Orange Vegas

It's always great when a young pretender steps forward and steals the crown. Last year INQ bomb-burst onto the scene with their social networking handset the INQ1 that was well received by many and unique to 3.

It's difficult to see the Vegas as anything other than Orange's attempt to do something similar, this time using the ZTE X760 handset as the basis, with Orange offering free access to Facebook, Bebo and MySpace for Dolphin customers.

The Vegas measures 93 x 53 x 16mm, making it positively tiny. It features a 2.4in touchscreen which handles most of the controls, although there are still a range of buttons scattered around: you have the normal shortcut buttons and calling buttons on the front gathered around a central, round, four-way controller and ok button.

On the left you'll find volume controls, while the right gives you a shutter button for the meagre 1.3MP camera and the Mini-USB connection covered by a cheap silver flap. There a stylus hiding along the side too.

Build quality overall is a mixed bag. The rubberised back does make it secure in the hand and comfortable to hold, but the buttons do look cheap – especially those on the sides in the silver plastic trim. That is perhaps to be expected in a phone that is claiming to be the cheapest touchscreen on the market.

The screen itself is not great to look at: it isn't very bright and it isn't very sharp either. The result is that text – all text – looks blocky. It's a bit of a shame because it's the sort of visual experience that most handsets have moved beyond.

The menu system is a custom Orange setup, based around three pages, which basically give you calling, entertainment and settings. The simple icons are responsive enough to the touch and everything is pretty simple.

So the first thing you'll want to do is head off and jump into Facebook. Except you can't. Rather than offering you an app or direct access, everything is routed through Orange World, Orange's mobile platform, which is a little tedious to be truthful.

You can bookmark sites to speed things up, but you soon get the feeling that the tedium spreads far and wide in this little handset. Select a bookmark and it asks you what you want to do with it.

It seems that every action you take leads to another question, or some sort of confirmatory result. For example, unlocking the screen (with an iPhone aping swipe of the finger) results in a pop-up to tell you the screen is unlocked.

The same happens when you click on a txt message – an 8-option menu appears rather thank opening the message straight up. It makes navigation and operation unnecessarily slow.

Things are just too slow here, something that is exacerbated by the hardware packed into the Vegas. It's a GSM/GPRS offering, so that time you spend on Facebook (when you eventually get there) will be slow. The smallest and cheapest touchscreen it may be, but it doesn't really back this wondrous claim with an experience worth bothering about.

Ok there are some nice touches, like the fact that it will tell you that it has finished charging, so you can disconnect it from the mains (although watch out for this in the middle of the night). The battery life is pretty impressive in standby surviving well over a week, but if you are going to use it a lot you'll find yourself charging most days.

Startup is also pretty much instantaneous too thanks to the simple interface.

Other features include Bluetooth so you could hook up to Bluetooth headphones or speakers although that will mean you can't use the FM radio. which relies on the headphones. The bundled headphones are hard, plastic, and use the Mini-USB connection too, so you can't swap them for your own.

There is a slot inside for a microSD card, if you want to expand on the 1GB of internal memory. However, we couldn't get it to recognise any files on any of the cards we inserted to test it with.

Verdict

It's difficult to determine exactly what the Vegas is trying to achieve. Yes, you get touch control, but does that give you an enhanced experience? No, it doesn't. The Vegas looks pretty cool, but once you peek at what is on offer it really isn't that appealing.

It is cheap though as you can get the Vegas on pay as you go for under £50, but if the promise of free social networking data is what appeals to you, then look further afield.