Picking up the baton of O2's ‘X’ range of products, the X4 is the first to offer 3G but will it offer enough features and is the usability any good? We test the dog and bone to find out.
Of the four 3G handsets currently supplied by O2, three are clam-shell designs, with the somewhat bulkier Nokia 6630 being the only exception. O2 are also launching the Nokia 6680 and even though this is a 3G handset on the Vodafone network it’s unclear as to whether this will be similarly enabled on the O2 network.
The X4 is a little on the ‘porky’ side to be considered ‘pocket-sized’, mainly due to the ribbed, integrated battery and rear panel, which pokes out, proud, from the body. Streamlining aside, the battery does offer between 110-300 minutes talktime and between 100-300 minutes standby time in GSM mode. Being a 3G handset, there are also times for using WCDMA, wide-band CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access and an expansion of the UMTS Universal Mobile Telecommunications System - how 3G phones transfer data) - which is used to speed-up data transmission over 3G networks, although, according to these stats, the 3G will shave up to 60 minutes off the overall talk time off a full charge.
Like most media-orientated handsets there is a removable media element, mini SD in this case, but instead of the card being inserted into a location under the battery, a rubber flap is pulled off the bottom and the card inserted into the handset’s base, next to the charger and USB ports, making it possible to change cards without having to dismantle the phone.
The flip section of the phone exhibits the now-common duel screens, with a 96 x 96 pixel screen on the outside and a larger 176 by 220pixel, 262k colour screen on the inside. Unlike a lot of clamshells the flip section is better weighted, allowing a flick of the wrist to close it, making you feel all Captain James T Kirk about finishing off that conversation with your Grandmother. The outside edge also boasts a 1.3 megapixel camera, complete with a micro-flash, next to the lens. The camera takes adequate pictures and coupled with a digital zoom, white balance calibration, format options, including negative images and recording videos, there are plenty of opportunities to fill the supplied 64Mb removable mini-SD card and the 10Mb internal memory.
The overall user interface suffers from a grand excess of corporate identity with the O2 water bubble rising up the screen, accompanied by the slightly ‘whale-song’ theme tune, as the handset boots-up. Once done though, and once you have removed the default screen saver, the O2 colour scheme works quite well with silver and black of the body and no one should really grumble.
The menus themselves, accessed through either the top left hand menu button or a well laid out set of hot-keys on the 5-way paddle, clearly illustrate what you’re getting and even though the main menu screen looks a little dated, with overly cute icons, operations are simple to master.
The 3G aspect of the phone, designed to entice cash from your pocket at speeds never encountered before, offers all the usual tricks. Media menus are configured to offer cartoons, movie trailers, ringtones, wallpapers and game downloads, all with worrying ease.
The true speed of 3G is still a little stifled, more by geographic availability, than by content. The networks providers still need to catch up with the new breed of re-purposed content, although this is by no means a complaint solely affecting O2. The X4's capacity to play MP3 files means that your mobile can now double as your music player and although you’ll need to expand the memory to get any real quantity onto the phone, the polyphonic speaker, mounted on the rear, outputs a surprising amount of volume.
This means that not only does every head turn on the bus when you phone blares out Crazy Frog’s latest offering, but if you really want to be anti-social you can play chart tunes loud enough to annoy everyone around you.
Music can be downloaded, if you absolutely need it right then, and are prepared to pay, or can be transferred via the supplied USB sync cable. Strangely, when connected to a Mac, the phone appears but the directories are ‘read-only’ so nothing can be moved. On a PC the story’s different, the handset appears as a USB mass storage device and MP3 and video files can be copied to the memory with impunity. Along with the handset a CD of bespoke sync software is also supplied and although this is exclusively for use with PCs it does work perfectly well at transferring contacts, appointments, messages and media files between the handset and application when synchronised together.
Gripes, well the O2 3G server timed out or gave an error message every other attempt I made to access content, showing that the stability of 3G is still not really present at the moment, especially in the London borough of Hackney.
Oddly enough, the phone aspect of the handset is only Dual-band, supporting GSM900 and GSM1800, making it unsuitable for use in the US or Asia, which is a shame when you have a good(ish) stills camera, mobile music and games.
The design of the phone itself is uninspiring, but practical, although the middle row of keys, going down the numeric keypad, have been designed in such a way as to make them difficult to use when writing messages. There's no excusing the design of the charger though, which is just plain stupid. Increasingly in every home there is becoming a scramble for available plug sockets and every room has chargers, converters and flexes, snaking from walls. So it begs the question, who in their right mind would design a phone charger that has all its electronics aligned in a block, poking out 2in to the left of the 3-pin socket? This means it must always occupy the far left hand socket, otherwise it would take up two sockets by totally obscuring any other one on its left.
Overall the X4 is a useable, simple and, so long as you're not planning to jet off with it, practical handset. It's reminiscent of a Mini Metro that had a jet engine put under the hood. The 3G content may be delivered four times faster than before but overall it lacks any real wow-factor.
That doesn't mean that the quick-keys and the MP3 playback function aren't good, they just aren't that fantastically good. That said, The X4 does illustrate that with faster connection speeds, and more content available to be downloaded, screen size is going to become much more important.
The German trailer I downloaded arrived in the blink of an eye, but the subtitles were so small they were unreadable. In order to get the benefit from video you don't just have to receive it, you have to be able to understand what you're watching - why do you think all 3's original handsets were so large?