Cingular 8125 Pocket PC Phone Review

by Reads (275,961)

Cingular’s 8125 Pocket PC phone, the GSM answer to the 6700, combines a large comfortable keyboard and a full suite of communication options.

 

The Cingular 8125 is a rebranded version of the HTC Wizard Pocket PC phone. The Wizard is also sold in a slightly different casing by T-Mobile, under the name MDA (or MDA Vario, if you happen to be in Europe) and various other brands. Most of this review also applies to the Cingular 8100, which is a version of the Wizard without an embedded camera.

Design & Construction

The 8125 bears a great deal of external resemblance to its CDMA sibling, the HTC Apache. Like the Apache (which is sold by Sprint and Verizon under the PPC6700/XV6700 name), the 8125 has a side-sliding keyboard, thick candybar design, and 2.8 inch QVGA screen.

Unlike the Apache, the 8125 doesn’t have 3G data service. Users who want UMTS or HSDPA service on their handheld will have to wait for the HTC Hermes, expected out some time late this year. The 8125, meanwhile, hops along on 2.5G EDGE, which we’ll talk about under Communication.

Top row, left to right: Cingular 8125, Cingular 2125, T-Mobile MDA. Bottom: Dell Axim X51v.

The 8125 shows a very squared-off profile, with a bit of rounding towards the back of the case as its only concession to ergonomics. Even so, it’s reasonably comfortable to hold. The SIM card is housed under the battery, like most of HTC’s recent devices. Unlike their Windows Smartphones, though, the miniSD slot is available externally, so you can get to it without much fuss.

A key flaw of the Wizard’s design is the button configuration. The bottom front panel only contains four buttons: two softkeys and two phone keys. Absent are two buttons you need for proper one-handed navigation: the Start and OK/Close buttons. Without these, you can’t drive the device with one hand. This, however, can be remedied with a piece of freeware whipped up by some dedicated coders from the enthusiast website XDA-Developers.com, which allows you to use the phone keys for double duty by pressing and holding them. A pity that this wasn’t included with the device out of the box.

The keyboard and screen are mounted on separate parts of the device, allowing you to simply slide the display to one side and reveal the keyboard. Doing this automatically switches the system to landscape mode. The keyboard is backlit for use in low light. While the illumination isn’t the strongest, it is more than enough to see what you’re typing, which is the general necessity. The keyboard works quite well for text input–you can simply pick it up and go without much of a lag or learning curve in how to use it, and for the most part it’s very comfortable.

One thing I don’t understand is why softkeys are such a hard thing on these sliding keyboards. The Apache had them poorly illuminated and stuck in the top corners of the key board. The Wizard has them poorly illuminated and sandwiched between the top row of keys and the screen. Are we just cursed to have poor softkeys when in landscape mode?

As an added refinement for landscape mode, the Wizard design has two buttons placed on the “top” of the device, where they can be activated by the left hand.

Overall, the 8125’s design is very unremarkable, but mostly solid in its execution, and the main deficiencies can be remedied in software.

 

Hardware

Processor: 200 MHz TI OMAP850
Operating System: Windows Mobile 5.0
Display: 2.8 inch, 240 x 320 transmissive/reflective LCD
Memory: 64 MB RAM; 128 MB flash ROM (43 MB available)
Size & Weight: 4.25″ long x 2.28″ wide x 0.93″ thick; 5.64 ounces
Expansion: Single miniSD slot
Docking: Mini-USB port
Communication: Bluetooth 1.2; 802.11b/g WiFi; Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE (Class 10)
Audio: 2.5mm headphone/headset jack; speakerphone
Battery: 1250 milliamp-hour Lithium Ion replaceable battery
Input: QWERTY thumb keyboard; X remappable application buttons; touchscreen
Other: 1.3 megapixel digital camera with light

 

Processor

Despite it’s relatively slow clock speed, the 200 MHz OMAP processor in the 8125 does a very good job of keeping things on the tracks. I experienced very little in terms of noticeable performance difference between the 200 MHz 8125 and the 416 MHz Apache. Some of this is due to the fact that the OMAP has additional signal processors which can be used for phone functions, thus keeping the main CPU free to handle the rest of the system.

 

Operating System

Regrettably, the 8125 doesn’t come with the new Messaging and Security Features Pack from Microsoft. The MSFP is the long-awaited Windows Mobile 5 upgrade that will enable true push email from an Exchange server. The pack was delivered to licensees late last year, but many are still “testing” it. Cingular has committed to delivering this, but they haven’t said just when.

If you’re daring enough to reflash your 8125 with a ROM meant for one of the other Wizard variants, you can add the MSFP yourself, but this is considered an advanced technique and could result in turning your Pocket PC phone into a paperweight if not performed correctly. Most users are advised to wait for the official update.

Like many GSM Pocket PC phones, the 8125 comes with a Java environment, for running simple “midlet” applications made for conventional phones. Examples include Google Local, Opera Mini, and many other Java-based applets.

 

Display

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about it, but the 2.8 inch LCD provides good quality brightness and coloration, and is more than suitable for most things. Being only QVGA, it’s not great for web browsing, but mobile pages are more than adequately rendered.

 

Memory

The 64 MB of RAM and 128 MB of flash memory in the 8125 is becoming drearily standard for Pocket PC phones. As much as I wish that we could get some slightly more interesting in terms of memory, the currently commoditized quantities have the small virtue of being cheap. Out of that 128 MB of flash, the user gets 43 MB straight out of the box, a pathetically small amount all things considered. It’s sufficient if you only intend to be handling a few documents, email, and maybe some photos, but any real heavy lifting in terms of databases, music, reference material, etcetera, will end up requiring a memory card.

 

Size & Weight

It’s not exactly small, but the 8125 is a definite improvement over some of its predecessors, such as the SX66–also known as the “slabphone.” It’s also comparable in size to similarly specified devices like the Treos and the HTC Apache. You can, in fact, actually hold it up against your head without feeling like a moron, but most people will still prefer to use a Bluetooth headset or handsfree system.

 

Expansion

With a miniSD slot and internal WiFi, the 8125 is pretty much limited to additional memory as the only add-on of any real worth that’s available.

 

Docking

Mini-USB plugs, such as the one found on the 8125, are increasingly standard for HTC’s Windows phones. While they bring the advantage of cross-compatibility, they also rule out additional cable-driven features like VGA out or serial ports.

 

Communication

Other versions of the Wizard ship with 802.11g WiFi as standard, however the 8125 is only specced at 802.11b. Some poking around in the OS by dedicated users has revealed that this is a software limitation, and can be overcome with a small hack. Using a registry editor, you can enable the 8125 to connect to 802.11g-only networks, something not possible on 802.11b. Truly, one of the biggest advantages of the HTC Pocket PC phones is the dedicated community of developers and tweakers behind it.

Don’t expect a big speed boost, though. The limitation on the Wizard’s WiFi speed is the limited resources of the mobile hardware, not the wireless standard. The best you can really hope to get out of the hack is compatibility with G-only networks. Chances are that this is why Cingular decided not to advertise the faster standard.

For dialing, the 8125 uses a “soft” keypad and dialer, displaying a numeric keypad on the screen for you to tap with a finger or stylus. I’ve never been crazy about this method, as I much prefer having real buttons–when you need to make a call fast, you don’t want to be screwing around with touchscreen. However, for moderate calling, it works out fairly well. You can also dial using the numbers on the keyboard, but this takes more effort without reducing the time needed to dial. As with other side-sliding devices, one-handed dialing is nonexistent.

The EDGE data service for the device performs similarly to the Cingular 2125 running on the same network. Average speeds range from 100 to 130 Kbits, with highs around 160 and lows of 40. Individual results may vary according to network, location, and many other factors.

While not the greatest in holding a signal, the 8125 more than adequately acquits itself, maintaining a solid connection even in less than optimal conditions. It didn’t perform quite as well as its sibling, the Cingular 2125 smartphone, but still more than sufficient for all but the worst signal areas.

 

Audio

Audio clarity and call volume is quite good. You can certainly get away with using the device in a noisy environment without too much difficulty. Headphone quality is typically good, even using the semi-cheap headphone/headset that comes with the 8125.

 

Battery

The 8125’s battery life varies heavily depending on how you use it. You can get as little as 3-4 hours running on WiFi, to around 5 hours of surfing and communication via EDGE, to as much as 12 hours of talk time when used as a phone. The essential variable in this last scenario, of course, is the fact that the screen turns off for extended phone calls. I found the battery life to be reasonably satisfactory, particularly for voice or modem use where the screen shut down. Long periods of using the Internet connection directly from the device will drain the battery considerably faster, though, so if you intend to use it for prolonged periods you may want to consider a secondary battery.

 

Camera

Camera. Present? Yes. Useful? Not so much. Like so many other devices, the 8125’s camera is mainly a novelty, producing marginal quality photos despite its 1.3 megapixel rating. Photos tend towards being blurry in good light, and almost totally black in low light. I wouldn’t suggest you bother thinking of the camera as a useful feature.

 

Conclusion

The Cingular 8125 is certainly not a flashy device, and doesn’t stand out dramatically in either specs or features. But it’s solid, and has a respectable mix of features that make it a dependable data device that also does voice. It lacks 3G data, but has the benefits of GSM flexibility. There’s no flash, very little excess of style, and almost nothing in the way of “fun” or non-vital features. But if your main goal is a large, comfortable keyboard on a data-oriented GSM device, the 8125 fulfills that rather well.

Pros:

  • Quad-band GSM/EDGE
  • Bluetooth/WiFi
  • Good keyboard
  • Dialup-networking

Cons:

  • Button arrangement
  • Lacks 3G
  • Bad stylus
  • Low memory

Bottom Line:

A good data-oriented GSM device, even if the specs don’t beat the band.


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