By Joachim Bamrud, Wed May 30 00:00:00 GMT 2001
The first wireless phone with a color screen in the United States offers a mixed experience.
It's terrific in terms of size, design and general user experience. But the wireless web wasn't as great as we expected.
After hearing so much about the future 3G terminals, it was great to finally get a phone that actually had a color screen. Not surprisingly it came from a Japanese producer and is similar to the type of phone already offered with the i-mode service in Japan.
Despite the size of the SCP-5000 (3.74 x 1.93 x 0.94 inches), the 256-color screen is actually larger than your standard mobile phone (2 inches). When you visit a wireless web site, you typically have eight lines (about twice more than you would have on the typical WAP phones in Europe).
Another neat application is the one-touch solution for wireless web access. The phone's keypad comes with a prominent button marked "Web." This is another tradition from i-mode in Japan.
One great feature is the option that lets you download up to 20 color photos, so you can customize your screen saver as well as a screen ID for phone numbers you have registered. Until we get those 3G terminals with videos, this is a great solution that will surely appeal to both teenagers that want photos of their buddies and to more adult folks wanting images of their loved ones.
Using the same PC-to-phone synchronization software (that comes with the phone), you can also download ringing tones and the sound you hear when you turn on or off the phone. (You can download up to 20 ringing tones of 20 KB each and two of up to 100 KB, while the on- and off-tunes can handle up to three 20 KB tunes each).
The SCP-5000 also features easy access to e-mail and voicemail through buttons on the keypad, so you don't have to go through the menu first.
While we love the color screen, there's no hiding the disappointment in the fact that you can't really enjoy it when using the wireless web since the browser (by Openwave) doesn't support color. Of course, this is an issue that only comes about because Sanyo may be too early in launching the color screen. After all, most of the wireless web sites available in the United States (and Europe, for that matter) don't feature color yet, either (unlike i-mode sites in Japan).
Another drawback was the connection (provided by Sprint PCS). I tested the phone in the Miami area. I frequently got "No service available" during the session, which means that I could be visiting a site that gave me the menu of its content, but when I clicked on the desired category I'd get "Service not available". Although the phone comes with a "retry" option, that didn't seem to work half the time I tried it.
Of course, the connection was better outside than inside. But, while there is no doubt that many applications of the wireless web typically would be used in a mobile and outdoor environment, there are also many others that should be available indoors.
The connection problems are a shame because Sprint PCS has one of the best wireless web portals I've seen anywhere, with plenty of news and entertainment from various sources - ranging from the heavy-hitters of news like CNN, Bloomberg and The New York Times to popular Internet portals like AOL, MSN and Yahoo!
On the plus side, the large screen makes reading text so much easier. While the screen is still small compared with PDA's, this is clearly the way to go for all phones that provide wireless web access.
The design is slick and elegant, especially when it's closed. But also the inside of the phone (with the cover open) looks good. Even when it's closed, a small screen on the external cover will alert you of the phone number of an incoming call or if you have messages from an incoming call. It's also pretty light - weighing only 3.5 ounces, which means you hardly notice when you've got it in your pocket.
Antenna and battery
On the downside, the antenna is a bit annoying, both in its closed version and in its full-length version. (The technology to provide phones with built-in antennas already exists and is used by other equipment providers.)
The battery seems to wear out quickly. On the other hand, it also seems to recharge relatively quickly as well (less than an hour).
In addition to wireless web and picture and music download, the high-end phone comes with voice memo, which let's you record a call without having to take notes (it can store up to eight memos). You can also voice-activate up to 30 phone numbers.
The phone's game (involving a crab) was rather weak and not really one you'd use more than once. (On the other hand with wireless web access, you're only a few clicks away from a wide selection of other games).
The phone also comes with a calendar and calculator - both of which benefited from the colors that were added, making the user experience more fun and interesting.
In the United States, the dual-band phone (CDMA and analog networks) is being marketed through Sprint PCS. It retails for $499.99.
All in all, this is a neat phone. The benefits (compact size with large screen, slick design, color screen, one-button access to the web, downloading of images and melodies) outweigh the negatives (no color browser, web connection problems, weak battery, outdated antenna solution and steep price).
Now, we anxiously await a color browser and wireless web sites with color.