The Vodafone 555's interface is not a smartphone system, but it does take a few influences from RIM's BlackBerry OS. Your home screen offers a clock and a series of small icon-based shortcuts you can scroll through using the optical trackpad, plus a bar up top to update your Facebook status. The whole interface is decked out in a cool blue theme inspired by Facebook's colours, and it's rather attractive. Understated, minimal and clear.
The Vodafone 555 homescreen - Facebook-tastic
The "app" icons have a pleasant, lightly cartoony style to them and there's never too much information crammed into a screen - a good job, because the display is a low-resolution 240x320 pixel model, making small text appear blocky. To earn its Facebook stripes, the Vodafone 555 strips the social network's goodies into a variety of apps.
There's a dedicated chat app, the picture gallery has a Facebook tab, there's a separate news feed for your Facebook wall and a connected search function that sifts through groups, pages and contacts. For a £60 phone, this is a commendable effort that makes sure the phone is worthy of its Facebook button, but other limitations serve to sully this a bit.
This dedicated social networking button takes you directly to the screen where you update your status, but unlike other Facebook phones like the HTC Salsa, it's not particularly context-sensitive and can't be used to quickly share links with your Faccy B friends while browsing. Anything interesting you find will probably be old hat by the time you stumble upon it though, because internet browsing with the Vodafone 555 is very slow. It doesn't have 3G for starters, relying instead on the much-slower GPRS and EDGE, and scrolling around webpages with the tiny optical trackpad is laborious, requiring RSI-inducing numbers of gestures to scroll the length of a page.
Its built-in browser is Opera Mini, the java version. Java apps are very constrained compared to their smartphone counterparts, incapable of the same sort of multi-tasking and visual feats, but if we had to pick a java-based browser to use, this would be it. It reaps links posted by your Facebook friends and lets you access them from the app's boot screen, which can also be customised with handy tile-based favourites shortcuts.
Further app support is disappointing. There's a Palringo chat app, a weather forecast and basics like a calculator and calendar, but there's little scope beyond that. A couple of years ago, this wouldn't have been too much of a problem for a budget phone like the Vodafone 555. But now that Android, Symbian S40 and S60 are available for well under £100 it's more of an issue. The Vodafone Live! online portal offers a handful of java games, but worthwhile additional apps are harder to find. To access Twitter, for example, you're best off heading to the browser - however, fairly comprehensive email account support is built into the Messaging interface, which brings together these emails alongside text messages and SNS updates.
The optical trackpad and the layout of the OS do a good job of making the 555 feel BlackBerry-like, but the keyboard is a way off the best. The keys are tightly scrunched together, and don't have clever-enough contouring to give your fingers that touch type-style confidence when tapping away at speed. Compared to the HTC ChaCha and BlackBerry Curve, with their more spaced-out keys, or the BlackBerry Bold with its genial contouring, the Vodafone 555 feels slightly below-par - with a rather stiff action.
The keyboard is handy, but not up there with the best
That said, with a bit of practice it'll allow you to type away far more quickly than with a T9 keypad or small virtual keyboard. It also has blue backlighting to stop typing in the dark from becoming an entirely faith-driven experience.