- Review Price: £409.95
We’re all prone to completely impractical fantasies from time to time. But we all know that, like planning to becoming a Red Arrows pilot or Formula One champion when we’re kids, or dreaming of marrying a stunning Hollywood actress when we’re adults, they’re usually totally unrealistic.
I have a similar problem with mobile phones. I love them small, slim and light and I can appreciate great design. But I’m also a sucker for features, which usually means I end up with a compromise that’s neither as small and sexy or as fully-featured and practical as I’d like.
My current phone fantasy involves hunting for a small phone but one with a decent keyboard. I’m increasingly finding that I need to keep on top of my email when I’m out and about, and no matter how competent the T9 and word anticipation is on my Sony Ericsson K800i, using the number pad is proving too slow and frustrating to be practical. I also want to be able to jot down the odd note without having to lug a laptop everywhere I go.
So I was looking forward to having a play with Toshiba’s new smartphone – the G900. It follows hot on the heels of the Windows Mobile 5.0-powered G500, but instead of a number pad, this phone features a full-size QWERTY keyboard that slides out from under the screen.
It certainly seemed to meet with my initial requirements. Usually, keyboards this small are awful, but Toshiba has managed to build one that can actually be used quickly, after some practice. Though it seems quite cramped, the rounded profile of each key, and good positive feedback, meant that I rarely found myself committing horrendous typos. The compact dimensions of the keyboard also meant I never found myself stretching to reach the keys in the centre of the keyboard – something that I have experienced on larger ‘thumb-boards’ in the past. Compared to the keyboard on the much bigger Sony VGN-UX1XN, I found this one far more usable – an impressive feat of engineering.
Now for the next acid test – size. One of the things that has put me off about smartphones in the past is their sheer bulk. I want to be able to stick the phone in my pocket when I scoot off to a meeting on the train, and I don’t want it to make an unsightly bulge in my trousers or jab into my leg when I sit down. I’ve discounted phones such as the Sidekick, Nokia’s Communicators and various flavours of Blackberry in the past for these very reasons.
And while there’s a limit to how small devices with full-size keyboards can get, the G900 does feel unnecessarily bulky. It’s the thickness and weight of the thing that does it – it’s as thick as my K800i is at the lens cover (22mm) and a good 4mm thicker than the Orange SPV E650, while weight is a not-inconsiderable 200g. And though it doesn’t look very big face-on, even with the sizeable 3in touchscreen, when you pick it up it becomes obvious that this is not something that’s going to fit comfortably in your trouser pocket. Anyone who favours Russell Brand-style jeans need not apply.
Despite all this, the keyboard is certainly tempting me to give this phone a chance. So what else do you get stuffed into this not-so-small package? Well, one of the features that Toshiba is pushing hard is its fingerprint reader, located on the underside of the screen. It’s certainly worth having if you’re worried about security and it can be used to quickly lock and unlock the device. As with most fingerprint readers it’s not 100 per cent secure as you have to register an alternative password in order to activate it and provide a back-up, but it does make it easier to use longer, stronger and harder to type in passwords.
The G900’s fingerprint reader isn’t just a security feature, though. Toshiba also includes a ‘fingerprint launcher’, which allows you to assign applications to different fingers. Bizarrely, you can also use it as a kind of alternative mouse pad. Move your finger over it in a vertical direction and you can swiftly scroll up and down web pages and lists of items. It works laterally too, and you can even tap it to select items. Ingenious, but a bit on the gimmicky side and fiddly to use compared to the d-pad next to the screen.
Continuing with its hardware features, the G900 also packs an HDSPA adaptor for Internet connection speeds of up to 3.6mbps; it’s Tri-band with support for GPRS and EDGE; it has an 802.11 Wi-Fi adaptor so you have the option of using hot spots instead of the more expensive 3G connection; and finally there’s Bluetooth. There are also two cameras – one on the front for video calls and one on the rear for taking shots up to 1,600 x 1,200 in resolution. There’s a light to assist you in taking pictures in dim conditions but no flash. Internal memory is limited at just 40MB but can be supplemented using the miniSD slot on the left side of the device.
Taking advantage of the Wi-Fi connection is a bundled VOIP application (Tiptalk) and there’s also a feature that will lock and unlock your phone over Bluetooth depending on its proximity to your laptop or PC. And of course, as it’s equipped with Windows Mobile 6, you also get Office Mobile thrown in, which allows you to view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.
As a phone it all knits together reasonably well too. Voice call quality is good. The controls all work intuitively in both phone and typing mode. The volume adjustment buttons are in a sensible place, making it easy to adjust as you talk. And the handy OK button also doubles as a key for shutting down application windows, which is very useful.
The one remaining negative point, in addition to the size issue, is battery life. Like its fellow G500, it’s not great. I rarely managed to persuade it to last any longer than 24 hours before it needed a recharge.
That said, at least you can charge the phone over its USB connection (oddly a 1.1 connection), making it pretty straightforward to top-up the battery. All you need is a standard cable and any handy laptop or desktop PC.
The G900 is a mixed bag. On the plus side, it has a big 800 x 480 pixel screen, great keyboard and the inclusion of Windows Mobile 6 makes it a highly practical mobile communications device and office companion. The fingerprint reader is also a bonus for those who want to keep sensitive information away from prying eyes. On the down side, it is bulky, heavy and battery life is disappointing.
In the end the G900 didn’t quite have that essential combination of sexy and smart that I’ve been looking for all this time. I suppose, like Cameron Diaz, it’s a rare combination, but you still can’t help dreaming…
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