Toshiba Portege G810

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INTRODUCTION

    On 24 June 2008, Spb Software House, a well-respected company in the Windows Mobile software world, released a press release stating that the upcoming Toshiba Portege G810 would be the result of a collaboration between Toshiba and Spb Software House to deliver "the ultimate mobile device experience." I applaud both companies for taking a new approach to delivering a Windows Mobile device, one that we have yet to see. But does it make sense? Or is this just Toshiba hardware with some Spb software thrown on top? We’ve got the answer in this review. Read on for more!

WHAT’S HOT

    The G810 is no slouch in the specs department. It sports the same Qualcomm MSM7200 processor as the i-mate Ultimate 9502 and HTC TyTN II, running at 400MHz. It has 256MB ROM, 128MB RAM, and has a microSD/HC expansion slot for added memory. The screen is 2.8" and is unfortunately only QVGA resolution. It’s a quadband GSM (850/900/1800/1900) phone with triband UMTS (850/1900/2100) with HSDPA/HSUPA. That said, it works fine in the US on AT&T or T-Mobile. It also has assisted GPS, WiFi b & g, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, USB 2.0, and FM radio. The rear camera is 3MP with auto focus and LED fill light, and the front camera for video calls is VGA resolution. Powering all of this is a 1530mAh battery. For even more specs, check out PDAdb.net.

    To start, this is the main screen you’ll be looking at once the G810 configures itself. It’s called the "Now" screen, and what we are seeing is a custom skin made for the G810. I like it a lot. It allows for quick access to messaging (direct links to email and SMS). It also shows the time and date, gives me a glimpse into my calendar, shows me the weather for today, and lets me quickly silence the ringer. Along the bottom, we have four buttons. The one on the right closes the Now screen and goes back to your Today screen, or the last program you were running. The entire Mobile Shell Now screen is very finger-friendly.

Speaking of SMS, Windows Mobile 6.1 adds threaded text messaging. Nice.

    The second button is for programs, which you can customize via the Mobile Shell settings. Along the top we can quickly change screen brightness, access the connections manager, flip the orientation of the screen, and lock the device. Tapping on one of the six program tiles brings up a secondary panel…

…like this one, if we choose the Internet panel. I like the large, finger-friendly size of the buttons.

And while we’re on the internet, let me interject with a new change to PIE. It WinMo 6.1, you can now zoom out…

…which can be helpful when trying to view a long or wide webpage. PIE still falls short in terms of web page rendering compared to Opera 9.5 or Safari on the iPhone.

    And going over the the third button, we have a quick and easy way to dial our favorite people. If you have a picture associated with a contact, it will show here instead of the name. Adding a contact is as easy as tapping a + button.

When looking up a contact to add to this screen, you are presented with a T9 pad instead of the Windows Mobile contact list, making it easy to find a contact.

    Or, if you select someone’s name or picture, you’ll get this Spb contact card. Very nice. If there’s a picture associated with a contact, you’ll see it in the upper left corner. From here, you can send a text message, or dial any numbers.

Mobile Shell also includes a nice-looking calling screen that differs from the Windows Mobile default.

Here’s a video that shows some of the animations that can be found in Mobile Shell. I also showcase the great flick-scrolling added by Pocket Plus.

    If you don’t like using the Now screen, you can benefit from adding Pocket Plus tabs or the Mobile Shell plugin to your Today screen. Here I have the Mobile Shell plugin installed (top, with 5 buttons), plus the dedicated weather tab from Pocket Plus.

    And this is pretty cool. You can get to the Now screen by hitting the hardware Home button, or, you can drag your finger down from the top of the screen, and you can flip between the three main screens of the Now page by sliding your finger.

Ok, let’s take a look at programs. Here we have usual entries, but added is A-GPS for assisted GPS….

Which, when used properly, allows you to get a GPS fix in 10-15 seconds when using a program like Windows Live Search or Google Maps Mobile.

And we also have a program called BlackList that will allow you to block calls from anyone but those in your contacts or unknown callers. Could be helpful to those that like to screen calls.

Going down the screen we see some unique entries like FM Radio, Full Screen Keyboard, Getting Started, Image Editor, and Image to Text. We’ll go through those now.

You must have your headphones connected to the device to us FM radio. I found the reception to be only acceptable when outside.

    This keyboard is an Spb enhancement. Yuck. Not only does it cover the entire screen (hence the name, Full Screen Keyboard), but it’s not easy to use. It offers suggestions and does some word prediction, but the cumbersomeness of the keyboard kept me from spending much time with it. Toshiba should have included a program like TouchPal instead. All of the other on screen keyboards included on the device are default, and difficult to use with a finger. This leaves the user with no really good keyboard options on this device.

This little application, only found in WinMo 6.1, is the result of people complaining that Windows Mobile is too difficult to use. It’s the Getting Started screen which shows you how to do simple tasks like make a call, set up email, etc.

The image editor is weak. The buttons at the bottom are cryptic, and the extent of image editing isn’t much better than MS Paint.

Wee — I distorted the picture and added a peace sign from clip art. How useful (smirk).

    Pretty cool – the G810 has built in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) through the camera. It allows you to take a picture of a business card, have it converted to text, then saved as a contact. Or you can take a picture of a magazine or newspaper and save it as a Word document. I found the business card function to be poor (because it didn’t accurately decipher the text and correspond it to the right contact card fields), but for capturing other text…

    

…it works pretty darn well. If I were to take a picture of a paragraph in full and with better lighting, I think it would have converted it properly. Nice.

And moving to the bottom, scanning for unique entries, we have the Task Manager, which is new to Windows Mobile 6.1…

    …which is similar to the Windows task manager (in that it shows memory and CPU usage per task), but is much less detailed. For example, I don’t see my total memory usage, and how much memory I have left. Steve Jobs poked fun of this feature at his recent keynote at WWDC, citing that it was silly to have background processes use memory. But isn’t that how most computers operate? I know, we could argue all day whether a mobile phone should have background processes. We’ll save that for another time =D.


And we also have the Streaming Player. This allows you to get streaming video, like that from mobile YouTube (m.youtube.com). A very nice addition, considering that most WinMo devices get errors when accessing mobile YouTube.

Let’s take a peek in Settings. On the first tab, everything looks the same. But if we go into Today…

We see that we can choose from various Pocket Plus tabs for the Today screen. If you scroll to the top, you’ll see an entry for Mobile Shell, which I alluded to earlier.

In the second tab, we have a new entry called Headset Volume Limiter…

Which reduces the changes of you going deaf when rocking out to Freebird.

Did I mention that Mobile Shell is highly configurable? It is, which is great. Here are some settings for it…

You can adjust the animations of the gestures.

If you’re using the Today plugin from Mobile Shell, you can make the adjustments here.

And change the weather settings.

In the About screen, we see that we’re running WinMo 6.1 Professional.

And finally, if we flip over to Connections, we have the usual, plus Wireless Manager…

The Wireless Manager is also skinned by Mobile Shell. Very nice!

CAMERA

This is what the camera applications looks like. Really ugly, I know. The icons are difficult to decipher, the refresh rate isn’t great, and how about the quality of the pictures?

This picture came out beautifully. The colors are a little bit lacking, but the clarity is

fantastic

. Click image for original.

Wow. This came out very well too. Click image for original.

But with macros and anything requiring a more steady hand, results aren’t as good. Using the flash helps. Click image for original.

Click on to the next page as we wrap up the review, and come out with a final conclusion about the G810.

BENCHMARKS

   Spb Benchmark from has been used for the
following benchmark comparisons with the G810.

The G810’s performance is up there with the Touch Diamond and TyTN II. The device feels snappy.

BATTERY
    Never have I used a phone with such horrible battery life, despite the device having a relatively large 1530mAh battery. With halfway set screen brightness, a couple of GPS and internet sessions, and a few calls,

I couldn’t make it through the day on a full charge

. That’s unacceptable.

    Naturally, I thought that I was doing something wrong – perhaps there was a background process that was killing my battery life. The Windows Mobile 6.1 task manager revealed that besides ActiveSync, no other programs were running most of the time. The only third party application I installed was Windows Live Search – which I was sure to exit once finished, so that couldn’t be it.

    Granted, most of the time I was getting an HSDPA signal (the faster the data signal, the more power it consumes), which was activated by ActiveSync each time Exchange pushed email to my device, but even my AT&T Tilt, set up almost the same way (and with an HSDPA signal), doesn’t have this problem with battery life. My Tilt can go almost two days without a charge.

    So then, what’s going on? My guess is just poor battery optimization from Toshiba. HTC has gotten especially good at it, Motorola and Samsung are learning, but Toshiba, a company that hasn’t done much in the Windows Mobile hardware realm lately, needs to get it right. My guess is that in time, Toshiba will issue a ROM update that fixes the battery issue, and you will be able to scratch this bug off the list. But for now – they should wrap the G810 box in yellow "caution" tape.

HELP SUPPORT

    The user guide that comes with the G810 is quite comprehensive. There is an FAQ section of the Toshiba website that has additional info.

BUGS AND WISHES

    I already spoke about the terrible battery life above, so I won’t belabor that point.

    While the flush design is interesting, it presents some problems. First, to operate the buttons, you have to take your eyes off the screen and glance at the buttons, because you can’t feel for them. Second, the big piece of plastic on the facade of the device is very susceptible to scratches. A case or a screen protector could have helped, but none was included.

    Also, the device feels cheap. No metal or glass was used. Sure, plastic saves weight, but I much rather have a slighter heavier device that uses better quality materials.

    We always complain when the expansion slot is behind the battery. Well, Toshiba did it right by placing the slot on the outside of the device – but I fear that if I don’t put a card in, the slot will get filled with dust and pocket lint over time. This could cause the expansion slot to be inoperable. A simple dummy card could fix this issue.

    And finally, having all connections go through the miniUSB port is fine, but Toshiba could have made it easier to use your own headphones with it. HTC is now including a miniUSB (or ExtUSB in the case of HTC) to 3.5mm headphone converter so that you don’t have to buy one; Toshiba should do likewise.

PURCHASING

    The Toshiba Portege G810 can be had for $710.50 over at Negri Electronics. The phone is unlocked and will work with any GSM carrier in the US and in Europe.

    If you’re interested in buying the Spb software separately, you can grab Mobile Shell from our store for $29.95. A trial is available. And if you like the flick scrolling from Pocket Plus, it can be had for $29.95 as well.

PROS

  • Excellent Spb software included
  • Snappy performance
  • Fantastic camera
  • OCR software works well
  • aGPS/WiFi/HSDPA/HSUPA
  • Above-average speakerphone
  • Streaming media player works with mobile YouTube

CONS

  • Horrendous battery life
  • Hardware buttons are impossible to feel for
  • Stylus is cheap and oddly placed
  • All plastic casing
  • No good keyboard option included
  • Screen only QVGA
  • No case or screen protector included
  • No miniUSB to headphone adapter included
  • microSD slot is exposed
Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

What
do these ratings mean
?




OVERALL IMPRESSION

    I wish I could rate the hardware and software separately. The hardware isn’t great for the most part – it exhibits horrible battery life, poor design, and cheap construction. That’s a shame, because in terms of features and performance, this is a really solid device (it’s quick, has every wireless radio you could need, and has an amazing camera).

    At the end of the day, it’s the Spb software that makes this device fun and interesting to use, not the hardware. You may be asking: ok, can’t I just buy a cheaper device, slap Spb Mobile Shell and/or Pocket Plus on it, and have all the advantages you talked about, plus good battery life? Yes, noble reader, you can, and that’s what I suggest you do. If you like this form factor, you’re much better off with an HTC Touch or Touch Cruise. Throw some Spb software on it, and you’ve got a winner.

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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.