T-Mobile Pulse Mini
Google goodness for under a ton
Review 'Smartphones For All' is the thrust of T-Mobile's latest marketing campaign, and destined for the sharp end of its crusade to get the pay-as-you-go brigade on board is the Pulse Mini, a fully functioning Android handset with a PAYG price tag of under a ton.
T-Mobile's Mini: second in the Pulse canon
Like its big brother, the Pulse, the Mini is made by the Chinese manufacturer Huawei and looks like it was designed by someone with an HTC Tattoo - reviewed here - on their desk. The two handsets look remarkably alike, and the Mini is virtually the same size and weight as the Tattoo, though it's considerably smaller and lighter than the full sized Pulse.
The resemblance to the Tattoo could just be form following function since the rounded body is very pocketable and sits snugly in the hand. As you might expect with a budget handset, everything is plastic, with the ridge around the bottom of the screen bezel looking very cheap. But it's still a well made, solid bit of kit.
Cheap the Mini may be but it still comes with all the modern smartphone trimmings: Wi-Fi, 3.6Mb/s HSDPA 3G, GPS, A2DP wireless stereo Bluetooth, an FM radio and a 3.2Mp camera. More interestingly, for a bargain handset it runs Android 2.1, the latest iteration of the OS, complete with funky animated wallpapers.
Not an impressive camera
Inside the Mini lurks a Qualcomm MSM7225 processor running at 528MHz with 256MB of RAM and 512MB of Flash storage. The Mini has a Micro SD slot good for cards of up to 32GB capacity, though T-Mobile only chucks in a 2GB example.
While the specification is on a par with all but the latest top-flight 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered Android handsets, the Mini runs a little on the slow side. Long menus scroll at a pace best described as leisurely. It's never intolerably tardy while going about its business even with multiple apps running, but it's no iPhone either.
All white on the night
The only physical controls on the face are the call answer/end buttons and the central navpad. The standard Android Menu, Home and Back buttons form part of the touch-sensitive screen. The navpad, with its circular click-button surround, lets you navigate easily about the screen without getting your fingers in the way which is handy when looking at web pages shrunk to fit the 2.8in, 240 x 320 display.
Doubly so, since the touchscreen is resistive rather than capacitive. Screen swipes and taps were recognized with reasonable accuracy and consistency, but you do need to be more careful and more deliberate than with capacitive touch screens.
It's not as colourful or crisp as the latest OLED displays fitted to the likes of HTC's Desire and Legend, and the viewing angle could be more robust, but watching a full episode of Doctor Who via BeebPlayer was actually quite pleasant.
Despite the small resistive screen and the rather uninspired design of the virtual Qwerty keyboard, the Mini proved easy to use without once having to wield the stylus.
The virtual Qwerty layout is uninspired
The full keyboard works better in landscape, and the display quickly flips over when the phone is turned into its side. If you do find the full keyboard too small, you can chose from two alternative key pads with either two or three letters per key and an efficient predictive text system.
As an antidote to its rather diminutive size the Mini supports 15 home screen panels. As well as the usual five or seven arrayed left to right, the rest of the 5 x 3 grid can be accessed by swiping up and down.
If you get lost among all those screens, you can tap the centre of the navpad or one of the on-screen menu buttons and the main view zooms out to show all 15 letting you to move directly from one to another. Fifteen is frankly overkill for shortcuts - you could site 240 of the things - but it does let you deploy a useful number of full-page widgets.
More home screens than you can shake a stick at aside, the Mini runs Android as nature intended so you don't get any of the extras that HTC offers in its Sense overlay and nor do you get anything in the way of social network aggregation as you do with Motorola's Motoblur.
You get 15 home screens, no less, all accessible from an expanded view
That said, Android in the nude is still a looker and alongside the basics you have access to all the apps in the Android Marketplace.
On board, you have free turn-by-turn satnav thanks to Google Maps' latest update, which is not to be sniffed at. Yes, route planning and on a 2.8in screen is far from ideal, and the system is a bit crude, but it got me to an obscure part of Bolton in good order.
Turn-by-turn satnav is built into the Mini
At 3.2Mp with auto-focus and an LED light, the camera spec isn't bad on paper but in the real world things are pretty grim. Colour saturation and light balance are both poor and definition goes over a cliff edge at the edges of the image. Shutter response time is abysmal too leading to many a blurry shot. Nor did the autofocus system impress. As the test shots demonstrate, it suffices for impromptu snaps but little else.
The small screen makes web browsing a bit of a strain too and you don't get pinch-to-zoom, though that isn't quite the end of the world failing some would claim. If the Android browser doesn't suite you can snag Opera Mini from the market which goes about its business rather more briskly.
The removable 1150mAh capacity battery is reasonable for a phone with Wi-Fi and GPS but if you use either regularly you will need to recharge often. Use them sparingly, though, and keep the Mini hooked up to the network via 2G rather than 3 and two days between charges is easily achievable.
I had no complaints about wireless reception or call quality which were neither remarkably good nor remarkably bad though the speaker sounded rather tinny and hollow.
For those of you who like the phone but not the telco, my review handset arrived unlocked but as it lacked the T-Mobile branded battery cover and 2GB MicroSD card I wouldn't want to guarantee that retail handsets will be the same. And don't forget that Vodafone will soon announce the full details and price of its own 2.8" budget Android 2.1 phone, the 845.
At the bargain price of £100, the Pulse Mini gives you the bells and whistles and the very latest version of Android, all wrapped up in small, light and robust little package. For a hundred quid, I'm almost tempted to buy one myself despite the laggardly performance and poor camera. ®
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