Vodafone 360 H1 review

3 out of 5
Dependent on contract

For

Screen resolution, web service makes contact management easy, good camera, HD video capture, 16GB internal memory

Against

Buggy software, screen not responsive enough, frequent crashes, problems staying connected to network, poor app offering, lack of integration of existing services, hardware feels cheap

The H1 is Vodafone's first handset designed specifically for their new Vodafone 360 service, the other being the M1. Both handsets are made by Samsung (the H1 being designated the i8320), but only available from Vodafone. The H1 is also a LiMo handset - it runs on a Linux-based operating system, which again, is new.

Starting with the hardware, the handset is relatively large, packing in a 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen display with an impressive 800 x 480 pixel resolution. The handset itself is pretty big, measuring 58 x 115.9 x 12.9mm and weighing in at 134g, so it falls smack bang into the middle of smartphone territory.

The design isn't the sharpest given its status as a flagship phone and it looks rather generic. At first glance it is reasonably smart, with a brushed metal look to the screen surround. Manipulate the phone in your hand, however, and you might think otherwise.

The back of the phone is the weakest spot of the design as it looks cheap. Red highlights are dotted around the silver model that we reviewed, with a red search button on the side and red detailing on the rear speaker grill. These touches add little to the handset, instead looking like the sort of attention a boy racer might lavish on his car. A Vodafone Ferrari this is not, but you can see what they were trying to do.

The hardware specs are impressive however, and there is little missing from the H1. You get HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. You get a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash and you get video capture which offers 720p HD. There is a forward-facing camera for video calling. You also get the FM radio, 16GB of internal memory and the option of expanding further using a microSD card under the back cover.

The camera has all the hallmarks of Samsung, with easy controls allowing you to change a number of settings and the final results are ok, with good detail captured in reasonable light conditions. The HD video is ok too but lacks the detail you'd get from a pocket camcorder. It is still a nice addition, better than your average standard definition video capture on a phone.

The problem here, unfortunately, is the operating system and interface. Vodafone 360 is both a service and an OS, presented here as a fully-integrated solution. The experience of Vodafone 360 is supposed to be represented at its pinnacle on the custom handsets designed for it and that's slightly worrying.

Vodafone 360 purports to pull all your social networking together, aggregating  your digital life into one service to make your life simpler and make it easier to stay in touch with people. Vodafone People is the headline feature, which lets you enter the details of some of your networks and online accounts which results in a combined address book. It's not a new concept, as HTC's Sense and Motorola's Motoblur offer the same thing.

Once you have all your details plugged into Vodafone 360 – which we did via the web interface rather than on the handset itself – all your contacts will appear in the phone. The most commonly seen aspect of Vodafone 360 is the tiled contacts interface and it is rather cool. You can move left and right though different category of contacts (Facebook, Windows Live, and so on) as well as creating custom groups, so you can have your family, friends and colleagues separated, or duplicated across these groups.

You'll have to kill duplicates to stop blank panels appearing for some contacts (easily done through the web interface), but if you know a healthy number of people on Facebook, you'll find it picks up their pictures so you have a nice rich graphical interface. Of course that also means that anyone with dubious pictures on Facebook will eventually surface, and the wife was quick to notice a female contact had a picture of herself in a bikini as her profile picture. We didn't notice such things, of course, and you can change the picture if you want to.

But having harvested contacts from various services, it doesn't offer you much more. We supplied details of our Google account, Facebook and Windows Live Messenger, but it only picks and chooses elements from those areas. Facebook contacts appear, Google Talk contacts appear as do Windows Live contacts, but you don’t get access to your Google Contacts, or Google Calendar. Our Google Mail account was set-up.

You can pull up a contact into a brief contact card, or another press takes you to a full contact card, and thumbing left and right will bring up details of your interaction with them, as well as status updates. You don't get a route to their online albums. The pictures you snap using the camera get a fast sharing link to Facebook, but no other service like Picasa or Flickr.

We were fed status updates from Facebook for the contacts we imported, but to really get Vodafone People to work for you they need to be online. If you know a lot of people who are online though a messaging service, then you'll be able to pick them up and chat with them, send them locations nudges and so on.

Feeling lost may be another problem you have with the H1, because Vodafone 360's mapping service isn't as slick as Google Maps (you can install the Java version, but it doesn't run properly). You do get turn-by-turn navigation, however this is only for the first 2 months after which you'll be asked to part with £5 a month for the privilege. It isn't the best mobile mapping solution and seems overly obsessed with dropping markers and setting up Vodafone 360 locations, rather than just letting you get to where you want to go, or even tell you where you are.

Setting up email addresses is the same and you are offered a range of existing web services to choose from, at which point out enter your details and it does the work for you, unless you have more than one type of any account, in which case you are stuck. Try as we might, we couldn't find the manual options to quickly and easily set-up a second Google email address. Attachments were displayed without any problems, and you get searching too.

The main menu interface apes the iPhone with a grid of icons, but they are rather basic in their appearance. They are either red, or green, or orange. Some expand to become widgets on the home page. The experience is rather bland, in truth, with the use of big bold coloured boxes belittling the resolution on offer in that glorious screen.

A glorious screen it is, as playing movies or browsing photos you add on to the massive 16GB of memory look fantastic. Through the Shop there is a limited app offering, that seems to miss out on the sort of fully-featured apps you find for the iPhone or Android handsets, which is always the danger of going solo on such things.

There is another problem with the phone too and that's stability. We found that the screen would lock up and become totally unresponsive, needing a battery pull to get it running again. At times the response is poor too, despite it being a capacitive touchscreen. Application loading is generally slow, and little things - like showing you a progress bar when turning off Bluetooth - just make you feel like you are not getting anywhere with the handset.

The onscreen keyboard does offer you suggestions as you type and is it ok whilst the screen is responsive, but it doesn’t have the slick pop of the HTC Hero or iPhone. Moving the handset from portrait to landscape flips the keyboard around. Viewing photos, movies and webpages in landscape is fine, but generally the menus are all designed for portrait use.

As a phone is is fine to use, with nice clear voice communication and an external speaker that is of reasonable quality too. Battery life is what you expect from a modern touchscreen device and you'll need to charge everyday if you are using it a lot. A 3.5mm headphone jack adorns the top of the handset and the bundled headphones come with a wired handsfree adapter, so you could easily use your own.

Verdict

Having spent a fair amount of time with handsets offering a wide range of connected services, it's fair to say that the H1 doesn't offer an intuitive offering. It looks on paper as though it is going answer many questions but it doesn't. The operating system is fiddly, it takes you forever to get to what you want to be doing and route always seems to be obscured. There isn't a compelling reason to opt for Vodafone 360 when rivals are so much more accessible and so much better integrated with the online services you want connect them to.

The H1 aims to challenge the latest and greatest handsets and it doesn't. The iPhone and the HTC Hero have been a storming success because you pick them up and they just work. You don't need to hunt for settings or features or details because they are so intuitive, an area where the H1 cannot make such a solid claim.