Both Pocket PCs and Microsoft SmartPhones will help you to
stay organized and connected while you are on the go. If you are torn with
making a purchasing decision between the two though, you might be wondering
what the differences are beyond the fact that the SmartPhone can make and
receive phone calls and the Pocket PC can’t. This fact may be your first
consideration, but it’s important to understand the other differences as well.

The display

Aside from the fact that the SmartPhone can make phone
calls, there are some other major differences between the two devices. Let’s
start with the display. A Pocket PC uses a typical PDA style display, in which
the screen covers the majority of the front side of the device. A traditional
SmartPhone uses a display that is only slightly larger than the screen found on
the average cell phone.

The smaller display doesn’t just translate into smaller
images though. There is also a significant difference in the number of pixels
that the two devices support. A typical SmartPhone’s screen has a resolution of
176 x 220, while a Pocket PC has a resolution of 240 x 320. This means that the
Pocket PC can display a lot more information on the screen than a SmartPhone
can. If you look at the SmartPhone emulator shown in Figure A, you will notice that the Windows desktop is extremely

Figure A

The Windows desktop is extremely condensed

If you look at Figure B, you will see that the Start menu
consumes the entire display.

Figure B

Even the Start menu completely fills the SmartPhone’s tiny display.

In contrast, check out the display on the Pocket PC shown in
Figure C. As you can see, the Display is large enough to show the Start menu plus
a portion of the Windows desktop.

Figure C

A Pocket PC has a much larger display.

Input methods

Another serious consideration to take into account when
choosing between the two devices is the amount of data entry that you will be
doing. Data entry on a Pocket PC is typically done by using a stylus. Although
data entry models vary from model to model, Pocket PCs usually give you the
option of either entering data by clicking the keys on an on-screen keyboard or
by using the stylus to write on a designated portion of the screen.

It is worth mentioning however, that excessive writing with
the stylus has a tendency to scrape up the screen. It has been my experience
that entering data through an on-screen keyboard, such as the one shown in
Figure D, is fast, efficient, and isn’t harmful to the screen.

Figure D

Data entry on a Pocket PC is often performed through an on-screen keyboard.

Because of the limited size of the display, SmartPhones do
not offer an on-screen keyboard. Instead, data entry on a SmartPhone is done by
using the Phone’s buttons. For example, if you wanted to type the letter C, you
would have to press the 2 button three times.

My personal thoughts on this are that SmartPhones are great
if you just want to read your E-mail or check your calendar, but they aren’t
really suitable for replying to E-mail messages or composing new messages,
because data entry is so tedious. Admittedly though, these are just my own personal
views. I have seen other people compose text messages using the buttons on
their phone just as easily as if they were using a computer keyboard. If you’re
used to sending lots of text messages, then using the buttons on the SmartPhone
to enter data probably won’t bother you.

Both Pocket PCs and SmartPhones support the use of external
keyboards. However, there are only a few different external keyboards on the
market, so the selection is slim. External keyboards also tend to make the
devices seem a bit less portable. After all, who wants to have to carry around
a keyboard and plug it up every time you want to compose an e-mail?


I’ve already talked a little bit about how Pocket PCs and
SmartPhones differ in hardware, but there are other considerations to take into
account as well. Pocket PCs generally have more memory and faster processors
than SmartPhones because of their larger size and because they don’t have to
cram phone hardware into the package. For example, it isn’t uncommon for a
Pocket PC to have 128 MB of RAM. In contrast, some SmartPhones have as little
as 8 MB of RAM.

Pocket PCs also tend to be expandable. Most Pocket PCs will
allow you to gain additional storage through the use of compact flash memory
cards or Secure Digital (SD) cards. SmartPhones support SD cards and SD
devices, but at the moment there are some compatibility issues that have yet to
be resolved, so not every SD device will work with a SmartPhone.


As I’ve explained, SmartPhones have much more modest hardware
than Pocket PCs. It should therefore come as no surprise that SmartPhones can’t
run nearly as many applications as Pocket PCs can.

By default, Smart Phones do come with a basic set of
applications including Inbox, Calendar, Internet Explorer, ActiveSync, MSN
Messenger, Pocket MSN, Tasks, Voice Notes, and Windows Media. There is also a
calculator and a couple of games.

Pocket PCs include the same basic set of applications as
SmartPhones, plus a lot more. The most noteworthy addition is a Pocket version
of Microsoft Office. I have always found Pocket Office to be one of the Pocket
PC’s best features. Being that I am a full time technical writer, I have used
the pocket version of Microsoft Word to review changes that an editor has made
to a document while I am on the go. I recently also used Pocket Word to compose
an entire article while I was on a flight home from Tokyo. Sure, a laptop would have been better,
but it was a fifteen hour flight and the battery in my laptop only lasts for
about four hours.

In addition to the differences in applications included with
the two devices, there are also major differences in the third party
applications that are available. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of
Pocket PC applications that you can download from the Internet. There are comparably
few SmartPhone applications though.

I have heard that it is much more difficult to develop an
application for a SmartPhone than for a Pocket PC because of the hardware
limitations and because many cellular carriers require applications to be
digitally signed (which costs developers money). The Pocket PC has also been
around for a lot longer than the SmartPhone, which accounts for part of the
reason why there are so many more applications available.

Because both devices run Windows Mobile 2003, it would seem
as though an application that didn’t exceed either device’s hardware
limitations should be able to run on either device. However, there are
completely separate SDKs (Software Development Kits) for the two devices.


Both the Pocket PC and the SmartPhone can synchronize
themselves with your PC through the use of a USB docking cradle. The biggest
difference however is that the SmartPhone can only be synchronized with a
single E-mail account, while the Pocket PC can by synchronized with multiple
E-mail accounts.

Both devices are also capable of connecting to the Internet.
The primary connection mechanism for a Smart Phone is a cellular link, while
the primary connection mechanism for a Pocket PC is usually Wi-Fi. When it
comes to connecting to the Internet, cellular connections are slower and more
expensive than Wi-Fi, but are generally available anywhere that you can get a
cell signal. Wi-Fi connectivity is great if you are in your home, office, or
some public location with a Wi-Fi hot spot. Wi-Fi connectivity won’t work
however if you are cruising down the freeway.

While I’m on the subject of Internet connectivity, I want to
tale a moment and mention the Web browser that is included with the two
devices. Neither device has a screen that has the resolution of even a modestly
equipped PC. This means that if you connect to a Web site, you are going to
have to scroll the screen a lot. A Pocket PC will display a greater portion of
a Web page than a SmartPhone will. Some, but not all, Pocket PCs give you the
option of viewing Web pages in landscape format. This means that you will have
to do a lot less horizontal scrolling

Making the choice

As you can see, both devices have their good and bad points.
SmartPhones are small, compact, and allow you to make phone calls. Pocket PCs
are much more powerful, but they are a lot bulkier, and you may also end up
having to carry around a cell phone too. So how do you choose?

My advice is to make a decision based on your needs. It you
only want to check your E-mail ever so often or have your Outlook contacts and
Calendar with you while you’re on the go, then a SmartPhone is probably a good
choice. If you often need to respond to E-mails, compose or view documents, or
do much Web surfing, then you’re probably better off with a Pocket PC.

A happy medium

Although both of the devices that I have talked about are
very handy to have, they both have their limitations. What if you could combine
each device’s best features into a single device though? Well, such a device
does exist. Microsoft makes a version of the SmartPhone called Pocket PC Phone
Edition. This version of the SmartPhone is basically a Pocket PC with a
SmartPhone integrated into it. It runs all of the same software that a Pocket
PC would run, but you can also use the device as a phone.

I bought one of these devices a few weeks ago for my own
personal use. The device cost just under $700, but I have been very happy with
the way that it has performed for me so far. Using the device as a phone takes
some getting used to, since it’s kind of like pressing your face against a PDA,
but the phone does have good quality. The device also features a speaker phone
and comes with a pair of ear buds and an attached microphone in case you don’t
like the idea of getting face prints on the screen.

One of the things that has impressed me the most about the
device is all of the supplemental features that simply aren’t included on your
average Pocket PC. For example, my phone has an integrated camera that can
function as either a still camera (with flash) or as a video camera. I have had
a lot of fun snapping pictures and E-mailing them to friends directly from the

Another handy feature is that my device has a built in
Bluetooth adapter. Originally, the Bluetooth feature was included as a way of
making the phone compatible with certain hands free calling kits. However, I
have a Bluetooth enabled GPS receiver that works just as well with my
SmartPhone as it does with my laptop. I simply installed a copy of Microsoft Streets
And Trips 2005 onto my device, held the GPS nearby, and the device did the

Another feature that I have been really impressed with is a retractable
keyboard. My device has the onscreen keyboard, just like any other Pocket PC.
However, the screen slides forward a few inches to reveal a small keyboard that’s
built into the device, as shown in Figure
. This gives me feel of an external keyboard without actually having to
lug a keyboard around.

Figure E

This SmartPhone / Pocket PC Hybrid features a retractable keyboard.

Hybrids can be best

For the most part, I have been extremely happy with my
Pocket PC / SmartPhone hybrid. There are a couple of negatives though. Unlike
many Pocket PCs, my device does not include a Wi-Fi adapter. The other negative
is that my device is about the same size as the average Pocket PC, which is significantly
larger than the average cell phone. The device fits comfortably in my back
pocket, but it’s not nearly as small and light as most phones.