The phone you carry says a lot about you, but you shouldn't choose it on looks alone. PC Advisor considers the latest mobile operating systems.

Keeping in touch is important, but it's no longer enough to opt for a GSM, triband or quad-band phone.

These days, you need to match your mobile communication options to your colleagues', as well as your own lifestyle – which is why many businesses elect to dole out the same make and model of mobile phone handset to each employee.

For the rest of us, for whom an all-Palm, all-Windows or all-BlackBerry environment isn't a given, choosing a mobile phone is more complex. We're less bothered about which network operator to choose, and more concerned with funky add-ons such as a decent camera, voice-activated dialling, GPS satnav capability, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

We may not be as fickle with hefty tariff smartphones as we'd be with a voice- and music-focused handset, but there is sufficient change in this arena to give pause for thought.

Palm has dumped its own operating system in favour of Linux and launched yet more Windows Mobile devices. The Apple iPhone is available in the US and will hit our shores soon. You can run BlackBerry applications on Windows Mobile devices and the Windows Mobile operating system has recently reached version 6.0. Add to some significant innovations on the Symbian front, and it's harder than ever to know which mobile phone will best suit your purposes.

Add your own apps

Most of us give as little thought for the operating software that will drive our new smartphone or mobile device as we do the OS (operating system) on our PC. But the software has a major impact on how you use your device. The Linux-powered Nokia N800 internet tablet, for example, shows how an OS can have strong pros and cons.

This internet tablet runs customised Linux software, Maemo, which has been developed from the Debian and Gnome technologies. It can browse the web, read RSS feeds, send and receive email, play music and videos and make VoIP phone calls using Google Talk. It can transmit live video during phone calls via a built-in camera. And a web connection can be established via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, or by using a broadband-capable mobile phone as a modem.

However, while the N800 might initially seem feature-rich, you can't take photos or capture videos with the built-in camera because imaging software isn't included with the device. The same applies to personal information management. Calendar, notes and document-viewing applications are missing. Such omissions are quite a drawback for the N800.

Because the device is based on open-source software, you can find and install those capabilities for free. But this type of flexibility won't suit everybody. Many people will prefer the familiarity of Windows Mobile – which looks a bit like its desktop PC counterpart – or easier to use less-open platforms such as the Symbian OS.

Let's look at how Linux – as deployed on the N800 – compares in functionality with the Symbian OS and Windows Mobile.

Linux, you say?

For the N800 user, the place to start shoring up the device is

The site hosts downloadable apps that open-source developers have made available for free. You can grab a digital photo and video-capture application, multimedia player, calendar, spreadsheet, office document viewers, instant-messaging clients and games. It takes only a single click (and a few security confirmations) to download and install an application to the Nokia N800.

Smartphones built on Linux are available from many phone companies, including Motorola, NEC, Panasonic and Samsung. Most current products target Asian markets, but the situation is changing. Apple's iPhone will run on Mac OS X, which is derived from Unix software. And Palm is switching from Palm OS to Linux this year.

Building up a system configuration from free software components won't be new if you use Linux rather than Windows on your PC. However, most of us are unlikely to want to stump up for a handset knowing we'd then have to find, download and install an imaging application on the device before being able to take photos with its camera.

While Maemo is used as the model of the Linux culture, Windows Mobile and Symbian have different origins and objectives. Both operating systems are licensed as traditional software products, provide tools for programmers to create applications and are controlled by commercial enterprises.

Quick links

Add your own applications and Linux in smartphones

Windows Mobile 5.0 and 6.0

BlackBerry RIM & Symbian

Handsets: Nokia N800 & N95; HTC Advantage

Handsets: HTC Touch; BlackBerry Curve & Pearl

Handsets: Palm Treo 680; Apple iPhone; Motorola Q9

For mobile phone reviews, news and tutorials, see our new Mobile Advisor site, brought to you in association with BlackBerry.

For mobile phone reviews, news and tutorials, see our new Mobile Advisor site, brought to you in association with BlackBerry.