I said I had high hopes…
Today sees the official launch of 3's first ‘INQ' handset, the INQ1 which was leaked at the end of last week and the event was both refreshing in approach as well as debunking a few myths.
The big one to get out the way here is that INQ is not 3's own brand, but a new progressive handset manufacturer which shares the same parent company. As a result INQ phones - its track record includes the two generations of Skypephone - is not exclusive to 3, though the network's CEO Kevin Russell confirmed it is expected to have the INQ1 solely "certainly for the next few months".
So with that out the way, onto the refreshing aspects and there were a lot of them, but before we can get to the meat at the heart of this announcement let's get the unimportant bit out the way: the hardware.
YES, as I have been preaching for the last few years, the software - or more exactly the UI - is the key point now in selling any handset and thankfully INQ has listened. So, for what's its worth the INQ1 has a 2.2in QVGA screen, HSDPA connectivity, a 3.2MP camera, microSD expansion slot to augment just 50MB of internal memory and pocket friendly dimensions of 97 x 47.6 x 14.4mm while it weighs a mere 110g. Now, the good stuff - and there's a lot.
Running off a Qualcomm chipset with custom Brew operating system, the INQ1 has the best integration of social networking and communication tools this side of a BlackBerry or iPhone - scratch that, in many respects it is better than either.
For a start, Facebook, Skype, Twitter, YouTube, Bebo, eBay, Last FM, Microsoft Instant Messenger, Gmail, Google Maps are not only available on the handset but they run full time in the background, pre-fetching data and keeping users continuously connected. All run thin clients which can be accessed with or without signal (such as when on the Tube) and any notices written offline automatically sent when reception returns.
Taking this to the next level is a game changing contacts database where the INQ1's contacts are seamlessly combined with those detected from these services. This means FaceBook, Twitter, Skype, Gmail, Yahoo, WLM contacts and more are merged grouping contacts with the same name or those with similar (ie, ‘Gordon Kelly' and Gordon K' would cause a prompt asking whether they should be merged or not). Consequently select any contact and you'll have the option (where applicable) to either call, text, email, Facebook, IM, Twitter or Skype call (but not eBay) them, even their avatars and statuses are transposed. Brilliant.
This is just the start too since Last FM is built into the multimedia player, a customizable widgets system runs on the home screen and hard keys allow app switching to be performed from any screen. New functionality will be added all the time too (eBay and Twitter, for example, will not be available from launch) and delivered over the air.
Add to this applicable pop-up alerts (IM, eBay notices, emails, Skype calls, messages, etc), a smart copy and paste system called ‘Hyperwords' which offers context searches in any of the handset's main applications, a decent web browser, well implemented accelerometer and promising battery life (considering 3G is constantly enabled) of up to 329 hours standby, 324 minutes talk time and this handset is just what the industry has been looking for.
And yet, the best news is still to come…
Pricing. 3 is positioning the INQ1 as an ultra affordable handset meaning it will be free on any monthly tariff and carries an RRP of just £79.99. Pre-pay £10 and it gives unlimited browsing, app access and £5 worth of calls and texts, pay £15pm and get all this plus unlimited 3 to 3 calls and 75 cross network minutes, while £20pm ups this to 300 minutes.
Shortcomings? Well, the handset isn't the sexiest slider we've seen physically and there's no WiFi, but to focus on this would be to miss the point. In short, the INQ1 is a game changer for the low end much in the way the iPhone revolutionised the high end.
The INQ1 goes on sale in December and whether it be a Christmas present to yourself or for others consider it one of the best purchasing decisions you'll make this year...
Update: One downside to the INQ1 I missed off is that it uses a shared miniUSB port for headphones rather than a dedicated 3.5mm jack so you'll need an adaptor. It's a shame, but the software on this phone is so good I'd say it is worth compromise - especially on those price plans.