Recognising that Windows Mobile isn't the easiest operating system to master, mobile newcomer Velocity Mobile developed the Velocity Odyssey interface (somewhat similar to HTC's TouchFlo), where you can access your frequently used applications through a shortcuts toolbar and perform actions with various finger swipes. The whole idea behind it was to create an easy-to-use experience and offer an extra level of personalisation to match your smart phone to your lifestyle.
Well, Velocity Mobile has started shipping its first smart phone, the Velocity 103, and we were lucky to get our hands on a review unit. It is available through online retailers as an unlocked GSM phone for around £320.
Like the latest touchscreen smart phones, the Velocity 103's design largely centres around the display and features minimal tactile buttons. The 103 is a fairly attractive smart phone with a sleek, all-black chassis and compact frame (112mm tall by 56mm wide by 13mm deep and weighing 128g). It is slightly larger and heavier than the HTC Touch Diamond, but has a solid construction and nice soft-touch finish on the back.
The star of the show is the Velocity 103's 71mm (2.8-inch) VGA touchscreen. With a 262,000 colour output and 640x480-pixel resolution, the display is a feast for your eyes, as images and text look amazingly sharp and vibrant. You can, of course, customise the Today screen with various background images, themes, adjust the backlight, and more.
Unfortunately, the Velocity 103 suffers from the same fate of the original HTC Touch, in that it has poor text entry methods. You get a full Qwerty keyboard, but it's the teeny, tiny version that requires you to use the stylus, so this phone definitely isn't the best for messaging fanatics.
As is done in the HTC Touch series with the HTC TouchFlo 3D user interface, Velocity Mobile takes advantage of the touchscreen and offers a proprietary UI to provide a more personal and simpler way to use your device -- in theory, anyway. This so-called Velocity Odyssey interface is somewhat similar to TouchFlo in that you can perform certain actions with finger swipes and access numerous applications with a single touch.
To start, flick upwards from above the Velocity logo to bring up a single line of applications, where you can scroll left to right and then select with a tap. Alternatively, you can press the toolbar shortcut on the left side of the phone -- we found the response time of the touchscreen to be a bit slow.
The differentiating factor between Velocity Odyssey and TouchFlo is that you can add and remove applications to the toolbar on the Velocity 103. With a longer swipe of your finger (from bottom to top), you can access a full menu of programs. To add a shortcut to the tray, just tap and hold an icon and then you can drag it up to the tray; and it's the same idea for removing an item. We really like that you get so much customisation and aren't limited to certain applications, as with the Samsung Omnia.
All that said, we had some major complaints about the Odyssey UI. Though it's designed to make the Windows Mobile smart phone easier to use for all types of people, it doesn't quite succeed. Right out of the box, it's not clear that the shortcuts menu is available to you. It's hidden and we only knew about it because we were given a demo beforehand. For a new user, we'd imagine you'd have to read through the user's manual on the software CD to even be aware of its existence. We would much prefer the toolbar to be present on the screen.
Below the display, you get Talk and End keys and a trackball navigator (a la RIM BlackBerry Pearl). You can press the trackball to select an item, but we had some trouble since it was set fairly deep beneath the phone's surface, so do note.
The left spine holds a camera activation key, a volume rocker and the aforementioned toolbar key, while there's a microSD expansion slot on the right -- but to access it, you have to take off the back cover, open the protective flap and insert the card. On the bottom of the unit, you have a mini USB port, a back cover release switch, a 2.5mm headset jack and the stylus. There's a power button and lock on top and the camera lens is located on the back along with a self-portrait mirror and speaker.
The Velocity 103 comes packaged with an AC adaptor with several adaptors, a USB cable, a wired headset, a soft protective pouch, a software CD and reference material.
In the features department, the Velocity 103 is well poised to compete with other smart phones. To start, the 103 is a quad-band world phone and comes with a speakerphone, speed dial, conference calling and text and multimedia messaging. The address book is only limited by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts); each entry can hold multiple numbers, work and home addresses, emails, birthdays and more.
For caller ID purposes, you can pair a contact with a photo, a caller group, or one of four polyphonic ringtones. Bluetooth 2.1 is onboard with support for mono and stereo headsets, hands-free kits, dial-up networking and more. No need for a Bluetooth GPS receiver, either, since the 103 has assisted GPS.
The Velocity 103 is also a 3G-capable handset. More specifically, it supports HSDPA, which means you'll be able to get 3.5G speeds in most areas. The smart phone also has integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), providing an alternative method for surfing the Web.
The smart phone runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition and comes with the full Microsoft Office Mobile Suite and support for Microsoft's Direct Push Technology for real-time message delivery and automatic synchronisation with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. The 103 can also be configured to access your POP3 and IMAP email accounts.
The one advantage the Velocity 103 offers over other Windows Mobile devices is over-the-air software updates. You can configure your device to automatically download the updates (whenever available) every time you fire it up, or you can set it so you receive a notification before you download. Either way, there's no need to connect the Velocity 103 to your PC to get updates, which is a great convenience.
Other PIM tools include a PDF reader, a remote desktop client, a task list, a unit converter, a notepad and a calculator. There's a Task Manager to help optimise CPU and memory usage. The Velocity 103 comes with 128MB DDR SDRAM and 256MB NAND Flash storage.
Multimedia features on the Velocity 103 include Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, which supports a number of music and video formats such as AAC, MP3, WAV, WMA, MPEG-4 and WMV files. Plus, if you have TV programmes recorded on your Windows Media Center PC, you can transfer them to your device for on-the-go viewing or stream your home's TV programming right to your device with a Slingbox and SlingPlayer Mobile.
The Velocity 103 has a 2-megapixel camera with video recording capabilities. Options are more limited compared to other camera phones we've tested, but you do get a self timer and flicker adjustment. Still images can be shot in one of three resolutions and one of three quality settings. Unfortunately, there's no flash and also no way to adjust the white balance. You can, however, add various effects. In video mode, you have the option of two video formats and two resolutions.
Picture quality was quite decent. Objects were clearly defined and sharp. Some colours looked slightly flat, but overall, we were pleased with the results. Video quality was also impressive with minimal pixelation.
During testing, we heard a slight background hiss during calls, but generally, we enjoyed loud and clear audio quality. We had no problems using an airline's automated voice response system. Our friends reported similar results, but there were a couple of mentions of voice distortion.
Unfortunately, the speakerphone was pretty abysmal. We could barely hear our callers, even with the volume at its highest level, and it was so bad that we didn't even realise the speakerphone was on when we first activated it. This was in a quiet room, too, so we imagine you wouldn't be able to hear anything in a louder environment.
The Velocity 103 is powered by a 400MHz Qualcomm MSM7201 processor, and general performance was okay. It didn't feel quite as snappy as the Touch Diamond, as there was some lag when using the touchscreen and various applications. Multimedia performance was also affected by the weak speaker, as song playback was soft and sounded tinny. We watched a couple of short WMV clips, and video and audio were always synchronised and looked better than on other devices, thanks to the VGA display.
The Velocity 103 comes with a 1,410mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 4 hours and up to 8 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, the Velocity 103 was only able to squeeze out 3 hours of talk time, but this was using 3G. According to FCC radiation tests, the 103 has a digital SAR rating of 0.98W per kilogram.
Unfortunately, the Velocity 103 turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The Velocity Odyssey interface isn't as intuitive as the company would have you think. If it weren't for the user's manual you wouldn't even know the shortcuts toolbar was available to you. Plus, there are some performance issues and the speakerphone is plain horrible. That's not to say the 103 is a complete dud. It's got a gorgeous VGA display and is packed with features, including over-the-air software updates. But with other touchscreen smart phones like the HTC Touch Diamond and the Apple iPhone offering a better user experience and better performance, we think the Velocity 103 is going to have a hard time keeping up.
Edited by Marian Smith