OK, so it's more than a phone. It's a windows mobile smartphone that is as feature packed as it gets these days. The full specs:
- Quad band world phone (850/900/1800/1900 MHz)
- Tri-band data (GPRS/EDGE/UMTS/HSDPA 1.8 Mbit/s/HSDPA 3.6 Mbit/s)
- 480x640 (vga) resolution
- Full qwerty keyboard
- Touch screen
- Windows Mobile Professional 6.0
- microSD slot
- 2mp camera
- Kitchen sink
- Around $600 (unlocked)
So why did I end up sending this phone back?
Well, the phone falls just short of expectations in just about everything. No one flaw would have been enough to reject it, but the numerous small issues added up really quickly to a very frustrating experience.
The VGA resolution is fantastic. It offers significantly more screen real estate than the average smart phone (which is qvga) and provides a great experience when web browsing, navigating via gps, writing notes, etc. Everything is crisp and the colors are solid. That is of course, until you step outside. In the sun, the screen is VERY difficult to read. As if you don't already look like a dork for carrying around such a gizmo in public, you have to bring this thing to within an inch of your face just to read the time.
The screen does a good job of interpreting the stylus and is even effective when you use your fingers. I was impressed with the recognition of light taps, holding down the stylus (for right click) and had a far better experience than I did with an expensive tablet PC I had used years ago. My only gripe would be the handwriting recognition - there are several different modes, each of which suck horribly. Their primary use is to entertain yourself by seeing them misinterpret your writing in unexpected and hilarious ways. However, it's not much of an issue given the presence of a physical keyboard and even an on-screen touch sensitive keyboard you can use that works very well with the stylus.
The keys on the keyboard aren't raised or particularly distinct feeling, but somehow, typing is still fairly easy and you don't make too many mistakes. It's a vast improvement over typing on any of the other phones I've tried, including those with a standard phone keypad (3 letters per button), blackberry style keypad (2 letters per button), and it's certainly better than touch screen "keyboards".
However, the buttons on the front of the phone, just below the screen, are abysmal. Instead of normal push buttons, as used on the rest of the phone, these are special touch sensitive buttons - they don't move, but just glow when they have detected a touch. These buttons are so ingeniously designed they they can interpret your desires: every time you want to push them, they cleverly pretend to be asleep and do nothing. And every time you brush them accidentally as you type, slide the phone open, put the phone in the carrying case, or admire some other phone, they delightfully glow and immediately open up whatever process is going to be most CPU intensive and inconvenient to run at that moment. These things are a travesty and largely useless anyway, so you end up using a key combo to lock them and hope to never use them again.
They keyboard also gave me an odd issue where the light indicating caps lock was activated would remain in the on position, even though caps lock wasn't actually on. When I did turn caps lock on, the light would shut off. This could have been more clever, counterintuitive Eten design... But more likely, just a silly bug.
The m800 has a 500Mhz processor, which is a pretty good work horse. However, as is clearly a trend with this phone, each good feature is handicapped in some way. In this case, it's by the paltry 64MB of RAM. Oh, and the total lack of any sort of video acceleration. The result is a slow experience that only gets slower.
Everything on screen is just not quite as zippy as you'd want it to be. Menus take a few seconds to open, switching to landscape mode takes anywhere from 2 to 10 seconds (depending on the application running), web pages are slow to render, and programs take a while to open and just as long to close. Scrolling and animations tend to be twitchy (probably due to the lack of graphics acceleration), there are no fancy effects on the phone (like the iPhone has) and nothing is pretty. Music files play just fine but every video I tried was twitchy and largely unwatchable.
And the more things you have open, the worse it gets. In fact, even when you think you've closed a program, it sometimes continues to run in the background, eating up RAM. See the Windows Mobile 6.0 section for more on this. Eventually, after you've opened and (thought you) closed enough programs, the RAM starts to run out and the system grinds to a halt. You can try to use the memory management software to kill all running programs, but for some reason, this rarely restores all memory and everything continues to crawl. Eventually, the only option is to completely reboot the phone.
This takes roughly 2-3 minutes, which is quite irritating. You don't have to do it often, but it's always at a bad time when you do. The good news is that during normal usage, you typically put the phone on standby, which shuts off the screen, saves lots of batteries and turns back on in a couple of seconds.
I can't help but to think that an extra 64MB of RAM would have significantly improved the speed of the phone and the entire user experience at relatively little cost. All the latest powerful smartphones (HTC TYTN II, I-Mate Ultimate 9502, etc) come with 128MB of RAM and it's a shame to handicap a phone in such a way.
I didn't expect battery life to be great for a device like this, and it definitely wasn't. From very moderate daily usage - for example, 10 minutes of phone calls, using the calendar for 10 minutes, connecting to wifi and checking my email and spending the rest of the day on standby - the phone would drop to ~50% battery life. That means you'd have to charge it every other day, at least. Things only got worse if you used the GPS, did any real web browsing, or used any other heavy-weight apps (e.g. google maps).
In short, I would typically leave the phone plugged in (via USB) to my computer every night so it could charge. The phone does come with a modular AC adapter which allows you to attach many types of plugs, which is great for traveling. Unfortunately, my phone only came with two plugs: a UK plug (which was useless to me) and a US plug that did not fit the adapter. It was a different color and definitely looked like it belong to a different phone. I don't know if this was the fault of E-ten or eXpansys (the store I ordered the phone from), but it made the AC adapter into a wired paperweight.
The GPS typically connected in under a minute, although occasionally I had to wait several minutes and once, it wouldn't connect at all. I used it with TomTom 6 and the results were fairly pleasant: the UI worked and looked good on the high res screen and the GPS seemed fairly accurate. It took a little while to set up TomTom the first time to recognize the built in GPS unit (the configuration is less than intuitive), but this has nothing to do with the phone itself. Calculating routes took ~10-20 seconds, which is not terrible, but not great. Including the time it takes to connect to the satellites, enter your destination info, calculate the route and start displaying the map, you can expect a ~2 minute overhead per trip. Not the end of the world, but again, just not quite as zippy and responsive as I wanted.
Windows Mobile 6.0
I had limited experience with Windows Mobile before using this phone and can say that the 6.0 version is less than impressive. For the most part, it's a crappy OS with an ugly UI that does a good job of supporting touch screens and is saved by the availability of lots of decent software.
There were two issues that drove me nuts and both were very un-windows-like. The first was the lack of a task bar, leaving you no obvious or easy way to see what programs are running or switch between them. Each program would typically take up the full screen and the only way to get back to a different one was to "run" it again from the start menu or programs folder. The second issue was that pushing the x button to close a program... didn't always close the program. Quite often, the program would disappear from view, but continue running in the background. Oddly enough, these are both issues present in OS X, but at least OS X offers some reasonable solutions, such as expose, apple + tab, and the dock (which is like an unintuitive task bar).
As I mentioned in the performance section, there are precious few system resources to work with as it is, so wasting them on programs you thought were closed is unacceptable. And with the lack of a task bar, you just don't know it's happening. Moreover, it's unclear just how you'd close these programs completely. The only solution I found was to use the memory manager, which is like a retarded half brother of Windows' task manager (which is the ugly cousin of OS X's Activity Monitor). This program would at least show you what is actively running and give you the option to close each program. Unfortunately, this menu option never worked for me. Instead, I'd have to use the "kill all" option, which would shut down every running program, which is not always desirable.
Windows Mobile also suffers from a crappy web browser (Internet Explorer Mobile), crappy media player (Windows Media Player) and the total lack of support for Flash. The latter means no youtube (or any other sites that depend on Flash), which when added to the twitchy video performance of Windows Media Player, is quite frustrating. Worse yet, if you visit youtube on your mobile phone, you are taken to a page that is designed for mobile phones and really looks like it's going to work. But don't hold your breath, it doesn't. Not only is there no support for Flash, but there is also no support for the RTSP protocol, which is what the mobile youtube site tries to use.
The big saving grace for Windows Mobile is the large amount of quality software available for it. It's easy to make the software (in .Net, for example) and many people have produced some good products. Not all are free, but if you're serious about using this kind of phone, they may be worth the money. Some of the key pieces of software I found:
- Magic button: adds a proper close button to Windows Mobile that actually closes (most) programs. It also adds a taskbar! This is an absolute must have.
- Opera mobile: a much better web browsing experience than IE.
- Fring: multi-protocol chat.
- Resco Explorer: much nicer file explorer than the default one in Windows Mobile.
- tcpmp: Windows Media Player replacement.
- Google Maps: self explanatory and highly useful.
The headset that came with the phone got the job done, although there was an audible hiss coming from the headphone jack. Speaking of which, the headphone jack was 2.5mm, which is not the standard size. Not a big deal, but it would be nice to be able to use my normal headphones (such as my ipod headphones) without a converter.
The carrying case is not pretty, but well designed to securely hold and protect the phone. It doesn't get in the way when you wear it, which is nice. Unfortunately, it ripped after just several days of normal usage. Sigh.
I use AT&T as my carrier and do not have a data plan - I just don't think it's worth paying $40/month to be able to check my email from the bathroom. Moreover, the phone has Wifi (more on that later) so I can still get Internet at hot spots, such as my house, at work, Starbucks, etc. Unfortunately, a couple times while using the phone, I did not notice that the Wifi was off (to save batteries) and I started to browse the web.
As it turns out, neither Windows Mobile, nor E-ten, nor AT&T provide any warning that you are suddenly using a data plan (or lack thereof) and as a result, you can get charged. A lot. I got lucky and "only" had to pay $5, but as there is no clear indication of which network connection you're using (wifi, data plan, bluetooth bridge), it would be very easy to run up quite the fee.
The wifi is really useful to get free Internet access at hotspots and when it works, works reasonably well. I didn't benchmark it, but I'd say it was fast enough that most Internet performance was limited by the phone's CPU/RAM and not the bandwidth.
Unfortunately, the wifi really likes to lose wireless passwords. It seems like every time I would switch networks, I would have to reenter that network's password, even if I checked the box asking the phone to save the password. This got to be real annoying, as I would connect alternately to the wifi at home and the wifi at work and had to spend a lot of time entering the damn passwords.
Worse still, the wifi would sometimes refuse to connect all together. I would select a network, enter the password and see the status go to "connecting". Suddenly, the screen would refresh, and the network I was trying to connect to would be gone. I'd have to exit the wifi manager and come back a few seconds later to see it again. I'd click the network again, enter the password again, and quite often, see it vanish once more. This could go on for several iterations before an actual connection was established... or the phone was sailing through the air.
Call quality wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible. Occasionally, I'd be told that I sounded like I was very far away, but in general, it was reasonable. Oh, and the speakerphone worked pretty well too.
The only downside was the random day when the phone refused to allow any calls to connect. For about four hours one day, I could not place or receive calls properly. If someone called me, the phone would ring, but when I answered it, I would hear nothing on the other end. If I tried to place a call, I'd hear at most one ring, and then two quick beeps, followed by silence. The phone showed 3-4 bars of connectivity and did this at home and at work. My other phones (on the same AT&T network) never exhibited such behavior. Other people with AT&T in the same area also had no issues. And after the 4 hours, the phone worked just fine again.
I still don't know what caused it, and it only happened once, but it's worth mentioning.
You can connect the phone to your computer using Microsoft ActiveSync, which worked reasonably well to let you sync your calendar, email, install software and transfer files. Unfortunately, every now and then, ActiveSync would fail to connect to the phone and the only solution was to reboot.
The m800 has 256MB of on board memory, which is plenty to install lots of good apps, and the microSD slot lets you add plenty of additional memory for music, pictures, etc. I used a 4gb microSD (HC) card in the phone without any issues.
The phone also has a camera and an FM radio. The camera is crappy, pretty much standard for mobile phone cameras. It's good enough for quick snapshots, or to take pictures of people's faces to add to their contact info, but that's about it. The FM radio works very well and is a nice, although not terribly useful, addition.
I hope you noticed a trend through out this whole review. Every good thing I had to say about the phone would end with an "unfortunately..." or "but..." or "%&$!D!!". No one of the issues above was a game breaker. But the plethora of problems added up damn quick and just became too much.
The E-Ten m800 is not a bad phone and it certainly has all the bells and whistles, but for $600 I expected more.