Thursday, August 07, 2008

Toshiba Portégé G910 gadget phone review

For over the past two years I've had an i-Mate JAMin PDA phone as a constant companion. I really like it. It had all of the things I was looking for in a PDA/phone/gadget when it came out, and it has generally been great to use ever since. But it is getting a bit old and tired, scratched and scuffed and doesn't behave itself as much as it used to (it hardly ever needed reset for the first 18 months or so, then got a bit crotchety). So I've got a new gadget phone. But before I tell you about that, I need to put it in context of the JAMin.

Most people use a phone primarily as a phone, or at least as a text-machine. But I don't get too many incoming calls on my mobile and make even less outgoing calls. My previous phones had been primarily text-machines with occasional calls. Upgrading to the JAMin meant my 'phone' became primarily an e-mail and text machine, with occasional calls. The thing has wi-fi, so the i-Mate became my primary means of checking and responding to e-mail when I was at home. You can also browse the web with it, and it was regularly used to check for the (late) running times of the trains to and from Dalmeny station, read the BBC news and even shop on eBay and Amazon. But most websites are quite annoying on a 240 x 320 screen, even if you rotate the device and make it 'landscape orientation'.

But one of the greatest features of the phone was as an entertainment device. Occasionally as an mp3 player, but more commonly (on planes and trains) as a video device. Load up TCPMP and a DivX movie (resized to 320 x 240 or the processor couldn't cope) and its great for passing the time on short European flights or trains across Scotland. OK, the screen's not as big as an iPod Touch or iPhone, but its bigger (though the same resolution) than the standard iPod Video.

However, that's not to say the device was perfect. It has a few limitations. The main three (according to the way I use the thing) were:
  1. The stylus text entry is clumsy at best, becomes hard on trains and impossible on moving buses. I have an external bluetooth keyboard, but you can't just pull that out to send a text from a bus.
  2. If you keep the thing in your pocket (as I do) you need some form of hard case to protect the screen. This makes it more bulky.
  3. There's only so much you can fit onto a 320 x 240 screen.
And since I got the JAMin some other cool features have become standard on phones like this, including GPS and 'mobile internet' via 3G and HSDPA services.

All this by means of introduction.

After reading up about all the current gadget phones, the best one - for my purposes - seemed to be the Toshiba Portégé G910 which came out in May. On paper it appeared to do everything the JAMin did, but looked like it would score above the JAMin on these criteria:
  1. It has a QWERTY keyboard, so texting on a bus becomes possible.
  2. Its clamshell, so the screen is protected when the thing is in your pocket.
  3. It has an 800 x 480 WVGA screen, much better for websurfing.
  4. It also has 'mobile internet' for surfing and e-mail outwith wi-fi zones.
  5. It has GPS for satnav purposes.
  6. It has Windows Mobile 6 (pro) rather than 5 (pro).
But, after three weeks of use, does it live up to expectations?

Well, mostly. The keyboard and screen are brilliant. Text entry is a breeze on the full keyboard, either with two thumbs when held in your hands or even with several fingers when the thing is on a desk. This is unquestionably the best keypad on a current PDA phone that I've seen or used, way better than the HTC TYTN II and all flavours of Blackberry. You can actually write sensible length documents on this if you want.

And the screen is great. You can adjust the default text size so that you can balance the amount of information to text size to fit your particular eyesight level (I've opted for small, but not smallest text). In the web browser you can switch 'hi res' mode on and finally get to see web pages in their entirety on a PDA screen without excessive amounts of scrolling left to right. Fab.

But. The video drivers aren't very good. I was really looking forward to the larger screen for on-flight video watching, but until Toshiba updates the video drivers, watching video isn't really an option. The screen seems to refresh only two or three times a second, which is way too slow for sensible video watching.

The GPS/satnav is great - I bought 'Route 66 Mobile 8' which is apprently the only software that works on the G910. So far I've not been to anywhere I don't know, so can't really rate it in practice, but the thing was able to tell me how to get home the other night...

Mobile internet is also great (except exactly where I live where there is no 3G coverage) and e-mail and web pages load much faster than on GPRS on the JAMin.

So, all in all, its a great device with one major (from my point of view) failing, its inablility to play videos.

I also have some very minor nit-picks which I may as well mention:
  1. I don't like the stylus. Its too fiddly and thin. And stylus entry on the screen is awkward. Thankfully there's not much stylus usage needed on a device with such a great keypad, but you still occasionally have to use it. To overcome this problem I've installed Spb Mobile Shell software (only $30 - which is great value) which makes WM6pro far more fingertip friendly - most operations can be done by using my fingers on the screen, not having to use the stylus.
  2. The clamshell opens the wrong way. I realise that they have designed the thing so that the 'front' of the device is kind of like the front of a pocket diary, so the hinge is on the left, but to my hands the device feels like it should open the other way. That would also place the camera behind the screen, rather than on the base, where it is kinda clumsily placed just now. Also, when in a call, opening the clamshell should automatically put the thing into speakerphone mode, which it doesn't.
  3. You can't rotate the screen. It only operates in 'landscape' mode. Which is fine most of the time, but it means all your old software which assumes a portrait display can't be used anymore. So my much used Sudoku game has had to be replaced with a far inferior version which works in landscape mode.
  4. The microSD card isn't SDHD, so 2Gb is the upper limit. Shame.
  5. Finally, the camera is badly positioned and tricky to operate. Its also only a 2M pix camera, which is way below standard in these days of LG Viewtys. It really feels like they thought 'oh, and I suppose we have to have a camera as well, oh well, stick one in somewhere...'
I've read some reviews saying this device is unusable due to failings with WM6.0 and really needs 6.1 - can't say I've had many problems. I did neet to soft-reset it a few times in the first couple of days, but since then I've only had to reset about once a week. I can live with that. Not as stable as the JAMin was, but stable enough. Apparently it is now shipping with 6.1 installed.

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