Teens and smartphones: Coolness is key

Texting matters a lot; voice and Web not so much

Ask a group of high school students what they think of the latest smartphones and cell phones and you'll likely hear a lot of "It's so cool" or "I hate it," with very little in-between.

Computerworld recently asked four high school juniors and one senior, ages 16 and 17, to look at the new Kin One and Kin Two social-networking phones from Microsoft, HTC's Droid Incredible, with its speedy 1-GHz Snapdragon processor, and the less-than-brand-new Palm Pre Plus and Pixi Plus.

2 girls checking out cell phones
Skylar, left, and Emily give careful attention to the Kin One and Kin Two mobile phones.

They gathered around a table in a coffee shop in suburban Boston one afternoon and heard descriptions of the phones by two Verizon Wireless consultants who sell the five devices, in addition to dozens of others.

The teens also got to hold the devices and use them briefly, leading to plenty of comments about ergonomic features -- basics like size and weight, but also details, such as whether the surface was too slick and might make the phone easy to drop. Color was also important. The presence of a physical keyboard, for easy texting, seemed to be the most important feature (keyboards are included on the Kins and the two Palm devices), although the Incredible's touchscreen-only keyboard eventually impressed two diehard Qwerty keyboard fans.

Showing how much look and feel really matter when it comes to choosing a phone, Evyn repeatedly remarked when holding the square-shaped slider Kin One: "This phone is so cute. I love this phone. I really like the size of it."

All four of her friends, however, said the Kin One's keyboard was too small. They favored the larger rectangular slider and keyboard of the Kin Two, even though it was not their ultimate favorite device.

As it turned out, only two of the students (Skylar and Anthony) picked the same phone, the Incredible, as their favorite from the handful of phones demonstrated. The others picked the Kin One (Evyn), the Palm Pre Plus (Julie) and the Palm Pixi Plus (Emily).

4 kids checking out cell phones
Evyn, third from left, said she really likes the "cute" Kin One, much to the amusement of Anthony and (from left) Julie and Skylar.
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