Cingular 2125 Windows Smartphone Review

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The Cingular 2125 is the successor to the popular Audiovox SMT5600 Windows smartphone, featuring faster EDGE data, an updated OS, QVGA screen, and much more.

Although it’s Cingular branded, the 2125 is designed and manufactured by High Tech Computer of Taiwan. HTC is famous for manufacturing nearly all the Windows-based phone devices on the market. This includes the 2125’s predecessor, the SMT5600, also known as the HTC Typhoon. The 2125’s code name, for those who like to know, is the HTC Faraday. Unlike most of HTC’s designs, though, the Faraday is currently only available from one source: Cingular. The Faraday is also available in a camera-free variant, called the Cingular 2100. Since the lack of a camera is the only difference, the contents of this review are also applicable to the 2100.

 

Design & Construction

The 2125 resembles its predecessor in a general sense, retaining the overall shape of the 5600, but drastically revamping the controls and adding several new design refinements. The most noticeable of these is the change to the top of the phone. Instead of the flat top that the 5600 had, the 2125 features what has become popularly known as a “hump,” a bulge located on the top rear of the case. The hump is supposed to be an antenna housing, allowing for better radio performance than other similar phones. From my experiences, detailed under Communication, it does this quite well. So just think of it as a signal-boosting hat for the device.

Cingular 2125 top left corner: power button, wireless control button, volume rocker switch. Not visible: IrDA port.

Mounted on the front side of its hump, the 2125 has what can only be described as the worst power button in the history of computing. Seriously. It’s about the same size as the head of a pin, and mounted on such an odd angle that you’re not sure at first whether you should push it in or down. The answer is both–you need to press it in and down at an angle, but primarily down.

Comparison photo: left, Cingular 2125. Right, Dell Axim X51v.

Now, even if you manage to master the art of pressing the button, don’t go getting any ideas that this lets you turn off the device. Because it doesn’t. Instead, it brings you up a list of options including locking the device, turning off the phone radio, and changing ring profiles. As it happens, the only thing that the power button does that is actually related to the device’s power state is turn it all the way off, completely shut down including the phone. Not much use in that. After extensive research and testing, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to put the 2125 back into a normal sleep mode is to let it turn itself off via the timer. That’s all. Crazy, isn’t it, that there’s no way to turn the thing off when you’re not using it.

The keypad and buttons are definitely quite usable, with a comfortable size and arrangement. You never have to hunt for the buttons, or deal with hitting more than one.

Under the battery, we find the phone’s miniSD slot (center) and SIM card holder (right). The SIM mechanism is a little interesting–rather than just sliding the SIM up against the contacts, you mount it on a little metal swinging door, which then latches into place. It’s actually easier to deal with than the standard system, a benefit if you’re going to be swapping SIMs often.

Alternate view, with SIM card locked in place

Build quality is excellent, but that’s par for the course on an HTC device. Being dropped four feet to a hardwood floor barely fazed the thing–not so much as a scratch or scuff. Overall, I like the design. It’s rugged, easy to use (with the exception of the power button, which you won’t need very often), and highly portable.

 

Hardware

Processor: 195 MHz TI OMAP850 processor
Operating System: Windows Mobile 5.0 for Smartphones
Display: 240 x 320 transmissive/reflective LCD
Memory:

64 MB flash (16 MB available); 64 MB RAM

Size & Weight: 4.57 inches long x 1.81 inches wide x 0.69 inches thick, 4.09 ounces
Expansion: Internal MiniSD slot
Docking: Mini USB port
Communication: Bluetooth 1.2; IrDA; Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE (Class 10)
Audio:

2.5mm headphone/headset jack; internal speaker & microphone

Battery: 1150 milliamp-hour replaceable Lithium Ion battery
Input:

T9 text via numeric keypad

Other: 1.3 megapixel digital camera

 

Processor

In common use, the 195 MHz TI processor propels the 2125 along at a very solid clip. Too many running apps will bog it down, but you have to have at least four or five programs or more going before that happens. The processor manages to be both fast and energy efficient, an ideal balance for mobile devices.

 

Operating System

Since this was my first exposure to the Windows Mobile Smartphone edition at any length, there was a bit of a learning curve. The truth is that the Smartphone OS isn’t nearly as much like Windows Mobile for Pocket PCs as you would expect, given the name and the fact that there’s some application compatibility. The WMS flavor operates more like a phone, with a lot of numeric keypad shortcuts. These aren’t required to operate it, you can do pretty much anything with just the main buttons and joystick, but using the shortcuts can dramatically speed up operations. If you went at the device cold, and ignored the names of things like the “Start menu” and Internet Explorer, you might never notice that the two interfaces are related.

While Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PCs can run Smartphone applications, the reverse isn’t true. If you try to install a PPC application onto the Smartphone, either manually or using an install file, you’ll get a message saying that it’s not compatible. Only apps which are specifically Smartphone compatible will operate.

The 2125 also comes with the ability to run simple Java applications, called “midlets,” the kind that you find on ordinary phones. To test this out, I fired up Opera Mini, the Java version of my favorite web browser. It ran quite well, though there were a few times when it would display a black screen, and I would need to move to another application and then back to Opera in order to cure it. I don’t know if this is a problem with Opera Mini, or the Java implementation on the phone, or just one of those random things that you run into every so often, but it happens. Opera Mini actually offered by far the best browsing experience on the small screen, but it didn’t support some functions like downloading files, so I was forced to rely on other options for some things. The native Smartphone version of Opera was reasonably good, and supported many things that the default Internet Explorer didn’t.

Would you believe that in the variety of ringer styles that come with the 2125, there isn’t one that simply rings like a phone?

Overall, my first experience with a Windows Mobile Smartphone was pretty good. Once you adapt to the interface, the device really can do more than you expect out of a stripped down OS. It’s still not as capable as a full-scale device, but for the size it does pretty well.

 

Display

The LCD on the 2125 is dazzlingly bright. I thought my Axim X51v was too bright in the dark, but the 2125 is like a little searchlight. This can be a little annoying if you’re using it in low light, because there’s no way to adjust the backlight to a more appropriate level. On the bright side (no pun intended), the added punch makes viewing the screen in daylight all the much easier.

Not surprisingly, web browsing is rather painful. The small screen can only pack in so much information, so you really can’t render web pages in the way that they were meant to be seen. To get anything of substance done, you need to either rely on Mobile Web pages, or one of the various free services that “mobilizes” web pages, to coin a phrase. These services, like Opera Mini and Google Mobile, reformat web pages for more comfortable viewing on a small screen, as well as reducing the download size of the page. For instance, the BargainPDA home page was about 180 KB when viewed in the default Internet Explorer, but when run through the Opera Mini proxy server, it was cut down to just 8 KB. Google Mobile was second at 25 KB. That’s a big time savings when you’re talking about a 12-15 KB/second internet connection. The reformatted pages made browsing much more comfortable and productive even on the small screen size available.

 

Memory

There’s no way around it–the 2125 is seriously deficient in memory, at least if you intend to install any number of applications. The system claims 16 MB of Storage is available, but in the default configuration the user only gets about 11 of that. I installed The Core Pocket Media Player and Mapopolis, and I was down to about 6 MB of storage left. Unless you only intend to use the built-in applications (and even then, no media or downloaded files), you will emphatically need a MiniSD memory card. Since I didn’t have one, I ran critically low on memory several times in the course of this review. Let that be a lesson to you. I really wish that the 2125 came with more like 60 MB of available internal memory. That would probably eat a bit more of the profits, but as it is Cingular will lose some sales to more advanced devices like the Treo 700w.

 

Size & Weight

Left, Cingular 2125. Right, Dell Axim X51v.

The 2125 is strikingly small and light. It’s really not much bigger than an ordinary phone, and weighs just 4 ounces. If you’re accustomed to carrying a standard mobile phone, you could replace it with the 2125 and never know that you had changed devices.

 

Expansion

With the miniSD slot being under the battery, you don’t have any real expansion options on the 2125 other than additional memory. None of the few, expensive miniSD add-ons would fit. The device is rated for miniSD cards up to 1 GB, but should be able to handle a 2 GB card without difficulty.

 

Docking

The 2125 lacks for a desktop charger in the package, offering only a USB cable and mini-USB charger. I’m sure this could be corrected with a minimum of third-party effort, if you’re so inclined, though at the time of this writing I didn’t see any such cradles available.

The upside of using a mini-USB plug for docking and charging is that any mini-USB cable will also serve as a sync-and-charge cable. And as long as you have a cable, any USB port is a charger. And that, ladies and gentlemen, means power anywhere and everywhere. It does close off specialty connection cables such as for serial devices, but these are so uncommon these days as to be for all intents and purposes a niche item.

 

Communication

The 2125 is fully equipped out of the box to connect to almost any Bluetooth device, although the most popular option will of course be a Bluetooth headset. For convenience, you can voice-dial any numbers in your speed-dial over a Bluetooth headset or hands-free system, without needing to train the device to recognize you.

Use of the phone as a modem over Bluetooth is fully supported, unlike some other wireless carriers I could mention. It takes a little experience to set up, but once you’ve got it prepped it’s quite easy to get going. I used both my laptop and handheld to test it, and found the results to be quite pleasant.

Dialing is pretty straightforward. You start off on the “home” screen, and start punching in numbers. It brings up a screen showing what you’ve dialed, as well as Contacts entries which match. You can also type in the name of a contact, or just scroll through the list directly. Once you’ve found who you want to call, the options are self-explanatory, with dedicated buttons for most necessities, as well as soft-menu commands for speakerphone and others.

I can’t compare it to previous Windows Smartphones, but I did test it against the Cingular 8125 and a Nokia 3590 dual-band GSM phone that I happen to keep around as a test unit. I chose the 3590 specifically because it has a reputation for excellent radio performance. In all tests, the 2125 held equal or better signal than the other two devices, despite less than ideal conditions. At no point during my testing did it ever fail to find a signal, nor fail to use that signal adequately. I can’t even be sure that the thing has a “no service” display.

The addition of EDGE technology makes a big difference in data speeds. In my testing, both on the phone and tethered to my laptop via Bluetooth, data speed hovered in the range of 12 to 17 KBytes per second, a very healthy number. In theory, EDGE can go as fast as 25 KB/second, but these kinds of speeds are rare bordering on unheard of, simply because of how the networks operate.

 

Audio

To fit standard 3.5mm headphones into the 2125’s 2.5mm jack, you’ll need an adapter, which should be available at any decently equipped electronics store. And believe me, you will want different headphones. The 2125 comes with a set of cheap earbuds that include an attached microphone, so that you can also use them as a headset. Maybe I just have freakishly misshapen ears, but when I tried to use these, they continually popped out of place on me. In any event, they’re not very good quality, so you’ll probably want something else.

One thing you can’t say about the 2125 is that it has a weak speaker. Indeed, it’s quite sufficient for all sorts of sounds, from ringing to alarms to speakerphone mode. Volume is more than enough, through decent headphones as well.

 

Battery

I’ve been quite pleased with the battery performance of the 2125. Even though the lack of a real power button prevented me from turning it off most of the time, it still would last through 3 days of intense use with considerable power remaining. This is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that it has to hold on to a less than ideal signal, and power a very bright screen. The specs talk about four hours of talk time, but I found this to be extremely conservative. There’s no one definitive standard for converged device battery life, since everybody has a different mix of PDA and phone usage. Also, since signal strength varies, so will talk time. But in my tests the 2125 managed 8 hours of use for PDA functions, and an absolutely whopping ten hours of talk time. For a converged device running on a standard battery, that’s unheard of. Even more shocking is that other users have experienced as much as 12 to 14 hours of talk time. There’s only one proper way to respond to that: hell yeah. Of course, these numbers were arrived at with the device’s screen off, the way it would be during a long phone call or use as a wireless modem. With the screen on, such as for browsing from the phone or viewing streaming media, battery life would drop considerably. But if you’re going to be staring at the 2125’s screen for more than, say, five hours straight, you’re more than patient enough to carry an extra battery.

 

Input

Input options on the 2125 are almost nonexistent. For obvious reasons and form of handwriting recognition is out, leaving only the numeric keypad or a wireless keyboard. If you choose the keypad, you have the option of either the standard cell phone input–where you continue pressing a given button to select between the various letters it represents–or T9 predictive text input. With the latter, you punch only each button only once, and the system makes an educated guess as to what you’re typing in. It’s not perfect, and there’s an adjustment period associated with it, but it’s distinctly better than the older style. T9 is still dependant on what you’re typing being in its word database–if it’s not, you can add words, or select among the possible letter combinations.

 

Camera

The best way to describe the camera is middling. It’s a lot better than most of the integrated cameras that you find in handhelds and cell phones, but it’s still not of the best quality. Pictures tend to be a bit blurry, and lighting is always an issue. You can see this in several photos I took indoors in a well sunlit room. The photos are more shadowy and lacking in detail than they would be in better light. A brightly lit day outdoors produced slightly better photos, but they’re still blurry. As always, the best advice is to not use the digital zoom, as it only makes the pictures fuzzier.

These images have been re-compressed for easier downloading, but are otherwise unmodified.

Pile of cats in a chair (indoors, 88 KB)

Snowdrops in the flower bed, the first sign of spring (outdoors, 150 KB)

 

Conclusion

The 2125 makes for a very useful high end phone with decent, but not great, PDA capabilities. It’s quite adequate for many applications that don’t require a lot of input: reading, video, or other things which can adapt reasonably well to the interface. Given some patience, it’s even suitable for limited web browsing. And paired with a Bluetooth keyboard, I could see it as an emergency email response system. But to achieve its small size and light weight, it’s had to cut out a lot of the more luxuriant computing features like a touchscreen, additional memory, etcetera. All that being said, it takes its niche and does it very nicely. It has good battery life, a reasonable software assortment, and solid communications performance, all rolled into a a rugged and well designed exterior. It would make an excellent basic PIM device, or a compliment to a more capable handheld or laptop, if you didn’t want to drag your other devices everywhere. It’s also relatively cheap, with a retail price of $200 and a street price starting at $150.

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Excellent reception
  • Quad-band GSM/EDGE
  • Superior battery life

Cons:

  • Bad power button
  • Almost no Storage memory
  • Difficult input

Bottom Line:

A powerful high-end phone, with limited computing capabilities and great battery life. If it fits your needs, and you can live with the compromises, it’s a good deal.


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