Pharos Traveler 127 Review

by Reads (14,102)
  • Pros

    • Great screen
    • Usable keyboard
    • Surprisingly good camera
    • Excellent call quality

  • Cons

    • Navigation software difficult to use


The Pharos Traveler 127 may look like a BlackBerry at first glance, but it’s a Windows Mobile Professional smartphone with a full QWERTY keyboard, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless connectivity (in addition to GPRS), and a built-in GPS that can ensure that you never get lost, even if you don’t have phone coverage.

It’s a little larger than some of the mobile phones available today, but it packs in a lot of features that may make the trade-off worthwhile. Unfortunately it isn’t available directly from any carrier, and is currently being sold as an unlocked GSM smartphone for $530 — though you can get it from eXpansys for $480.

Build and Design
No matter what other issues the Traveler 127 may have, the device is very well made and exceptionally solid, though surprisingly lightweight for it size.

Pharos Traveler 127The design is somewhat boxy, with the corners being only slightly rounded at the top and bottom. The phone isn’t ugly, but it isn’t sexy–it’s obviously meant to be a productivity tool for a mobile professional, with no added frills.

The exterior case has been finished with a “soft touch” feel that is comfortable to hold and doesn’t catch fingerprints and smudges. That also means that the phone isn’t slippery at all, and feels good in the hand. It’s about as wide a device as is comfortable to use with one hand, unless you’re manipulating the power switch. This is a slider at the top left edge of the phone, and it’s a real pain to use.

Waking and sleeping the device are a quick slide of the button, which I can do with one hand, reaching up with my index finger. Turning the device on or off is a two-handed operation though, because you have to hold the switch for several seconds and the ridges on the switch tend to dig in a big painfully. I’d rather hold the phone with one hand and then use the edge of my fingernail to slide and hold the switch.

You must remove the back plate of the phone in order to access the microSD slot. It isn’t that hard to do, but this design choice does make trying to use multiple cards something of a hassle, It would likely be best to invest in the highest capacity card you can afford.

Keyboard: The keyboard is a little odd and took some getting used to in the beginning. The keys are nicely separated on the horizontal axis because each key is significantly rounded. The vertical separation isn’t nearly as good, and the rows are a bit tight. With practice I was able to improve my accuracy, but a little more vertical spacing or a slightly different key shape could have made a significant difference. There aren’t any dots identifying the home keys, so I had to look at my fingers anytime I wanted to enter text. The keyboard is illuminated though, so it can be used in the dark.

The track ball just below the screen is much more useful than I thought it would be; I didn’t have any trouble with it jumping to another selection when I pushed in to make a selection. That said, I still found it easier to reach up with one of my thumbs most of the time, since the touchscreen is so responsive. It’s a nice feature, and it works especially well for scrolling through long lists or web pages, but it isn’t a necessity.

Pharos Traveler 127The buttons on the sides of the device are smooth and closely spaced, so it’s easy to hit the wrong one by mistake. They are also mapped somewhat strangely by default, with a single press of the camera button on the right side taking you directly to Windows Live Search. It took me a few tries (and a happy accident) to learn that you have to press and hold the camera button in order to launch the camera application.

Display: The screen is simply lovely; it’s a 2.5-inch touchscreen QVGA display that presents vivid colors and looks gorgeous. It does wash out in direct sunlight on these bright spring days, but it’s still more usable than the one my LG Dare, which washes out completely, but not as easy to see as the screen on my iPod Touch.

The touchscreen is responsive and sensitive, in a good way. I used my fingers instead of the stylus (which is housed at the top right corner of the device) and didn’t have any trouble with my input being misinterpreted. I always got the results I expected, even when I was pressing right at the edge of the screen to scroll down. The fact that the screen is flush-mounted, without any sort of raised bezel, made it very easy to use.

Extras: The box includes a somewhat bulky but lightweight AC adapter with folding plug, a USB cable, stereo headphones with microphone, Quick Start guide, and software CD.

Performance
A factor in the plus column is the overall performance and responsiveness of the Traveler 127. Based on the Qualcomm MSM7201-90, a 400 MHz processor, I hardly ever saw the dreaded Windows Mobile hourglass. Everything felt snappy, from opening applications and documents to taking and saving photos.

GPS: Of course, one of the biggest draws with this device is the integrated GPS functionality, which is accessed through the Smart Navigator application on the start page. Open the application and you’ll be faced with a legal disclaimer screen that informs you the application is to be used for trip planning purposes only; you must acknowledge this before you can use the program. After that you’re taken directly to the map screen, and generally you will be located rather precisely in just a few seconds–the length of time is based on how long it takes to acquire a GPS signal.

Smart NavigatorUnfortunately that’s about all that I really like about Smart Navigator. The menus are somewhat clunky, and I’m sure that after spending some time reading the manual/help files everything might make sense, but there’s no excuse for making things harder than they should be–especially compared to the smoother experience offered by VZ Navigator, etc.

For example, I can use the Go menu to find a particular address, point of interest, or contact, but there’s no way to scroll through a list of my contacts. I have to know exactly who I’m going to see and spell out their name, which can be tricky if I don’t remember how they’re filed (by name? by company?). Thankfully the My Destinations menu keeps a list of your most recent addresses, but if you’ve already been there before, you probably don’t need GPS directions anymore.

I was unable to review some of the advanced functions such as traffic updates and point-of-interest searches due to some technical difficulties. According to Pharos, these services are free, but the reviewer account that was included with the loaner phone would not allow me to access those services.

Smart Navigator’s big advantage is it doesn’t need an Internet connection to work, so you can find your way in places with bad wireless connections, like way out in the country. I was asked to update both the Smart Navigator application as well as my map data several times, and while the process worked flawlessly each time, I was surprised by the need for these frequent updates.

Wireless Connectivity: The Traveler 127 is a true world phone with quad-band (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) GSM/GPRS/EDGE and tri-band (850, 1900, 2100 MHz) UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA. This device is being sold unlocked, so you can use it with AT&T, T-Mobile, or another GSM carrier.

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi work as expected, though I had a few issues connecting to the wireless network at my office — I attribute that more to a Windows Mobile issue than anything having to do with this device, because I’ve seen it before when testing other devices. It worked flawlessly with my network at home, and I was able to do plenty of surfing with Internet Explorer Mobile.

Call Quality: Call quality on this phone is excellent. One of my callers didn’t believe that I was on a cell phone at first because everything sounded so crisp and clear. The microphone did an excellent job of blocking out wind and traffic noise, and I could also hear people on the other end of the line clearly. I was very pleased with the overall call quality, and that’s one of the best selling points for this device.

Productivity: Like other Windows Mobile devices, the Traveler 127 comes with Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Notes, and Office Mobile preloaded, which includes Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, and OneNote Mobile. They all worked as expected, so there isn’t much to report there.

A few little extras are also included, like a Unit Converter application, Jetcet PDF 5, and Spb Mobile Shell, which is a wonderful addition to the device.

I hadn’t had the chance to test Spb Mobile Shell before now, and it really does make mobile devices much more accessible and easy to use. I especially like the Mobile Menu feature accessible from the Today screen of the device; it gives you access to twelve of the most-used features and applications, in addition to making it easier to find and change settings and themes and provides several quick-launch category menus. It sounds more complicated than it is, I assure you, and goes a long way towards making up for some of the Traveler 127’s shortcomings.

Entertainment: This isn’t an entertainment device, but if you find yourself with a bit of downtime you can entertain yourself with Windows Media Player for video and audio, as well as the ever-popular Bubble Breaker and Solitaire games. The headphone jack isn’t a standard plug, but a stereo headset with microphone is included in the box with the device.

Camera: The Traveler 127 is equipped with two cameras, one in the front for video calling and one on the back for more standard picture-taking fare. I was pleasantly surprised by the two megapixel camera; though the on-screen viewfinder was plagued by a somewhat annoying flicker, the photos the camera takes are rather good. Colors come out bright and crisp, even on somewhat cloudy days, or when there are extremes of light and dark in a single frame due to shadows, and the pictures are sharp.

It certainly won’t replace a dedicated high resolution digital camera for detail work, but the camera on this device is capable enough for everyday snapshots and sharing photos with friends and family.

Battery Life: Battery life is one of the outstanding strong points of this phone. During a “torture test” of light use (including GPS) in ares with relatively low signal strength for four days, the battery was still at 41% on Monday morning.

Obviously your results will vary, but I was impressed; I don’t believe that true road warriors will have too many problems with the battery running out at inopportune moments in the middle of the afternoon.

Conclusion
I really want to love this device, but I just can’t offer myself up completely to the Pharos Traveler 127.

The built-in GPS is very fast when pinpointing my location, but the menu system is clunky and doesn’t offer anything close to the flawless experience of carrier-mediated services such as Verizon’s. It isn’t really integrated into the device as a whole, but seems like a completely separate system from the phone proper, which is a shame. Since the GPS is one of the biggest draws for this phone, and since it isn’t offered directly by any U.S. carrier and is therefore much more expensive than a subsidized device, it might be best to test Traveler 127 in person, if possible, before purchase.

Pros:

  • Great screen
  • Usable keyboard
  • Surprisingly good camera
  • Excellent call quality

Cons:

  • Navigation software difficult to use

 


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