Windows Mobile sometimes gets a bad rap for having so many devices over so many carriers, manufacturers, and form factors compared to OS X on the iPhone or even Symbian (which is largely associated with Nokia though there are other licensees). However, this reputation of being a malleable operating system has allowed device makers large and small to take advantage of the core usefulness of Windows Mobile and create solutions for almost any need.
MWg (Mobile Wireless Group) is a company taking this philosophy that has manufactured a suite of Windows Mobile devices for nearly any kind of user. And while the differentiation is more on the hardware side than software, occasionally there are tweaks that give some character to their offerings.
The MWg Zinc II fits this profile nearly spot on. A Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional handset, its uniqueness comes in what it does as a package, and some gems that are hidden enough to be pleasant when found.
Inside this Review
The Zinc II has a traditional PDA form-factor. The front is dominated by the QVGA (320 by 240 pixel) screen. Below this is a directional pad flanked by the green and red call buttons.
Unlike many other Windows Mobile devices, the Zinc II does not have additional application buttons on the front facade, nor does it have hard buttons that duplicated the function of the soft buttons which appear on-screen.
On the left side you’ll find the up/down volume buttons and a third button which can be mapped to any program (it launches voice notes by default).
This is also where the microSD card slot is located. MWg says this is able to take microSD and microSDHC cards up to 8 GB in capacity, but that’s just the biggest cards that are available now. The slot will probably support larger cards when they are released.
The right side of the device has the power and camera buttons. The camera button functions to both launch the camera application and take photos.
The bottom of the Zinc II simply has a reset hole, the mini-USB port, and the stylus/stylus holder.
The stylus is not very fancy, and at first glance seems nothing more than a toothpick. Pulling it out of the silo will extend it to a more comfortable length, but it’s still just a piece of plastic without much other feel to it.
The back of this smartphone is simply designed, showing only the 2.0 megapixel camera and battery cover. Compared to some other devices that have a large back cover battery panel, the one on the Zinc II is relatively easy to remove because of the soft touch paint used on the device.
Everything seems pretty simple and normal until you notice the slight gap between the top and middle panels. That’s when the slide-out keyboard emerges, which takes the device from being barely OK to a livable proposition.
It has a three-row keyboard QWERTY layout with some additional buttons to enable soft-key functions.
The keyboard takes much longer in getting used to than might appear. The keys are quite flush with the rest of the panel, and it feels as if some of the letters are not in the same place as they would be on a normal keyboard.
A Function key provides access to numbers, symbols, and accented characters, but the backlighting might not be sufficient enough for you to even find it in half-decent lighting.
Overall, I got the impression that the design of the Zinc II is more of a work in progress than anything else.
Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional is the Zinc II’s operating system and pretty much where everything gets started.
The usual Windows Mobile accompaniment of Internet Explorer Mobile, Windows Media Player, Pocket Outlook, and Pocket Office highlight things.
MWg has also included what it calls the Zinc II Quick Menu. This is basically an additional launcher application for common tasks such as using multimedia, playing games, and mobile communication. Similar to the HTC TouchFLO 3D interface, it uses gestures in order to navigate screens and engage information.
For the most part, it’s easy to pick up and learn, but the fact that it’s even there is hidden. It would have been better to see this as the default user interface, along with a customized Today Screen that also uses these same UI principles, rather than a shortcut on the Today Screen, which makes for extra screen taping that this shortcut tries to avoid.
The Zinc II is a smartphone, but you wouldn’t get that impression from how the phone functions are the most hidden aspect of the device.
Using the default setup, the only indication that you can do anything with contacts is to click on the soft key on the Today Screen. There is no Today Screen plug-in for the Phone dialer (it’s buried in the Start Menu), and information such as last-called contacts and picture dialing are nowhere to be found immediately.
Once you’re into the Phone application things do start looking up. A simple numeric-based dialer screen shows buttons large enough to dial. The call log also appears on this screen.
Once you begin dialing, the phone application queries your last-called contacts as well as your address books for matches. After that it’s just like being on any other phone.
The speakerphone is easy to engage within a call, even though its buried in a menu with some other in-call functions. The single speaker (located in the rear of the Zinc II) is very loud and seems as if it were tuned to be louder as speakerphone environments usually dictate.
SMS and MMS messaging is carried out by the Messaging application. This is a basically a catch-all feature of Pocket Outlook’s Inbox to get any messages that come to the mobile device.
Thankfully, Windows Mobile 6.1 supports threaded SMS and this makes it a lot easier to keep up with conversations. However, the on-screen keyboards will quickly have you opening the slider in order to chat a bit more in step with the conversations.
As with the exterior design, there is not much about the phone functions that will wow you about the Zinc II. Thankfully, its foundations in Windows Mobile leaves room for plenty of third-party software to pick up where the default setup is not quite up to par.
While it’s hard to see the phone aspects of the Zinc II at first glance, it’s readily apparent that the slide keyboard, 2.0 megapixel camera, and general usability makes this a solid choice for a handheld computer.
Let’s start with the multimedia side of things, since getting there from the Quick Menu is quite easy to do. Windows Media Mobile is pretty much click and play (as usual). It supports nearly any type of audio or video file that you can throw at it, and the performance is quite good – especially since there’s 50 MB of free RAM to play with — a bit more than 30 MB of that isn’t taken up by default applications running in the background.
The user interface stands out a bit here. Its totally icon driven, but very simple to understand. Things like setting white balance, zoom, or switching to video mode (recording VGA video clips) is simple.
The default Solitaire and Bubble Breaker are in there, along with a Java run-time environment that will take nearly any Java-based game.
On the more infotainment side of things, Pocket Outlook handles email robustly, although nothing stands out there.
Pocket Internet Explorer, despite being based on Internet Explorer 6 (Desktop version), just leaves a sour feeling on this device. I downloaded the beta version of Opera Mobile 9.5 and frankly speaking enjoy the heck out of using the Zinc II afterward. Given the touchscreen nature of this smartphone, it fit much better than IE Mobile.
Now, you might assume that this could be the end of things, but it’s not. In addition to a custom picture and video viewer, there’s a Notes application, an auto configuration wizard for getting connected to whatever carrier you are on, an Internet Sharing application, a Remote Desktop application, and a GPS viewer.
A GPS viewer? Despite looking at the box, it was just another one of those things that took me by surprise. There is no mapping program that comes on Zinc II, and so I downloaded Google Maps Mobile and within 5 minutes the internal GPS was locked in and ready to go.
The good part about this is that the Zinc II allows you to bring whatever mapping application you want to the table — as long as the program can read the GPS data. But it’s hidden. There’s nothing in the Today screen, or even in the drop-down Start menu that even gives an indication that the Zinc II is able to be solid navigation device.
Like I said before, there’s a bit of default goodness, with some hidden gems buried in.
The platform stands for itself as a communicator, but MWg could have done more to highlight those areas that would really show its value compared to other mobile devices with similar features. A not so great sliding keyboard doesn’t take away from the fact that the Zinc II is as solid as the HTC 8925/Tilt and even the iPhone 3G.
The very large removable battery — 1530 mAh to be exact — leaves very little to worry about in terms of pushing the Zinc II to the limits yet having room to keep connected.
Operating System: Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional
Processor: Samsung 500 MHz Processor
Memory: 64 MB RAM, 256 MB Flash ROM
Display: 2.8-inch QVGA Touchscreen
Cellular Wireless: Quad-band GSM, Tri-band UMTS HSDPA 3.6 Mbps
Wireless: Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
Camera: 2 MPx
GPS: SirfStar III
Dimensions: 4.3 in. by 2.3 inc. by 0.7 in. (109.5 x 59 x 18 mm)
Battery: 1530 mAh. Standby 200-260 hours, Talk time 4-6 hours
It might sound as if I had a hard time finding some good things to say about the Zinc II. Admittedly, there were too many gems hidden below the layers, menus, and settings of Windows Mobile that could have benefited from a little TLC by MWg.
An improved Quick Menu, a change of browser, and a better keyboard would go a long way toward helping potential customers see the value that the Zinc II really is. And that’s probably the kicker of this. The Zinc II is an excellent value compared to other smartphones in its class. Most will be able to purchase it unlocked, and its not filled with so many customizations that the ‘personal’ in PDA can’t be fully explored.
It’s a snappy performer, and a solid device who just needs a bit more maturity to figure out where it fits in today’s competitive marketplace.