What Kind of Cell Phone Should I Buy, Again, and Should I Leave Fido?

Three years ago (almost to the day), I asked you, my dear readers, what cell phone I should buy:

I own the Honda Civic of cell phones. It works fine, and doesn’t break when I drop it. I rarely use my phone–I may go a whole week without making or receiving a call on it.

I bought the very ordinary Sony Ericsson Z600. It’s been fine, but I need to move up.

The biggest new requirement is that I need to send and receive email. So the input mechanism–keyboard, stylus, touch screen, whatever, needs to work well.

Everything else is negotiable. I don’t plan to record video with my phone, and I’ll take whatever still camera comes with the thing.

I could get an iPhone, I guess, but I really don’t want to spend any time hacking the thing to make it work in Canada. If setup and maintenance is pain-free, it’s an option.

So, what mobile solution would you recommend? Blackberry? Just to be clear, under no circumstances will I be wearing this thing on my hip, so smaller is better.

On a related note, should I stick with Fido? Do all mobility providers suck equally? Does anybody offer a real edge in data plans?

I’m tres ignorant on all things mobile, so I’ll take any advice you can offer.

UPDATE: I visited this page from Rogers Wireless in both Safari and Firefox on my MacBook. They get a big Browser Compatibility Fail.


  1. I suggest the Blackberry Pearl on Telus (8130). It’s barely bigger than the Moto Razr I had previously and the predictive text is spooky good so you really don’t need the Blackberries with the full keyboard (in my opinion). I suggest the CDMA version because it has a built in GPS receiver which the GSM versions do not, but if you’re planning on traveling to Europe, obviously the GSM version is the better choice. The GSM Pearl is also a more mature product as the CDMA version has only been out for about 6 months.

  2. In terms of what is offered through Fido, the Motorola Q9h has a much better keyboard than the Samsung JACK. Both are powered by Windows Mobile and have lots of integrated productivity things: calendar, task manager, and — pertinent to your current needs — integrated email. The basic email option (which goes on top of a voice plan) is $15. That gets you unlimited emails (including attachments but not HTML), plus 2MB of data for web surfing, etc. Both the Jack and the Q9h are slim, but the latter is a little wide.

    If you’re okay with SureType keyboards (two letters to a key), the BlackBerry Pearl is much more phone-like in proportions. Not available from Fido, but you can get it from Rogers. If QWERTY is a must, then you can look at something like the BB Pearl.

    Alternatively, you can look at some of the data plans at Telus. You can get unlimited on-device web surfing, email, etc. for about $30 on top of a voice plan. The trouble with Telus is that it is CDMA and, thus, not world travel-friendly whatsoever.

    I’m a bit of a cell phone geek (it’s part of the job description at Mobile Magazine), so feel free to drop me a line (email, twitter, whatever) if you have any questions.

  3. On a side note, the Rogers website has to be the absolute worst of the four main providers (Rogers, Fido, Telus, Bell) around these parts.

  4. Can’t comment on Fido vs Rogers, but after using Treos for 7 years, the Blackberry for 5 years, and my wife’s iPhone this past year, and having tested Windows Mobile devices for my company last year, the full keyboard Blackberries wins hands-down for email. Also, battery life is stupendous, which is critical to me. I can easily get two or three days on a charge.

    I send and receive several hundred messages a day, so I am an extreme case. I’d love to use an iPhone but the email interface just isn’t there yet if you get a serious amount of email.

    The Treo’s keyboard is great, and there is some great software (especially Kinoma and Pocket Tunes), but the email programs are average at best, and unfortunately Palm seems to be walking with the dead. The battery on the new Treo Centro is average — other Treos are better.

    I and my coworkers have had extremely poor experiences with the Windows Mobile devices, especially with battery life and number of messages saved on the device. Unless you have a specific need to hook into an Microsoft Exchange server, I would avoid it. My company tried to get us to switch over from Blackberries and our IT department had a near rebellion on their hands. They have given up and moved back to the Blackberry.

    Watch your data plan. For some reason, Canada seems to have the most expensive data costs in the world. Hopefully the all-you-can-eat feature will come with the iPhone this summer, but until then, 25 MB is not a lot, so watch out for overage. And if you’re travelling, it’s bad regardless of where you are.

    The only downside to the Blackberry is a lack of third party software, but it doesn’t sound like you’ll be dealing with that (and with Canadian data extortion rates, streaming multimedia would bankrupt you. That being said, streaming any hockey game while driving, and streaming video from my TV via Slingbox is pretty damn cool.)

  5. I can’t comment on the gadgetry; mostly I find cell phones annoying in their disappointing interface design. But I’m really no cell phone geek 🙂

    As for the network, I find TELUS has better coverage in the western boonies than the other networks have. If you’re moving to Pender you should check with people there about how good the coverage is on various networks.

  6. Derek and I both got the Blackberry Pearl 8300 Series from Telus (for free if we signed in blood on the dotted line). Although I adore getting the email on my phone I find the scroll ball on mine already has begun to fade, though Derek’s is still fine. Also, both devices tend to stop displaying messages and missed calls intermittently when the memory gets too full requiring you to turn the device off, remove the battery and restart (which takes a while). Also sending emails with the keypad is a royal pain in the hind-quarters unless you want to buy a portable keyboard. No complaints about the Telus Network, however, their hidden charges don’t impress me. Hope that helps.

  7. seriously why did you need to answer email on the go? it’s a waste of time, email is better suited to laptops, just say NO or only do 1 line replies on the go
    the iPhone is great for 1 line replies, i recommend it plus the $65 1 Gig plan from rogers (people,not me, say that Rogers is quite willing to let you use the iPhone with their ripoff $65 1 GB “PC Card” plan)

  8. Ive got a blackberry pearl 8100, small form factor, typing works well for me, great voice dialing features, have gmail and newsgator apps among others.

  9. I second Roland’s opinion. I think when you’re at the point that email is infringing on your “unplugged” time, something is wrong. It’s a personal thing, obviously, but that’s where I draw the line.

  10. Hold off until the iPhone is released in Canada, you might even be lucky and be one of the first to get the 3G version in June. I have one and it is a great device. It might not be the best phone on the market but there have been numerous occasions in the last two months when I was able to leave my laptop at home and just carry the iPhone.

  11. From a stubbornly proud telecommunications luddite: I use PC Mobile. You pay for a phone (I got the cheapest) and then only your usage time – no contracts or extra fees. They support email and all those other features, but their phone selection is limited.

    On a side note: I love watching the knee-jerk reaction of executives when they receive an email on their BlackBerry. It’s a fun office trick: “Here guys, I can make Joe Blow raise his arm from here” – and then press Send. Oh yeah, office fun at its best! Right.

  12. Whoa, Darren thanks for stealing my idea for a post…as I’m currently dealing with a Motorola held together with duct tape, I’m also in the market for a new phone…it looks like your readers have some great comments that I’ll definitely take into consideration!

    Cheers, -Parker

  13. First, full disclosure, I’m an ex-Telus Mobility employee who did product marketing for some of the early versions of these things and now, years later, they are my biggest client.

    So (being as objective as I can) I look for three things – network first, then device form factor/UI, then transparency or ease of middleware.

    In my experience the CDMA networks win hands down – they are ubiquitous in all of the telco territories (TELUS, SaskTel, MTS, Bell, Aliant) with superb coverage. While Rogers seems to have come a long way vis a vis coverage since my wireless days, it can’t match the amazing coverage of the CDMA networks into every small town and through the mountains, especially TELUS/Bell. I drive back and forth between Calgary and Vancouver all summer (I live in both) and it works almost all the way through. I’m currently typing this on my laptop connected via Sierra Wireless Aircard on the TELUS network from my 19th floor Yaletown apartment. Sweet coverage!

    As to form factor, for me (old guy) QWERTY keyboard is a must – no predictive, no double/triple tapping, no stylus. So some BlackBerries I like, some I do not. I have the BB World Edition which works on both CDMA and GSM networks, it has a slim form factor that fits in my shirt or suit pocket nicely, I don’t mind the trackball, and it has the QWERTY keyboard. I bought my wife the FASTAP phone so we could text – she’s pretty much a Luddite and would never text unless the alphabet was in front of her. If you simply wanted inbound emails (no replies) you could fwd your regular email to a e-mail formed text address and presto, emails would show up on your phone. Very bargain basement, but an option.

    Finally, regarding transparency or ease of middleware, I am probably stuck in the bad old days where you had to get a third party service. I assume most are like the BB where you go to a website, sign up, link your device with your inbox in a short preference setup exercise, and you’re done. Anyway, make sure you don’t need third party software or service would be my advice, but again, probably 5 year old thinking.

    My vote – BB world phone.



  14. Nokia N95 is supposed to rock, I haven’t used it myself though.

    I’ve a BB 8300 (QWERTY). Email is great on it, web browsing is limited.

  15. I’m facing this decision soon, as well, and will be going with the iPhone whether Rogers is ready for it or not. I’m holding out until June to see what happens at WWDC and the almost certain update, but Brian is right that unlocking has become a trivial 2-clicks sort of thing.

    I wanted to wait and do it right, to have unlimited data, but after seeing the iPhone perform in local friends’ hands and having used the iPod Touch extensively for 6 months, it’s too good not to have for my uses.

  16. Wait. Just wait for the iPhone. Apple Stores are opening in Edmonton and Calgary in July (http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/story.html?id=f49f8eb1-6ffd-46ac-9764-4e9bc67951ea&k=7571).

    In the attached article it’s indicated that the iPhone is coming to Canada. With Roger’s new expanded 3G network and the mounting evidence that 3G is coming to the iPhone very soon I’d say just wait.

    Everyone I’ve talked to who has one says it’s the best device they’ve ever owned. A great thing about the iPhone is WIFI. So you don’t have to bring your computer with you to conferences (or on Vacation), just bring your iPhone and use the wireless in your room (as rate plans in Canada are insane: boo CRTC).

    BB is business and boring. With Firmware V 2.0 coming for the iPhone at the WWDC, a million cool apps and functions are coming down the pipeline in the next few months. With all the outages that RIM has been having I think it’s short sighted to lock yourself into their ecosystem.

    I’m with Fido and my contact is up in May. They phoned and offered me a new phone; I asked, “is it an iPhone?” They said no… I said, “then I’ll wait.” I suggest you do the same.

  17. I’m thinking of ditching Fido as well – I’m a long-time customer, but I just got by bill this morning. For the third consecutive month, they’ve billed my wife and I for text messages and calls between us, even though we’re on the couples plan. The differences add up to ~$130 over the past few months. I’ll be watching this thread for recommendations 🙂

  18. I use a Nokia N82, I’ve found having WiFi in the phone is a huge boon for conveniently uploading photos directly to Flickr. (As a bonus, it has a good built-in GPS, so you can geocode photo locations and Flickr will recognize and map them.) It has no built-in QWERTY so not so good for email on-the-go, but I use an external keyboard and TV-out when I need to work with it like that.

    I’ve written about it at


    I bought it unlocked in Canada, it works fine on Rogers.

  19. Thanks for all the advice everybody–very useful. It seems like the two camps are Blackberry and iPhone, with a few outliers. I have some research to do.

  20. If you’re serious about doing lots of emails on the go: Blackberry.

    If you just want to be able to read all your emails all the time, and you want a device that doesn’t irritate the crap out of you, iPhone. Unlocking the iPhone is now a one-download, one-click, no hardware mussing task on Mac or PC.


  21. I’m in the same boat and I think I want the new iPhone 3G. The question is whether to get an undocked one and use Rogers current plan, or wait for the new Rogers iPhone plan. No press on when the new plan will come out, obviously could be anywhere from June to December. And no idea whether the pricing is more or less than the $65/plan.

  22. I’ll *gasp* have to actually recommend the iPhone to you, it seems like it would suit you best.

    As said above, unlocking it is really quite trivial, I have very non-geek friends who’ve had no troubles do it in mere minutes.

  23. i would say to get a blackberry curve or if you are lookin for really cool get the motarola droid or palm pre all those phones are great for email texting but the only on that is touch screen is the droid maybe the palm pre but i do not remember

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