There’s plenty of activity in smartphone land. While the iPhone has been bitten by a radioactive spider and has mutated into a gigantic 10-inch version of itself (some call it the iPad)—the Windows Phone 7 Series has made Microsoft look cool for the first time in a decade, and Google’s Android platform is being happily co-opted by a host of mobile manufacturers, Sony Ericsson and Samsung being the latest among them.
We look at two phones that haven’t sided with any of the big camps. The BlackBerry Storm 2 hopes to repress any surviving memory of the ill-fated Storm 1, and the iNQ Chat 3G brings social networking to a new low. Price-wise, that is.
The BlackBerry Storm 2 is supposed to be an upgraded, glitch-free version of Storm, developer Research In Motion’s take on Apple’s iPhone. But reviewing the Storm 2 is entirely an exercise in imagining how bad the original Storm must have been and shuddering at the horror of it.
The tactile touch screen in Storm 2 contains electric “buttons” placed under the screen layer. This means that you can’t merely activate a key by touching it, but have to exert a little pressure, thereby eliminating unwanted clicks and mistakes. There are three ways you can type—a predictive text copyrighted as “Smart Type”, a regular keypad and a full Qwerty keypad. The problem with the last is that the letters are too close to each other and if your fingers are any larger than the pointy ends of chopsticks, there is no way you can type an SMS, much less an email, without urges of extreme rage and violence. At the end of one week of fiddling around with the Storm, my accuracy had improved about 60% but it was nowhere near being a pleasant experience.
Connected: iNQ Chat 3G (far left) and BlackBerry Storm 2 both offer instant access to social networking sites.
Touch-screen troubles apart, the phone is nice. The browser is quick (though starting up the Storm is quite a long process; the review copy we received took 1 minute and 42 seconds to come alive). The menu screen is really cool with a smooth up and down scroll. The text editor is also quite fetching. You can choose parts of text to copy or cut by simply placing your fingers—divider style—at both ends of text. The landscape and portrait switch of the phone is quick, with the screen sensing even the early stages of the tilt action.
The high-resolution 480x360 pixel colour display is sharp and the 3.2 megapixel camera (with flash) and the BlackBerry music player do their bits reasonably well. The phone, unlike its predecessor, is Wi-Fi enabled and the browser really zips on a good connection. The touch screen makes browsing a joyous experience. Also, unlike other smartphones, the Storm allows you to switch between multiple windows, which makes it much easier to, say, pick a telephone number off the Internet, add it to an excel sheet and dial, all at pretty much the same time.
All told, what fails the Storm 2 is what differentiates it from other BlackBerrys—the touch screen. I met someone who’s a month-old user of the phone. “I now like it,” he said, “but it took several weeks of staying up all night, trying to get used to the touch screen and figuring out how exactly to touch it to make it error-free.”
At Rs31,990, the Storm 2 is less of the stunner you fall in love with at first touch, and more the colicky baby you have to forgive before you can start adoring it.
At the other end of the budget spectrum is iNQ Mobile’s Chat 3G. It costs Rs7,599, half the price of the cheapest BlackBerry, packs in a Qwerty keypad and a full suite of “social networking” features in a striking black and red design. First impressions of the Chat 3G are excellent—the packaging is great, the bundled wallpapers are pretty and the instruction manual comes in the form of colourful flash cards.
The Chat 3G’s home screen, which is bright and clear, gives you easy access to Facebook, Twitter and Google search. Email is easy to set up and there’s even a decent browser. The device charges via USB and manages to hold up for an entire day on full charge—impressive for power-hungry smartphones.
In spite of this impressive debut, working with the Chat 3G is a quick, traffic-free short cut to frustration land. The phone has 3G support, but until we reach that promised land, you’re stuck with GPRS. GPRS stunningly recreates the experience of a dial-up connection from the 1990s, right down to frequent network outages and impossibly slow speeds. The browser, while competent, has trouble rendering complicated sites. Facebook and Twitter work as advertised, but the continuous monitoring of updates slows the phone down gloriously. My modest 359 Facebook friends and 300 Twitter followers managed to bring the phone to a halt, necessitating restarts on two different occasions. Definitely not a phone for the popular.
Otherwise, the phone itself is fairly straightforward. It’s light and sleek, the camera is passable, and making and receiving calls is as you’d expect. The Chat 3G is a power-packed, feature-perfect phone at a superbly economical price. The key to getting the most of the phone is, strangely enough, being a little less social.
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