Philips Fisio 820: positive step

Review Philips is a funny old sausage when it comes to mobiles. In the six years I've worked at What Mobile it's brought out a wildly assorted range of models which have had almost nothing in common with one another. Some have been horrible and remarkably successful, some top-notch products yet commercial disasters; others, so far off the mark you wondered which planet the company was hoping to sell to.

Remember the Fizz; the Spark; the ill-fated Ilium Accent smartphone; the hideous but high-selling Diga; the tiny, stunning, but flawed Genie? Since those ambitious days, Philips has thought better of its technological aspirations and brought forth a flood of Savvies.

For these reasons I'm waiting with bated breath to see whether the new top of the range phone from Philips pans out. The 820, which I haven't yet had a chance to see and use, is a good looker with a 256-colour screen. Philips says it can receive and send JPG images by email.

It weighs 85g and measures 98x47x21mm, with a volume of 77cc. Philips claims up to five and a half hours talktime or 400 hours on standby; pretty ambitious sounding stats. The reality is likely to be very different, as with any colour screen phone.

The 112x112 pixel screen is well adapted to games playing but Philips only mentions a 'colour bricks game', which could be almost anything from this description. This time last year, Philips had big plans to introduce phones with downloadable games and extra downloadable skill levels, in conjunction with a company called InFusio, but that fizzled out. The time for downloadable games has really arrived now, and it would be a big plus if Philips could get its act together and produce a web site that really kicked ass. At the time of writing, there's no reference to anything of the kind on the main Philips web site, only a brick game demo. However, Philips says the 820 will feature downloadable games. It remains to be seen where they will be downloaded from.

Orange surprise

The 820 is due to be coming out first on Orange, a surprising turn of events, as Orange customers on the What Mobile chat forums routinely moan that they can't get new phones quickly enough. This will pose an interesting problem what colour casing will Orange opt for? The perpetual 'juicy blue' would look pretty weird in conjunction with a 256-colour display.

As befits a mobile the can deal with JPGs, it includes Bluetooth and GPRS. GPRS is Class 10, the top gear available, although this is not provided commercially as yet by any networks. It means the phone can handle a maximum of four receive slots or two send.

The display can be entirely filled with a 'wallpaper' pic of the user's choice. The standard 820 package comes with 'Image Companion' image editing PC software.
The phone uses a carousel interface that we've seen already on the Xenium and in a style we're increasingly seeing elsewhere. It's pretty similar to the hugely popular Ericsson T68. This has fewer menu icons, which are larger than the T68s.

The generous navigation system may end up being widely copied. Unlike the Ericsson T68, whose menu navigation centres on a tiny joystick immediately below the screen and above the keypad, the 820 navigation button actually takes in the keypad, so that the joystick becomes one with the 2, 4, 5, 6 and 8 keys.

Directly below the keypad lies a raised surround which itself is divided up into five keysleft and right hand softkeys, one in the middle that is presumably a select button, and arranged around this like a jigsaw are a clear button and menu key.

It's good to see a big open menu navigation system of this kind, as people prefer different things, and to do everything through a single button can be very restrictive and bad for the hands. Having said that, it will be interesting to see how a working model actually feels in use. All the buttons look slightly too flat for comfort, including the central 5 key which appears to operate the joystick. It's very straining for the thumb to press something sideways which isn't raised enough to give a good grip, something I feel the Alcatel phones in particular suffer from and to some extent the Ericsson T68.

There's also a lot to talk about what's inside the phone. It has a pop3 email and SMTP client which can deal with small attachments (as in 20K JPGs or ring tones, rather than Word documents, we assume). WAP
uses the most recent standard, 1.2.1.

Philips is announcing Bluetooth accessories including a headset. This means you'll be able to talk on the headset while the phone is in a pocket or bag, or use a laptop with a Bluetooth card in it to link up to the phone for online services. The speedy Class 10 GPRS should make it an excellent model for connecting to a laptop and downloading email or sending out attachments.

The phone can also be synchronised with a PC using software provided in the standard package, so that you can update your diary and contacts. It's compatible with Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes and Lotus Organiser. This should be particularly useful for contacts, as you can store a fair wedge of information about someone in the phonebook: five numbers, an email address and a text note.

The phonebook can also be accessed via voice dialling. Voice commands can be used for other features too, by saving a recorded tag to summon up a particular menu section. There is also a voice memo feature. Users can choose how much memory to allocate to different functions such as voice dialling tags, downloaded ringtones and games, which means you could save a whopping 40 voice tags. No details were available at time of going to press about the equivalent maximum number of games or ringtones.

Philips also continues to lead the voice activation field with the Fisio 820 offering up to 40 Voice Command or Voice Dial features. These make the handset both easier and safer to use. Just by speaking, a user can make a call or activate a phone function. Voice Record and Message functions allow users to record conversations or voice memos up to a total of 30 seconds.

The organiser feature sounds pretty standard to do list, appointments and repeated events are covered. Text messaging should be easy as the phone uses T9 predictive text and the large screen can show almost a whole text message at once, claims Philips.

Size matters

The only problem we've seen in the past with this is the necessity for very small characters, tinier than the eye can comfortably read. The computer programmer's slide rule says that 5x8 pixels is the smallest you can make a character. (Nokia has got round this by making fonts self-sizing.) Making a wild calculation based on the dimensions of the screen, it looks as though the 820 allows 6.5x10 or so pixels per text character, which should be fairly easy to read. It doesn't however, appear to have self-sizing fonts.

Philips announced last year that it was moving its mobile phone manufacturing to China, in common with others who have found European factories too pricey a proposition. This looks at first like a negative move, but companies that do so may benefit in the long run for more than cost-cutting reasons. The gradual move to 3G will shift the mobile world's centre of gravity towards the Far East and away from Europe. It would certainly be great to see Philips back in full strength in the mobile world and the 820 is a positive move in that direction.

Watch this space for a full review of the 820 and other handsets in the new Philips range.

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