Things get really interesting when it comes to usability. Good news first: the screen is excellent. Obviously the 240 x 320 resolution is half that of the Glofish X800’s identically sized display, but brightness and clarity are both superb and at this size the drop in pixels doesn’t necessarily make it any less legible.
What’s surprising, however, is that the Portégé hasn’t really been designed with stylus use in mind. While there is a stylus – a rather unpleasant clip-in, clip-out thing that’s actually the top-right section of the silver surround – Toshiba has installed a custom version of SPB Mobile Shell to make the G810 more finger friendly, along with other features like a full-screen keyboard.
As my esteemed colleague Jon noted in his review, (article:Spb-Mobile-Shell-2-0) instantly makes Windows Mobile a lot more user friendly and an awful lot easier on the eye. Instead of the densely packed and deeply dull Today screen you get a more focused and configurable ‘Now’ screen. Rather than Hunt through the options on the Start Menu, you can pick application types from a simple grid launcher, and then pick the app of choice by tapping a sizable bar on a scrolling list.
What’s more, finding contacts is a lot easier using Mobile Shell’s icon-driven system than it is using Windows Mobile’s own rather dated Contacts list. You can navigate everything with a finger, or one handed using the touch-sensitive cursor and shortcut keys. With some nice use of animation and generally good design throughout, the overall effect is to make the G810 feel more modern and accessible than a vanilla Windows Mobile handset would seem. The full-sized onscreen keyboard is a big help when typing emails or even Web addresses, and the ability to switch between portrait and landscape screen modes is a genuine boon.
However, all this only works up to a point, and there are times when the gaps between Windows Mobile and SPB Mobile Shell and Toshiba’s other custom applets become jarring. Sometimes the phone seems to struggle when opening or switching between apps, and you end up back at the Windows Mobile start screen watching the ‘wait’ icon while it has a good hard think. The full-screen keyboard, itself not a patch on Apple’s excellent iPhone implementation, has to be chosen manually; otherwise, you end up with the normal Windows Mobile onscreen keypad.
Most seriously, there’s no getting away from the fact that once you start an application, you’re back using the stylus with the usual, nasty Windows Mobile interface. With its fine screen and excellent connectivity this phone should be a great choice for mobile email or Web browsing, but as you’re stuck using Internet Explorer and the built in email client the experience still doesn’t come together all that well. True, you can easily download and install alternatives, but this sort of thing lets the product down as a whole.