We love the little green robot that is Google's Android operating system, so we're happy to see it nudging into the inexpensive world of pay-as-you-go phones, thanks to T-Mobile's Pulse. The Pulse isn't going to set the world on fire with smoking good looks or stunningly innovative features, but it does a very respectable job nevertheless. Once it's tweaked out with your favourite Android apps, the Pulse should leave you satisfied, and with some change left in your wallet.
The Pulse is available from T-Mobile for £180. You'll also need the Internet Booster, which includes unlimited access to the tubes (with a 1GB fair-use policy) for £5 per month. T-Mobile told us that the Pulse will also be available on a contract in the future, but it couldn't confirm the price.
The people's Android
The Pulse is the first phone to bring the Android operating system to the pay-as-you-go masses, so we're happy to see that T-Mobile hasn't let us down by shipping a cheap and nasty knockoff. The Pulse isn't fancy -- its black plastic body is nothing to write home about, and its trackball feels rather wobbly. But, with a big, 89mm (3.5-inch) screen -- it's the biggest screen on any Android phone out there -- it's nothing to be ashamed of.
When you're relying on a touchscreen, with few buttons to fall back on, responsiveness is everything. We found the Pulse's screen sufficiently sensitive, but the hamster inside couldn't quite run quickly enough on its wheel for the phone to respond quickly in all applications. For example, scrolling around the three home screens is fast and responsive, but typing on the soft keyboard requires a slow and steady hand. When we typed at top speed, letters were dropped, and the predictive text can't help when only half the letters are registered. The Pulse is also deathly slow to start up and resume after sleeping.
Normally, we'd crucify a touchscreen handset that can't cut the mustard in the keyboard department, but the Pulse has so much to offer that can't help but cut it some slack. For instance, it offers the choice of three keyboards in both landscape and portrait orientations: full Qwerty, an alphanumeric layout and a compressed Qwerty option such as we've seen on smaller BlackBerry models, like the BlackBerry Pearl 8120. They all support predictive text, although we found the word suggestions to be dodgy at times, and a great feature that allows you to slide down on the key to type a secondary character, like a number or symbol.
Tiny tweaks on a
T-Mobile -- or, to be accurate, Huawei, the manufacturer of the Pulse -- has added a few tweaks to the bog-standard version of Android. For example, there are some widgets for the home screens, which it calls 'wildcards', that display your videos, pictures and other treasures. There's also a fancy address book application that shows you your favourite contacts in a Cover Flow-style carousel of photos, which you can tap to dial. So far so fine, but there's nothing overly innovative here compared to the fancy social-networking features on other Android handsets, like the HTC Hero or the Motorola Dext. They're solid, useful features, but Android is the real star of the show.
The more we use Android the more we like it, especially since developers are creating more great apps every day. Unsurprisingly, our Internet overlord, Google, which created Android, is leading the pack with utterly stunning apps like Google Sky Map, which is only available on Android. With goodies like this available as free downloads from the Android Market, the Pulse isn't just a decent and cheap touchscreen phone with a massive screen -- it's a smart phone with an almost endless supply of creative, innovative features to explore. Until there's a cheap, pay-as-you-go iPhone, that's a benefit you just can't beat.
Even if you don't get stuck into the Android Market, T-Mobile has included a good range of pre-installed apps on the device. For example, the YouTube app kindly offers to play full-screen versions of movie links that you click in the Web browser, and RoadSync syncs you up with the email, calendar and contacts from your Microsoft Exchange email at work.
Hello, can you
hear me? No
Unfortunately, like many of the smart phones currently wowing us with their app-packed powers, the Pulse is crap at actually being a phone. We found its call quality very poor, and calls take ages to connect, or fail altogether. We have the same complaints about smart-phone stars like the iPhone and Hero, so we don't want to single out the Pulse unfairly, but it's hugely annoying and something to be aware of.
The Pulse keeps you connected with Wi-Fi and HSPA for faster uploads and downloads over 3G, and it also has built-in GPS. T-Mobile is pitching it with a free, one-month trial of the TeleNav sat-nav app, but you can stick with the built-in Google Maps for free.
The Pulse comes with 2GB of internal memory and room for a microSD card. We tested it with a 4GB card and it had no trouble recognising our photos and video. There's also a 3.2-megapixel camera on the back, which is fine for the occasional snapshot, and it shoots video too.
The T-Mobile Pulse does a good job of cutting corners to present an Android smart phone at an affordable price. The case may be rather plasticky and the keyboard a touch unresponsive, but we can overlook even that flaw in a phone that offers such huge potential for a puny price. Its big screen, great connectivity and Android features mean this phone will satisfy your Web wanderlust, but be warned: like many top-end smart phones, the Pulse isn't very good at making boring old phone calls.
Edited by Charles Kloet