- Review Price: £449.94
Fans of touchscreen Windows Mobile phones must be feeling a little peeved right now. For though the recent announcement of the exciting-looking (and much-needed) update of Microsoft’s outdated mobile platform looks great, it seems the most interesting interface improvements – such as the panel-based Today screen enhancements – are so far limited to Windows Mobile Standard.
It’s a peculiar state of affairs – I can’t imagine why Microsoft has deprived half of its potential market of these features, especially in light of the fact that the new version of its mobile web browser isn’t out until later in the year – but there does seem to be one major side benefit to the upgrade to 6.1 – speed. The nice folks at MWg kindly loaned us a pre-production version of their brand-spanking new smartphone Zinc II to experience it first hand.
Though the Zinc II’s 500MHz Samsung processor is speedy in itself, the responsiveness of the phone in general use seems to be improved over other Windows Mobile 6 phones with a similar configuration. Even with seven or eight applications running at once – previously a sure-fire way of slowing Windows Mobile down to a crawl – the Zinc II carried on regardless. The camera on this phone is also very responsive – the best I’ve used on a Windows Mobile smartphone. Click the shutter release and it takes a picture instantly, even at its top 2-megapixel resolution. There’s no waiting around as there is on my HTC TyTN II or even the HP 614c.
The performance boost is certainly a big bonus, though: no longer do you have to keep switching to the Task Manager to keep things running smoothly – you can simply use the phone as it was intended; there’s no twiddling your thumbs while you stare at the Windows Mobile hourglass here. And the lack of Microsoft user interface improvements is mitigated a little by the inclusion of a proprietary Quick Launch application. Activated using a button on the side of the Zinc II, this provides thumb/finger access to common applications and functions. The first screen simply offers four simple shortcuts – to Windows Media Player, the Pictures and Videos application, the camera and games. Swipe your finger across the screen and a slick rotating animation reveals more shortcuts, with further configurable application and contact screens beyond.
The hard-surface touchscreen works brilliantly too, so the rest of Windows Mobile is almost as easy to operate. You still need to be careful, but it’s sensitive enough that even small links on web pages seem comfortably clickable with the end of an index finger. In fact, after downloading the latest version of the superlative Opera Mini 4.1, browsing the web on this phone, with its quick performance and excellent touchscreen is the most pleasant experience I’ve had on a Windows Mobile device.
The touchscreen and speed aren’t the only strengths of the MWg Zinc II; it’s a good looker too. That screen sits flush with the rest of the front fascia and its minimalist frontage continues the slick looks. Instead of the usual crowded button cluster below the 2.8in 320 x 240 screen, all you get is a five-way d-pad with pick-up and hang-up buttons to the left and right of it. The edges are similarly free of clutter, with volume controls and the quick-launch key on the left next to the phone’s microSD slot, and an on/off and camera shutter key on the right. The phone is fairly slim at 18mm for one with a sliding keyboard, and it has an extremely solid feel to it.
When you need to enter text, you don’t need to resort to Windows Mobile’s tiny on-screen effort either – just slide out the Zinc II’s built-in keyboard and off you go. Again the engineering is superb: the keyboard glides out with a positive thunk and there’s hardly any flex or give once it’s fully extended. And, thanks to the Zinc II’s excellent performance, the screen switches from portrait to landscape mode very quickly, allowing you to pop into and out of keyboard mode in an instant. I have to say I’m not convinced by the keyboard’s membrane-style keys, however. Though you can get up to a reasonable speed with some practice, those without high-precision thumbs will find it all too easy to press more than one key at once. The layout isn’t that wonderful either: the lack of a dedicated button for the full stop is irritating as is the omission of dedicated up/down/left/right keys – you have to use the Fn shift button to activate both.
Under the hood, all is present and correct, however. There’s high speed data, with support for up to 3.6Mbit/sec HSDPA, quad-band GSM ensures the phone will be happy pretty much anywhere you can get a signal, and there’s GPRS and EDGE connectivity for when an HSDPA signal isn’t available. The Zinc II also has Wi-Fi for hotspot use, Bluetooth 2.0 and a SiRFstar III GPS receiver for use with Google Maps, or the navigation application of your choosing. A bundled GPS viewer application is a handy inclusion here, allowing you to check on the status of a GPS fix.
As the phone is a pre-production model, I wasn’t able to test battery life properly but the fact that it’s a 1,530mAh lithium polymer suggests that it should be longer than the usual two days or so you usually get out of lithium ion-based devices, which would be another bonus above competing Windows smartphones. Text messaging also wasn’t working, so it’s impossible to tell right now whether or not the Professional version of Windows Mobile 6.1 supports the threaded text messaging that the Standard version has.
While the 6.1 update to Windows Mobile, in its Professional version at least, is a bit of a disappointment from an ease of use perspective, the apparent improvements in speed should not be underestimated. The MWg Zinc II’s own UI enhancements, superb touchscreen, compact dimensions, excellent engineering and all-encompassing feature set also make this a handset worth considering in its own right.
In fact the Zinc II’s sheer speed, coupled with a decent alternative browser such as Opera Mini 4.1 makes this a serious rival to the still-superb HTC TyTN II; if the keyboard had been better, it could have outstripped it.
Score in detail
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.