If you are in the market for a new Android smartphone, here are a selection that offer a level of power and performance that would give the iPhone a run for its money. ...
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Toshiba's TG01 is a frustrating device. Its superb hardware design really pushes some boundaries as far as Windows Mobile handhelds are concerned, and there's a unique user interface too. Both could have been market leading in concept and execution, but some fundamental issues detract considerably from the overall experience. This is all the more annoying as the TG01 costs nearly £500 (inc. VAT) SIM-free. On contract, it's exclusive to Orange.
The Toshiba TG01 has a striking physical design thanks to its huge touch-screen, which measures 4.1in. from corner to corner. The only Windows Mobile device we can think of with a larger screen is the HTC Advantage (which O2 recently rebadged as the Xda Flint). However, that device, with its 5in. touch-screen, comes in separate screen and keyboard sections — the TG01's 4.1in. screen is the largest we've seen on a single-piece device.
Toshiba's TG01 has a massive 4.1in. touch-screen, runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional and costs nearly £500 (inc. VAT).
The screen is not all that's notable about the TG01. It has a big footprint — as you might expect from that screen size — and is also exceptionally thin. The TG01's dimensions of 70mm wide by 130mm tall by 9.9mm thick make it feel more like a personal media player than a touch-screen smartphone. The shell is too thin to house a stylus, but one is provided on a lanyard. It has a small pocket clip just like a real pen.
In fact, we found the TG01 a bit too big, both in the hand and in the pocket. And although we like a large screen for web browsing, this particular one doesn't offer much more than the HTC Touch HD's 3.8in. screen: both devices deliver the same 800-by-480-pixel resolution, and the Touch HD is a little more pocket- and hand- friendly at 62.8mm by 115mm by 12mm. However, Toshiba's TG01 beats the Touch HD on weight, tipping the scales at 129g compared to 147g.
The TG01 is exceptionally thin at 9.9mm — a factor that helps keep the weight down to 129g.
Toshiba has given the fascia a minimalist look: there's just the screen, a touch panel beneath it and a status light above it. The status LED is extremely irritating as it's relatively large and changes colour to provide different alerts — red for charging, blue for a message or incoming call, green if the phone is in sleep mode. We would have preferred a smaller and more subtle LED.
The touch panel beneath the screen contains a Home key and a Back/OK button. Between them is a long touch sensor panel, along which you can run a finger to zoom. This works when browsing the web, but did not seem to work when we were viewing pictures. It's quite responsive, but requires a firm press rather than a light touch.
This is also the case with the touch-screen. Users of resistive touch-screens probably won't notice, but if you have used capacitive touch-screens — as seen on the iPhone — you may find that more pressure is required.
Despite being ultra-thin, the edges of the TG01 do carry some buttons and connectors. There's a tiny on/off switch on the left edge, along with a volume rocker. The right side is home to a camera button and a micro-USB connector for power, PC synchronisation and headphones. The bottom and top edges are bare.
The Toshiba TG01 ships with a AC adapter, a USB PC cable, a two-piece stereo headset with a 3.5mm jack just past the microphone, a stylus, a micro-USB to USB Host cable converter, an 8GB microSD card, a printed quick-start guide and two CDs. One of the latter contains the user manual, while the other has the Windows Mobile PC software bundle.
The TG01 is a quad-band GSM device with GPRS, EDGE and HSPA with support for up to 7.2Mbps down and 2Mbps up. It's powered by Qualcomm's QSD8250 processor — the much-vaunted Snapdragon — running at 1GHz.
There is 512MB of ROM memory and 256MB of RAM. Out of the box, our review sample reported 223MB of free storage memory. MicroSD cards can be used to expand the memory, and Toshiba says cards up to 32GB are supported. As already mentioned, you get an 8GB microSD card in the box.
This is all very promising for those who have memory-hungry applications and data to carry around. But it's worth noting that the microSD card slot is very awkwardly located — it's under the battery cover and you need to remove the battery to get to it, so hot-swapping cards is out of the question.
The TG01's only camera is a 3.2-megapxel unit at the back. There's no self-portrait mirror or LED flsah.
Despite its HSPA support, there's no front-facing camera for two-way video calling. The main camera at the rear is a 3.2 megapixel unit. The lens is slightly recessed in the casing, but still likely to get scratched quite readily. There's no LED flash or self-portrait mirror.
It's easy to frame shots on the large screen, which switches to wide format when you activate the camera software. Side panels down the left and right edges of the screen provide access to the various settings and options.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are both present and there is a GPS antenna which benefits from A-GPS. Using mapping software is a joy on the large screen. Our review sample was preconfigured to the Orange network, and Orange Maps was pre-installed. You can add other navigation and mapping software if you choose, of course.
An accelerometer allows for automatic screen rotation as you turn the TG01 in your hand. Rather disconcertingly, the screen goes entirely blank for a short period while reorienting — the first few times this happened we thought the device was resetting! The accelerometer has some added functions: you can answer a call by slightly shaking the phone when it rings, zoom in and out of web pages by tilting the phone while pressing the centre of the touch-sensor strip, and activate the Windows Mobile Task Manager by tapping the back of the device twice.
Some people have reported the TG01 to be less than wonderfully responsive despite that fast state-of-the-art processor. We didn't actually have a problem there, apart from the accelerometer issue raised earlier. However, we do think Toshiba needs to rethink its approach to the user interface.
Toshiba has designed a user interface to sit on top of Windows Mobile that looks quite good at first glance, but which is actually something of a pain to use. It's based around eight application/services groupings: Tools, Files, Media, Messaging, Orange World, Applications, Settings and Phone. Only three are visible at once, each occupying a third of the screen area and shown in a different-coloured strip. You finger-pan to access more. Within each grouping are choices, three of which you can see at once. If there are more available, tiny icons indicate this and you can press the strip to see all its contents, or finger pan.
There are several fundamental problems with this approach. The finger-panning is not very precise, and it can take a few attempts to get to the strip you actually want. It isn't always clear at first where a particular application or service will be, so at the outset you may find yourself dodging back and forth to find what you want. And, to our eyes at least, the system looks rather ugly with boxy icons and a decidedly 'pre-iPhone' roughness to the visual design.
There's also a pad at the top of the screen area that shows the date and time, and provides shortcuts to features like the calendar and tasks list. You scroll through the information panels by hitting the bottom right corner of this pad.
Alongside this eccentric user interface is a feature Toshiba calls the FreePad. Instead of the usual D-pad beneath the screen, you stroke upwards on the touch sensor screen to bring up the FreePad. This offers left, right, up and down controls, an Enter key and a shortcut to the Start menu. By pressing on a switching icon on the Free Pad, you can also bring up what Toshiba calls the Free Cursor Pad. This is a virtual touchpad that lets you move an on-screen cursor.
Between them, the FreePad and the Free Cursor Par are probably the most bizarre touch controls we've seen. Since they allow you to access a screen that's fully touch sensitive, they seem to us to be completely redundant.
There's one more usability issue worth noting. There are tappable QWERTY keypads in both landscape and portrait modes. The portrait one is fine to use if you're careful with fingertip placement, while the landscape one is even more comfortable thanks to the screen width. However, Toshiba has chosen to put the space bar on a small key to the left of the Z rather than allow a further row below the ZXCVB row. This means you can see more of any text you're typing, but also makes finding the space key harder, at least at first.
Performance & battery life
We had no real problems with the resistive touch-screen. We did have issues with the user interface design, which is not particularly intuitive, and the bizarre decision to relocate the software QWERTY keyboard's space bar.
These complaints can be put down, in part, to matters of taste. However, battery life is less subjective — and here we were sorely disappointed. As usual we set the device to play music contimuously from a full battery charge for as long as possible, which it managed just 4.5 hours.
Smartphones generally achieve somewhere between 6.5 and 8.5 hours in this test, and the TG01's poor battery life must in part be due to the fact that we force the screen to stay on. Running a 4.1in. screen for several hours is just too much to ask of the 1000mAh Li-ion battery Toshiba has chosen.
Toshiba had a real opportunity with the TG01. The hardware design, which is slim and sleek, breaks new ground, while the large screen makes for a big device but is great for media-rich activities like web browsing and video viewing. But the user interface is not to our liking, and battery life is very disappointing. As we said at the outset, this is a very frustrating handheld.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Caption by: Sandra Vogel