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HowardForums 1 millionth member give away day 1: T-Mobile G1, Sidekick and Jawbone Prime headset

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1 comment June 8th, 2009

Nokia n96 Review

side

While the iPhone 3G and Blackberry Bold often receive a lot of attention, I think the Nokia n95 8GB is one of the most underrated phones out there. Here’s the n95 8GB’s successor – the n96.

n96n95

Compared to the n95/n95 8gb, the n96 is noticeably thinner. This s a result of 2 main things; the screen is not as recessed as it is on the n95 8GB plus the n96 uses a thinner, lower capacity battery.

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Build quality is alright. I’m not sure if it’s because my n95 8gb’s slide is a bit worn out but the n96′s slide seems more secure. The battery cover runs the entire length of the back of the n96 – mine creaks a little after using it for a few weeks.

Let’s take a tour:

top

On top there’s the left speaker, power button, 3.5mm headphone jack (it works with regular headphones as well as video out cables) and a hold switch (no more 2 button presses to lock the keypad).

left

The left has a micro SDHC card slot (to augment the 16GB already built-in).

bottom

The bottom has a right speaker, micro USB and Nokia charger port. There is still no support for charging via the micro USB slot, boo!

right

On the right is a camera button and volume keys.

speaker

On the back is the 5 megapixel camera, dual LED flash and a small stand that’s built-in around the camera.

opened

The design of the keys is more updated and look more sleek. They’re a little harder to use without looking because they lay flat. I prefer the n95′s keys. Texting is a little slower and I sometimes accidentally press the right softkey instead of the end key and vice versa. The keys are slightly wobbly (not in a bad way) which I think was done intentionally to make them easier to tell apart – interesting.

There are a few changes, there is no more edit button, instead there are media player control keys around the nav pad.

mediakeys

Sliding the phone open reveals more media player keys on top which light up depending on the context.

I like the media keys around the nav pad. While I liked the media keys on the n95 I found them inconvenient to use.

The screen looks fine, it’s pretty large given the n96′s form factor though it really needs more resolution when compared with other competing phones.

Memory card performance was difficult to test because I found I results varied wildly even when I was copied the same files over and over again. I noticed anywhere from 500kb/s to over 10MB/s. That said performance was pretty good most of the time. To test speeds I took 16 video files (2.1GB worth) and copied them to the n96. Remember, smaller files (like images and mp3′s) will usually result in slower performance.

It took 7 mins 11 seconds (about 5MB/s) to copy files to the built-in memory while reading from took 5mins 43 secs (6.5MB/s).

I tested 2 memory cards; a Sandisk 16GB SDHC and a Sandisk Ultra 16GB SDHC.

Writing to the regular card took 6mins 5secs (6MB/s) while reading took 5mins 4 secs (7.5MB/s)

The ultra took 5:45 secs to write (6.5MB/s) and to 4:35 (8.3MB/s) to read. Both cards turned in pretty good performance though you’ll usually get even faster speeds using an external SDHC card reader. You’ll also notice more of a difference between the regular card and the Ultra one.

There is an orientation sensor which you can turn on. It’s supposed to auto rotate the screen depending on how you’re holding it but I found it to be far too sensitive – best to leave it off. Also, since the n96 is a 2 way slider you can just use that to tell the n96 how you want the screen.

There are 2 versions of the n96; a North American version and a European one. Both have HSDPA, Quad band EDGE (850/900/1800/1900), Bluetooth, and Wifi. The NA one has HSDPA 850/1900 while the Euro one has HSDPA 900/2100.

Software:

One nice thing about Nokia S60 phones is that when you get a new one you can upgrade from the old one quite easily. You can use Nokia PC Suite to backup your old phone and then restore it onto the new one. If you don’t feel like using your computer there’s a program which you can send to the old phone which will copy everything over via Bluetooth.

While the n96 is very similar to the n95 in many ways there are 3 main things which have been changed. The way you view photos, and watch videos.

While 5megapixels is no longer class leading, the n96 still takes really nice pictures (for a camera phone). It has an auto focus lens so there is a pause from when you press down on the shutter to when the n96 actually takes a photo.

There’s an option you can turn on that will automatically geotag your photos so you can see where you took them. I really like it.

You can tag your photos after you’ve taken them though you’ll have to switch to the gallery app to do this. It would be nice to have an option to do this from the camera app. Besides tags you can also sort pictures by month and albums.

When viewing photos there are now fancier animations. If you move from picture to picture it’s animated but if you scroll faster, then the photos zoom out so you can see more of them at once. It’s a nice feature though I wish the animations were a bit smoother. There’s an icon showing you where you’re located in the album which is useful if you have lots of pictures.

When you zoom in on a photo it zooms in more progressively which sounds nice but the way the n96 accomplishes this is by zooming in and then redrawing the picture so you can see the added detail. This is perfectly acceptable but I found it often took a few seconds before you could see the extra detail, it often drove me nuts when I took a picture and wanted to zoom in and view it right after.

While the Video Center application has been around for quite a while I must confess that I’ve never really used it before.

Another feature I’ve never used much before is the video out cable. I must say, while the n96 isn’t exactly a high definition device, the video out quality is pretty good. The n96 only has a resolution of 320×240 but the video it outputs is pretty crisp.

The stand is a cute feature which is nice if you use the n96 a lot for videos but for me I found it just exaggerated the fact that the n96′s display is smaller than some of it’s competitors.

Like the n95 you can control the movie player by sliding the screen down and using the media keys. You can also control them using the media keys that surround the nav pad. When you slide the screen down the video will automatically switch to landscape mode.

If you stop a video halfway, the program will remember where you left off so next time you watch it, it will ask you if you want to watch from the beginning or resume where you left off. It also remembers the last video you watched (even between reboots).

Maps is the same maps program you find on other S60 devices. Maps are free to download over the air or you can connect the n96 to your PC and download maps that way (saving you data and or roaming charges). There are some nice features like a satellite view, plus you can view the outlines of buildings (useful for when you’re in a city).

While the n95 is capable of spitting out directions you have to pay if you want to use the guidance/navigation feature.

The S60 web browser works well though there’s still no official support for tabs and, while it’s no slouch, it’s not as fast as some newer browsers. You can press 8 to bring up a page overview which lets you see the entire page without having to scroll sideways, this way you can scroll quicker.

There is some Flash support meaning you’ll be able to view Flash on some sites depending on what version they require. One note of caution, Flash requires a lot of processing power so it can really slow the browser to a crawl.

The messaging client supports email (IMAP and POP), MMS and SMS. There is now a seperate email client avaialble that has push email – so emails automatically get sent to your phone. You can download it from email.nokia.com. Right now it’s free but it will cost something to use eventually.

While I was a little disappointed that the push email client isn’t integrated into the n96′s messaging client the push email client has a better layout. It has some nice options like the time of day you want email pushed, whether you want push email when you’re roaming – those sorts of things. Another nice thing I noticed about the push email client is that it syncs with your email inbox so that if you’ve read a message elsewhere it will show up as read when you view it on the n96. My Blackberries which are connected via BIS don’t do this.

The phonebook and calendars can sync with ovi.com so that you can sync the n96 over the air – neat!

The music program lets you sort your music by artist, album, etc (just like most other music programs). You can control music playback using the media keys under the screen (when you slide the screen down) or by using the media keys surrounding the nav pad. What nice about these keys is that you can use them when you’re doing something else like reading email or surfing the web.

Music can be stored on either the 16GB of built-in memory or on the SDHC card. Whenever you copy music to the n96, you have to refresh the music library so it can find the new music – sometimes this can take a minute. Once it’s found the music, it won’t distinguish between music on the memory card or built-in memory. This is a good thing since it doesn’t matter where you copy your music.

There are 2 really, really loud speakers, A2DP support (for Bluetooth stereo audio) plus a 3.5mm headphone jack. The speakers sound pretty good though they can be a bit piercing at times.

There is an alarm clock, calculator, calendar with built-in todo list (both of which sync with your computer or ovi.com), metric converter, PDF reader, notes app and Quick Office. Quick Office lets you edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint files but you’ll have to pay extra if you want to create them on the n96 (or just download empty Word, Excel and PowerPoint files here).

Also included is a SIP (VOIP) client.

You also get an FM radio app (I didn’t try it), voice commands and text to voice (it can announce who’s calling and read you your messages). The text to voice has a really robotic sounding voice but works alright plus it will work in the background. The voice commands on the other hand don’t work that well.

Performance:

Now the n96 comes in a European (HSDPA 900/2100) and a North American (HSDPA 850/1900) version. Since I had the Euro version I couldn’t test the HSDPA. That said, the EDGE radio performed similarly to the one found in my n95 8GB so it’s quite good.

Besides some constant background hiss, incoming sound quality is pretty good. You get used to constant background hiss so it’s not much of an issue. Outgoing sound quality had less hiss.

Battery life wasn’t that great for an EDGE phone which probably means the smaller battery won’t be good for battery life in HSDPA mode on the North American one. That said, most HSDPA smartphones have pretty lousy battery life.

Conclusion:

While the browser is decent there is room for improvement. I’d also like to see a higher resolution display, and the ability to charge the n96 through the micro USB connector.

While the n96 shares many of the n95 8GB’s features, remember that the n95 8GB is already packed to the gills (if it was a fish) with features.

When I first got the n96, I thought it was very similar to the n95 and pondered what the point of it was. While the n95 has always had video out capabilities, they suddenly make a lot of sense with the n96. With 16GB of memory built-in plus the ability to add another 16GB (or 32GB eventually), the n96 is actually a very interesting device if you travel a lot. You can load quite a few movies on it, then you can use the video out to watch it on a hotel room TV. Now, if only the n96 came with a remote control…

The relatively fast USB transfer speeds make the n96 more usable.

The improved photo app with geo tag and name tag support really make the camera fun to use.

Howard Chui
02.10.2009

3 comments February 11th, 2009

Pearl coming to Fido

The BlackBerrys will be coming Fido in the very near future!

According to HowardForums member “chaser_xsnes9x” both the 8120 8220 will be launched by Quarter 1 of 2009.  The 8120 (Pearl) will be launched first, the second week of December, at a price of $0 on a two year term with data option.  The 8220 (Curve will be launched second, Q1 of 2009, costing you $50 (on a two year term with data).

Fido’s UNO service will be promoted with the new devices along with 3 current devices.  Exact launch dates and color have yet to be confirmed.

live_strong

Add comment December 3rd, 2008

Asus Eee PC 1000h review

Here’s the Asus Eee PC 1000h. A 3lb computer that costs around $500.

The 1000h comes with a 1.6Ghz Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, 160GB 5400 RPM hard drive, 802.11 draft N, a 6 cell battery and Windows XP Home. There are also versions with 40GB SSD and 80GB hard drives. You can also get a white coloured version.

The body is plastic and is covered with a glossy finish which shows fingerprints. It weighs in at 1434g (3.16lbs).

The plastic feels pretty thick so the 1000h feels fairly solid.

The 1000h isn’t particularly thin. The battery is the thickest point. I actually don’t mind this because it makes it easier to hold if you’re walking around. In fact, I thought the best way to carry the 1000h around is just by putting it in a form fitting case and carrying it like I would a binder.

The screen hinge is pretty strong and feels well made. It opens to about 160 degrees.

The included AC adapter is tiny; if you don’t include the cables it’s about half or third the size of my other laptop chargers.  It has an output of 36w compared with 55w to 90w on most larger laptops.

If you want to start over again, get a DVD you can use to bring the 1000h hard drive back to factory specs. You’ll need to find an external optical drive to do this since the 1000h doesn’t come with one. I just disconnected my DVD drive on my desktop and ran a cable to a portable hard drive case and then connected that to the 1000h. Please note, the DVD contains a ghost image which will create 3 partitions on the hard drive; a “c” drive, an empty “d” drive and an EFI partition (more on that later).

On the left are the laptop lock slot, Ethernet port, USB connector and headphone/microphone connectors.

On the right is the power connector, VGA and 2 more USB connectors.

There is no Express card slot. This doesn’t bother me one bit but it may be an issue to some.

The underside has a big door. Behind it are the 2.5″ SATA drive, mini PCIe slot (with a wifi card in it) and a DDR2 SODIMM slot. You can use 9.5mm (standard) 2.5″ SATA drives.

To be honest, the easy to access 2.5″ drive and SODIMM slots (plus availability of cheap 1000 series accessories) are what sold me on the 1000h over other similar netbooks. I had a spare 2.5″ SATA SSD lying around so I was anxious to put it in something.

The screen measures 10.2″ and has a resolution of 1024×600. I was surprised at how bright the display is. I find it very usable indoors at all brightness settings except the lowest one.

Now I’m generally used to screens that are at least 768 pixels high so I had some usability concerns before I got the 1000h. Indeed I initially had some issues but found that adjusting some settings in Windows helped alleviate most of them. The 3 main things I did was switched the start menu to small icons, auto hid the start menu and moved some of my Firefox tool bars around. After these changes, the 600 pixel height doesn’t bother me as much. The only time I really have problems are with some webpages which have pictures which are too tall for the screen.

On top of the screen is a 1.3 megapixel camera. To be honest I never use webcams so I have no idea how good the camera is. I did use it to take one or 2 pics, the image quality wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be.

The keyboard is not bad, the feel is okay and I was able to touch type on it immediately. Dedicated page up/down/home/end keys would be nice but given the size of the 1000h, I understand why they need to be accessed with a function key.

My only real complain about it is that the right shift key is half width and is to the right of the up key. So, whenever I want to press the right shift, I press up instead. It’s really annoying and despite having the 1000h for a few weeks now I’m still not used to it.

The touchpad is fairly small. There are 2 mouse buttons that have a snazzy metal finish to them. I found them to be too stiff and noisy when you press them.

Another problem I found is that the touchpad is too close to the keyboard – so, when I type, I found myself touching the touchpad a lot.

Speaking of the touchpad, it’s multi touch so you can put 2 fingers on it to scroll through webpages like you would with the touchpad on a Mac. If you want to scroll side ways, you could double tap the touchpad to bring up freehand scrolling (sort of like when you click the wheel on a mouse wheel).

There are 2 speakers on the side of the Eee. They’re surprisingly loud and actually sound pretty good for a laptop. They’re loud enough that I don’t bother using headphones when I exercise on a machine.

Noise wise, I thought the included hard drive (a Seagate 160GB 5400.4) was audible even when idle in a quiet room. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m used to a laptop with an SSD.

There is a built-in cooling fan, while it’s not extremely loud it does have a distinct noise to it. I’d describe it almost as a ‘mooing’ sound.

You get 3 main pieces of software with the 1000h: Eset’s ENOD32 antivirus (I think it’s a version with 3 months of updates), StarOffice 8, EeePC Tray Utility and ‘Super Hybrid Engine’. Super Hybrid Engine is just a piece of software that helps throttle the CPU speed when you’re not using it. It can also overclock it to 1.7ghz when you need that extra 0.1ghz of speed.  The Tray utility is used for switching screen resolutions and turning the camera/WiFi/BT on or off.

For the Bluetooth, Asus includes WIDCOMM 5.5.0.3200. It includes support for A2DP.

Probably the best thing about the 1000h is that it boots up really fast. Most PC’s come with a bios (the black screen that shows you your processor speed, RAM, hard drives, etc. when you boot up). The 1000h has this but it also has an option to use EFI (Intel Mac’s use EFI) which cuts the time from when you press the power button to when Windows actually starts to load down drastically. Basically, when you press the power button, the 1000h almost immediately begins to boot Windows.

I think when I first got the 1000h, it booted up in about 32 seconds – that includes an antivirus program.

Performance is adequate for surfing the web, emailing, word processing, chatting, stuff like that.

If you’re a patient person, you can even do some image editing and stuff like that.

I might add some benchmarks later but to be honest I don’t see much point for a device like the 1000h.

Performance is not adequate for playing most newer games including many flash games, video editing, that sort of thing.

Here’s what I’ve done with my 1000h; I was working out on an elliptical and streaming a DVD over my wifi network and surfing the web while at the same time using remote desktop to chat on my computer upstairs.

The video didn’t skip and the processor hovered around 40% utilization. Given how slow I was expecting the 1000h to be, I was very impressed with this. I was also impressed that the WiFi was stable and fast enough to stream a DVD.

Battery life is always hard to quantify since everyone uses their computer differently but under normal circumstances (surfing the web, emailing with the brightness all the way up and BT and WiFi on) I’d say the 1000h is good for a very useful 5 hours. You can probably get more if you turn the brightness down.

The question I ask myself is: do I want something powerful that I will use less or do I want something that I use more?

While the Eee has a similar price to an entry level laptop, typically these entry level laptops weigh 5 or 6 lbs – so they’re too big and heavy to bring around. The Eee on the other hand is smaller, lighter and for many tasks, fast enough. It’s a trade off; performance or portability. If you can live with the 1000h’s modest performance then you’ll love the portability.

Another thing to consider when it comes to portability is if you can have your computer with you more – you’ll use it more. What good is having a fast computer if it’s not around to be used.

As for the Eee PC specifically, while not without some flaws; the horribly placed right shift key, distinctive fan noise, stiff mouse buttons, somewhat lumpy profile and slightly low resolution display I find it to be a very useful device. It’s a good balance between power and portability. It’s nice having a computer that is small enough to carry around yet is powerful enough that I can actually use it.

What stood out most to me when it comes to the 1000h are it’s bright screen, loud speakers, useful battery life and easy to upgrade hard drive.

Howard Chui
11.24.2008

1 comment November 24th, 2008

Nokia e71 review

Here’s my review of the metal clad Nokia E71. Nokia’s update to their e61i.

Build quality is excellent. Much of the body is made of metal along with the battery cover. The battery cover clips on (instead of sliding on) and it fits very tightly. The finish is chrome and is an absolute fingerprint magnet. It didn’t bother me (except when I was taking pictures of the e71) but some may not like that. All in all, the e71 feels a lot more expensive than its competitors.

Along with the nice metal body Nokia includes a very nice leather pouch. The pouch is thin so it maintains the e71′s sleek profile.

The keyboard has a pretty good feel and the buttons stick out.

It is however a lot narrower than say a Blackberry Bold or Motorola Q9h – width wise it’s more similar to a Treo. Personally I like typing on wider keyboards but at the same time I prefer carrying around a more narrow one. I also like how it’s easier for me to use a narrower keyboard with one hand. Plus a narrower keyboard makes the e71 easier to hold when I’m using it as a phone. I guess the narrow width has it’s pros and cons, and for me, they’re a wash.

As far as the layout, I don’t have any complaints about the e71′s keyboard. I like the space bar size. The number keys are directly above the space bar which makes dialing numbers slightly easier.

Besides being more narrow, the e71 is also pretty thin, though, really I wouldn’t consider the Bold or the Q9h to be thick.

There are 3 buttons on the right side plus a 2.5mm headset jack – I wish Nokia had put a 3.5mm headphone jack in instead.

There is an infrared port on the left (do people who can afford an e71 still use those?) along with a micro USB connector and micro SDHC slot. The usb and SD card slots have covers which feel like buttons. Shamefully you can’t use the micro USB slot for charging.

There’s a Nokia charging connector at the bottom.

On top is the mono speaker and a power button.

There is a 3.2megapixel autofocus camera on the back with a built-in LED flash and self portrait mirror.

There is one shortcut key to the left of and two to the right of the nav pad. Each button can have 2 functions; you can press it for one function or press and hold it for the other – useful.

The button with the house has the same function as the menu button on other s60 devices. You can press it to bring you back to the home screen or press and hold it to bring up the task switcher.

The screen is nice and bright. It has a resolution of 320×240 which trails the Blackberry Bold’s 480×360.

Features:

The standby screen has a work mode, which by default displays a list of program shortcuts. It also shows a link to your email (including the number of new messages), calendar (including the number of calendar items due today) and the to do list (including the number of outstanding items).

There is also a personal mode which removes the email, calendar and to do list information and has a different set of program shortcuts. This is nice if you’re trying to separate work and home.

The email program supports POP3, IMAP4 and MS exchange. While I didn’t test it, Exchange support pushes emails to your device.

The e71 will search your phonebook if you start typing/dialing from the standby screen. Microsoft Smartphone (now called Windows Mobile Personal) and Blackberries have had this feature for a while.

The phonebook can sync with your computer using Nokia PC Suite. You can also sync it with Ovi (along with your calendar, todo list and a bunch of other stuff) – useful if you’re switching to a different Nokia phone and don’t want to use a computer.

The E series phones are targeted towards business users. Nokia includes VPN software (I didn’t test it because my OpenVPN setup isn’t compatible).

Also loaded is PTT (push to talk), SIP (voip), Instant messaging software.

The SIP works fine. If you’re about to make a call you can press the talk button to phone using the mobile network or you can press in on the navpad to choose to make a SIP call instead.

If you’re setting the SIP client up and can’t get it to work try using this ########@yourprovider.com where the #’s is your username and yourprovider is the address of your SIP provider.

With the built-in Search app, you can search many of the built-in programs as well as the internet for stuff. Music, content, calendar,  messages, email, bookmarks, images, videos, applications, notes, landmarks and active notes.

You get a version of QuickOffice that allows you to create documents on the device. Often times you only get a version that lets you view documents.

There is a useful converter program which can convert weight, volume, distance, etc.

Active Notes is a note taking application where you can insert pictures, video, sound, internet bookmarks, business cards and files into notes. You can insert pics from your phone or take a new one with the camera.

You can even link a note to a phonebook entry so that whenever you call that number, the note will pop up (so you can take notes about the call). Very very smart!

I don’t think Active Notes sync with your computer.

There’s also a regular note application which does sync with your computer (and lacks Active Notes’ cool features).

There is a dictionary program which lets you look words up in other languages and can translate them. You can go online (on the e71) and download dictionaries. Besides showing you the definition of a word it can also read it out to you – sorry people, I didn’t bother trying to see if it would translate swear words.

A word of note though; if you download a dictionary who’s language is NOT supported by the e71 then you’re out of luck. For example, my e71 supports English, French and Spanish – so when I downloaded a Japanese dictionary it just shows squares instead of the characters.

You can read PDF files with the included Acrobat reader. I didn’t find it to be as good as the PDF reader on the Bold. The Bold has a text only mode which makes reading a lot of PDF’s much easier.

There is an option to encrypt the main memory as well as the memory card. To be honest I’m not 100% sure what it does exactly (Besides encrypt things). I encrypted my memory card and put a password on it. When I turned my e71 off/on it didn’t prompt me for a password. When I stuck the card in my computer however the computer couldn’t read it.

The e71 has a voice aid feature which can read certain things to you. It has a sort of sub menu of features which are voice enabled (not all of the e71′s functionality is). It can do stuff like read your messages, read out numbers as you dial them, read out your phonebook. To be honest when I first tried it (when the e71 was fresh out of the box) it worked, later, after everything was setup I tried to get it to read my messages and I got a ran out of memory message.

The music player is similar to the one you’ll find on say the n95. Like most music players you can sort your music by artist, album, genre, etc. You can also view most frequently listened to songs. There is a shortcut to the music player on the standby screen if it’s in personal mode.

Like I mentioned before, there’s no 3.5 mm headphone jack, just a 2.5mm headset jack so you’ll need to find an adapter if you want to use ‘regular’ headphones.

The built-in speaker has adequate volume but it doesn’t sound particularly good.

The camera has a resolution of 3.2 megapixels with a LED flash and self portrait mirror. I’m a little surprised that the e71 doesn’t have a dedicated camera button on the side (most phones have this). To take a picture you press in on the navpad. This is slightly confusing because this button is also used to change camera settings. So, if you change a camera setting and want to take a pic it’s not as intuitive.

Picture quality isn’t that great – I was expecting more after using a Nokia n95 and n95 8GB a lot recently. Despite it’s autofocus I didn’t find pictures to be particularly sharp, they’re also noisier than I expected and the colour was usually off slightly. Still, compared to other camera phones, the e71 is about average.

You can look at your pictures using the gallery app. It’s not the same snazzy gallery app you get on other s60 devices. The one on the e71 is functional but you can only see 3 pictures at a time instead of many more.

Nokia Maps is included. It’s a mapping program that lets you look up POI and addresses for free plus there is free access to maps. You have to pay extra if you want navigation (walking and driving navigation).

Most free mapping programs let you download maps as you need them. What makes Nokia Maps special besides downloading the maps as you need them, you can also hook the e71 up to your computer and download maps so you can save money on data charges. In case you’re wondering, maps for the entire world take up about 3.2GB of space while Canada is 161MB and the US is 896MB. If you’re tight on space, you can choose to only download individual provinces or states; New York is 46MB – very useful.

Browsing is handled by the S60 browser. The S60 browser is one of the better browsers out there. It doesn’t use a proxy so when you view a page, the e71 downloads the entire page.

I did find that the e71 would sometimes close the browser if I switched to a different program to save memory. That really irritated me when it happened. It also seemed to crash a little more than it did on my Nokia n95 8GB.

You also get; podcasting app, radio, voice recognition and a voice recorder.

Performance:

Incoming sound quality is quite good; aside from a slight background hiss (it’s barely noticeable) the e71  is clear and neutral. The e71′s taper sides make it easy to hold in your hand.

Outgoing sound quality is also very good, the microphone is pretty sensitive so you don’t have to talk very loud on it.

Maximum earpiece volume is adequate. The speakerphone isn’t very good. While loud enough it sounds kind of muffled.

RF performance is generally good but I found that it would fluctuate a lot at times – sometimes it would drop down to EDGE from HSDPA for seemingly no reason. Hopefully this will be fixed by a firmware update somewhere down the road.

Conclusions:

Overall I really enjoyed the e71; It fits nicely in your hand and is fast and easy to use. It’s a nice phone to hold.

It feels very well made and is solid. I love the metal body. There is a huge list of features; besides the usual (dual band HSDPA, WiFi, BT, memory card) it also has some less common ones like Active Notes, translator, encryption, talking phone, ability to create office documents, SIP, VPN, among others.

Still it has some shortcomings; the camera is pretty awful, the RF can be wonky at times, no 3.5mm headphone jack (just a 2.5mm) and sometimes the browser closes when it’s in the background.

Howard Chui
11.12.2008

15 comments November 12th, 2008

Virgin Mobile USA acquires Helio

Helio & Virgin Mobile USA

Virgin Mobile USA and Helio have merged to provide you with a better cellphone service.  Virgin Mobile USA is paying $39 Million in Equity for Helio and the deal should close in the thrid quarter of 2008 (subject to regulatory approvals).  Virgin and Helio are both MVNOs and will continue to lease network capacities from CDMA carrier Sprint after the merger.  Virgin Mobile USA will sell Helio’s premium service and exclusive devices while providing customer service for 70 000 existing Helio customer (as of December 2007) and 4.6 Million Virgin USA clients (as of January 2008).


Q: What does this mean for current HELIO members? Can I still use my HELIO device, while keeping my HELIO service plan and number?
A: Current service plans will continue without interruption – it will be business as usual. HELIO members are at the center of this transaction and we’ll continue to bring them the innovative mobile services they’ve come to expect.
Q: Can new members still sign up for HELIO service?
A: Absolutely. HELIO will continue to offer exclusive, high-end devices and our innovative All-In plans.
Q: Will the HELIO brand be retained, or will everything migrate to Virgin Mobile USA?

A: Over time, we expect that all aspects of the customer experience will be integrated under the Virgin Mobile USA brand. Integration of the direct sales channel will begin immediately, and we expect that existing HELIO products and services will soon be offered through the Virgin Mobile USA website at www.virginmobileusa.com.
Q: So what’s next?
A: We’re excited by the possibilities our new, combined team offers. We have some big ideas, but as you can imagine, a little bit of housekeeping is in order before we share them. Stay tuned!
Q: Does this affect my current contract with HELIO in any way? When Virgin Mobile USA does acquire HELIO, can I end my current contract without paying an early termination fee (ETF)?
A: HELIO contracts remain in effect and unchanged by this transaction. HELIO members who wish to end their contract early will still be subject to an early termination fee (ETF).

Q&A’s from Helio.com

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Add comment June 27th, 2008

Motorola RAZR2 V9 review

The Motorola V3 was one of the best selling mobile phones in history. By 2006, Motorola had sold over 50 Million units of the V3 and its variants. It was a breakthrough in mobile phone design due to its ultra slim, sleek and minimalistic approach to what a handset should be. This industry leading accomplishment in space saving technology has proven a massive success with consumers and has made the V3 one of the most popular phone models ever.

When Howard first handed me the phone, I was very surprised by how the phone was weighted. It has the presence of a luxury watch.

The battery door of the V9 has a rubber paint finish and is very soft and smooth to sight and touch, yet it also provides a good grip. The phone itself has a very nice finish to it with a very rich and luxurious shine. The sides of the phone are textured so you don’t have to be afraid of the phone slipping out of your hand. First impressions are very important and the V9 knows this, it is very luxurious, sublime and poised. When you look at it, it demands your attention; it demands to be taken seriously.

When you first lay eyes on the V9 you can’t help but notice the large external screen coming in just shy of 2.0”. Flip it open and you’re welcomed by a nicely-sized 2.2” internal screen. The V9 is equipped with a 3G WCDMA/HSDPA chip allowing for high-speed connectivity which allows for high data speeds and lower latency which is a welcomed feature to those who would like to use the Video Calling feature.

Speaking of Video Calling, a 2.0 Megapixel Camera is planted onto the V9 and sports a modest 8x Digital Zoom.

As expected from modern phones, the V9 also has a Bluetooth (with EDR 2+) connectivity; the neat thing about Bluetooth connectivity in the V9 is that it supports A2DP thus allowing for users to listen to music through a Bluetooth headset.

Going back to how the phone looks and feel; flipping open the phone is a very familiar sight to the V9’s older brother (the V3). The V9 has a very similar keyboard to the first RAZR. Flat and made out of a thin sheet of metal. In the past I’ve heard and read mixed reviews about the keys on the V3 and I actually lean on the negative side as I sort of dislike the keys.

They’re very flat and do not provide me with enough tactile response or feedback that I prefer and receive from other keypads. It’s lacking that certain “click” factor when I press the buttons. The worst of the buttons is the ‘up’ button the navigation pad. It seems to have less travel than the other 3 direction buttons. The centre directional pad has a very strange texture which reminds me of the bottom of a non-stick cooking skillet. Having said that, the keypad is engraved with numbers and symbols, making it some-what easy for those with impaired vision to make phone calls. A word of advice, driving and texting does not count as being vision impaired and taking advantage of the engraved keypad is HIGHLY DISCOURAGED when using this phone or any other phones for that matter.

Five external keys are embedded onto the phone with 3 on the left side and 2 on the right. They function as volume adjustment keys; one functions as a shutter button when the camera feature is activated, two function as ringer-style switchers, and one functions as an external key lock toggle. Anyways, you can read all of that in the manual.

At the time when I was taking notes down to write this review I had a very busy week. I had a lot of errands around Toronto and the GTA. I had to drop off my defective camera over at Mississauga, geek-lunch in downtown Toronto, going around and about at the Northern part of Toronto and into Richmond Hill. I was either on public transportation or in the case of the Northern areas of the GTA, I was driving. It was a very hectic week but it was also the perfect week to test the phone’s reception performance. Overall and as has been my experience with Motorola phones, the V9’s reception is great and I had no problems with it.

Perhaps the most notable network connectivity performance out of the V9 is its 3G connectivity. It’s strong and it’s seamless when it comes to hopping from one cell broadcast tower to another. It’s marvelous and it out performs most of the Smartphones I have. I remember a few particular instances where the HTC TyTN II would lose its 3G connectivity when I walked or drove past certain areas in Toronto.

While we’re on the subject of 3G, I have to mention one thing that stuck out as a major negative: it really impacts the battery life of the V9. I’m only able to get about 3/4 day’s worth of battery life with the 3G turned on which includes a mildly long conversation (2 to 3 hrs) followed by a continued long conversation over SMS.

I decided to call up a good friend of mine on his land-line and use him as a test subject. I was surprised by how brilliant, clear, and un-filtered the incoming sound quality was. But it doesn’t end there, when I asked several people how I sounded through the V9 some said I sounded crystal clear! It possesses the sound-quality of a land-line phone. Both the incoming and outgoing sound are processed in such a way that eliminates unwanted noise pitches allowing your communication with the other person to remain clear, crisp and very pleasant, which remains a rare result even in this day and age. It’s all thanks to the new technology called the Crystal Talk that Motorola has developed. But it’s not all cute kittens and puppies as turning on the speaker phone yields nothing but at best very average results. Most of the time it’s terrible and the person comes out sounding like a rocker with strep throat.

When comparing image results between camera phones and a real point and shoot camera, the photos that come out from most mobile phones’ cameras are never really quality photos. They’re more like noisy artifacts that contain some bits of shapes and sometimes the faces of people. The V9 is not an exception to that. The photos that come out of the V9’s camera are decent for a camera phone but nothing overly impressive in comparison to real cameras.

I was pleasantly surprised that Motorola has a new music player for the v9 (I haven’t seen it before on a Synergy phone anyways). It’s under the ‘Media Finder’ program. From the Media Finder program you can also view your pictures, videos, listen to ringtones and change wallpapers. You can control the music player from the external display along with the standby display. There are 3 touch buttons on the bottom of the external display.

Perhaps the best thing about the v9 is that it comes with Opera Mini. Opera mini is a fantastic solution for a device with the v9′s form factor and limitations. You can use it to browse full websites with ease.

I’m an OS X user and at the time of writing I’m running OS X 10.5.2 which has iSync 3.0 (build: 568.0). The kindest thing I can say about the connectivity to my Macs (I have a Mac Pro, and a Macbook Pro) is it’s not quite finished. But the blame is on Apple for neglecting iSync and not providing the much needed update for newer or more recent phones. However, I’m not about let some big iFruit company prevent me from syncing my calendar, contacts, and files with the V9.

I decided to write up a small iSync plug-in for the V9. I looked up on Google for how to write my own plug-in for the V9. It’s pretty time consuming and troublesome but in the end I did manage to get my syncing done, well… sort of. Now, I’m not sure if I botched some code or if it’s a limitation in iSync but I am unable to sync my calendar or perform a file transfer through Bluetooth. The only syncing that I can confirm to be working is contact syncing. So, if you’re a Mac OS X user, you’ve been warned but you might have better luck than I do.

Like most Rogers phones the v9 ships with some Rogers customizations. They’re not that great; probably the worst thing is their Vision software. While I don’t mind how Rogers prices Vision having a Vision app is a step down from using the apps that are integrated into the v9 (such as the music player).

When I first found out that the v9 was a Synergy phone I’ll be honest; I was pretty disappointed because I think it’s inferior to their newer Linux Java OS. I happen to also have a loaner RAZR2 V8 that’s running the most recent Linux and JAVA OS and indeed, it’s much more robust and faster. That said Synergy on the v9 isn’t that bad. The gave it a decent music player, Opera Mini plus the interface is blazingly fast. The text entry is still slightly unintuitive (if you’re not used to a Motorola phone).

The hardware is pretty good, it lives up to its predecessor and surpasses it.

Jason Bourne
05.25.08

Discuss at HowardForums.com

4 comments May 25th, 2008

Blackberry 8800 Review

 

 

The image “http://www.howardchui.com/gallery/albums/userpics/10001/normal_inhand.JPG” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Here’s my review of the Blackberry 8800; the upgrade to the 8700r.

It’s a Blackberry with a QWERTY keyboard. The main differences are that it adds GPS, removable storage with media player, a new navigation roller and a more interesting appearance.

Make sure you check out the gallery for some pictures.

Physical Impressions:

The 8800 feels a little more solid than the 8700r when you squeeze it. This is due mostly to the fact that there are no seams on the side. The finish on the plastics is higher quality, feels smoother and more valuable. The sides have a chrome-mirror finish to them, similar to the back of an iPod.

The display is slightly brighter than the 8700′s though you won’t notice this unless you compare them side by side. By default, the 8800 will adjust the screen brightness based on the ambient lighting conditions. The display is difficult to see in bright sunlight.

The keyboard is about the same size as the 8700′s but I think it’s better. The keys are easier to find because they have small domes on them though I didn’t like the fact that they’re all joined.

Check the gallery for a shot of the 8800 next to some other QWERTY phones. Out of the bunch, I think the Motorola Q’s keyboard has the best feeling keys while the Nokia E62 has the best spacing. Still, you have to factor in all the Blackberry keyboard shortcuts so it’s hard to say which one is best.

Of course the biggest difference between the 8700 and 8800 is that the 8800 eschews the jog dial for the trackball first found on the Blackberry Pearl. If you haven’t tried the Pearl before let me describe what the trackball is like. Look at the picture below:

With a jog dial you’d have to do a bit of scrolling if you want to go to the menu choice directly below. With a trackball you can just roll down and go straight to the menu choice. Sure, other phones have been able to do this for years but still, it’s nice if you use Blackberries.

Hands-free usage:

There is support for Bluetooth headsets, 2.5mm stereo headphones (included) and a speakerphone.

The speakerphone’s maximum volume is about average (it’s not that useful in loud environments).

Included is the Voice Signal voice command software; you can activate it by pressing the button on the left side of the 8800. With Voice Signal, you can call phone book entries or dial numbers without having to train it first. The ability to launch programs seems to be missing.

Miscellaneous:

There is a mini USB connector on the side which you can use for charging. The connector doesn’t seem as picky as the one on the 8700. I was able to charge the 8800′s battery using my Motorola mini USB charger.

You also get a MicroSD slot that’s located underneath the battery cover.

Menus:

The menus are similar to the one found on the 8700. The standby screen is different in that it has a couple of menu items but the main menu and menu structures are otherwise identical. The fact that you can now scroll in 4 directions instead of 2 means you can now do crazy stuff like scroll straight to the menu item below instead of having to scroll an entire row of menu items. I guess RIM has finally caught up to virtually every other phone on the market in this regard. There’s still a back button but it’s now located on the front of the phone. There’s a menu button to the left of the nav roller.

Here’s how the menu works; scroll to the application you want to open. Press in on the nav roller to open it. You move around with the roller and press in on the roller if you want to open something. Press the menu button to bring up the app’s menu. It’s quite smilar to other Smartphones like S60 or Windows Mobile Standard (MS Smartphone) menus in this regard.

When browsing text you can almost always copy and paste using the trackball.

Phone Related Features:

If you type in a name or number from the menu, the 8800 will automatically start searching your phonebook. It’s very similar to Smart Dial on a MS Smartphone except you can start dialing even when you’re in the main menu.

The phonebook is easy to use. It syncs up with MS Outlook. Pictures in your Outlook address book synchronize with the phonebook.

There is support for profiles which allow you to quickly change the volume and sounds the 8800 makes.

Connected Features:

There’s a mini usb connector on the left side near the top. When you connect a usb cable to the 8800, it will prompt you if you want to go into mass storage mode. When the 8800 is in mass storage mode you can use your computer to manage files on the 8800 without requiring special drivers. I clocked the 8800 at a respectable 600kB/s.

RIM is best known for its push email so let me give you a super condensed run down of how it works…

If you’re an end user you probably have a POP3 or maybe an IMAP4 mail box. You log into a website, enter your email server settings into RIM’s web client so that it can check your mail box periodically. When you get a new email, the web client will push it out to your 8800. It’s cool but the thing is you’re actually getting a COPY of your email. So, if you’re the type of person who gets a lot of email and likes to keep track of them on both your Blackberry AND your computer then the web client isn’t terribly useful. When you reply/forward/delete a a message they don’t get marked as such on your computer. While not useless, I think the Blackberry is very overrated if you don’t have access to a BES.

Now if you have access to a BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) via work or you pay someone for BES hosting then the Blackberry is much more useful. Your emails will be sync’d with what you see on your computer plus your PIM apps will also be sync’d automatically on both devices – neat.

One cool feature is the ability to PIN other Blackberry users. It’s sort of like SMS but you get notification right away when the other person gets your messages plus you can view previous messages on the same screen. There is both a web and WAP browser. The web browser is really fast because surfing is done through a proxy (basically when you request a web page it gets pulled up on another computer, compressed and then sent out to your device). It’s not the prettiest browser – in fact it reminds me a lot of a text based browser that’s on steroids, but you get your information really quickly. There are multiple views; desktop where the 8800 renders a page so that you’ll probably have to scroll left and right to view everything or you can view the page so that everything can be read without having to scroll horizontally. There’s a page view feature where you can see a thumbnail of a lot of the page. This helps you scroll through the page more quickly while still having an idea of where you are in the page.

One nice feature is that you can select text from webpages while you scroll around by scrolling only one line at a time.

You get a built-in GPS. I used it with Telenav (it costs extra) and is pretty useful. The trackball is well suited for mapping programs since you can move diagonally.

Multimedia Features:

There’s no built-in camera on the 8800 though there is a built-in mp3 player.

The mp3 player is pretty basic. It can read ID3 tags. There is no built-in equalizer.

The best way to load music on the 8800 is by organizing your music into subfolders on the memory card.

While you can control the music player using the trackball, I preferred the keyboard shortcuts; ‘p’ for previous, ‘n’ for next, backspace to pause plus there are the volume buttons on the side. There is a background play feature though you can only adjust the volume when you’re outside the music player app.

The player is a little sluggish when it comes to skipping forwards/backwards.

Organizer Features:

You get an alarm clock, calendar, todo list, notes, calculator and password manager. A unit converter is missing.

Out of the box, the 8800 can’t handle MS Office files. Mind you there are 3rd party applications that add this functionality.

Impressions:

Incoming sound quality was not that great. People sounded slightly over processed, similar to how they sound on a typical CDMA phone. Over processing is usually the result of noise suppression but the 8800 also had noticeable hiss.

Mind you, incoming sound quality is still perfectly usable.

RF performance is about average. It’s about the same as the 8700r and not as good as the Sony Ericsson W600i in this regard.

Maximum earpiece volume is adequate.

I’m not sure if it’s just the unit I’m testing but I found I could only get 2 days of standby with the battery (Bluetooth was off).

Conclusion:

If you’ve ever wanted to try a QWERTY Blackberry but balked at it’s overly conservative looks then the 8800 is for you.

Compared to the 8700r, the 8800 is as good as or an improvement in most aspects; The keyboard is easier to use, the trackball is much more functional than the jog dial, you get GPS and like I said before you get a prettier face. The RF performance is roughly the same as is the sound quality. The only area where the 8800 really fails is when it comes to battery life (I only got around 2 days of standby with light usage).

Ratings (out of 5)
Build Quality 4
Battery Life 2.5
Phone Related Features 4
Ease of Use 4
RF Performance 3.5
Degree of Customizability 3.5
Overall (not an average) 4
*Please note these ratings are temporal and are really only valid for the date they were assigned. A phone which receives a rating of 5 a year ago will probably get a lower rating today.

Pros:

  • Nice QWERTY keyboard
  • Screen looks great
  • Mini USB connector is less picky about chargers than the one found on 8700r
  • Memory card slot

Cons:

  • No WiFi
  • No HSDPA
  • No camera
  • Sound quality

Discuss this review at HowardForums.com
See the gallery here
Written by Howard Chui 05.01.2007
This article may not be reproduced without the the author’s permission.

7 comments May 1st, 2007

Slingbox Tuner

Here’s my SlingMedia Slingbox Tuner review. It’s TV on your mobile device!

Most new products are meant to replace your old ones. So it’s not often a company comes up with something that you never knew you needed. A year or so ago, SlingMedia came out with the SlingBox (SB) and made me realize I needed to make space for it in my home theater.

If you’re not aware of what the SB is, it lets you watch your TV remotely using your internet connection. The original SB could connect to any device that had audio (2 RCA jacks) and or video (S-Video or RCA) connectors. It could control the device using the included IR blasters (they can send remote control signals). It would take the AV signal, buffer it a little, encode it and stream it over the net to your device. Of course you need a fast enough internet connection (dial up users can stop reading here). Originally there was only a viewer for Windows users but Sling added support for Windows Mobile (Pocket PC and Smartphone), Palm OS, Mac OSX plus there’s a client coming soon for Symbian devices.

It’s great for watching TV when you’re not at home. If you’re thinking of a reason to quit work consider watching your SB when your boss is around. Watch it on your Pocket PC/Smartphone when your wife takes you shopping, at weddings, etc. As long as you have a fast enough internet connection and a compatible device you’re good to go.

The SB is also pretty useful around the house since it allows you to watch TV in places you couldn’t before plus your home network probably has a lot more bandwidth to play with. After all more bandwidth = higher quality.

Today I’m checking out the SB Tuner. It’s strictly for cable users so if you have Satellite consider the SB AV or if you have HD or multiple devices – check out the Slingbox Pro. Make sure you check out my pictures here.

Unlike the original SB, there isn’t much to the SB Tuner. You connect to your cable so you can watch it remotely.

Included in the packaging are a high quality Regal brand 2 way splitter (many cable companies use Regal splitters), network cable, power adapter and a RG59 coax cable. The power adapter is a wall wart so make sure you have room for it.

You can connect a 2 way splitter to your cable and have one go to the SB Tuner while the other goes to your TV/cable box. The SB Tuner also has cable passthrough so you can connect your cable to the SB Tuner and then connect another from your Tuner to your TV/cable box.

Setup is ridiculously easy. Assuming you’re using a home DSL/Cable router – just make sure you have DHCP turned on (it usually is by default), plug the SB Tuner into your router and then connect the power. If you don’t have an ethernet jack there’s an available SlingLink ethernet over power (not power or ethernet) adapter so you can have your router in one room and the SB in another.

Next pop in the setup CD (or download the Player from www.slingmedia.com) and run the install. The SlingPlayer software can automatically find your SB. If you want to watch your TV outside of your home network, the SB supports uPNP. If you want to configure your router yourself, there are step by step instructions on how to setup port forwarding.

Next the software will ask you how the Tuner is connected to your cable and then it will scan to see what channels you can receive. Remember the Tuner is for analog channels only so if you subscribe to digital or HDTV cable services you won’t be able to see those digital/HDTV channels.

The player software is pretty well thought out. You can change channels by pressing + or -. You can dock the player to the left or right side of the screen plus there’s a full screen mode. There are channel shortcuts you can create along the bottom. Their interface is also skinnable.

You can adjust the video quality and manually specify how much bandwidth the player consumes.

The SB now encodes video at 640×480 (as opposed to 640×240 with the original) plus the bit rate can go as high as 8mbps (previously it was 2mbps). Image quality is amazing; if you’re at home and have a fast enough network you don’t lose anything quality wise over using your TV – Incredible! See a screen shot comparison here.

Notice the extra resolution in the guy’s mustache and the edges of his suit. Take a step back and notice that the picture from the original Slingbox is slightly foggy. The colour on the Tuner seems a little more intense also (both players have the colour settings at default).

Of course, the image quality is dependant on how good your analog cable looks. If you live in an old house with RG59 cabling everywhere and are splitting your cable with 10 other TVs, chances are your quality isn’t going to be good. If that’s the case consider getting a digital box and hook up a SB AV to it instead. Digital cable has error correction which should result in better image quality.

When connected to your local network channel, changes take about a second so it can be pretty tedious if you’re channel surfing.

When you’re viewing your SB from outside your network on a computer, the quality really depends on how fast your ISP at home is. If you can keep the bit rate over 300kb/s, the quality will be watchable though some scenes with lots of fast movement will be blocky. 600kb/s and you’re doing pretty good.

So you’re probably wondering what happens when you’re connection quality drops. If your bit rate drops, the SB will dynamically throttle the bit rate so that the video quality gets worse – that way you can still hear what’s going on. If the connection is really bad then the video may skip. I’ve noticed the SB will sometimes speed up playback slightly so that it can catch up. You never get buffering messages (because it skips instead).

If you only have a limited amount of data transfer, you can tell the SB the maximum bit rate.

For the mobile device portion of my review, I tested the Tuner with my HTC TyTN. Does the new 640×480 resolution translate to better quality on mobile devices? Not really. When I was testing the SlingPlayer, the resolution was usually 220×176 which doesnt require that much bandwidth. As long as you got around 300kbs, the video looked okay enough though you’ll have trouble reading small text. You can manually choose bit rates of up to 600kb’s so my guess is the maximum support bitrate is that.

Like I said, quality is pretty good but the controls can be quite sluggish. It can take a few seconds if you’re switching between full screen and regular mode.

Remember that SlingPlayer Mobile is not included with the Tuner so after a 30 day trial period you’ll have to fork out 35 bucks Canadian (30 USD) for it. When you buy it, you’ll get a key that will activate your copy. So if you change devices often this might drive you crazy.

If you’re someone who uses their SB a lot at home and has a fast network with a strong, good cable signal, the Sling Tuner is a great upgrade. However, if you’re someone who uses the SB mostly with their Pocket PC/Smartphone, you won’t notice much of a difference.

If you don’t own a SB already, the Tuner is the least expensive SB you can buy. That said you’re probably better off getting a digital cable box or satellite and using it with a SB AV since analog TV days are numbered.

Pros:

  • Great picture quality
  • Very easy to setup and use

Cons:

  • For analog cable only
  • Player for mobile devices costs extra

See the gallery here
Written by Howard Chui 04.16.2007
This article may not be reproduced without the the author’s permission.

1 comment April 16th, 2007

Helio Drift Review

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Here’s my Helio Drift review. It got delayed a while because I had mixed feelings about the Drift and was unsure about my conclusions. Make sure you check out my Drift picture gallery for pictures related to this review.

The Drift is Helio’s newest phone. It has similar features to the Hero and Kickflip plus it throws in stereo Bluetooth support so you can use it with Bluetooth headsets and headphones.

Physical Impressions:

While the drift isn’t a flimsy phone, it doesn’t have that ‘dense plastic feel’ that other Samsung phones have. Still, despite this and despite the fact that it’s a sliding phone, the Drift passes my squeeze test with flying colours. Some of this is due to the fact that the Drift’s battery cover is built into the battery.

Size-wise the Drift is a lot smaller than the Hero. Look at the gallery pics to see what I mean.

While the keys are a good size and easy to find the placement of, the back button is awful. Whenever you press down on a button there’s a very good chance that you’ll also get the back button. It’s truly maddening.

There are a bunch of buttons on the side but there are also a lot of slot covers which makes things a bit confusing. On the left you have a volume, play/pause, voice and a memory card slot cover. On the right you have a headset jack, charging port and camera button.

The display is nice, big and easy to look at.

The battery release button is on the bottom. I found it was far too easy to accidentally pop the battery off if you close it by holding the phone with your thumb on the bottom and your middle finger on the top.

Hands-free usage:

You get a speakerphone, 2.5mm headset connector (on the right) and support for Bluetooth headsets.

Miscellaneous:

There is 128MB of built-in memory which is a lot but you can easily get MicroSD cards that are way bigger then that. The MicroSD slot is located behind a door on the left side.

Menus:

The top level menu has been customized so that it resembles the menu on other Helio phones. It’s laid out in a 3 x 3 icon grid.

If you press the buttons really quickly when you’re navigating the menu, it can be little confusing. Here’s what I’m talking about (it’s a little hard to understand). If you’re at the standby screen, go to the menu and press right rapidly. You will first move right, then you will start scrolling around the outer menu choices in a clockwise pattern. The same thing goes if you press left. So sometimes left is right and vice versa. However, if you stop pressing for a second, then the menu will operate more predictably in that if you press left then you’ll move left and vice versa. It’s really strange – an answer to a question no one asked.

The display has a resolution of 240×320 so icons and text look great. When you’re entering numbers the text is very large.

I don’t normally mention this but I liked the sounds the Drift makes when you open/close it, press the buttons, etc. They’re interesting without sounding too silly.

The top and second level menus are easy enough to use but sometimes I found it kind of confusing to change settings. Take the alarm clock for example. There are all these choices but there’s no on screen choice to save (to save press the center button on the nav pad).

Phone Related Features:

When you’re dialing a number, the Drift will look for matches in your recent calls list and phonebook which is kind of neat. If you’ve ever used a Microsoft Smartphone (now named Windows Mobile) you can liken it to Smartdial.

The phonebook can store up to 1000 numbers. You can sync the phonebook with your PC using PCLink Pro. There’s no Outlook sync but you can import Outlook contacts into PCLink Pro. Phonebook entries can be organized into groups.

There’s also an over the air phonebook sync that I didn’t get a chance to try.

Connected Features:

There’s a USB cable in the box plus the Drift supports Bluetooth.

You can download both PC Sync software and file management software for free download on Helio’s site. PC Sync software lets you sync the Drift’s phonebook with the software. You can IMPORT your MS Outlook phonebook into the software which you can then sync with the Drift but you CAN’T sync the phone with Outlook directly.

When it comes to transferring stuff to the Drift, it clocked in at about 123KB/S (72.2MB in 590 seconds) which is really slow.

There appears to be Bluetooth support to send and receive files or connect your laptop to the internet but those features appear to have been disabled.

There’s no built-in email client but there is a link to Helio’s online email service.

You can download Helio’s H.O.T. app which turns your phone into somewhat of a RSS reader. It’s different from other RSS readers in that it takes over your standby screen and automatically updates the feeds as you’re using it. It works well – I found it pretty useful when I was taking the bus.

The browser is pretty standard fare. You can’t use it to browse HTML sites.

Multimedia Features:

If you want to use your PC to transfer music and videos to the Drift you’ll need to download Helio Media Mover. You can’t just take the MicroSD card, pop it in your memory card reader and copy mp3′s to it. Instead Media Mover has to first convert all your music to mp4′s and videos to 3g2 files which is kind of annoying since it can take a while. It’s like iTunes when copying files to your iPod in this respect.

It’s a compromise. I hated having to wait for my files to be re-encoded but I liked how Media Mover can handle both music and video plus it’s a pretty simple program to use. I also liked how it would resize your videos.

There is a side mounted play button which is useful if you’re doing something else and want to pause… unfortunately you can only really access the text messaging menu when you’re listening to music which is totally lame. Also, the side mounted buttons are locked when you close the drift so if you want to pause playback you have to press and hold pause for a second or two and then tell the Drift you want to unlock the keys.

Stereo Bluetooth support seems pretty standard. If you have a pair of A2DP headphones, you can start the musicplayer by pressing play. The A2DP buttons (play, pause, volume, skip forwards/backwards) work even when the Drift is closed.

I said it before but I’ll say it again. It totally sucks that you can’t listen to music and say use H.O.T. at the same time.

The camera has a resolution of 2.0 megapixels. There’s a flash and a self portrait mirror. Like most camera phones, pictures looked great when viewed on screen but they’re not so hot when you download them to your computer. There’s pretty good resolution but pictures are quite noisy. Colour balance varies but it’s generally okay.

The camera takes a few seconds to start up. I liked the camera user interface; it gives you a lot of information without seeming cluttered. It’s also responsive and there are numeric shortcuts for popular functions.

Pictures can be transferred to your PC using PCLink Pro. You can also save the pictures to your MicroSD which you can then pop into your computer.

Organizer Features:

Included is a calendar, to-do list, wake-up call, alarm, calculator, world time, unit converter, notepad, stopwatch, user memory and voice memo.

The calendar and to-do list sync with your computer using PCLink Pro but don’t sync with MS Outlook. I also don’t see the Drift on Apple’s iSync webpage (support for it will probably turn up much later based on Apple’s previous track record).

I’m not sure what the difference is between wake-up and the alarm clock.

It’s nice to see that there is a built-in unit converter.

Impressions:

RF performance is so-so. The Drift is programmed so that if you’re in an area where Sprint has a weak signal, it will constantly be trying to get on to Sprint which can be bad for service.

Sound quality is average. It doesn’t sound as clean as some other CDMA phones but it does sound more lively.

Conclusion:

I thought the Drift’s battery could be better. I’m basing that comment on my experiences with the Drift when I’m in the States (when I use the Drift in Canada it’s constantly look for it’s home network so of course battery life is going to be bad).

While the Drift has a nice spec sheet, I didn’t feel it worked all that well. Most of this is due to the fact that the music player sucks because you can’t multi-task (besides text messaging) when you’re using it.

The back button was a constant source of annoyance and was one of the reasons why my Drift review took longer than usual. I just couldn’t stand the device because I was constantly hitting back by accident.

I’m not crazy about the Drift. When I think about it, it’s not that bad a phone but it doesn’t really make me want to use it like some phones can.

Ratings (out of 5)
Build Quality 3.5
Battery Life 3
Phone Related Features 3.5
Ease of Use 3
RF Performance 3.5
Degree of Customizability 3
Overall (not an average) 3
*Please note these ratings are temporal and are really only valid for the date they were assigned. A phone which receives a rating of 5 a year ago will probably get a lower rating today.

Pros:

  • A2DP Bluetooth support
  • Large display
  • Lots of built-in memory

Cons:

  • Back button is inconveniently placed
  • No background music play

Discuss this review at HowardForums.com
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Written by Howard Chui 02.19.2007
This article may not be reproduced without the the author’s permission.

2 comments February 19th, 2007

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