3 INQ1 review

4.5 out of 5
dependent on contract

For

Social networking aspects, ease of use, cost

Against

No QWERTY keyboard, no Wi-Fi, no GPS

The dust from the launch has settled, but can the INQ1, the budget smartphone, take on the might of the high-end offerings from Apple, HTC and BlackBerry. We go social to find out.

The small all-metal slider made by Amoi, is well built, solid and inoffensive. It measures 97 x 47.6 x 14.4mm, weighs 110 grams and comes with a 3.2-megapixel camera. You'll get an HSDPA connection, 50MB of internal and 4GB of external memory and it features an accelerometer so you can automatically switch between portrait and landscape modes. You won't get GPS though.

Powered by a Qualcomm chipset you'll also get a 2.2-inch QVGA 262K colour screen a standard mobile phone keypad that doesn't do anything crazy, although it's a real shame given the focus towards staying in touch with Skype, Live Messenger, Facebook, etc, that you're reduced to a T9 keyboard.

The company has confirmed a QWERTY keypad version will be available in 2009, but this clearly isn't it.

Although lacking a QWERTY keyboard, all the usual buttons are present. The top of the slider under the screen is dominated by a large d-pad for menu control and sliding through the different applications on the phone. You can also slide through those apps with a further dedicated "slide through apps" button on the side of the phone. It's a bit of an overkill but old school BlackBerry users (the ones who used the rocker switch on the side) will no doubt appreciate it.

Unlike the recently tested Sony Ericsson W902, all those buttons (there aren't nearly as many) aren't in the slightest bit fiddly. Those wanting to take advantage of the 3.2-megapixel camera can use the dedicated shutter button on the side, however music fans will be disappointed to see that the INQ1 doesn't feature a 3.5mm jack for your headphones. Instead you are left to use the micro USB slot and the accompanying headphones in the box. Not great.

Get past the design of the phone, which is surprisingly very good given the price of the handset (£80 PAYG), and like the Skype phone, the main access to the different programs is via a carousel at the bottom of the home screen. Very much like the HTC interface, icons scroll across the screen from left to right (a touchscreen interface would make this incredibly easy) with the central icon being your selection. Failing that there is also a standard grid menu interface with colourful logos giving you access to all you need.

But the interface isn't the main focus, it's the integration with applications like Facebook that will see this phone be a success with the social butterflies of this world.

Coming with Facebook, Skype, Windows Live Messenger and Last.fm built-in from the get-go, users can keep up to date with their Facebook buddies on the fly. Updates are automatically downloaded in the background for all the apps and you'll be able to compose content offline so when you come back online the information is automatically sent - ideal for the Underground. To make it even easier there is a nifty cut and paste feature (Apple take note).

In practice it all makes sense. Contact details are updated with status information if you've got them sync'ed to a Facebook profile and the only real omission is the lack of a Twitter app, but then that is easily fixed by either visiting m.twitter.com or more likely downloading the app, which no doubt someone will have developed by the new year.

For Facebook, the application interface is very simple allowing you to manage your status, profile, photos and inbox, while Skype is the same as in the company's previous effort - the S2, in other words very good. You will notice a difference in the call quality between free and paid for, but just as we did with the Skype phone, you have to take into account it's free.

Beyond main social networking apps, the Brew OS will allow you to add more over time, according to the makers. The phone will also offer Yahoo widgets allowing users to add further customisation to the phone like search and weather.

Get past the social networking aspect and the phone still holds up. There is a music player, albeit a basic one, and its capabilities are boosted by the Last.fm app as long as you are in network coverage, but there is no FM radio. The sound capabilities are average with the external speaker loud enough to share music with your mates on the bus, but only if none of your mates have Walkman handsets. This isn't a music focused phone.

Elsewhere there is RSS feed support, an easy to use web browser whereby the d-pad controls the mouse pointer and the usual array of basics like calendar and a stopwatch.

Verdict

We were very impressed when we first saw the INQ1 at the UK launch and now having enjoyed it further, it is certainly a challenger.

For the social butterfly that isn't ready to lash out on a long contract and high monthly bills for the iPhone or the BlackBerry Storm or feel the need to charge their phone every day (it's been going 2 days strong now and still got juice), the INQ1 is a fantastic offering. It's like the netbook of the mobile phone world - a netphone if you will.

You get fast internet, Facebook, Skype and Live Messenger apps all running at the same time in the background on a handset that is affordable. The only catch it seems is that you don't get a QWERTY keyboard, touchscreen interface or GPS.

However if you can get past these facts then the INQ1 is certainly a contender. Give us QWERTY or touch and we would be completely sold. For now, however, this is a great cheap handset, but still probably one for the kids.