- Good Facebook integration
- Speedy navigation for a budget Android
- Poor camera
- Mediocre battery life
- Music button only works with Spotify
- Review Price: £239.99
- Android 2.2
- UI optimised for Facebook
- 5-megapixel camera
- 4GB microSD card
- 3.5in 360x480 pixel screen
Available for free on contracts of £20 a month, the INQ Cloud Touch is one of the cheaper Android smartphones on the market. Its build and specs are typical of a device of its kind, with a plastic body, 5-megapixel camera without flash, HSPA, Wi-Fi, capacitive touchscreen and 3.5in HVGA (320×480 pixel) display. Although produced by a different manufacturer, it’s reminiscent of the old T-Mobile Pulse – one of 2009’s best budget smartphones. Not everything about this budget newbie is run-of-the-mill though.
Our review unit was the red edition – coloured in a shade reminiscent of such lippy as worn by precocious young women who totter high heeled down city high streets late at night, on the way from club to kebab house. For those looking for a more demure smartphone, black and white versions should also be available in the UK in due time.
Other than being eye-catchingly shiny and red, the INQ Cloud Touch also stands out thanks to its two unusual hardware buttons. On the right edge of the phone is a Spotify button. A quick tap on this acts as a play/pause, while a longer press opens-up the Spotify app. It doesn’t work within the standard music player though, so if you don’t use the popular music-streaming service, it’s useless.
The second unusual addition is the info button, on the left hand-side of the Cloud Touch. This brings up a packed info screen, wherever you are in the interface. It tells you the time, remaining battery, the remaining memory, lets you set your alarm, turn Wi-Fi on and off, and toggle vibrate, silent, Airplane mode, Bluetooth and GPS. All this is relayed within a single screen. It’s ambitious and looks a little cramped, but thanks to colour coding is surprisingly clear.
A final key visual identifier of the Cloud Touch is the INQ logo – or part of it – used for the home screen button on the touch sensitive panel that sits below the touchscreen. These soft keys light up too, when the phone is brought out of standby. The Cloud Touch is clutching at a sense of personality, in spite of its otherwise fairly standard spec list. It’s a tactic that works well too, especially if you’re a Spotify obsessive with a passion for shiny red things.
The INQ Cloud Touch feels solid, and the battery cover is affixed firmly enough to make it genuinely tricky to remove, but its body feels plasticy thanks to the smooth, shiny finish (and because it is made of plastic, naturally enough). The other finishes will likely supply a dash more class, worth considering if you’re primarily after an affordable Android rather than a Facebook phone.
The INQ Cloud Touch runs the Android 2.2 OS, with a layer of custom UI laid on top. This is the Facebook glaze that means the social networking-obsessed marketing that surrounds the phone isn’t just hot air.
The meat of the Facebook pie is made up of simple widgets, set to inhabit the default home screen as standard. There are four shortcuts to take you to the calendar, made up of Facebook and Google Calendar events, your Facebook notifications, your Facebook friends and Facebook Places. They’re formatted to look like official images from the network, adopting its graphical style and colour scheme.
Below this, the Cloud Touch drops a large widget displaying the last update from your Facebook feed. You can browse through older updates with buttons on the widget, but it’s intended for quick-fire updates spanning just a few seconds – for anything more you’re better off digging into the full Facebook app.
The Cloud Touch’s Facebook integration isn’t just about widget links you could largely replicate on any Android with a trip to the Android Market – it’s cleverer than that. The Chat, Friends and Messages functions have been split into separate apps. At first it seems like this clutters-up your main apps menu, but it’s worth it, cutting out a layer of navigation other Androids equipped with the official Facebook app have to contend with. It’s quicker to get to Facebook’s good bits here, and that means a lot in these heady days of smartphone obsession.
This phone doesn’t offer much in terms of unique functionality, but it does a good job of bringing existing Facebook functionality to the surface. Other custom user interfaces like Motorola’s Motoblur do this too, but here the apps you use, when browsing friends or chatting to them, are either Facebook’s own or designed to look as such.
Parts of this dissected array of Facebook elements aren’t perfect – you can’t click a link sent by a friend in Chat, for example – but the ease of use is impressive. Just login with your Google account, login with your Facebook details and you’re away. Those that don’t live their lives tied to the big F may find this annoying though, as your status is set to “ready to chat” as standard.
All of this social networking functionality can be ignored if you like too. You can delete all the widgets and shortcuts, as in its most bare-bones form the INQ Cloud Touch’s custom UI is free from social networking additions. Most of the home screen – and you can choose to have between one and seven – is free to customise as you want.
There’s a small, scrollable icon dock at the bottom of the screen you can’t ditch without installing a completely new third-party UI, but it’s flexible enough to be useful. You can drop any shortcut items into it, including contacts, web links, playlists and apps.
The Cloud Touch’s interface also packs-in gesture commands. Flicks up and down the screen, and a double tap, can be assigned to a handful of functions including opening the dialler or apps menu, or zooming out to see a summary of all your home screens. Unfortunately, INQ has also pumped the phone full of its own clip-art style icons for many of Android’s standard apps. Frankly, they’re ugly and spoil the look of the phone’s menus somewhat. Here’s a selection in their gaudy glory.
(centre)”’In a word – yuck!”’(/centre)
Although the phone only sports a 600MHz processor – not all that much faster in clock speed terms than the very first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1 – the optimisations of Android 2.2 make the Cloud Touch run speedily. Simple navigation through the interface isn’t quite as quick as a 1GHz Android, but you won’t find those at this price yet, and besides lag is minimal.
The INQ Cloud Touch sports a 3.5in screen. That’s the same number of inches seen in the iPhone, and it offers a good compromise between size and portability. It’s big enough to make typing, playing games and watching the occasional video comfortable without causing your pocket a problem – some find larger phones like the 4.3in HTC Desire HD simply too big.
It’s a standard TFT panel rather than a fancier AMOLED or SLCD model, but brightness is good and colours are vivid enough. This isn’t a particularly high-end display though, with some odd pixel texturing sometimes visible when you’re looking at a largely white screen – when web browsing for instance.
With a 320×480-pixel resolution, text isn’t as sharp as on the budget WVGA (800×480) Orange San Francisco – but then that is a rare stand-out device in offering such a high pixel-density screen at a low price-point. By normal mid-range phone standards, sharpness is good – better than on the lower-resolution HTC Wildfire.
The touchscreen uses a capacitive panel, the most popular type these days, and the kind designed for use with a finger rather than a stylus. It’s responsive and accurate – not up there with the best perhaps, but then this phone costs a fraction of what you’d pay for an iPhone 4 or HTC HD7.
The good touchscreen and quick Android 2.2 OS pal-up to make everyday usage a joy. Start installing apps and you’re bound to see the odd annoying crash screen, but the same is true of any Android phone.
That said, like walking around a town centre, stray to the outskirts of the Cloud Touch’s feature list and things start to look a little ghetto. The 5-megapixel camera offers autofocus, but doesn’t have a flash and results are poor. Low-light performance in particular is atrocious – check out our camera test shots page for evidence. At least it offers Facebook (alongside other options including Twitter) uploads from within the camera app – a must-have for any social network-centric smartphone – although you may occasionally produce shots you feel like apologising for rather than showing off.
No video playing capabilities have been added to the Cloud Touch beyond the basics of H.264/H.263/MP4. While the screen is big enough to watch a half-hour TV episode on, the phone’s not ready to oblige fresh out of the box. There are dedicated media player apps available on the Android Market to fill this gap. However, audio output isn’t entirely clean, with some noise audible during playback of quieter music.
Battery life is more of a sticking point. It’ll last a full day quite comfortably with occasional use, but start browsing or chatting online and the battery level drops very rapidly. We indulged in a spot of Facebook chatting over 3G and saw the battery drop from 30 per cent to next-to-nothing in less than an hour – keep that charger handy.
The INQ Cloud Touch is available for free on contracts of Â£20 and above, meaning it competes with other budget Androids like the Samsung Galaxy Ace, HTC Wildfire and Motorola Defy. Against this crowd, the Cloud Touch holds its own – especially if you’re a Spotify user. However, as older-generation devices like the HTC Desire, Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 and HTC Legend begin to slip off shelves, there are some cracking deals available for these more desirable handsets if you shop around online.
All Android phones know how to roll Facebook-style, but the INQ Cloud Touch can bust out those moves better than most. If you’re a Facebook fanatic with a Spotify subscription, it’ll accompany your lifestyle perfectly. For the rest, it’s just another affordable Android phone – a good one, mind. Mediocre battery life, some of INQ’s added styling and the rubbish camera mean it falls short of greatness, but it can hold its head up high on the streets of Android town – in the budget district at least.
Score in detail
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