Back in the Eighties, if you were lucky (or rich) enough to own a ‘mobile’ phone, you had to put up with being the butt of a joke or two. Mobiles back then looked more like pieces of military hardware than the ubiquitous consumer product they are today. But despite the inevitable shrinkage that phones have undergone over the past 20 years or so, small is not always better, and there are plenty of reasons to have a big phone. A big phone might be difficult to slip into a pocket, but you can have a lovely large screen. And while a brick might not look particularly stylish when clamped to your ear, it gives the manufacturer the opportunity to include a generously-sized keyboard.
And that’s why I’m always prepared to give phones such as Toshiba’s Portégé G910 the time of day. While others may pooh-pooh its gargantuan proportions – it measures 117 x 64 x 19.8mm and weighs a hefty 183g – the size has major advantages. First, it happens to have a very good keyboard. Like its predecessor, the G900, it won’t slip into a tight jeans pocket without the risk of injury, but you will be able to tap out emails and texts quicker than you can on most phones, and even carry out the odd document edit without too much of a headache.
Each of the keys is large, well-proportioned, and has a good, positive click, so you’re absolutely certain when you’ve typed a letter on it. It’s also good to see that the full stop has its own dedicated key (you don’t have to use the function button to access it) and that there’s a well-sized space key – two things not all phone keyboards can boast.
Second, it has a great screen. As with all Windows Mobile Professional devices it’s a touchscreen and here, because of the size of the device, it’s generously large too. In fact its 3in diagonal and high 800 x 480 resolution is among the best I’ve seen on any smartphone, bettering the excellent screen on the Eten Glofiish M800 and X800 phones, and it means you can fit an awful lot of Internet browser, Word document and emails on screen at once.
The most interesting thing about the G910, however, isn’t its keyboard or its screen, but its unusual design. Flip the lid shut – it closes with a satisfyingly solid thwack – and you’re presented with a very sparse exterior. Instead of a numeric keypad for dialling numbers or a touchscreen, all you get is a small, monochrome display which shows the time plus message and missed call status. This is accompanied by a small directional pad with up, down, left, right and select buttons, plus keys for answering and ending phone calls.
It certainly looks good – and thumbs up to Toshiba for innovation – but a phone such as this must, first and foremost, be a practical work tool and, unlike the keyboard and screen, the unusual exterior design doesn’t work well at all. In fact I’d go so far as to say it makes the G910 a complete nightmare to use as a standard phone, because there’s no sensible way of quickly dialling telephone numbers.
Because there’s no numeric keypad, you have to use the directional pad to select numbers from a grid on the tiny screen, but this is simply daft. I found it easier to flip the phone open, fire up the Phone application and dial using the numbers set into the QWERTY keyboard. But again it’s not ideal – in order to then speak to anyone, you have to flip the phone shut again before you can hold the G910 to your ear. This is not a phone you can use one-handed.
Elsewhere, the specification is up with the best Windows Mobile devices. You get HSDPA mobile data for high speed browsing and data downloads, tri-band GSM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, a GPS receiver and both a two megapixel camera with flash and a front-facing VGA camera for video calls. There’s even a fingerprint reader on the right edge of the phone, but don’t get excited – it’s not used for securing the phone. You simply assign an application to each fingerprint and can then use it to launch those applications; it’s a gimmick to put it mildly.
The software complement is pretty good, too. You don’t get any major interface enhancements along the lines of HTC’s Touch phones, but there is the full Office Mobile here (including OneNote Mobile), Opera Mobile is pre-installed, plus there’s an application for reading business cards captured with the onboard camera and then saving them to your contacts database.
But you don’t have to go far to find further annoyances with the G910. And it comes back to that strange design: not only does this cause problems with making phone calls, but the way the hinge sets the screen behind the keyboard also means that operating the touchscreen is fiddly. Getting in the way further are two arrays of touch-sensitive shortcut buttons lined up on either side of the screen. These will quickly whisk you off to applications such as Media Player, Outlook, Messaging and Contacts, but what seems like a thoughtful touch quickly becomes a major irritation. If you attempt to use your finger to prod the screen, for instance, it’s all too easy to brush one of the shortcuts while attempting to tap something else.
Call quality is fine, but the phone’s ringer simply isn’t loud enough. Despite having it turned up to maximum volume, I missed several phone calls during testing even when I had the phone in a jacket pocket. And battery life, despite hopeful claims of 330 minutes talktime and 460 hours standby, is nothing to write home about. I found that two days of light use was the most the phone was capable of and, to be on the safe side, a charge overnight was required to avoid running out at inopportune moments.
The trouble with a smartphone such as this is that it has to perform well on several different fronts to be a success, especially for £400. So though it has its good points, the G910’s numerous failings drag it down to earth with a solid thump.
It has a lovely screen and keyboard, a full array of high-end features and some thoughtful software extras, and for this I can forgive its size and heft. But its ‘innovative’ design means it’s a nightmare to make phone calls with, and that coupled with other foibles means it’s a product you’re probably best avoiding.
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