At a Glance
This bulky handset offers built-in Wi-Fi, so you can browse the Web and send e-mail and instant messages quickly and easily.
After using the SDA (aka Smart Digital Assistant), I've warmed to the idea of Microsoft Windows Mobile-based handsets. This standard cell phone's solid Wi-Fi capability, good call quality, 1.3-megapixel camera, and long battery life impressed me. And it was relatively easy to use, too, though the operating system did have a few quirks, such as being unable to close an application or verify whether it has closed.
The app-closing problem is not specific to this $300 T-mobile phone (as of April 7, 2006, with a one year agreement). It exists because the Windows Mobile platform doesn't include exit or sign-out options for many applications, I accessed my Hotmail and Outlook e-mail without much ado, but I couldn't figure out how to close the Hotmail app--I could only minimize it. And the first time I retrieved e-mail, the download process was slow on the phone's GPRS/EDGE connection. Instant messaging was faster, though you have to deal with using T9 text recognition or the alphanumeric keys, which can be grueling. The phone comes with AIM, ICQ, MSN, and Yahoo IM clients preinstalled.
The SDA offers some nice tools for managing day-to-day tasks, appointments, and contacts. You can sync e-mail, contacts, and appointments with your desktop PC, too, through the installed ActiveSync software and the bundled USB cable.
The SDA is loaded with dedicated keys for accessing the T-Mobile home page, media player (with buttons for rewind, play/pause, and forward), and home screen. It has a jog dial in the center; but some keys (like the home and back buttons) are small and a bit crammed together. This was most likely a necessity brought on by the roomy screen and the phone's relatively compact size.
On the sides of this candybar-style handset, you'll find a dedicated camera button, a volume control, and a button for the communication manager that handles the phone's connection options. I wish that T-Mobile had labeled the communication manager key, but it worked great: You can select phone, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or sync mode.
The Wi-Fi setup was a breeze. After selecting the Wi-Fi option, I chose a wireless network to link to and entered the appropriate security settings--and I was done. True to its T-Mobile roots, the SDA can check for available T-Mobile HotSpots. But in the T-Mobile HotSpot log-in page (and in a couple of other apps), the back arrow button below the screen doesn't work for going back to the previous page. To exit the log-in page, I had to select one of the hotkey options (such as OK), press the home button beneath the screen, or press the phone end button.
You needn't worry too much about running out of juice. The SDA lasted for the full 10 hours of talk time that we measured in our lab tests, without failing. And conversations sounded clear on both ends.
Not up for a chat? Then enjoy listening to tunes that you've downloaded to the phone or stored on the optional MiniSD card. Caveat: The expansion card slot is located beneath the battery, so you have to open the case and remove the battery to insert or remove a memory card.
My 1280-by-1024-resolution snapshots looked pretty good, and video was passable, though the volume level was too low. You get some helpful photo tricks, too: Before taking a picture, you can adjust settings such as brightness, gamma, hue, and saturation, and you can apply effects such as grayscale and sepia. I liked the post-capture processing options, including rotating an image and renaming a file via the Save As option.
The SDA's well-rounded capabilities and lengthy battery life justify its slightly above-average price.