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.