Ever since RIM stormed the business smartphone market with the Blackberry other phone vendors have been playing catch-up. Some have been pretty successful in producing copycat designs but while many pack the features in, few have managed to match the ubiquitous black slab for ease of use and style. Palm's Treo 500v, reviewed by Sandra last week, made a pretty good stab at producing a device based on the classic screen-and-keyboard device, but it had its shortcomings. There was no touchscreen, no HSDPA and the keyboard was a little cramped. Can Ubiquio's 503G improve on things?
Well it certainly makes good on those shortcomings. It has HSDPA where the 500v had just standard 3G, allowing connection speeds of up to 3.6mbps. It has Wi-Fi, so you can use it to browse the web at home at no extra cost, or you can hook up to Wi-Fi hotspots. Its keyboard isn't quite as cramped either, and it has a touchscreen allowing you to access the handwriting and character recognition features of Windows Mobile 6 Professional, which it runs on.
In fact there's very little the 503G lacks in terms of core smartphone features. If we were being churlish we could point to a lack of flash for the camera and a slightly lowly two megapixel resolution as being behind the times, and the fact that there's no GPS receiver built in, but it does tick boxes in every other area with quad band GSM, GPRS and EDGE, Bluetooth, plus a 0.3 megapixel camera out front for video calls.
The 2.4in touch screen is exceptionally bright and clear too, although its size will probably preclude the use of Windows Mobile's Transcriber for text entry - unless your handwriting is of the tiny, fiddly variety. And, in use, the 503G's 520MHz Intel XScale 720 processor makes for lightning fast performance and an extremely responsive smartphone, something that not all Windows Mobile devices can lay claim to.
Where it can't compete is in looks. Its office-grey matt finish isn't as slick-looking as the main competition, and it's larger too - bulky enough to notice more in your pocket than a Blackberry 8800, for example, or the aforementioned 500v. In raw figures, the 503G is 17mm thick compared to the 14mm of the 8800, and a whole centimetre taller and 4mm wider than the 500v.
This extra size means that the keys on the keyboard are very easy to locate and prod without hitting the one next door, and the fact that each one is raised, rounded and separated clearly from its neighbour helps too. But there is a critical flaw: try to type two letters too quickly in succession and the 503G refuses to recognise the second one, an attribute that lead to much frustration, gnashing of teeth and unprintable invective on this reviewer's part. If you just use one thumb as your entry digit this won't be a problem, but with two on the go you have to be careful to leave a short gap between each key press and you'll need to keep glancing at the screen just to make sure you're not going too quickly.