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Programme 164 covers:
"My good friend James Burland made the comment back in 2007, when the iPhone launched, that pure touchscreens were the way of the future - who needed physical keys when touchscreen entry was so easy? And he was right, we’re seeing something of a dominance in 2011/2012 of large-screened touch slabs. Not only do you get a vastly better web browsing and media experience, on-screen typing with oodles of dictionary support to work out what you MEANT to type seems to be the way to go. I’ve lost count of the number of Symbian users who went for the Nokia E7, shooting this show, because of the large high contrast screen and who essentially ignore the rather nice fold out keyboard. Ditto users of the Milestone 2 here. When virtual typing on a 4” screen is good enough, why bother sliding out the physical equivalent?
Why indeed? In fact, why bother HAVING a full width QWERTY keyboard in the first place? Better to save weight and cost and just use touchscreen entry. As a result, I’m pretty confident that QWERTY keyboards are dead. Here’s another example, the HTC 7 Pro - which seemed like a great idea at the time but which failed to sell in any significant numbers. Even the Desire Z, seen here, failed to win fans apart from a few arch geeks.
BUT. James was also partly wrong, in that such typing on touchscreens gives no real satisfaction. Smaller, more pocketable and simpler keyboarded designs are just as popular as ever - the Blackberry Curve 8520 was the most popular smartphone in the UK last year - yes, even more so than any iPhone. And there are similar solutions from Nokia and even Samsung, providing always available physical QWERTY typing on real, mechanical, satisfying keys. Devices on which you can build up a real momentum - yes, you may well use two thumbs to type away, but the main UI is unashamedly one-handed, with a d-pad or trackpad to effect any scrolling or analogue navigation. Which, for parents and businessmen and anybody with something else important to do with the other hand - hold that of a kid, carry shopping or a briefcase, hold on to a tube or bus strap etc - is a bit of a boon compared to the larger touch-only slabs, which are far more geared to two-handed use for most of their functions.
All of which got me thinking. 'qwerty candybars', 'front facing qwerty', whatever they're supposed to be called, this entire genre of devices seems to be slipping under everybody's radar as ‘not sexy enough’ - so which ones would I pick for use today? For your interest, here's my brief 2012 top 5 selection - and I'm including these by functionality, build quality AND value for money. Oh, and I’m going to add on a mini-review along the way!
5. HTC ChaCha
Distinguished by its bent shape and by its dedicated Facebook sharing button, the ChaCha is something of a one-trick pony - but it’s a heck of a trick. A mid range Android phone at a budget price and with a stable software set, there’s a 2.6” half VGA screen and a surprisngly useable keyboard. See Tim’s review in Phones Show 142. Although it’s not for power users, the biggest downside here is the name - I’m sorry, but ‘ChaCha’? I’d die of shame! Great value at £130 or so SIM-free now, though.
4. Blackberry Curve 9360
The followup to the best-selling Curve 8520, this is thinner and sleeker and has 3G. It’s a good looker and should do just as well as the 8520 once prices have come down to the same teenager-friendly level, they’re currently at £15 or £20/month or well over £200 SIM-free. I’ll try and get this in for review shortly.
3. Motorola Pro Plus
Android smartphones with front facing QWERTY keyboards are rare beasts. We’ve seen a few from HTC (the ChaCha), Acer (the BeTouch) and Samsung (Galaxy Pro etc), but the only one worth considering is the Motorola Pro Plus, running Android 2.3 with 1GHz processor, VGA screen and that lovely QWERTY pad beneath. Yes, you have to put up with Motoblur on the front end, but otherwise it’s all upsides, including a removeable 1600mAh battery that should easily last a heavy day’s use. And £215 all-in, SIM-free? So tempting!
2. Nokia E6
The ultimate do-it-all compact smartphone - that’s not that much fun to actually use. The E6 remains my backup device of choice - I reach for it on long trips when I need access to all my modern Symbian apps and media, yet also want a battery that is *impossible* to drain in a day. The keyboard is superb and the camera’s pretty excellent once you get over not being able to do macro shots. It’s just all a little - fiddly, once you start needing to interact by touch as well!
1. Blackberry Bold 9900
You saw my review in Phones Show 151. This takes the Bold line back to the excellent 2.8” screen and wider keyboard form factor, allied to a capacitive touchscreen. Blazing fast browsing, a very usable interface and plenty of apps are only let down by poorish battery life - many users find they have to stay on 2G in order to make it through the day. A shame. Can Blackberry fix this in software?
So, qwerty IS alive and well, but in future, i contend, only in this smaller qwerty candybar form factor, where it makes most sense.
All of which brings me to.....
Review: Nokia Asha 302
Brand new and unashamedly budget, yet with looks straight from the E6 design department, this is the Asha 302. Primarily designed for developing markets and running the latest version of Nokia’s Series 40, the 302 is a curious beast when viewed through Western World eyes. It IS sold in the UK though, making it a valid review candidate.
Series 40’s pseudo smartphone functions have improved markedly in recent years. Allied with a 1GHz processor, you can zip around between PIM and social functions (Facebook, here, and Twitter, Orkut and Flickr clients are all built in) fairly quickly, even though there’s little actual multitasking. Email is the big addition here, with a full Mail for Exchange client - maybe this is the way email is going in developing markets?
The hardware’s all plastic but looks and feels the part, though I was disappointed by two huge factors: the qwerty keyboard is quite stiff, harder to press keys than on the E6 or any previous Nokia qwerty - it did make for a more tiring typing experience. And the display is appalling once you get outside in the sun. Given where the 302 is headed in terms of sunnier climes, could an extra Euro not have been spent on a transflective screen?
There’s a very cool space-age breathing light, there are two large silver user-assignable shortcut keys, dual charging on top, along with 3.5mm output - and compatibility with standard Nokia multimedia controlling headsets - though you only get this ultra cheap outer-ear plain design in the box.
Again strangely, given how ubiquitous it is these days, there’s no GPS either, plus no copy of Nokia Maps. Eh? Surely that’s only another Euro or two these days on a phone chipset? I thought EVERY Nokia phone now came with Maps and Drive?
Also missing are a front-facing camera and a light sensor - in fact, the Asha 302 seems set at a fixed brightness - am I missing a control somewhere?
Onto my usual review staples: the speaker’s superb - the usual rule, the cheaper the handset the BETTER the speaker!! - the camera’s 3 megapixels and EDoF, producing quite superb results in decent light, as seen here - absolutely the right decision for the target market. No LED flash though...
Rather impressively, this budget handset does a good job of playing back videos , but with rather more limited codec support than on most smartphones - just baseline MP4 and WMV here.
As a smartish phone though, the pentaband Asha 302 is a cracking option, with build quality that will see a lifetime of well over three years in a developing market. And Series 40 is now well up to the job for the majority of phone users, with over the air updates in the same way as Symbian and some Android phones and with a proper Nokia Store, dispensing Java apps and games.
It’s just a shame about the screen tech and lack of Maps. That’s a fail in my eyes - and probably yours as well."
Steve Litchfield, (C) 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All content on this site and in the Show is copyrighted to Steve Litchfield and to the relevant guest reviewers. All rights reserved, please do not distribute the video files further than your own computing equipment.
176 - News/odds and ends, My favourite bits of Android 4.1 Jelly
Bean, and a brief look at a new mobile-centric music system.
175 - Hands-on review of the HTC One V, plus news catch up and a
tour round my personal 808 set-up
174 - Hands-on review of the Nokia 808 PureView - the best Symbian
smartphone ever made - can its monster camera make up for other
173 - News, A hands-on review of the Huawei Ascend G300 and my Top
5 Phones for June 2012
172 - Hands-on review of the Samsung Galaxy S III, 4.8" screen and
quad core processor - the biggest and best phone in the world?
171 - Hands-on review of the Motorola RAZR MAXX with massive
170 - News, A rant on the non-take up of
Android 4.0 virtual controls, and a hands-on review of the Nokia Lumia
169 - Hands-on review of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active and some
further thoughts on the Samsung Galaxy S III
168 - Hands-on review of the HTC One S, a blow-by-blow comparison
between the Nokia Lumia 710 and HTC Radar, and news of the Galaxy S III
167 - News, My top 10 second hand
bargains, A look at the very first touchscreen smartphone - 7 YEARS
before the Apple iPhone
166 - Hands-on review of the HTC One X, the biggest and fastest
phone in the world - but is it the best?
165 - Hands-on review of the Sony Xperia S, are the super 720p
screen and 12mp camera enough?
164 - An editorial on the death of a
form factor, my Top 5 Qwerty candybars in 2012, and my hands on review
of the Asha 302
163 - Review of the Nokia N9, running Meego, plus 'What you need to
know' from MWC 2012
162 - Review of the Google Nexus X(!), plus a look at the Nokia 500
and thoughts on Symbian Belle
161 - Hands-on review of the Samsung
160 - Review of the 4.65", 720p-screened Galaxy Nexus
See my personal selection of recommended smartphone accessories, all 10% off at the Proporta 3-Lib store!