At a Glance
Kyocera Mita Switch_Back
Good looks and a bargain price don't compensate for this phone's mediocre keyboard and camera.
Kyocera's Switch_Back cell phone has a snappy look befitting a handset intended for the younger users most likely to appreciate the carrier's pay-as-you-go service pricing. Black with silvery touches and roughly the size and shape of an average desktop mouse, the shipping Switch_Back I tried fit comfortably in my hand for making voice calls. For text and instant messaging, you rotate it to landscape orientation and flip it open, clamshell style, to reveal another small but pleasing interior color screen and a QWERTY keyboard. At $130 (as of 9/8/06) from Virgin Mobile, it's not bad for the price.
Alas, the keyboard's width--it spans the height of the phone--belies its user-friendliness. Keys feel spongy and simply don't provide the tactile feedback for satisfactory touch or thumb typing.
Other irritants: Logging on to AOL Instant Messenger (the only IM service supported in my test unit) went smoothly, but the interface was awkward. To send a message, I had to press one button to bring up a menu and then another to select "send"--most handhelds get the job done with one button. In addition, the photos I snapped indoors with the built-in 0.3-megapixel camera suffered from poor exposure, though results were better outdoors.
The Switch_Back worked fine as a phone, offering adequate call quality. But in our lab tests of talk-time battery life, the unit was among the worst performers we've seen, lasting only slightly more than 4 hours (in fairness, the Switch_Back's specs promise only 3 hours of talk time).
Finally, Virgin Mobile's toll-free customer service number makes getting tech support unnecessarily complicated: There's no support option in any of the voice menus, nor is there an immediate option to speak to a human being (although once you do, they are trained to provide basic tech support). Overall, I found the Switch_Back's price to be its most attractive attribute--and insufficient compensation for its drawbacks.