The INQ Cloud Q resembles the gregarious love child of a BlackBerry and an Android smart phone. It combines a full Qwerty keyboard with the Android 2.2 Froyo operating system, and offers a sprinkling of social-networking skills too. We reckon its innovative Facebook widgets and access to the Spotify music player could give it the edge over other budget Android smart phones.
We expect the Cloud Q to be available in late summer from various networks and Carphone Warehouse. It will be free from £20 per month.
The Cloud Q's keys don't have the ergonomic curve of a BlackBerry keyboard, but we didn't find them hard to use. They're back-lit so you can see them on a dark and stormy night, and they seemed satisfyingly responsive to our speedy typing.
Its rounded plastic case means the Cloud Q resembles a kid's toy, but it's comfortable to hold. It's not bad-looking for the price either.
The Cloud Q has a 2.6-inch touchscreen, but you don't have to tap it to open an app before you can start typing. Instead, you can type first and then select whether you want to send the text in a message, perform a search, or update your Facebook status. It's a feature we learned to love on the Palm Pre, although it can take a while to get used to typing first and asking questions later.
Face the future
INQ has stuffed the Cloud Q with Facebook features. Combined with the Qwerty keyboard, they almost make this the fabled Facebook phone.
The central home screen is, by default, filled to bursting point with Facebook widgets, offering shortcuts to Facebook features and a stream of your mates' updates. Along the left-hand side of the screen, there's even a scrolling bar of icons that lets you access everything from Facebook Chat to Places.
After logging into your Facebook account for the first time when you start the phone, some of the widgets are automatically populated with your five most-contacted friends, as determined by Facebook's own social graph data. That makes it easy to contact them quickly.
If you're not a Facebook fanatic, you can remove all of these widgets from the home screen. If you keep the Facebook widgets, you'll find there's plenty of room for more Android widgets on the four other home screens. The phone comes with a bunch of widgets and apps pre-installed, and you can download heaps more from the Android Market.
INQ told us that, as a result of its widgets' tight integration with Facebook's API, new Facebook features will automatically appear on the phone. That means you won't have to wait for a software update.
Instead of the default Android music player, the Cloud Q uses a Spotify app. If you have a subscription to Spotify Premium, you can stream infinite amounts of music straight to the phone. But, unlike the app on the iPhone, the app still works as a music player even if you don't shell out a penny. You can sync the app with your desktop version of Spotify to get your computer's MP3 collection onto the phone.
The big advantage of the app is that the music library on your phone syncs automatically over Wi-Fi with your home computer when you're on the same wireless network. That's handy if you have a big collection of music. If you get bored of the music that's filling up your phone's memory card, you can change the mix by selecting different playlists for syncing next time you're at home.
If this all sounds way too complicated, there's an escape hatch -- you can switch back to the standard Android music app. You could also download an alternative music player from the Android Market.
Just because the Cloud Q has a Facebook and Spotify focus doesn't mean you have to forgo other social networks and services. Android 2.2 has a great Web browser that even supports Flash, so the entire Interwebs should be at your fingertips. There are apps for every major service in the Android Market too, from Yahoo Messenger to Vkontakte, and many of them are free.
INQ has also added an innovative Wi-Fi feature to help you stay connected, without exhausting your data allowance or your battery. When you sign into a Wi-Fi hotspot, the phone saves the GPS location. When you leave, the Wi-Fi connection switches off automatically, until you wander into the next location that's saved on your phone. INQ told us that leaving GPS on and turning Wi-Fi off can save up to 15 per cent of the phone's battery life.
You can turn on the Wi-Fi manually to connect to a new hotspot, and that location will get saved too. There's also a worldwide database of free hotspots, so, if you approach one of them, the Wi-Fi connection will wake up automatically there too. Every INQ phone user's hotspot discoveries get fed back into the database, which means it should grow rapidly.
Since Wi-Fi switches off automatically, INQ has tried to make it easy to access the phone's connectivity controls quickly. A button on the upper-left-hand side of the phone launches an information page, on which you'll find shortcuts to settings like Wi-Fi, and a dashboard that displays data about the phone's battery life and other details.
Like its touchscreen sibling, the Cloud Touch, the INQ Cloud Q is a social butterfly with a Facebook addiction and a Spotify craving. It's not the prettiest phone we've seen, but its low price, innovative features and powerful Android software mean we're looking forward to giving it a full review.
Edited by Charles Kloet