NEC's clamshell 338 is small and neat -- NEC is billing it as the smallest, lightest 3G handset available in Europe. It is so petite, in fact, that at first you might not think it's a 3G phone at all. The small size of this handset is one of its main attractions, and it may well appeal if some of the larger ones don't look too pocket friendly.
The NEC 338 is something of a budget model and is available on 3 ThreePay and Pay Monthly, from £0 to £69.99. At this kind of price you might not expect it to pack the full range of features, and you'd be right. If you are especially keen on a 3G handset because of its video-calling capability, you might want to look elsewhere.
When we say small, we really do mean it. The official measurements put the NEC 338 at just 93.8 by 47.1 by 23.3mm and consequently it is very light at 113g. We have to point out though that the official measurements don't quite tell the whole story. 93.8 mm is the height of the NEC 338 before you take into account its external antenna which adds 22 mm to the overall height.
There's a certain minimalism to this handset. It lacks a front screen, though a small light flashes to alert you to incoming calls. There is just one camera which doubles for video calling and shooting stills and video. You swivel it to face you or face away as required. There are no side mounted buttons -- just a connector for the headset and another for mains power. The camera is launched with a SoftKey, and depending on what you happen to be doing at the time is not always instantly available.
When you open the clamshell you are greeted by a relatively small 51mm (2-inch) screen, which is capable of 65k colours. The keypad area is a little cramped. The number pad is quite small, and above it are the equally small Call, Cancel, and End keys. These are surmounted by a four-way navigator with a selection button at its centre, and four small round buttons. Two are softkeys, one is the Triangle key which takes you to 3's services and one the Menu key which provides access to all the on-board software. Finally, a lozenge-shaped Options key provides access to a menu relevant to the software you are using at the time.
The battery is removable and your SIM card sits underneath it. General build quality is good, though our review unit showed a little bit of sideways movement on the clamshell hinge which could be a worry if also found in retail handsets. As well as the phone itself, the box contains a printed manual, 3's usual user guide material and SIM, a mains power charger, and an earpiece.
The NEC 338 has a good range of features on offer, though some compromises have been made to help keep the handset's cost down. You can, for example, play MP3, WMA and AAC music, and while doing so get to look at a Saturday Night Fever type chappie doing Stayin' Alive on the phone's screen, which is naff enough to be funny for a short while.
Getting music on to the handset might prompt a question or two. You can connect the NEC 338 to a PC and share data that way, but neither the required software nor the USB cable are provided as standard -- you'll have to buy these as accessories, and they come bundled together for the princely sum of £29.99. Bluetooth is not on board either, so a wireless connection is not an option. So out of the box it's downloads or nothing, then.
The lack of PC connectivity in the box and absence of Bluetooth could be problematic in other ways. You can use the NEC 338 as a modem with a laptop -- but only if you can connect the two first. Forgive us for stating the obvious, but a Bluetooth headset is also out of the question.
Even if you buy the cable and software, either because you want to exchange music or synchronise the built-in calendar and contacts software with your PC, you may come across a memory problem. There is 17MB of free memory and no support for memory cards for you to add more, so don't consider this handset if you are likely to want to carry a lot of data around.
The menu system on the NEC 338 takes a little getting used to, with its mix of shortcuts and a Taskbar that allows you to switch between applications that are currently running, or close them down. After a little practice things became easier, but there is a learning curve to get through.
These negatives need to be set alongside the relatively attractive price of this handset, and the fact that it does incorporate some useful staples like Java, a calendar and MMS, SMS and email, and a rather nice all-in-one record and play tool for video, images and sounds.
We found browsing on 3 was a positive experience. The relatively small screen isn't the best for looking at detailed content, but video streamed well with good visual clarity and sound, and clips also played well after downloading. Audio calling was fine too -- call quality was good, volume plentiful.
Video calling, though, is another matter. Here the camera in the NEC 338 lets things down badly, delivering blocky video to the receiving phone (in our case Sony Ericsson's V800). If you are very keen on video calling, you might want to find a phone with a more capable camera. We also found writing text messages a little testing on the keyboard -- the keys are small and they don't give quite as good a response as some others.
Battery life was fair but not outstanding. Our average day consisted of around 15 minutes of calls and the odd bit of browsing on 3 -- fairly light use in fact -- but we still felt safest charging every evening.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Tom Espiner