NEC 338 – 3G Mobile Phone Review


Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £85.00

When Hutchinson launched as 3 in the UK a couple of years ago, it was heralded as a huge step forward for what could be done over a mobile network. However, when it came to the handsets, it seemed that mobile phones had taken a step back. The phones were large and bulky, unattractive to look at, difficult to use and tended to have battery life that was shorter than the attention span of a MTV junkie.

As you might have expected though, things have got better since then for 3G phones. We got all the proof we needed of this with our recent look at the Sony Ericsson V800, available exclusively on Vodafone. However, while this is an all-singing all-dancing showcase for the latest technology it’s also a £200 device. With the 338, NEC has taken a different approach. It’s a truly unremarkable phone to look at, but that in essence, is the point. True it’s no stunner, but by taking a no-frills approach, NEC has created a 3G phone for the masses. At first glance, you’d have a hard time guessing that it was a 3G phone, which is itself an achievement. The only clue is the rotateable camera built into the hinge. And at only 93.8 x 47.1 x 23.3mm, the 338 is the smallest 3G phone currently available and weighs only 114g. NEC has been a bit cheeky however, as the height doesn’t include the aerial, which adds another couple of centimetres.

The main body is split into two with a silver fascia with black plastic towards the top. The sections are separated by a small horizontal light set in a strip that flashes when there’s an incoming call, and glows when charging. There’s no external display, a feature that’s clearly a casualty of the cost cutting approach. This means that you have to flip the phone open if you want to see who’s calling.

To create a smaller phone, NEC has had to be fairly ruthless on features. Top of the missing-in-action list is Bluetooth, which means that you can’t enjoy the freedom and for that matter the legality, of using your phone in the car, via a wireless headset. There is a wired headset included in the box however, which is rather retro. The lack of Bluetooth also rules out wireless synching to your PC. Furthermore there’s no memory card expansion slots. Luckily, there a decent 17MB of memory built-in so you can get a fair amount of content on there. There’s also a USB cable available so you can synch with Outlook and transfer the clips that you’ve downloaded and paid for off the phone to keep. However, it’s only available as a £10 extra accessory, and not included in the box, so I wasn’t able to test this feature.

The 338 is currently available in the UK exclusively on 3 on both prepaid and contract. As well as UMTS it supports GSM 900, 1800 and 1900, so can be used across Europe and in the US. When it finds itself out of a 3G area the phone will automatically switch to GSM, and supports GPRS where available. Battery life if obviously dependant on signal strength in the area you’re in and the use to which you put the phone.

Now I have to admit that this is the first 3G phone I’ve used for any length of time and by all reports the battery life on the 338 is an improvement over earlier models. Nevertheless I quickly became aware that the phone needed feeding considerably more often than my own Sony Ericsson T630. The figures speak for themselves. On my T630 it’s 540 minutes talk-time and 116 for standby – on the NEC 338 it’s only 200 minutes talk-time and 300 minutes standby. This is also a full third less than the Sony Ericsson V800, which claims a talk-time of 10 hours/600 minutes. If you’re going to put the phone to any serious use during the day, with a heavy mixture of voice and video calls, and some video downloads, you’re going to have to charge it every evening.

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.