlier Samsung mobiles - and well, anyone who's ever seen an iPhone. The idea, of course, is that third party developers will now be motivated to jump onboard and create applications, although one would have to assume said developers would have to completely ignore the giant App Store community and rapidly growing Droid marketplace.

Otherwise, it's business as usual. So what you get is traditional understated Samsung looks, a large 3.3" AMOLED screen that beats the iPhone for clarity as well as good quality materials that incorporate metals in all the right places. In terms of options, with Wi-Fi, 3G data, FM radio and HD video to note just a few, it's not lacking anything a power user might require.

The question remains, however: why would you buy this over an Apple or Google device? In Asia and Europe, Samsung's built up a strong reputation for reliability and excellent build quality, but it does also produce a sea of virtually-identical devices. If it wants to take its market success to the next level, it really does need to concentrate its considerable R&D resources into making one killer device - otherwise, it will always be an enterprise also-ran. Style and substance?

Technically, we've been down this road many times before. A major brand name decides it needs to have its logo on a mobile phone (to go with the monogrammed luggage, probably) and works out a deal with a vendor to score some marketing "synergy". As a result, in years past we've had Armani-branded Samsungs, Ferrari-branded Vertus and most heinously of all, the Unrath & Strano RAZR. Google that last one - it's worth your time, although your eyeballs may never forgive you.

But this is something actually different. A co-production with Sagem, the Puma phone has enough interesting wrinkles to stand out from the herd. First off, it sports a large solar panel on the back which can be used to charge a battery, a feature last seen on the Samsung Blue Earth.

Then there's the interface. It's not lacking in Puma branding, is it? But it certainly comes across as fresh in a world full of dreary iPhone clones, and with its big icons, it looks like it'll be easy to use. On top of that, the Puma phone is lacking little in the features war - GPS, FM, 3.2 megapixel camera and er, a yachting compass. It doesn't have Wi-Fi, but anyone who wants to browse the web on this device should have their head examined.

There is however, one killer feature on this device that you literally can't get with any other handset. Yes, the Puma phone comes with its own digital cat. Named Dylan.  Just what every CIO needs, really.