ViewSonic V350 review

4 out of 5
£200

For

Dual-SIM is useful and works well, great sound quality, cheap

Against

Poor display, dual-SIM reduces battery life, a little slow

The number of people with two phones in the UK is quite significant. When you factor in business users, drug dealers and people who are having affairs, it's probably a decent chunk of the market. Those people would all benefit from having a phone with two SIM cards slots. 

So enter the ViewSonic V350. It offers support for two 3G SIMs in one, normalish-sized handset. It runs Android 2.2 and so has access to a multitude of apps and access to a large and passionate community. But is it worth considering?

Design

The ViewSonic is neither ugly nor pretty. And it depends at which angle you view it, to which opinion you'll hold of it. From the front, it's stylish enough. There are gently rounded corners and there's a silver and black finish that's a bit different to most handsets we see. The back has a textured finish, and there's a large camera lens, behind which lurks a 5-megapixel sensor.

The doubts over its attractiveness stem from its thickness, which is quite considerable. Of course, if you're buying this phone to replace two others, then the size is very unlikely to be a big issue for you. It is quite light though, and it's not going to cause you much trouble tucked away in a pocket or handbag.

Why two SIMs?

In case you aren't sure, there are a lot of benefits to dual-SIM phones. If you're abroad, you can send data through one connection, and keep your voice through another. This is also attractive at home, if say, your company SIM gives you unlimited calls and texts, but no data.

And the V350 allows you to configure everything perfectly too. So, if you want to prefer one SIM for data, that's easy to arrange. Calls and texts can routed through either account. So if someone texts you on your business number, it's simple to reply via your personal account. The call log on the ViewSonic is clear too, you can see which line a call came in on, and you can easily return it via the same line or the second.

The only minor complaint we have, is that the status bar doesn't always make it clear what sort of coverage you're in. The data connection will show that, but only for the SIM that you're using to connect to the Internet, and only when it's not connected to Wi-Fi. As we say, it's not a big deal, and it's usually not all that important either.

Android 2.2

When you find out that the OS is as old as on the V350, you can't help feel a little pang of disappointment. It's not that there is anything wrong with older versions of Android, it's just that it is nice to have the latest, and Gingerbread is a far better OS for lots of reasons.

ViewSonic has tried, and succeeded, to take some the pain away though. For example, the lock screen is a nice touch. It works like the new versions of HTC's sense, and allows you to drag an icon up the screen to unlock the phone, and jump straight to that feature. There is a plain unlock icon, one to go to the phone, message inbox and your contacts. It's a nice touch, and it works well. There are also music controls on the lock screen, that allow you to pause and advance through tracks.

Of course, to update the phone to Android 2.3 would require more work than the average handset, because there are lot of dual-SIM customisations. For example, phone calls and text messages have a button which allows you to choose which SIM you want to use. That means replacing the SMS app with a third-party version would cause problems.

You can, however, switch the keyboard to a different version. We put SwiftKey X on ours, because the ViewSonic one is just terrible. It makes attempts at predicting what you're typing, but it makes a lot of mistakes, a steadfastly refuses to let you adjust its quirks without major frustration.

ViewSonic also includes something called ViewScene 3D. This is really little more than an upgraded, 3D launcher. Indeed, we didn't know it was installed until we reset the phone, and were asked if we'd like to use standard Android, or ViewScene. In all honesty, the interface adds little aside from a visual tweak. It is, however, very responsive, and it's a different and interesting way of navigating the phone. It does add some pretty widgets too, including the now obligatory weather and clock widgets.  

Display and camera

The LCD display is functional, but low-resolution. It's half-VGA, so we're only looking at 320 x 240 spread over the 3.5-inch display. It's okay for most uses, and we never really had problems reading it, but it's very uninspiring, and there's a lot of motion blur when you scroll through menus.

It is bright though, and that's good if you're outside in the sunlight and still need to be able to see the screen. We also had no problems with the colour accuracy. It's a little on the muted side, but some prefer that to the hyper-reality of the AMOLED screens on some phones.

It's predictable that the camera really isn't that good either. In normal light, colours are very muted, and outside, while they pick up a little, scenes are never awash with colour. Detail is also severely lacking, and photos look like they are being viewed through a mesh. But, no one is buying this for its camera surely? If you are, then please think again.

Processing power

The ViewSonic V350 has a 600MHz Qualcomm processor inside. It seems enough to keep the phone going most of the time, but we noticed that there was a decent amount of lag too, which will frustrate some.

This isn't a quick processor, which perhaps explains why this phone isn't running Gingerbread. Even so, we've used phones with a lot more power, that don't perform significantly better. So it's a credit to ViewSonic that it works as well as it does.

Battery life

There is a problem with having two SIM sockets. The phone will, of course, need to use a lot more power to keep them both logged on at the same time. There is not really any way around this, it's just a fact of life. That said, the V350 isn't awful, and we typically got through the working day with juice left in the tank. That was light use only though, so prepare for worse performance if you're a heavy user, fire up music a lot or start munching lots of data.

How much that bothers you will likely depend on how well prepared you are. Have a portable battery pack near you, or leave the phone plugged in at the office, or in the car, and you'll be fine. Hit a foreign land, and stay away from power sockets, and you're in for some problems.

The good news is, you can claw back a little power by switching off one of your SIM card sockets when you're not using it. You can change this setting in a few seconds via the V350's convenient "Dual SIM settings" menu. 

Audio quality

Now here's a surprise: the music we tested on the ViewSonic, with our high-end earphones, sounded really good. Too often budget phones have dreadful audio quality, but that's simply not the case here. We listened to Armin van Buuren's State of Trance 2008 year mix - because we're living in the past - and the depth to the bass was impressive, once we'd had a little tweak with the manual equaliser. Mid and high-end sounds were also clear and largely unadulterated too.

We won't go crazy here, because we've heard nicer sounding phones, but this is certainly a very pleasant surprise and the ViewSonic smashed our expectations.

And while we're talking about sound, it seems relevant to say that call quality on the phone is also top-notch. We could hear the people we spoke to with no problem at all and there was more than enough detail in the sound to stop us from straining to hear what was being said.

ViewSonic also, somehow, managed to cram a microSD card slot in as well, and it can take cards of up to 32GB in size, as well as those two SIM cards it manages to hide away for you. We suppose that explains the slight bulk of this handset. 

Price

We don't usually worry too much about price in our reviews. For one, things change very quickly, and what we write now, won't always be true in a few months time. But also, it's not our place to tell you what you want to spend on a gadget.

Here though, we think it's worthy of mentioning that the ViewSonic costs just £200 SIM-free. That puts it firmly in the budget handset category. Think about it logically, and you could get two Orange San Francisco handsets for that price, but you'd be back to carrying two phones again. Plus there would be none of the convenience of a single device, capable of managing phone calls and text messages from multiple locations.

It's fair to say, that we think there's a lot of really good and useful things about the ViewSonic V350, even if there are some things that we aren't so keen on.

Verdict

But overall, we think there's enough here to make this phone a good choice for business or frequent travellers. If you buy a SIM card for a foreign country, you can load it in to this phone, and use data and make phone calls, without losing access to your UK number. That's a boon.

If you're a business user, than having your business number and personal number on the same device could be a great thing, or it could result in you never being away from the office. This will suit some, but not others. Of course, many companies won't allow access to email from an Android handset, so you may find yourself running in to problems there too.

But overall, this is a nice enough phone to keep most undemanding users happy. It's not the quickest, and that screen isn't going to win any awards for multimedia performance, but it's a handy phone to have.