The Orange Rio II offers the BlackBerry experience for a fraction of the cost, with a touchscreen interface, full Qwerty keyboard and 3G connectivity for (theoretically) speedy Web browsing on the move. Although it has some faults, the low price goes a long way to making up for them.
The Rio II is available exclusively from Orange and costs £70 (plus £10 top up) on a pay as you go deal. Monthly contracts start as low as £10.
Her name is (still) Rio
The Rio II is, naturally enough, a sequel to last year's enormously popular Orange Rio. That phone cleverly mimicked the BlackBerry range -- a huge hit with teenagers -- but cost a pocket-money price. The Rio II has similar qualities, but brings with it a raft of improvements.
The appearance of the phone still owes a large debt to RIM's designers, but it's a little more refined this time around. The faux-chrome surround has been brought forward a little so it encloses the front of the device, and the Rio II has been given a pleasing rubberised back, similar to that seen on the BlackBerry 8520 Curve.
The Qwerty keyboard boasts larger buttons than the original Rio, but there's no longer any space between each key. This can make fast typing problematic, as the buttons are harder to differentiate, but the fact they're bigger balances out this issue.
Resistive touchscreen is futile
The Rio II's 2.4-inch resistive touchscreen is one of the phone's major disappointments. While the brightness is acceptable and the resolution decent for a phone in this price bracket, the amount of pressure required to register input makes it awkward to use. Most phones now have a capacitive touchscreen, so this is a blatant and unhelpful bit of costcutting. As a result, you'll find yourself relying more on the D-pad to navigate your home screens and menus.
The Rio II uses a custom-made operating system that borrows elements from both RIM's BlackBerry OS and Google's Android. You can make use of various widgets to add interactivity to your home screens, and it's possible to connect to various email providers and get banging away on that Qwerty keyboard.
The OS is packed with a surprising amount of functionality, and comes with dedicated Facebook and Twitter applications. This is no smart phone though -- there's no app store to find more widgets or games.
Moving between apps is rarely a speedy experience, and there's a noticeable amount of slowdown when switching home screens, too. This lack of pace is largely down to the Rio II's very basic processor. When it comes to data, it moves a little faster thanks to the inclusion of 3G. This allows the Rio II to score points over one of the handsets it's trying so hard to emulate: the 2G-only BlackBerry 8520.
Sadly, unlike the 8520, the Rio II lacks Wi-Fi. This is probably to be expected on such a modestly priced phone, but with more and more devices including wireless connectivity as standard, it's an unfortunate omission.
With its 3-megapixel camera, the Rio II offers a pretty workmanlike degree of photographical skill. There's no auto-focus, so you can't take macro shots, and the video recording is naturally limited to standard definition. As a bonus the phone supports video messaging, if you're keen on that sort of thing.
Memory not included
The Rio II comes with just 80MB of on-board memory, but supports microSD cards for storage expansion. You don't get a card with the phone, so it's worth bearing in mind you'll need to make an additional investment to gain space for music, photos and videos.
Another thing missing from the box is a set of headphones, but the Rio II's standard 3.5mm socket means you can use your own pair of cans anyway.
3G connectivity may be a blessing, but it's also something of a curse when it comes to the Rio II's battery stamina. The 1,000mAh cell doesn't put up much of a fight when you're indulging in Web-surfing and email. We found it drained astonishingly quickly, requiring us to recharge it at least once a day.
While this isn't exactly unusual with always-on smart phones, it's worth bearing in mind if you're often away from home and need a device with some staying power.
The Rio II improves over its predecessor with a neater design, 3G and an updated operating system. Issues such as poor battery life, no Wi-Fi, unresponsive touchscreen and a generally slow processor take the edge off its performance, but you have to remember it's costing you well under £100.
If you're considering a BlackBerry 8520, but begrudge spending over £100 for a phone that lacks 3G, we'd recommend you seriously consider the Rio II. It's cheaper and in many ways provides a superior experience.
Edited by Nick Hide