My very first Bluetooth GPS receiver came from Pharos and that baby performed like no other I have seen since then. I could throw the little "hockey puck" GPS receiver in the back seat and it would still get a solid strong signal served up to my laptops and PDAs. Pharos has been making a line of Pocket PC and now Windows Mobile devices with a GPS focus for a few years and I have tried a couple of them without being that impressed. I was just sent their latest device, the Pharos Traveler 137, to check out for a bit and was very interested in it because it is the first Windows Mobile-based device that supports T-Mobile's unique 1700 MHz 3.5G data network. After spending a few days with the device, I think it is one of the best Pharos models made and may be compelling for T-Mobile customers looking for a WM device. I am too much of a hardware keyboard fan myself to pay $550 for a touchscreen only device though and I honestly am starting to lose some of my enthusiasm for the Windows Mobile platform thanks to all the new mobile operating systems hitting the streets. Check out my image gallery and video below to go along with my hands-on experiences.
|Image Gallery:A walk around the Pharos Traveler 137 GPS focused Windows Mobile device.|
In the box: The Pharos 137 comes packed in a very attractive and durable box and packaging. There is a heavy plastic sleeve protecting a very durable dark blue box with magnetic flap. The sleeve has all the specs of the device stamped on it, along with other promotional information. After sliding the sleeve off you will find the blue box that is constructed of heavy coated cardboad. Under the main flap the Pharos 137 is found nestled in a tight compartment.
Contents include the Pharos Traveler 137, battery, stylus, USB cable, A/C charger, wired stereo headset with mic, Getting Started CD, and Quick Start Guide. You also get a 2GB microSD card loaded with the complete set of US maps for their Smart Navigator software.
Out of the box first impressions: I had very few expectations regarding the device because I only saw it in photos on the Internet. I was impressed by the size of the display and the feel in my hand when I first took it out. It feels much like a Samsung OMNIA or Instinct with a longer body and reasonable width. The display is also completely flush with the entire front of the device so it blends in nicely to the glossy front. The Pharos Traveler 137 has a 3.5 inch 480x800 pixels resolution display and has dimensions very similar to the iPhone. The entire back casing has the soft touch material on it and feels great in your hand. Pharos also uses a RIM BlackBerry-esque center pearl ball for navigational purposes, but as I will talk about later it is not very well implemented. There are a minimal amount of buttons on the device and it feels quite light in your hand.
Specifications: The Pharos Traveler 137 specifications include:
- Tri-Band UMTS/HSDPA: 2100/1900/1700 MHz and GSM: 1900/1800/900/850 MHz
- Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional
- Qualcomm MSM7201A 528 MHz processor
- 256 MB RAM and 512 MB Flash ROM
- 3.5 inch WVGA (480x800 pixels) touchscreen display
- Integrated NMEA compatible GPS/A-GPS reciever with photo geotagging support
- 802.11 b/g WiFi
- Bluetooth 2.1 with Enhanced Data Rate support
- 3.1 megapixel camera with auto-focus and front facing 0.3 megapixel video conferencing camera
- microSD card slot for storage (SDHC support)
- Integrated FM radio
- 1380 mAh battery
- Weight: 4.94 ounces
- Length: 4.6 inches
- Width: 2.4 inches
- Thickness: 0.51 inch
A walk around the hardware: The Pharos Traveler 137 feels quite good in the hand with nice length and a good "phone feeling" width, along with the soft touch back and light weight. I think it could actually be a bit heftier to give it more of a quality feel to it since it feels a bit hollow.
The rather large display on the front is attractive and fonts are crisp and clear. This is the resolution I expect on all my Windows Mobile devices and am pleased Pharos included it, especially on a device focused on GPS navigation. Above the display you will find a forward facing VGA camera, which is a bit interesting since I do not believe video conferencing is supported actively by carriers in the US. The headset speaker is centered above the display.
Below the display you will find a rather unique arrangement of the common four buttons of a Windows Mobile phone; the send button, end/home button, Start menu button, and OK button. There are no hardware keys for the left and right soft key and you tap on the display to activate these. At the center of these buttons is a BlackBerry-esque trackball navigation roller. It rolls and presses in, but as you can see a bit in my video it really doesn't seem to function that well throughout the OS. I personally would prefer just to see a good directional pad in its place and was expecting a lot more from it.
The only thing you will find on the left side is the miniUSB port. It has a rather strange design and I thought it was going to be a proprietary port (there is a dip in the small side), but I found a standard miniUSB male end fits right in there to sync and charge. Unfortunately, Pharos seems to have taken a cue from HTC and uses this same port for the headset jack. There was no headset in the review box so I cannot tell you how well they work or not.
There are a few more things over on the right side, including the stylus silo, volume controls, and camera button. The stylus is a metal and plastic telescoping model that is a bit short with decent heft to it. So far I have found the targets on the display to be smaller than what we see now on HTC devices so the stylus is still needed for many things. Plus, the menus are not optimized for touch and you need to be a bit precise. I like have a dedicated camera button too that is used to launch the camera, focus on your subject, and capture the image. The camera has autofocus so pressing down partially focuses in on your subject.
The mic opening is found on the bottom with the power button up on the top. There is a mono speaker and 3 megapixel camera on the upper back of the Traveler 137. There is no flash on the camera, but it is an autofocus model with decent software. I will post photos taken with it in my follow-up post after spending more time with it. There is a battery cover in the center of the back that covers the 1380 mAh battery, SIM card slot, and microSD card slot. You need to take out the battery to access the SIM card and microSD card so no hot swappable support for the card. You get a 2GB microSD card loaded with all the US maps and data with your Traveler 137 purchase.
Software: The first time you turn on the Pharos Traveler 137 you may wonder what kind of custom UI you are looking at. Pharos is using Spb Mobile Shell 3.0 as the default Today screen/main navigation interface. I think this is a smart move because it gives users a very finger friendly, icon driven UI to work with and keeps them from really having to dive into the older Windows Mobile screens. I plan to include a much more in-depth look at Spb Mobile Shell 3.0 in my follow-up post after spending more time with it. You can check out an extensive review of Spb Mobile Shell 3.0 at PocketNow.com to see how powerful and functional this interface is on a Windows Mobile device.
The Pharos Traveler 137's main focus is GPS navigation and they include their Smart Navigator software, and maps on the microSD card, to power the navigation functionality. Smart Navigator is optimized for large finger taps with huge menus and buttons. My next article on the Traveler 137 will focus on this software along with Spb Mobile Shell 3.0 since these are the two primary focuses of this device. Initial testing shows the navigation software to be quite functional, but GPS signal acquisition seems to take longer than I thought it would. I haven't tested it enough yet though so am not making any judgements on it at this time.
You also will find FM radio software that lets you listen to music through the integrated FM radio receiver. A backup program is included, along with JetcetPDF, a Java client (JBlend), Windows Live Search, Windows Live Messenger, and all the rest of the Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional software.
I do not know if Pharos will be providing an upgrade to Windows Mobile 6.5 and will try to find out from my contact at the company.
Closing thoughts: Most of these higher end smartphones all have virtually the same specifications, so then it comes down to the user inteface, performance, and stability of the device. Pharos uses Spb Mobile Shell 3.0 to achieve a higher level of user control and it really is quite customizable. However, Windows Mobile devices today just are not as responsive as the iPhone, Google Android, or Palm WebOS platforms and consumers do not appear to be as accepting of devices that don't act like the iPhone. Windows Mobile is still very attractive to the power user and enterprise user who needs the best Exchange experience on a mobile phone and the Traveler 137 is a decent performer in most areas.
The MSRP for the Pharos Traveler 137 is $599.99, but I see it online at various retailers for about $525. This actually is not too bad considering it requires no contract extension and is fully SIM-unlocked for worldwide usage.
I plan to leave my T-Mobile SIM in the device all next week and focus on the GPS software and performance in my follow-up post since that is the primary focus of this device, but wanted to give you a heads-up that it is under review and available for purchase. If you have any specific questions you want me to answer, please post them here and I will try to answer them in my next post about the device.