Technology

BusinessWeek


Smart phones just got smarter, thanks to the 8125, Cingular Wireless' version of the Wizard device developed by handset manufacturer HTC. Cingular's second branded device comes packed with everything but the kitchen sink, and we took it on a test run as part of a series on high-end handhelds (see BW Online, 3/7/06, "Treo 700w: One Step Back").

Besides the standard phone capabilities, the 8125 runs a mobile version of Windows, offering a range of Microsoft (MSFT) Office applications and high-speed Internet, all at a price that makes me wonder how the carrier is making money on these things. New Cingular customers can pick one up for just under $300 (after mail-in rebates, with a two-year service contract). Oh-so-average call quality aside, the handset is a bargain, especially when Cingular includes goodies such as a nice leather carrying case and a hands-free device that doubles as a pair of headphones.

KEY FEATURES. I haven't made my way far enough up the corporate ladder to have my own PDA, but I had no problem with the size and weight of the 8125 compared with my non-PDA mobile. It's a lot bigger, but still thin enough to fit in my pocket without bulging out, and weighs just over 5 ounces. The phone has a conservative business look, with a gray-and-silver color scheme that would draw little unwanted attention to the self-effacing exec.

The QWERTY keyboard conveniently slides out from under the screen, allowing for comfortable two-hand typing and plenty of real estate for the 2.8-inch diagonal screen. But the keyboard design has its problems. One-handed operation is a bit tricky with the slide-out, and the lack of dedicated number buttons means you have to hit caps lock or use the stylus to dial a number. Also, the keypad doesn't light up when pulled out, so it's a nuisance in the dark (though pressing a key activates the light).

The phone has a certain heft that communicates quality, and the sliding keyboard clicks securely in place for a solid feel both opened and closed. As for the 16-bit, 64,000-color display, it's crisp and vibrant. Despite keyboard drawbacks, the no-frills design gets the job done.

WELL-CONNECTED. And design is where any conservatism ends. The 8125 has four forms of wireless connectivity -- EDGE/GPRS (Cingular's wireless, high-speed data network used for Internet browsing), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and infrared. Cingular says EDGE allows you to browse the Internet at average speeds of 70 to 135 kilobits per second (which I found to be accurate), making it a decent option for on-the-go Web tasks like looking up directions or phone numbers.

Wi-Fi connection is seamless, and Bluetooth lets you wirelessly sync your laptop with the phone. Finally, the infrared port on the right panel allows for quick wireless data transfers. I transferred a PowerPoint presentation within seconds to the 8125 from a Sprint PDA.

Windows Mobile 5.0 software makes navigating the phone and executing tasks like data transfers simple and intuitive. Synchronizing with your PC is also easy, thanks to the included ActiveSync software and mini-USB cable. Using the software is simple: You begin by selecting the applications to synchronize and the phone automatically updates every time it's connected to the computer.

TAKE A LETTER. Music files took only around 15 seconds to upload, but videos take significantly longer. You can download e-mails onto your mobile Outlook, as well as Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, and PDF files.

MS Word and Excel work wonderfully in Windows Mobile, especially with the transcription technology, which is surprisingly accurate, even when you write in a cursive/printing combination like I do. The PowerPoint and PDF viewer don't let users modify files, but they are good for browsing through completed presentations or PDFs. The only issue with the PDF viewer is that the text often shows up blurred or slightly distorted (though landscape mode helps a bit), and the small text may pose a problem for some.

All in all, the 8125 provides the traveling executive with the tools necessary to conduct business effectively on the go. But even the busiest executives need playtime, and the 8125 doesn't disappoint in that department in the least.

PICTURE THIS. The 8125 features a host of entertainment options, from music and video capabilities to gaming, photos, and instant messaging. Let's start with music. The sound quality is excellent -- I listened to a song first from my desktop and then the 8125, and barely noticed a difference. If you don't want to use headphones, the handset features an external speaker on each side that thumps pretty loudly when you pump the volume. Videos get slightly distorted on the phone, but I had no problem enjoying a music video that I uploaded, especially when I switched to full-screen, landscape mode.

The fun doesn't stop there. The 8125 has a 1.3-megapixel digital camera with one of the brightest flashes I've seen on any camera phone. It boasts five different picture qualities, day and night settings, and a 2x digital zoom (though picture quality suffers greatly when zoomed).

The large display is also a plus when you have the camera fired up, and the 8125 continues with the latest trend in mobile phone design -- phones that look deceptively like stand-alone digital cameras when shooting pictures. Though the camera works nicely for a quick snap, don't expect stand-alone digital camera quality. The video camera is one of the better mobile cameras, but it's grainy and the sound is almost robotic at times, making anything other than short close-up clips impractical.

LONG LIFE. Best of all, the 8125 comes with an expandable mini SD memory slot so all its media capabilities are actually useful (the 8125 comes with 64 MB of internal memory). Though not included, users can purchase a mini SD card to free up space on the phone's internal memory. This makes the 8125 a viable option to play MP3s and store significant amounts of data.

With all the features packed into the 8125, I was concerned about battery drain. But I went three consecutive days with 2 to 3 hours each of using the Internet, phone, and media player before the battery ran low. The oft-cited reason for the exceptional battery life of the 8125 is that it has a slower processor (200 Mhz) than competing models. While that may indeed conserve battery life, the slower-than-normal processor poses another annoyance that may outweigh the good: delayed responses.

Often the lag when navigating the phone was longer than you'd expect. With multiple applications running, the phone often took up to 15 seconds to catch up to my commands. The lag was particularly bothersome with the sliding keyboard (the screen took a long time to switch to landscape mode), as well as when playing video files (the video often couldn't keep up with the audio).

LISTEN UP. But all this pales in comparison with my biggest problem with the phone: call quality. For all the features that are jam-packed into this headset, I was expecting the phone to exhibit superb call quality. Boy, was I disappointed. Even in areas where the handset had full reception, quality was at best average and often suffered from significant static. Friends complained that it sounded as though I was on speakerphone even when I had the phone pressed to my face.

Despite the call issues, the 8125 is a solid device that has much to offer the work-hard, play-hard business executive. It's quality-built and it offers an all-in-one package that makes it usable not only as a phone, but also a media player and business tool. On top of that, the device is well-designed and fairly intuitive for any user who's looking at these devices. If you don't expect crystal call quality in your smartphone, then the 8125 will give you little to complain about.


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