Cingular 8525 Review

by Reads (125,910)

The Cingular 8525 is Pocket PC phone with a built-in keyboard, Wi-Fi b/g, and 3G cellular-wireless networking.

It’s a variation on the HTC Hermes. It’s also sold under the HTC brand as the TyTN, and in Europe as the T-Mobile MDA Vario II, among other names.

Unlike most of the Hermes models sold overseas, the 8525 does not have a second, front-facing camera for video conferencing applications, since Cingular doesn’t have such a service.

The Hermes is the successor to the HTC Wizard, which was sold by Cingular as the 8125. Cingular also markets a completely camera-free variant of the Hermes under the name Cingular 8500.

Honestly, I’ve never understood why so many carriers change the names of the devices they buy from HTC. You really want to tell me that "Cingular 8525" sounds better than the "Cingular Hermes?" Or worse yet, the T-Mobile Europe name for the device, the T-Mobile MDA Vario II. There aren’t enough meaningless letter and number clusters in the world?

Design & Construction

The 8525 drops the more conventional matte silver color and texture used on the earlier 8125 for a darker hematite grey. Classier in my opinion than the 8125, and also much sleeker. The 8525 looks every bit like the $400+ device that it is.

If you’ve ever seen one of the other HTC slider models in action, the design of the Hermes is instantly familiar. It’s a thick, simple tablet shape, whose screen can be slid to one side, revealing a complete thumb keyboard. As you do this, the screen automatically rotates to landscape mode, giving you something half-way between a micro-laptop design and a Blackberry.

Buttons and various other functions cover almost every side of the device. With the screen in portrait mode the left side houses the jog dial, an additional OK/Close button, and the as yet non-functional push-to-talk button, which cannot be reassigned. The right side houses the power button and two of the four remappable application buttons: the one nominally used for the camera, and the Communication Manager.

Left

Bottom

Right

Examining the bottom of the device finds the ExtUSB connector, reset button, Infrared port, battery latch, and stylus slot.

The 8525 uses more or less the same type of miserable little telescoping extend-o-stylus as the 8125 did. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not really worth pulling out, and if you need to touch the screen you’re best off using your fingertip.

Back: Camera lens, LED light, mirror, antenna connector.

The sliding mechanism for the screen is of typically good HTC build quality. While any moving part will fail eventually, the 8525 should put up with typical usage for a good long time without risk.

I have only two complaints about the keyboard. First, with the keys pressed directly up against each other, it makes feeling your way around a little difficult. Second is the neccessity of fooling with a function button. I’d much rather have seen a press-and-hold option such as on the Samsung Blackjack for accessing numbers and punctuation. After you get used to those things, however, it’s all quite normal. The large size of the keys makes them easier to hit, particularly for those who may have large fingers.

In general, despite a handful of primarily cosmetic improvements, the 8525 sticks very close to classic HTC design. If you love or hate one of the older slider models like the 8125 or the 6700, than you more or less know how you’ll feel about the 8525. Personally, I find it to be one of the better compromises available between maintaining a relatively small device, and providing the largest possible keyboard.

Hardware

Processor: 400 MHz Samsung CPU
Operating System: Windows Mobile 5.1 (Pocket PC) with AKU 2.3.0
Display: 2.8 inch, 240 x 320 pixel transmissive/reflective LCD
Memory: 64 MB RAM; 128 MB flash memory (56 MB available)
Size & Weight: 4.43 inches long, 2.28 inches wide, 0.86 inches thick; 6.21 ounces
Expansion: Single microSD slot
Docking: ExtUSB/MiniUSB connector
Communication: Quad-band GSM/EDGE with tri-band UMTS/HSDPA 1.8; 802.11b/g Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 2.0
Audio: USB/audio combination jack; speakerphone; speaker & mouthpiece for phone
Battery: 3.7v, 1300 milliamp-hour Lithium Ion replacable battery
Input: 37-key thumb keyboard; jog wheel & back button; 5-way directional pad; four remappable application buttons
Other: Java/J2ME compatibility; 2.0 MP camera; Push-to-talk (forthcoming)

 

Performance and Software

The 8525 finally addresses one of the nagging problems associated with Pocket PC phones.

As a rule, most of these devices have achingly slow processors, in the 200 to 300 MHz range. The 8525 doubles the speed of its predecessor’s CPU, upgrading from a 200 MHz TI chip to a 400 MHz model made by Samsung.

While this still doesn’t seriously compete with the higher-end 624 MHz XScale processors, it does yield notably better performance than any other PPC phone that I’ve used. Using the Linpack benchmarking tool for Windows Mobile, the 8525 scored 1.34 megaflops, compared to 1.9 Mflops for my 624 MHz Axim X51v, about the spread that you would expect from processors with similar efficiency.

Also, with the addition of a faster processor, the 8525 can finally run voice-over-IP applications like Skype without overclocking, providing a significant benefit if you want to combine a cell phone and IP phone into one.

There’s nothing too extraordinary in the 8525’s integrated software package. Pre-loaded programs are limited to a ZIP archiver, ClearVue PDF, and MobiTV, along with the standard incitements to procure Cingular’s Telenav GPS service and Good Technology’s push email.

And, of course, it comes with the standard Windows Mobile applications: web browser, a mobile version of Outlook, and a suite of software that lets you work with Mocrosoft Office files.

Communication and Wireless

Pretty much the only short description of the 8525’s communications suite is the word "comprehensive".

On top of 802.11b/g WiFi, and Bluetooth 2.0, the cellular radio supports quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and tri-band UMTS/HSDPA. This means that it can use any of the GSM/3G networks in the US or Canada, plus all the major overseas GSM and 3G providers.

The 8525 supports what is called HSDPA 1.8, meaning a theoretical maximum of 1.8 megabits per second. Realistic speeds, however, will be in the 400 Kbit to 1 Mbit range, or about 50 to 125 KBytes per second, depending on signal and network conditions.

Now, to do the 8525’s RF performance justice, I have to indulge in a brief explanation. My home is located well out in the boondocks, so much so that my GSM devices usually run on the local provider, DCS Cellular One. Cingular has some towers to the east, but they’re so distant that usually you can only get one bar on them on a good day, maybe two from a second floor window.

I noticed when I started messing with the 8525 that it was only reporting two bars of coverage. Well, I thought to myself, that isn’t very good. My other phones usually get four here. It took me a couple of hours to realize that not only was the 8525 grabbing a native Cingular tower, but it was holding on like a starving pit bull. Without exaggeration, the 8525 has the best signal performance that I have seen out of any GSM device without the use of an external booster antenna. If coverage is your overriding concern, it would be nearly impossible to go wrong here.

Last but not least, the Bluetooth implementation on the 8525 supports the enhanced speed of the BT 2.0 standard–roughly triple what the older BT 1.2 allowed–as well as the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) and Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) for Bluetooth headphones.

According to Cingular’s press information, as well as a dialog on the device, the 8525 is supposed to be enabled for Cingular’s Push-To-Talk network at some point this year; however, as with all forthcoming software upgrades, don’t bet the house on it.

Expansion and Docking

The 8525 deviates from expected form by trading its predecessor’s miniSD card slot for a microSD slot. While it does have the good taste not to put this under the battery, or in any other awkward to access location, it doesn’t change the fact that maximum memory card size just went from 4 GB on the 8125 to 2 GB on the 8525, which is rather the reverse of how things are supposed to work with upgrades.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t like having microSD cards on full-size devices like the 8525. Unless you can prove to me that adding a miniSD slot is really going to kill the design, I’d rather have the larger slot, with cheaper cards and higher capacity.

And as long as we’re on the subject of bad trends, I give a qualified thumbs down to the "ExtUSB" connector that HTC is using on their current devices. Thumbs down, because it’s yet another example of a combination USB and audio jack, forcing the user to either stick exclusively with the included headphones/headset, or buy a third-party adapter to get a standard 2.5mm or 3.5mm jack. Qualified, because as these connectors go, the ExtUSB is by far the best one I’ve seen. The reason for this is simple–instead of being a completely new connector, it’s instead a slightly modified mini-USB plug. Very slightly modified–its shape has been changed such that standard mini-USB cables will still fit, however, the more squarish plug of the headphones won’t fit into a normal mini-USB port. While I’m not thrilled with the continuation of the USB/audio jack trend that we’re seeing, the ExtUSB option is much better than all the others.

Battery Life

I was rather surprised by the large physical volume of the battery compared to its less than enormous 1300 mAh rating. Not surprisingly, there are already third-party replacements featuring a higher capacity in the standard battery form-factor, for those desiring extra punch.

That said, the battery life has been acceptable, though not extraordinary, hovering around the rated four hours of "talk" time when using the device for data and internet. This can double when the screen is off for longer voice calls; on the flip side, any use of Wi-Fi will eat into talk time rather severely.

Camera

The 8525’s 2 megapixel camera provides more than adequate resolution, though as with almost all embedded cameras, quality is a secondary concern. One thing to take care of, however, is that the small manual focus mounted over the lens is properly set, lest you get nothing but blurry shots.

Click images for larger versions. Sample images have been resized and recompressed for upload.

 

Conclusion

While it would have been nice to see some slightly flashier upgrades for the price, such as more memory, or an improved screen, the 8525 delivers in two critical areas–wireless performance and speed.

The addition of 3G support is unlikely to single-handedly woo many users of the HTC Wizard, save for those to whom Internet speed is absolutely critical.

But for others, it’s a distinct step up from its predecessor. Though not without fault, the 8525 is a model of what makes a good data device: solid performance, exhaustive wireless options, and a reliable design.

Pros:

  • Wireless broadband
  • Extensive connectivity options
  • Solid design
  • Exceptional RF performance

Cons:

  • microSD slot
  • Combination USB/audio jack

Bottom Line:

A solid evolutionary improvement over the older Wizard design, with the advantages of wireless broadband, even if it doesn’t break the bank elsewhere.

 


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