By DickieAdams | August 27, 2007 12:00 AM
It seems that whenever a new PDA phone is about to be released, there are a few who grumble about the lack of a VGA (that’s 640×480) screen. Having worked with a VGA capable PDA for a few years, I have to say that I understand the complaint. While the resolution on the majority of PDAs is okay (at QVGA, which is 320×240), VGA is easier on the eyes, provides more viewable screen area, and looks fantastic. Windows Mobile 6 supports a maximum resolution of 800×480, or “wide” VGA. Toshiba is adding its name to the small list of manufacturer who have built a device with a WVGA screen with the release of the Portégé G900. Is this device a true prodigy? Or just a proof-of-concept for things to come? Read on for the review!
The G900 looks to be quite the device, what with a 520MHz Intel XSale processor, 128Mb of RAM and ROM (although only 40Mb of storage is available), 3″ WVGA screen (that’s a drool-worthy 800×480 pixels), fingerprint scanner, WiFi, Bluetooth, GSM, UMTS and HSDPA, 2 cameras (one 2MP one sub-VGA), slide-out keyboard, and lengthy talk time. Looking at the comparison chart, you can see that this unit is quite large too. For an even more detailed looks at specs, click here.
Weight (grams | ounces)
4.44″ x 2.47″ x 0.52″
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
(all images link to higher resolution)
First, let me say thanks to Mobile Planet (an eXpansys company) for their help in to get this unit in our hands so quickly for this review. The Toshiba box is small and relatively mute, design wise. Funny that the device matches so closely (hint).
Inside the box, along with the hardware, is a quick start guide, warranty and EULA card, software CDs, and a Toshiba support card.
Also included in the kit is a HUGE wall wart charger (with UK-US adapter), a USB sync cable, a USB host cable, a pair of very cheap headphones (you don’t want these in your ears, trust me) with a mini-headphone adapter. Sadly, I could not get the device to even accept a USB key using the host cable. Even with the battery fully charged, inserting this cable (without anything attached to it) would generate a low-power error message. Alas, this was the first of many oddities that seemed to plague this device. Toshiba recently released a patch to resolve a deep sleep issue, but it did not address other quirky software issues.
The face of the G900 is silver with back edging.
There is a series of four buttons plus the D-Pad at the bottom, a small browser button, LED, speaker, and sub-VGA camera at the top for videotelephony. You can also see in the images above that the plastic around the screen is angled slightly. This not only makes the screen look smaller, but also more difficult to tap the edges with one’s finger. The soft key buttons are placed very close to the Windows and OK buttons, and I constantly found myself accidentally closing an app when I wanted to use the soft key.
The expandable stylus fits firmly into its slot on the bottom of the device, but shakes and rattles as you move it about.
I personally prefer slide-out keyboards, and I really liked how the Toshiba G900 mechanism felt like it was spring loaded, snapping into place quickly and easily. Unfortunately, there were flaws in this area too. First, the soft keys are placed at an angle, thus making them more difficult to use. Second, the top row of keys are squashed up so close to the screen that my large thumbs often had troubles reaching them efficiently. The backlighting of the keys (white) was nice, but the user had no control over the delay (about 3 seconds). The keys themselves had a nice feel and good tactile response.
Using the keyboard for an extended period of time was rather uncomfortable. The whole of the device is very chunky and rife with hard angles, thus leaving noticeable marks into the pads of my hands. Compared to the HTC TyTn, it was like holding a brick.
On the left of the G900 is the miniSD port, and headphone jack. Each port on this device is hidden behind a nasty plastic cover. Sure, it keeps the dust out, but it’s only a matter of time before those covers break off and are lost, and the area beneath those ports looks even more poorly designed than the rest of the PDA. I also found it amusing that the unit had CDMA printed on this side, although it is not enabled or available.
Taking a close look at the top and bottom halves of the G900, we can see yet another odd design flaw: there is a large gap! And yes, if you held onto the top, it would wiggle around quite a bit more than it should, especially compared to other devices in this class.
On the right side is a camera button, the volume controls (with alternate hold capabilities, but no way to change the functionality by default), and the stylus port. A scroll wheel would have been very useful on this WVGA device, but there is none.
Moving to the bottom of the device, we find the USB port. Both power and data (and supposedly USB host) are provided here. Once again, I feel it’s important to point out the useless and troublesome plastic cover. In this case, it causes even more troubles if you are using a USB cable that didn’t come standard with the kit.
The 2MP camera is found on the back of the PDA phone along with the fingerprint scanner, which is cleverly hidden beneath the screen. More on those two bits later. You can use the fingerprint scanner as a d-pad of sorts, and even tap on it to launch applications.
Releasing from the top of the G900, the battery door takes some effort to remove. And when you reattach the cover, it doesn’t snap easily into place – one has to press down the sides too. Beneath the battery is the SIM slot, and just to the left of that slot is badly placed reset button. I’m not sure what engineers are thinking when they place a reset switch beneath a cover, so let me say it for the record: this is a Windows device, we are going to reset it, a lot, so don’t design the device this way! I was pleased with the battery life, especially compared to my aging Verizon XV6700. Others, however, have complained that it is too short. My though is, if I can make it through a normal day of talking and surfing, and still have battery life to spare, that’s a good thing. I charge my devices nightly, regardless of what the meter says.
The screen on the Toshiba G900 is outstanding. At least indoors, that is. Compared to other PDA phones, the difference is very noticeable. Problem is, if you take the unit outside, and there is any sunlight available, the screen is completely blown out, even when the backlight is set to full. That’s right folks, Toshiba didn’t use a transflective screen. In the example above (to the right), both the 8525 and the G900 are running full bright. While it is difficult to demonstrate, note that the Toshiba is completely unreadable.
Without a side by side comparison, it would be difficult to notice that the G900 screen is not only longer, but also thinner than other PDA phones.
The thickness of the device is comparable, but it is longer than most other units in its class.
The Toshiba G900 comes with Windows Mobile 6 Professional installed, so we won’t go into those settings, but instead briefly look at the software that is unique to the device. Noticeably missing is any sort of Voice Command software.
The Today screen looks fantastic in WVGA (click for the full size version). The fonts are easy to read, and the brightness level is outstanding (again, indoors only). The odd thing is, Toshiba didn’t seem to include enough of a GPU to handle all those lovely pixels. The screen refresh rate was abysmal, and the video capabilities were poor (choppy image and sound). When flipping from portrait to landscape, there was a noticeable delay, especially compared to, say, the AT&T 8525.
Settings include Fingerprint, Video Call, USB storage. USB storage allows you to turn the G900 into a card reader of sorts, directly accessing the storage card via USB, and disabling syncing in the process. The transfer speeds using this configuration are extremely slow, so you are still better off using an adapter when copying large files. It is important to note that while there is a Fingerprint scanner, there isn’t any fingerprint security software.
Toshiba installed applications include FingerLauncher, GoldKey (for unlocking your PC), Opera, Picsel Viewer, Teleport (for controlling your PC), and TIPtalk.
Back to the fingerprint scanner. The FingerLauncher initially seemed like a great application, until one realized that it doesn’t work unless the application is in the foreground. Which means you have to launch one application, to swipe your finger, so you can launch your intended applications. Add in the fact that there isn’t a security application (installed by default) for the fingerprint scanner (which means you can’t lock and unlock the device using biometrics), and this interesting bit of hardware quickly becomes a novelty.
TIPtalk is a VOIP (voice over IP) application that looks quite a bit like Skype. Speaking of Skype, there have been a lot of complaints about the inability to install said software on the G900.
Opera is a noticeable improvement over Internet Explorer Mobile, although both look very nice on the VGA screen.
The camera software, if you have seen Toshiba’s other devices, hasn’t really changed much. Since there is a new front camera, you now have the option to switch to that view.
Camera settings are somewhat basic, and the results demonstrate this.
Images taken with the front camera were grainy but usable. Not much worse than any other camera phone.
The rear 2 Megapixel camera was a disappointment. The “flash” nothing more than a very bright white LED that had a tendency to blow out all the highlights (left example), and without the flash enabled, just about any amount of light would cause flaring. Even more if you neglected to wipe off any grease and fingerprints. I couldn’t get the camera to take a clear picture of any smallish sized text I put in front of it.
Outside shots were also rather poor. It just goes to show that no amount of Megapixel capability can make up for a poor lens. My ancient 1.3MP Sony takes far superior shots.
So it should come as no surprise that the video quality wasn’t very good either.
The device was responsive when using the onscreen phone keypad, which was refreshing. While the reception seemed to be good, the call volume was often times very low. The speakerphone wasn’t much better, although it was louder than my Verizon XV6700. If you know someone with a video phone, you can also make video calls from the G900.
The phone settings were relatively standard. The only lacking functionality was, as I mentioned before, any sort of voice command software (installed by default).
XT9, a predictive text method, is the default input choice (and one that was seemingly impossible to disable). I found this to be generally annoying as I am a touch typist, and since the camera button is so close to the onscreen keyboard area, if I attempt to type for long periods, I would accidentally launch the camera software.
from Spb Software House has not been updated for use with Windows Mobile 5.0 or 6, which include many changes for increased performance and battery life (as well as a different way of working with storage memory). For that reason, we can only compare Windows Mobile 5.0/6 devices to other Windows Mobile 5.0/6 devices. As you can see from the graphs below, the Toshiba G900 performs better than other Windows Mobile 6 devices we’ve recently covered, except in the Graphics tests. My video tests also confirmed this, for while I could run video without any issue on an X51v or ATT 8525, the G900 had numerous screen glitches and often times would not even display the video at all (even though sound could be heard).
BUGS AND WISHES
Truthfully, I’m not sure where to begin. My suggestion would be to take back the units and start over with a case that doesn’t have sharp edges, doesn’t need the battery cover removed to reset the device (or if it still does, then at least has a battery door that fits the first time), and actually looks like something you paid (a lot of) good money for. I would drop all the fancy covers (they won’t take long to break or lose anyway), and move the USB port closer to the center. This device also needs a scroll wheel, the ability to use the Fingerprint Launcher at any time (not just when its in the foreground), and a transflective screen. I could go on for pages, but for the sake of my time and yours, let’s just go back and say Toshiba could use a redo with the G900.
You can purchase Toshiba’s Portégé G900 from our friends at Mobile Planet for $784.95 (including a UK-US power adapter and a 1GB memory card).
- High resolution WVGA screen
- Great battery life
- Biometric security
- Sharp edges
- Build quality doesn’t match premium price
- Quirky software behavior
- Low call volume
- Squashed keyboard feel
I’ve personally been hoping for a VGA-enabed PDA phone for quite some time. Alas, the G900, while decent, just doesn’t live up to my expectations. The quirky behavior (even with the recent patch), lackluster design, and sharp edges really quickly outshone any highlights that I came across. It’s not a bad phone, just not a good phone, and probably wouldn’t be a unit I would readily recommend unless you really wanted fingerprint security on a WVGA device. Hopefully, Toshiba will take this unit back to the drawing board and bring back a really great unit. But until then, the WVGA dream will have to stay just that, a dream.