- Review Price: £349.95
One year on from its entry into the smartphone market, Toshiba is clearly working hard to combine the sensible and rather corporate brand values we associate with its business notebooks with a little of the gadget glamour of the style-obsessed mobile phone world. Sometimes these forces work together and sometimes they pull in different directions.
For instance, it’s not difficult to see what targets the other two phones in the current Portégé line-up are aimed at. The G710 is your Blackberry alternative, while the clamshell G910 is going up against the (article:E-TEN-Glofiish-M800) and the HTC TyTN II. The G810 in the middle, however, is a slightly schizophrenic beast. On the one hand, it wants to be a useful, effective business tool for people working in a Windows-centric world. On the other hand, it also wants a little of the iPhone’s cool cachet. Unsurprisingly, it manages one job better than the other.
Physically, it’s not hard to see the Cupertino influence at work. This is a slim candybar handset, predominantly black and dominated by its 2.8in, 240 x 320 TFT screen. The only other things cluttering the front are the front camera lens, LED indicator and earpiece at the top and the touch-sensitive navigation and function keys at the bottom, illuminated by a nicely understated blue glow. At 123g it’s a little on the heavy side, but with its rubberised back and moulded surround it does feel remarkably solid. It’s the sort of phone that most thrusting young execs (or pudgy middle managers) would be happy to be seen using.
Its specs back up the strong physical design with support for GPRS, EDGE and 3.6MB/sec HSDPA. It also offers 802.11g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity and features a 3.0 Megapixel camera with autofocus. Meanwhile a 400Mhz Qualcomm MSM7200 processor with 128MB of RAM and 256MB of ROM powers the Windows Mobile 6.1 professional OS and built-in apps.
On top of that it also incorporates GPS tracking with A-GPS if available. The latter means that it combines location data from your cellular connection with the satellite data to speed up the initial positioning and give you a more consistent lock. Sadly, this doesn’t help if – like me – you live in an area where GPS systems struggle until you’re out on a main road heading in the wrong direction.
Also, no mapping applications are installed as standard – not even Google Maps – and the rather hefty manual offers the feature precious little coverage. The other point to mention is that not all GPS applications are compatible and Toshiba’s website has yet to state which ones are.
Things get really interesting when it comes to usability. Good news first: the screen is excellent. Obviously the 240 x 320 resolution is half that of the Glofish X800’s identically sized display, but brightness and clarity are both superb and at this size the drop in pixels doesn’t necessarily make it any less legible.
What’s surprising, however, is that the Portégé hasn’t really been designed with stylus use in mind. While there is a stylus – a rather unpleasant clip-in, clip-out thing that’s actually the top-right section of the silver surround – Toshiba has installed a custom version of SPB Mobile Shell to make the G810 more finger friendly, along with other features like a full-screen keyboard.
As my esteemed colleague Jon noted in his review, (article:Spb-Mobile-Shell-2-0) instantly makes Windows Mobile a lot more user friendly and an awful lot easier on the eye. Instead of the densely packed and deeply dull Today screen you get a more focused and configurable ‘Now’ screen. Rather than Hunt through the options on the Start Menu, you can pick application types from a simple grid launcher, and then pick the app of choice by tapping a sizable bar on a scrolling list.
What’s more, finding contacts is a lot easier using Mobile Shell’s icon-driven system than it is using Windows Mobile’s own rather dated Contacts list. You can navigate everything with a finger, or one handed using the touch-sensitive cursor and shortcut keys. With some nice use of animation and generally good design throughout, the overall effect is to make the G810 feel more modern and accessible than a vanilla Windows Mobile handset would seem. The full-sized onscreen keyboard is a big help when typing emails or even Web addresses, and the ability to switch between portrait and landscape screen modes is a genuine boon.
However, all this only works up to a point, and there are times when the gaps between Windows Mobile and SPB Mobile Shell and Toshiba’s other custom applets become jarring. Sometimes the phone seems to struggle when opening or switching between apps, and you end up back at the Windows Mobile start screen watching the ‘wait’ icon while it has a good hard think. The full-screen keyboard, itself not a patch on Apple’s excellent iPhone implementation, has to be chosen manually; otherwise, you end up with the normal Windows Mobile onscreen keypad.
Most seriously, there’s no getting away from the fact that once you start an application, you’re back using the stylus with the usual, nasty Windows Mobile interface. With its fine screen and excellent connectivity this phone should be a great choice for mobile email or Web browsing, but as you’re stuck using Internet Explorer and the built in email client the experience still doesn’t come together all that well. True, you can easily download and install alternatives, but this sort of thing lets the product down as a whole.
All the same, if you just consider the G810 as a feature packed Windows Smartphone with a nice shell layered on top, it has got other things in its favour. Call quality is perfectly decent. Corporate users will appreciate the ease with which it hooks onto Wi-Fi networks, the pre-installed Office Mobile apps, an Image to Text OCR applet aimed specifically at reading business cards and sucking the data into the contacts list and the Pixcel document and image viewer. If they want push email, however, then they’ll have to get it going using the regular Messaging client – there is no dedicated Exchange client as there has been on some recent Nokia devices.
Those not in work mode might be more thankful for the built-in FM radio, the option to play AAC, WMA, M4A and MP3 files and WMV, MPEG-4, AVI, ASF and 3GP video files and a half-decent built-in camera. The latter is still mildly useless in low light conditions, but outside or in brighter indoor settings it manages crisp, well-exposed images with plenty of colour and detail.
There are quick launch keys for the camera and voice recorder applications, and images, recordings, music and video can all be stored on standard Micro SD cards via the slot at the bottom left. The one major black mark here is the use of a proprietary mini-USB stereo headset connection. Sure, you can always use an A2DP Bluetooth headset, but is it too much to ask to be able to plug in a wired set of earbuds with a standard 3.5in mini-jack connection?
There are some other slight concerns over battery life. I took the G810 away and used it over a long weekend, mostly checking email and browsing the Web over Wi-Fi, 3G and GPRS connections and taking the odd photo. Leaving on a Saturday morning, the phone still had some juice by Monday evening. However, Toshiba itself admits that the phone can only handle 4 hours of talktime, and reports I’ve seen elsewhere suggest that slightly less may be the case. This may be a worry if you use your smartphone more as a phone and less as an always-connected PDA.
All in all, nobody who wants an iPhone should be fooled into thinking that the G810 is a serious alternative – in terms of things like ease-of-use, entertainment and Web browsing it’s still several miles behind. On the other hand, it is a decent Windows smartphone with an extremely strong set of features, excellent build quality and a reasonable price. While not exceptional enough to warrant any awards being dished out, it’s still worth auditioning if you want a contract-free smartphone with a touch of extra class.
Toshiba’s efforts to make the G810 a credible iPhone rival are only half successful, but as a Windows smartphone it’s a well-built and feature-packed device.
Score in detail
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