- Review Price: £180.00
We still think the iPhone OS is the slickest in the business so if you want a big touchscreen phone and you can afford the outlay, we reckon that’s the device to get. However, very close behind the iPhone OS is Google’s Android operating system and it has one big advantage over Apple’s efforts; phones running Android can be had for considerably less money than the iPhone. This is no better demonstrated than by the phone I’m looking at today, the T-mobile Pulse, available for just £180 on PAYG.
I must admit, I was apprehensive when I first took this phone out of the box. For T-Mobile to make a smartphone so cheap it seemed impossible for it not to have cut some essential corners. However, nothing could have been further from the truth.
For a start this is a very nice looking device with its simplistic glossy black lines and sparkly grey mottled back, though of course all that gloss will attract many a fingerprint. Being entirely plastic it lacks the solid feel that the top end Blackberrys, the iPhone, or the Nokia E71 have but it certainly doesn’t feel like it will fall apart too easily. It has dimensions of 115 x 62 x 13mm and weighs 130g.
In particular, we’re really glad to see a tough smooth touchscreen that integrates seamlessly with the rest of the phone’s fascia. Sadly it’s plastic making it more scratch prone than glass fronted rivals (of which there are few, it must be noted). It uses capacitive touch-sensing technology but it isn’t the best we’ve ever encountered and can feel a little unresponsive at times.
The display is an iPhone-equalling 3.5in LCD with a resolution of 480 x 320 pixels, which in fact betters the iPhone’s for viewing angles. It’s bright, sharp, and has strong vivid colours, though they’re not as vivid as AMOLED screens (that arguably look too saturated). With regards the resolution, we initially thought this was a little low as we’re so used to seeing 480 x 800 pixel screens nowadays but, as the iPhone proved, resolution isn’t the most important thing; it’s how you use it, and with Android at the helm we never once found cause to bemoan a lack of resolution. The web browser has a superb zoom function, all the icons and fonts are nicely smoothed off and, well, we simply had no cause for concern.
Below the screen sit four buttons and a roller ball. This is one area where Android phones still lag behind the iPhone as the latter has managed to get all the same functionality out of a single button and touchscreen. However, we’re glad to see that the separate back and home buttons of the HTC Hero have been integrated into one and the search button has been dropped completely. That said, the Menu and Home/Back buttons are somewhat wobbly, which is disappointing. We do quite like the roller ball, though, as it comes in very useful when editing text, but they can get gunked up and wear out over time.
We were particularly pleased to find a microSD slot on the left edge of the Pulse. Supporting cards up to 16GB, this gives you the option to turn the handset into a fully-fledged portable media player but without the upfront cost of buying a phone with lots of inbuilt memory (a 2GB card comes in the box). The ease with which you can get files to and from the phone is of course a big boon as well. We also like how Android defaults to using the memory card for photos and videos taken with the camera.
Also on the left edge is the power/lock button where we found it a little difficult to reach when operating the phone one-handed. On the right are volume controls and the camera button. It’s up top, though, that things really start getting interesting.
Under a flap sit the Micro-USB data and charging socket and headset socket. Now, for a start, we’re in two minds over the flap as we can appreciate it keeps grime out but it doesn’t half get in the way if you regularly use your phone to listen to music. The other issue is that the headset socket is a 3-contact 2.5mm one that requires the use of an included adapter to plug in a conventional set of 3.5mm headphones. Thankfully the adapter is a simple 3in long inline cable that you could easily just keep hanging from the end of your headphones for storage. Sound quality from it is also superb. It is missing a microphone, though, so can’t be used as a proper headset adapter (we currently have no word on whether a full headset will be included with the phone).
Being a lower cost smartphone, we were initially happy to see that the Pulse had a 3.2-megapixel camera with autofocus. However, it quickly became evident that it wasn’t up to much. Not helped by the lack of flash, indoor shots or poorly lit ones were very difficult to capture without blur. Well lit shots were passable but the focussing never really seemed to get it quite right. There’s also noticeable vignetting in all the shots. Particularly due to this last point, we did wonder whether our sample wasn’t working correctly. Feedback from any users would be welcome. On a more positive note, video quality was quite acceptable for candid clips. The framerate is good enough to capture motion and there’s enough resolution to pick out details. There is also a forward-facing camera for video-calling.
Beneath the slide-off plastic back panel sits the 1500mAh battery. It’s a healthy size for this type of phone and we found it translated to a comfortable three days of light usage. T-Mobile quotes figures of 30 hours standby and 210 minutes of talk time.
As inferred by the front-facing camera, this is a 3G phone that supports HSDPA. Wi-Fi is also on hand to save you time and money when at home or in other networked areas. GPS is also onboard, though there’s no digital compass to tell you which way you’re pointing.
So, the hardware isn’t perfect but neither does it have any fundamental problems. The key to this phone, though, is that it marries a competent and well thought out set of hardware features with the second best touch-oriented phone operating system currently available.
In fact, T-Mobile (or the actual manufacturers Huawei) has heavily tweaked Android to give it a more polished look. This mainly consists of redesigned icons and menus and we think the overall affect is one of a classier-looking, less toy-like, interface. The desktop/home screen has also been extended to a 3 x 2 grid of panels, up from the standard 3 x 1 configuration. More panels can be added as well so you can have hundreds of shortcuts and widgets scattered all over the phone if you so wish. Other new additions include the ‘wildcard’ widgets. These essentially repeat the same functionality of the inbuilt widgets but with larger icons and live content. There are wildcards for calendar, email, music, notepad, pictures, and videos.
Aside from these changes, the Android OS is the same one we’ve come to know and love in devices like the T-Mobile G1 and HTC Hero. In particular, the web browser is superb, being at least an equal to that of the iPhone, while access to hundreds of apps at the Android Market will mean you can make the Pulse do just about anything. Useful inbuilt additions include an Office document viewer and YouTube app. The onscreen keyboard also works well, though the resistive screen and lack of multitouch put it behind top-end rivals.
The T-Mobile Pulse is one of the most exciting handsets to come through our office in quite some time. Yes, it lacks the glamour of the iPhone, has a poor camera and slightly peculiar headphone setup, and falls behind many premium phones for build quality, but with Wi-Fi, 3G, a microSD slot, and a large high-quality screen, it has all the essentials for a modern smartphone. Add in the superb user experience brought about by Google’s Android operating system and a very competitive price of £180 Pay-As-You-Go and we can see many people snapping one of these up.
Score in detail
|Operating System||Android OS|
|Screen Size (inches) (Inch)||3.5in|
|Talk Time (Minute)||240m|
|Standby Time (Hour)||300hr|
|Internal Storage (Gigabyte)||0.192GB|
|Camera (Megapixel)||3.15 Megapixel|
|Front Facing Camera (Megapixel)||No Megapixel|
|3.5mm Headphone Jack||No|
Processor and Internal Specs
|App Store||Android Market|
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