NEC 338 3G mobile phone

3G without the glitz?

Review When 3G service 3 in the UK a couple of years ago, it was heralded as a huge step forward in mobile technology. However, the phones were bulky, unattractive, difficult to use and tended to have battery life that was shorter than the attention span of an MTV junkie, writes Benny Har-Even.

As you might expect, handsets have got better. Just look at the Sony Ericsson V800, available exclusively on Vodafone. However, while this is an all-singing, all-dancing showcase for the latest technology, it's also a £200 device. With the 338, NEC has taken a different approach. The 338 is truly unremarkable to look at, but that's the point. By taking a no-frills approach, NEC has created a 3G phone for the masses. At first glance, you'd have a hard time guessing that it was a 3G phone, which is itself an achievement. The only clue is the rotateable camera built into the hinge. And at only 9.4 x 4.7 x 2.3cm, the 338 is the smallest 3G phone currently available. NEC has been a bit cheeky, however, as the height doesn't include the aerial, which adds another couple of centimetres. The handset weighs 114g.

NEC 338 3G phoneThe main body is split into two with a silver fascia with black plastic towards the top. The sections are separated by a small horizontal light set in a strip that flashes when there's an incoming call, and glows when charging. There's no external display, a feature that's clearly a casualty of the cost-cutting approach. This means that you have to open the phone if you want to see who's calling.

To create such a small phone, NEC has had to be ruthless with the feature set. There's no Bluetooth, which means that you can't enjoy the freedom of a wireless headset. There is a wired headset included in the box, however, which is rather retro. There's no memory card expansion slots. Luckily, there's a decent 17MB of memory built-in so you can get a fair amount of content on there. There's also a USB cable so you can synchronise with Outlook, and transfer the clips that you've downloaded and paid for off the phone to keep. However, it's only available as a £10 optional accessory.

The 338 is currently available in the UK exclusively on 3 on both pre-paid and monthly contract. As well as UMTS, it supports GSM 900, 1800 and 1900, so can be used across Europe and in the US. When it finds itself out of a 3G area the phone will automatically switch to GSM, and supports GPRS where available. Battery life if obviously dependant on signal strength in the area you're in and the use to which you put the phone.

I have to admit that this is the first 3G phone I've used for any length of time and by all reports the battery life on the 338 is an improvement over earlier models. Nevertheless I quickly became aware that the phone needed feeding considerably more often than my own Sony Ericsson T630. The figures speak for themselves. On my T630 it's 540 minutes talk-time and 116 for standby - on the NEC 338 it's only 200 minutes talk-time and 300 for standby. This is also a full third less than the Sony Ericsson V800, which claims a talk-time of ten hours/600 minutes. If you're going to put the phone to any serious use during the day, with a heavy mixture of voice and video calls, and some video downloads, you're going to have to charge it every evening.

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