INQ and its sister company 3 have carved out an enviable niche in the mobile phone market, creating basic low cost phones that still have all the social networking and some of the Internet browsing abilities of much more expensive handsets. The INQ brand started with the INQ1, which cost a mere £80, and was followed by the Mini 3G that took things even lower to £60. Now, the Chat 3G moves things up a gear, adding a full QWERTY keyboard to the mix and raising the price to £89.99. It won't be a combination that appeals to everyone but those wanting a cheap and capable messaging machine should definitely pay attention.
Aesthetically, the splashes of red – most notably the whole back plate – certainly make the Chat 3G stand out from the crowd but in terms of form factor and physical layout this is a plain old QWERTY smartphone of the BlackBerry ilk. Unsurprisingly, this makes it quite a large phone at 113 x 61 x 15mm but a relatively modest weight of 125g and generally neat layout make it easy to handle.
The Chat 3G's keyboard has keys with a very pronounced curve, making them fairly easy to distinguish from each other. However, they are a little stiff and overall we prefer those of the BlackBerry Bold 9700, but then given the price difference you'd expect that to be the case. Certainly the layout is nice and intuitive and the predictive texting works very well, making speedy typing a distinct possibility.
Above the keyboard is a fairly typical selection of navigation keys including call answer and call end buttons (the latter doubling as power), two soft keys, a menu button and one labelled 'C' for Cancel. These all sit around a central circular D-pad that consists of a directional ring and inner selection button. All of these work very well together and make for a very intuitive user experience, though considering the emphasis on messaging we think many people would like to see a trackball or similar for fast scrolling.
Aside from the Chat 3G's generally plasticky look and feel, its screen is the first real clue that this is a budget phone. With a size of 2.4in yet a resolution of just 320 x 240 it is noticeably less sharp than that of just about any similarly sized device we can think of. There's also a lot of contrast shift when viewed from any angle apart from directly perpendicular, and its slow refresh rate can strain the eyes after a while. It's perfectly adequate for general messaging and phone use but viewing web pages or long emails is a chore.
The web browser itself is reasonably capable thanks to its ability to display full size webpages. However, it is quite slow, particularly when scrolling, which combined with the low resolution makes for frustrating progress. Something else that doesn't help is the lack of Wi-Fi, which means browsing is slow wherever you are despite the inclusion of 3G. Factor in the price of this handset, though, and it's about as good as could be expected.