Mobile mania

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It took a few years, but it seems that every other person in Cleveland now has a cell phone.

Business executives — walking downtown, driving down I-480, in the supermarket, even in health clubs — all have phones fastened to their ears. Whether or not you think the devices are an intrusion, the phones are an inevitable, if not indispensable, tool in the business world.

That’s why its no surprise that the $129 billion wireless industry is constantly developing new products for business executives to make their phones even more useful in their careers and personal lives.

Nextel, one of Northeast Ohio’s top wireless service providers, seems to be leading the pack with phone and service innovations. Nextel phone manufacturing partner Motorola is reaping the rewards of innovations such as two-way mobile messengers, which allow users to send text messages to each other on the tiny handheld devices or from the Internet to the devices.

The most popular feature, however, has been Nextel’s Direct Connect, which allows users to use their phones like a digital two-way radio, but with a much larger geographic range. Direct Connect calls don’t use the same landline routes as regular cell phone calls, so users can contact to each other faster and more cheaply than a normal call.

“By next year, we expect and feel very confident that we’re going have national Direct Connect,” says Linda Jennings, Nextel Midwest director of corporate communications. “It’s not at all like a walkie-talkie with a two-mile range. From Cleveland, you could contact Pittsburgh, Columbus, just a huge area.”

SBN Magazine shopped to find three phones Nextel released recently in three price ranges, from coach up to first class. Of course, the more you spend, the more features you get. We picked Nextel due to its business market focus.

Coach

i550plus, $49.99 retail

Motorola’s i550plus is the bare bones basic phone sold by Nextel. It is data-ready, so you can browse the Web if you want to include that service in your rate plan.

The phone has the Direct Connect feature, as do all the phones Nextel sells. Other features include memory for a 100-number contact directory and the last 10 calls you made and received.

Business

i2000plus, $149.99 retail

This phone is a must for the international traveler, Jennings says. Motorola’s i2000 allows you to use your phone in at least 75 countries. If you’ve ever tried to use a pay phone abroad, you know what a relief it would be to use your own phone to make a call.

This phone includes all the basic features of the i550plus, as well as a speakerphone and three-way calling features.

First Class

i90c, $199.99 retail

The i90c was just released in November. This phone is Java-enabled, which allows you to download or create your own business-specific applications written in Java and use them on your phone.

Basic Java applications such as an expense pad, calculator and Sega video game are preprogrammed on the phone. The feature is particularly popular in the construction and real estate industries, Jennings says.

“If you have construction crews out in the field, you could have a special program created for billing,” Jennings says. “You could download their hours right into the handset. That way, you don’t have use those extra steps of handing a report into the office.”

The i90c also has voice activation so you can tell your phone to call the office instead of dialing. This is a good feature for when you’re driving, if you don’t care that it looks like you’re talking to yourself.

There are dozens of Nextel providers in Northeast Ohio. Go to its Web site, www.nextel.com to find a nearby retailer. How to reach: Nextel, www.nextel.com

Morgan Lewis Jr. ([email protected]) is senior reporter at SBN Magazine.