September 16, 2009

Toshiba TG01 Review

Toshiba doesn't release many handsets each year, but we're really beginning to wish that they'd stop using Windows Mobile on them all

The latest smartphone from Toshiba is nothing if not eye-catching. It’s very thin – just under 1cm from front to back – and has a huge, 4.1-inch screen. It's unmissable from front-on.


It has an exceptionally fast processor inside (Qualcomm's Snapdragon) at its heart, running at 1GHz, to make it fast-thinking, too. But are those things enough for it to find a (large-but-flat) place in your pocket? If you thought the Samsung I8910 HD was big, with its 3.7-inch screen, you'll still need bigger pockets still for this baby.

Although the size and slimness are delightful, the screen is something of a let-down, I’m afraid. Resistive screens – the particular touchscreen technology on the Toshiba – have the advantage of being usable with a stylus or through thick gloves (as they’re pressure-sensitive), but the mesh of sensors blur the clarity of the screen and mean the screen will never be as good as the capacitive type used on the iPhone, or the Samsung I8910 HD.

The resolution is good, but not exceptional, which is a fair description of the screen, too. Video playback was the high point, but though it was crisp and colourful, it still wasn’t outstanding.

This phone uses Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, but you'll be able to upgrade it to the 6.5 version, known as Windows Phone, when it becomes available later in the year.

It's no wonder the screen is resistive: Windows Mobile doesn’t support capacitive screens yet, so you’ll need the supplied stylus when you get down to the Windows menus and their fiddly little dialogues. This is a real shame in our post-iPhone consciousness, where touchscreens need to work with nothing more than your fingers.

Cover up

Anyway, first, it’s Toshiba’s distinctive Windows overlay that drew my attention. Like HTC, which made a virtue of its improved front-end so you could conceivably not come across the Windows Mobile menus for ages, Toshiba has its own look.

Three vertical stripes adorn the screen. Swipe your finger across and the stripes rotate like Venetian blinds to show three more stripes in their place, with different colours and different functions. Despite the immense speed of the Snapdragon processor, the menu responsiveness was still sluggish – something which characterised pretty much every part of the phone.

Like the accelerometer, for instance. Instead of the neat animations offered by the iPhone or Android handsets, the screen simply goes black. Once it has decided you want your screen in landscape format it takes some time to actually change.

The screen is not the only thing that is slow. It is unresponsive because you need to push hard, even jab it, to get it to react. And fingers were just too big to work (despite the huge screen area). I can’t blame Toshiba for this, and its overlaying interface was neat-looking, but the frustratingly slow response and a generally incompetent nature of Windows Mobile is not a pretty combination.

The screen locks quickly when the phone is idle, which is good. And the information part of the home screen, showing how many messages, emails and phone calls you’ve received, is handy. And since the Windows icon rests top left on the main screen, it’s easy to find your way around with the usual menus if you wish, which for many people will be a useful and familiar alternative.

Chrome finish

Underneath the screen are three touch-sensitive chrome icons. One takes you to the home screen, one is a back button and the third is a horizontal stripe. This has several functions, including zooming in some situations, but at no point did I find this particularly useful. I'd much rather a multi-touch style pinch/pull for zooming.

The 3.2-megapixel camera was straightforward enough to use, although launching it took an age (what would it be like without the speedy processor?). The notable shutter lag was disappointing, while the lack of a flash limited the photographic options – a let down for a multimedia focused device.

At least there’s a front-facing camera, to facilitate those video calls we all make all the time. What’s that you say, you don’t?

Audiophiles will note the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack, though the phone’s slim profile would have made it a difficult addition to include. The GPS, backed by Orange Maps, was effective, though not powerful enough to replace a dedicated application like CoPilot or TomTom.

Data access on the whole was fast, not least thanks to the inclusion of Wi-Fi and both HSDPA and HSUPA for faster 3G downloading and uploading.

On the plus side, and boy does this phone need some plus points, it was easy to set up my email account by simply entering the account name and password, then choosing how often to check for new mail. The phone also comes with the usual suite of Windows Mobile (sorry, Windows Phone) applications for any business customer that decides, for some reason, to shell out for this over a smaller HTC that is almost certainly going to offer a better overall user experience.

If there's one thing that I can also draw from the TG01, it's that Toshiba can build the hardware but really need to move on from being shackled to Windows. If they could use the same hardware, but throw in Android and a capacitive display instead, they'd be unstoppable!



VERDICT

The screen is great, but how much better it would have been if it used the same technology as the iPhone. Toshiba’s interface is fun, though surprisingly slow given the speedy Snapdragon processor. The camera’s not bad and the screen playback of photos and videos is decent. But, this is a Windows Mobile phone and so it has a cumbersome, awkward operating system that many will find overwhelmingly frustrating. V6.5 is on the way, but you may want to wait for this before leaping aboard with Toshiba’s cool-looking hardware, let down by software.


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