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The Basics: Pocket PC Phone v. Windows Mobile Smartphone


***NOTE: The following article applies only to Windows Mobile devices running Windows Mobile 5, Windows Mobile 2003, Pocket PC 2002 or Pocket PC 2000, or all devices released before Summer 2007.  With the release of Windows Mobile 6, Microsoft changed the naming scheme for Windows Mobile devices.

Find out more about the Windows Mobile 6 Devices and their Naming Scheme...


When purchasing a Windows Mobile device, it's important to understand the difference between a Windows Mobile Smartphone and a Pocket PC Phone. Many users commonly consider any mobile phone with e-mail or Internet access to be a smartphone, and while there's a certain validity to this use of the word, when discussing pre Windows Mobile 6 devices, smartphones are specific devices with defined feature sets. 

A Windows Mobile Smartphone is a device that runs the Windows Mobile for Smartphones operating system. This OS is a simpler version of Windows Mobile for Pocket PC, the the Windows Mobile OS found on Pocket PCs and Pocket PC Phones.


In this Help Center article, we'll discuss the differences between Windows Mobile Smartphones and Pocket PC Phones, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how to decide which type of device best suits your specific needs.

Windows Mobile Pocket PC Phones

Shortly after the first Pocket PC was released, a variant device, the Pocket PC Phone, was introduced.  Pocket PC Phones are fully-functional Windows Mobile PDAs with fast processors and touchscreens, but also include telephony components for voice and data communication over wide-area wireless networks (maintained by providers like Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile).  Pocket PC Phones are PDAs first and mobile phones second, offering every benefit of standalone Pocket PCs

Pocket PC Phones were originally intended as Pocket PC alternatives, but recent trends in PDA demands have made Pocket PC Phones the primary form of Windows Mobile PDAs.

Examples of Pocket PC Phones include the Cingular 8525 and the Samsung i730:


Windows Mobile Smartphones

As Pocket PC Phones increased in popularity, a push began for Windows Mobile devices that looked and behaved more like phones than PDAs.  Windows Mobile Smartphones were designed to fill this need.  Unlike Pocket PC Phones, Windows Mobile Smartphones are primarily intended to be used as phones.  These devices lack touchscreens, but do have limited PDA-like functionality built-in, including contact management, e-mail and text messaging, web browsing, audio playback and compatibility with smartphone add-on software. These devices are designed for more traditional phone users who still want or need limited PIM (Personal Information Management) and multimedia capabilities.

Examples of Windows Mobile smartphones include the Cingular 3125 and Motorola Q:

Blurring the Lines

Recent advances in various technologies have allowed Pocket PC Phones, once bulky and awkward bricks, to become smaller, more powerful and more comfortable to hold.  These new generation PPC Phones have, more than anything, led to confusion over the "smartphone" label. 

The Palm Treo 750, for example, is a Pocket PC Phone, with a full version of the Windows Mobile for Pocket PC OS and a touchscreen.  However, the Treo 750 is almost always referred to as a smartphone, even by Palm itself.  A similar looking device, the Samsung Blackjack, has a similar QWERTY keyboard on its face, the same squarish display and the same general form factor, but lacks a touchscreen and runs Windows Mobile for Smartphone:


Visually, these devices aren't much different and are often promoted as having the exact same features; this IS NOT the case.  The Treo 750, a Pocket PC Phone, offering a touchscreen interface, more power, increased multimedia functionality and expandability than the non-touchscreen Samsung Blackjack, as well as compatibility with entirely different software.


There Are Real Differences

Because Pocket PC Phones are larger, they almost always feature more powerful hardware. PPC Phones generally have speedier processors, more onboard memory, larger displays, touchscreen and handwriting input, enhanced multimedia capabilities, more expansion options, and, in some cases, dedicated graphics processors. These differences are important, but arguably not as much so as the main difference between Pocket PC Phones and Windows Mobile Smartphones: software.

Windows Mobile for Pocket PC features built-in Office Mobile applications for viewing and editing documents (such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint), a PC-like tap-to-select interface and a more robust set of customization options.  Windows Mobile for Smartphone lacks all of these features, but does offer e-mail, limited audio playback for music and audiobooks, limited video playback, text messaging, contact management, etc.

To get an idea of the differences in available third-party software, take a look at the Pocket PC Central Pocket PC Software Center and the Smartphone Software Center. While some applications are compiled to run on both device types, most will run on either one or the other.


Which Device is Right for Me?

Your Pocket PC Phone or Windows Mobile Smartphone will likely be a constant companion, so it's important that you choose wisely when deciding which type of device is right for you.

Do you care more about size and weight than the features of the device? If you want to be able to read your e-mail and listen to the occasional music track, but mainly want to make phone calls and keep your pocket as light as possible, a Windows Mobile Smartphone is likely better suited to your needs. WM Smartphones are generally smaller, thinner and lighter than PPC Phones.

If you need a mobile computer with calling features built-in, Pocket PC Phones are more your speed.  PPC Phones have larger screens, which makes them better suited for reading large documents, watching video, and browsing the web.  Most Pocket PC Phones also have larger keyboards, which makes typing easier, and you can also use the touchscreen interface to write or type directly on the screen.

Also keep in mind that WM smartphones are generally less expensive than PPC Phones, so if you're on a budget, that can be a very important deciding factor. 


Knowing What's What

When in doubt, look at the home, or Today, screen of Windows Mobile devices.  This will quickly indicate whether the device you're looking at is a Pocket PC Phone or a Windows Mobile Smartphone:


In the Future

At some point in the not-too-distant future, Pocket PC Phones and Windows Mobile Smartphones will likely merge, and the differences between the two will fade.  Until then, it's important to know which is which so that you can get the most out of your mobile device. 

If you still have questions, please let us know by e-mailing us.


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Cingular 8525 Pocket PC Phone Samsung i730 Pocket PC Phone The Cingular 3125 Windows Mobile Smartphone The Motorola Q Windows Mobile Smartphone Screenshot from the Cingular 8125 Pocket PC Phone Screenshot from the Cingular 3125 Windows Mobile Smartphone