One of the best features of the Vario range was always the slide out qwerty keyboard, and of course this is all present and correct in the Vario III. The screen now slides from right to left to reveal the keyboard instead of left to right – this means that you can’t hold it in your left hand and push it open with your thumb, but I had no problems sliding it open with my fingers instead.
The full keyboard and surround are finished in black, rather than the rather garish pink and silver finish of the Vario II – although I imagine that the colour scheme was to match T-Mobile’s corporate colours. Once in landscape mode, with your thumbs positioned over the keyboard, you’ll find the first major improvement on the Vario III – the tilting screen. Whereas with the Vario and Vario II, the screen remained flat when the device was slid open, with the Vario III the screen can tilt upwards to around 45 degrees, allowing you to look directly at the screen with the device in front of you, rather than having to look down onto it.
The tilting screen makes a massive difference to the usability of a device like this, especially if you have to answer a lot of emails on the move, or if you want to actually take notes on your smartphone as I often do. You can even position the screen at any point between zero and 45 degrees, allowing almost anyone to achieve the perfect viewing angle. It also means that if you like to use a portable Bluetooth keyboard with your smartphone, you won’t need any kind of cradle or stand for the Vario III.
The keyboard on the Vario III is slightly larger than the one on the Vario II, but only by a few millimetres. There are also indicator lights for the Function button and Caps Lock, both of which are very useful additions. The keys themselves have a solid feel to them, with a reassuring click. I found that I could pickup the Vario III and type reasonably fast straight away, but then I’ve been using devices with slide out keyboards for some time now.
On the right side of the chassis you’ll find the power button, a shortcut to the camera and the stylus. The stylus is another improvement over the previous model – I was never a fan of the stubby telescopic stylus that shipped with the Vario II, so it’s good to see a long, slim, metal stylus hiding inside the Vario III.
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