For most of the time, 3 follows the crowd and takes on handsets produced by the major names, but it sometimes does its own thing and this is one of those times. INQ is a new hardware manufacturer. Backed by 3’s parent Hutchison Whampoa the relationship between manufacturer and operator is, well, cosy.
Moreover the INQ1 is available on PAYG or on a range of pre-pay tariffs including two special INQ tariffs at £15 and £20 which offer unlimited mobile Internet, texting and 3 to 3 calls. They include 75 and 200 cross network talk minutes respectively.
I liked the Skypephone S2 enough to give it a Recommended Award – something I rarely give to any mobile phone. The S2 was 3’s second Skype-focussed handset and was a vast improvement on the original Skypephone.
The INQ1 includes the Skype stuff and takes things a step further by putting Facebook at its heart. So is it a first-time hit or a phone that might be better in its second generation?
Actually that question is a bit redundant, because there is a very real sense in which the INQ1 is a build on the Skypephones rather than a new concept. I say this because the Skype software and Skypephones’ user interface are very much a key part of the INQ1.
I logged into my Skype account in just a couple of seconds and had access to all my Skype contacts in just a few seconds more. With an option for automatic login, you can be Skyping away very easily, both making voice calls and using Skype chat. The charging regime for Skype calling is made clear in 3’s Terms and Conditions. I won’t repeat it all here, but it is worth pointing out that PAYG customers must keep their phone topped up to use Skype.
When you switch this phone on you are presented with a horizontal bar of shortcuts running along the bottom of the screen. 3 calls it the ‘switcher’. This is exactly the same as the Skypephone’s interface.
What you have access to via this horizontally scrolling menu is Windows Live Messenger, 3 Web favourites, 3 mobile email, the handset’s web browser, Google searching, Skype, messages, contacts and of course Facebook. You can add up to five items to the switcher including favourite websites.
From anywhere on the phone you can hit a side button and the switcher menu pops up, with an additional option to take you right back to the phone’s home screen. I think the switcher is superb. Simple, customisable, and yet very effective.
As for the Facebook business, well, you can get the phone to log into your account automatically or do it manually as you require. It gives access to your wall, photos, contacts and inbox. You can get updates pushed to the phone so you know when someone emails you on Facebook. You can also upload images and pull down contact’s images into the phone book.
In fact, the phone’s contact book lets you get to people via Skype, Windows Live Messenger, Facebook, email, SMS or voicemail and it shows connection status for the first three of those so you can choose the best way to reach them at any given moment.
There is, of course, more stuff here too. Tapping the hardware ‘menu’ button takes you to a 4 x 3 grid which provides access to the rest of what is on offer including music player, RSS feed reader, alarms, calculator, notepad, stopwatch and voice recorder. Of course, this is a 3G handset (to 3.6Mbps) and it doubles up as a plug and play USB modem.
You can put three widgets onto the Home screen, choosing from a small range of options. Most of them are connected features such as RSS feeds, weather updates and a Google search bar. I’d have liked to have seen a greater choice, but it is a start.
In hardware terms the INQ1 is a small format slider. It measures 97mm tall when closed and grows to about 130mm when opened. It is 47.6mm wide and 14.4mm thick and it weighs 110g. The build quality is good and I particularly like the number pad whose keys are both large and responsive.
The screen is perhaps a little small at just 2.2 inches, but its 320 x 240 pixels are bright enough and an accelerometer helps a bit when viewing information-rich data such as web pages. The flat Call, End, menu and Clear buttons are easy to find and press, and the softmenu keys are raised and again unproblematic. The D-pad is large and easy to use too.
I do have some gripes about the design, though. The INQ1 has 50MB of built-in memory and a microSD card slot for adding more. The card slot is very inconveniently located under the battery making swapping cards time-consuming and it is a fiddle to pop a card out of its slot. And the one-piece headset with in-ear buds uses the same side-mounted miniUSB port as the mains power and PC cable. I really would have liked a 3.5mm connector.
The camera shoots stills at 3.2-megapixels. It is a bit lacking in features and could do with being a whole lot better at its job. There is no flash so indoor shots were sometimes rather disappointing. The cat was photographed without any household lighting on a rather dull day, but that’s not abnormal and the photograph quality is poor.
The coloured dish, photographed under normal household lights, is far clearer and brighter than photos I took of groups of people (and cats!) indoors. It is a staged shot and by far the less likely of the two to be set for uploading to Facebook.
Outside the camera coped better, but not wonderfully. The chair shows the level of detail I’d expect from a 3.2-megapixel camera, but the colour rendering is a bit off.
When it comes to music, sound quality through the handset speaker is not that wonderful and the player is a bit basic in terms of features, but it does hang together. Last.fm is pre-loaded so you can use that as an alternative to your favourite tunes.
I found the battery got me through a day well enough, but making it through two was sometimes a struggle. Anyone very keen on being as totally connected as this phone allows may find daily charging is the best regime.
This is a nicely constructed slider with a fairly good range of apps on offer and two very enticing special tariffs. There are a few niggles which hopefully will be ironed out in the next version but as a first effort from the INQ/3 partnership it is impressive.
Score in detail
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