HP’s first Windows Smartphone was the cheap and cheerful 514 Voice Messenger. This follow up is an altogether more expensive and luxurious affair and costs almost double the price weighing in at around £330 SIM-free. As its name implies the handset is a voice centric device aimed at those looking for a phone first and smartphone second.
It has to be said that this new Voice Messenger is quite a sexy looking phone, with HP having dumped the boxy, retro styling of its predecessor in favour of a much sleeker and more modern design. Its petite dimensions and narrower girth mean it feels more comfortable to hold in your hand than a lot of the other smartphones around at the moment.
Along with the usual volume rocker switch and dedicated camera button, HP has kitted the handset out with two welcome additions. The first is a keylock button and the second is a sliding control to put the handset in and out of silent mode.
For text input HP has opted for a hybrid keypad that’s clearly been copied from RIM’s range of Blackberry mobile emailers. It’s laid out as a half QWERTY configuration with two letters per key. To enter the first letter on a key you tap once and to access the second letter you simply double tap the same key. Alternatively you can just single tap each key and leave it up to the phone’s predictive text system to work out what word you’re trying to spell out. Both methods take a little while to get used to, but once mastered they allow you to work up a decent speed when typing out emails or text messages.
Resting above the main keypad you’ll find the phone’s four-way optical controller, which is one of the handset’s unique features. Unlike a traditional d-pad this controller doesn’t rock back and forth across both axes. Instead, to move around in menus you simply glide your finger or thumb in the direction your want to travel. It all sound very straightforward, but unfortunately it’s a real pain to use. The problem is that it’s just very unreliable. Sometimes it registers movements perfectly, but other times it takes three or four goes to get it to respond. It really is horrible to use and one of the worst design decisions we’ve come across in a long time. Plus, as the phone’s display is not a touchscreen, you have to rely totally on the optical controller to drive the OS.