Review Price free/subscription
Virgin Media VM621i (Alcatel OT-600)
With a steady stream of high-end products making its way through our office, it's often difficult to find time for the value products out there. So following on from our recent review of the barn storming, £380, HTC Desire, we're today looking at the VM621i, a small and light candy bar phone available exclusively though Virgin Media for just £10.
It's no surprise at this price that the VM621i's body is entirely constructed from plastic. Nevertheless, the faux brushed metal and black combination works well and the phone's clean lines give it a simplistic aesthetic appeal. With a weight of just 71g and dimensions of 14.5 x 44.5 x 12mm it can fit easily into a pocket and go unnoticed.
As with its plastic construction, the VM621i (which is actually a rebranded Alcatel OT-600) betrays its cost when it comes to physical features. For instance, there are no volume controls, headphone jack, or camera button, with only a mini-USB port on the right side serving three functions: charging, data transfer, and headset connection. A wired headset is included in the box, which at this price is hardly a given, but its uses are limited. There's an inline mic and the earphones provide adequate audio for calls and are passable for music listening. They don't, however, cut out external noise very well so commuter natter or road noise will require damaging levels of volume to be drowned out.
At 1.8in, the screen is small by any standards and with a resolution of just 128 x 160 pixels, we aren't talking Hattori Hanzo levels of sharpness. More worrying though is quite how poor this screen's viewing angles are. Whatever direction you view it from, go beyond about 30 degrees from perpendicular and the picture is almost invisible. This is typical for a cheap handset but still regrettable. Overall, though, you can still make out what you're doing, and at least its colour!
A somewhat more unexpected bonus is that under the battery cover is a microSD slot. This means you can easily add music to or copy photos from the phone. That said, being as the music player can't even put tracks in the right order, it's a mixed blessing – albums are listed in alphabetical track name order rather than track number.
Likewise, the camera leaves a lot to be desired. With a resolution of just 1.3-megapixels and no flash or autofocus, it was never going to set any new image quality records but it is in fact particularly poor. In good light, colours are reasonably accurate and saturated but the lens produces huge amounts of distortion and detail is very lacking. Move indoors or into poorer light and shots become so grainy and dull as to be unusable. Now, we've seen plenty of cameras that perform little or no better in terms of image quality but what really lets the VM621i down is the shutter lag. It can take up to three seconds after you've pressed the shutter button to actually get it to take a photo.
This phone uses a standard keypad arrangement with a numpad sat below two soft keys, a D-pad with central select button, and call answer and end buttons (the latter doubling for power). All the keys are finished in rubber giving them a cheap look and feel. However, they do have a surprisingly good action with a nice obvious break, meaning we were able to type at a decent pace. The fact all the keys are backlit is a nice bonus as well at this price.