This review was submitted to us by Kevin Nguyen. Kevin is a long time cell phone user who has gone through more units than most people own in a lifetime, including a few Smartphones. Thanks to Kevin for putting together an in-depth owner’s look at the T-Mobile SDA.
T-mobile released the T-Mobile SDA Smartphone in mid February, and with its advanced features including WiFi, Windows Mobile 5.0, EDGE and media capabilities, one would find a hard time remembering that it is after all, a cell phone. SDA stands for Smart Digital Assistant and it is also known as the Imate Sp5, HTC Tornado, Qtek 8300, and its Cingular counterpart, the Cingular 2125 (which does not have WiFi). The integration of features combined with a considerably small and sleek form factor is suited for advanced cell phone users who enjoy mobility without sacrificing PDA functions.
Reasons for buying
First off, I would like to say that I consider myself a tech/cell phone collector, and I just enjoy nice phones with nice features. I have upgraded from the old days with a very old Motorola v60i to now a Nokia 6680, and the long period between which I have owned a Samsung x496, a Motorola v330, a Nokia N-gage, a Motorola v635, a Sony Ericsson T637, a Motorola MPX220, a RAZR, and a Nokia 6620. I have found that through my experiences that I much preferred a phone with features over looks, and that I often get bored with phones without a mainstream OS, what I call “stupid” phones.
Accordingly, I jumped at the opportunity to get the new SDA, as its Internet capabilities intrigued me. With my phones, I am usually browsing the internet, playing a song, and running my email application in the background all at once, and I expected the SDA to suit my style of living. I needed a phone with a good signal, to sync with outlook, to have EDGE to allow me to browse eBay and check my mail once in a while, to view Word Docs, and to also entertain me as well. Did the SDA provide all this? Well, let’s just say it did better than most of my phones, but it did not fulfill all my expectations.
Size and Weight
With dimensions of 4.53 x 1.82 x 0.69 in. and weighing a measly 3.7 ounces, it definitely will not weigh your pocket down. It fits very nicely in my hands and actually feels more comfortable than a traditional PDA. Even for a phone it is considered pretty petite. I actually prefer its candybar style to the flip phones I have owned. Sure, when the phone is nesting in the pocket it will feel significantly larger than the RAZR or even my MPx220, but when the phone is in use the extra area caused by the flip of the phone which makes it uncomfortable to hold.
Design and Construction
Let’s face it; it’s not as sleek as the ever so popular RAZR, or as thin as the new SLVR. But once you factor in that it is actually a phone, it suddenly feels “cooler.” I, however, believe it to be quite refined and I am not embarrassed to bust it out to show to friends. I think the curves are in the right place. I like the narrow channel on the sides as it makes it easier to hold. Its slick feel makes it seem more like a very smooth metal than plastic, but I would much prefer a matte finish.
An issue I had is the small hump at the top. This addition is only for the T-mobile US version and the Cingular 2125, and all other international variations of this phone (the Qtek 8300) do not have it. What’s the problem with it? Well besides being annoyingly obtrusive and ugly, it makes all case accessories for European versions incompatible. I ordered a Krussel case and was disappointed to find that I had to make a small slit for it to work. As of now, there are no cases for it.
The buttons on the outside include a volume rocker on the left side, which I found hard to press, and soft keys on the left and right side is for the communication manager and the camera, respectively. On the back you see a 1.3 megapixel camera, standard these days. I would really like to see a 2.0 megapixel camera in this as it would make it more of a competitor in the industry against Nokia’s N90 and Sony Ericsson’s W800. Also, there’s no lens cover, so the lens can be easily damaged. On the top, there is an on/off button as well as the infrared port. On the bottom, there is a 2.5mm phone jack as well as a mini USB connectivity port, which doubles as its charging port.
Another issue I found was the keypad layout. I will not be the first one to say that the keypad is small. I have fairly large, 8 in. hands, and typing is horrid. To compare, typing “www.bargainpda.com is the best site to find reviews on PDAs” took me a good 2 minutes 14 seconds with many errors and mistakes, while on my v330 it took me only 1 min. 40 of smooth typing. I don’t feel that it is like the keypads of the Nokia 3650 and Nokia 3595 in which you can get used to. It’s so small that you constantly type 7 instead of 4 or # instead of 9.
I think if they took away the media buttons that it would leave much more room for the keypad. Also, the joystick is a huge complaint, because it is so small. Scrolling is a hassle, and the pressing action does not always go through and you sometimes don’t hear the click. It does not have a QWERTY keyboard, and no expansion set at this time. This is the definitive factor in proving that the phone is not meant to be for serious pocket pc users.
Wow! That is all I have to say to that. The screen is bright and clear for a screen considered small for a PDA. It has a resolution of 320 by 240, which is the normal setting for a pocket pc, but only that it is on a 2.2″ screen. It is by far the best screen I have ever seen in a phone. Viewing movies and browsing the WebPages is a delight. Its lack of a touch screen is the only real downer, another reason why it is no contender in terms of efficiency.
Processor and Operating System
The SDA has a TI OMAP 850 Processor, and runs at 200 MHz. Although I cannot comment much on this subject as I am not a traditional PDA user, I can say that I was relatively pleased by the speeds. It was quick and applications opened up very fast. Navigation was very responsive. As with all smartphones, it takes an almost unbearable time to turn on and off. I recorded 35 seconds to turn on, and 8 seconds to completely turn off. This is very annoying if you are in a hurry.
It also runs on Windows Mobile 5.0, the latest version of Windows Mobile. To be honest, I don’t see much of a difference between this and Windows Mobile 2003, except little features here and there. There is a better version of Active sync, and also Windows Media 10 is supposedly changed. Also the home screen looks better.
The memory is also good and enough for most users, that is, if you remember to shut down the applications that are not in use. The only problems were on loading big webpages. I have, however, had it shut down at least 2 times, but that may be more of my fault or a possible WiFi bug.
Connectivity and Expansion
This is where the SDA shines. It has almost every connectivity option possible for a Smartphone. It is equipped with Bluetooth, infrared, and EDGE, which offers high speed data access. WiFi is very welcomed, and comes from T-mobile’s plans of launching data services of hotspots at coffee shops and urban areas. Bluetooth works great, and I have a good range of 15 feet from my Logitech headset. Set up was easy as well. I did not try infrared, to be honest, who does any more. I think companies are just adding it to be able to sync with very old devices, but in another couple of years infrared will be completely obsolete. EDGE class 10 was fast as expected, and I was getting a good 100 kbps from the normal 236 kbps. This is considered slow in today’s standards, but compare it a couple years ago and this would be near DSL speeds.
WiFi is also one of the main reasons I bout this phone, as I was intrigued in the browsing at fast speeds at home. Setup with my 802.11b router was easy and hassle-free, and speeds were decent. I took the speed test at www.dslreports.com/mspeed, and out of a 600k file I was able to download it at 827 KB/sec at a distance of 5 feet away from the router. I took the test on my computer, which got 1153 KB/sec. Also the supplied Internet Explorer on the phone was better than expected, as it rendered pages very realistically. I also tried Opera Mini, which I actually prefer due to its faster loads and easier scrolling.
Also the phone supports mini-SD expansion, and I purchased a 1 GB card to fulfill my needs. But this is one of the major manufacturing mistakes. They placed the slot beneath the battery. After the n-gage and other phones that did this, I thought companies would stop this for good and therefore I was very shocked at this lapse.
The camera included is a 1.3 megapixel one, which generally should be a sufficient resolution for taking small pictures. That is, if the quality is good, such as on the 6680. The photos taken from the SDA are awful in lowlight situations, and mediocre at sunlight. The lack of a flash does not help this.
Indoor low-light shot (view large image)
Normal phone calls are excellent, and its RF here in Southern California is great. Calls are crisp and clear. As far as phone functions go, it’s great.
I was pretty disappointed, however, with the sound quality when playing MP3s on this and also there is a 2.mm jack instead of 3.5mm. The phone is sometimes referred to as the SDA music, but I do not see why as sounds were off and seemed more distorted than I expected. I tested it with a 2.5mm to 3.5mm converter paired with a Sony Fontopia earbuds, but sounds were still off. This may be biased, as I am used to the Creative Zen MP3 player quality, and in comparison it’s just poor. Sounds were not as lifelike as I wished and bass beats were hollow.
Battery life is great. I was able to use WiFi on straight for an hour, talk 30 minutes on the phone, and play around for 2 hours and leave it on standby for a day and the battery was still up and running. But I must say, WiFi is a great batter drainer. When testing it, the battery compartment would begin to heat up at the touch and was uncomfortable to hold.
Overall, the T-Mobile SDA is a great phone with many features at a mobile size. But there are a few nitpicks that make it less than acceptable at times. I would however, recommend it, and would be a great entry level phone to Windows Mobile. It does, however, the lack of a touch screen and QWERTY keyboard suggest its spot in the cell phone/pocket pc world. It is a hybrid in both worlds, but if you want full features, I suggest getting the T-mobile MDA.
- Great Size
- Windows Mobile 5.0
- Nice Screen
- Little Hump
- Poor MP3 Sound Quality
- Poor camera