Mini-review of the Velocity 103

While at CTIA 2008 Fall we had some time to catch up with Velocity Mobile. You may remember them as the the handset company that is developing brand new devices from the ground up for the unlocked consumer market, and in the future, perhaps on carriers as well. Last spring at CTIA in Las Vegas, we liked what we saw and appreciated the fresh attitude that the company brings to the handset market. It seems that Velocity Mobile really has the customer in mind. Updates will be driven over the air via VOTA (Velocity over the air) directly to device to fix any initial bugs and to deliver new capabilities and content. Velocity Mobile gave us a review unit of one of its initial launch devices, the Velocity 103 during our meeting, and we’ve had a few days of hands-on time now to bring you a mini-review. Hit the jump for our impressions. First things first. The device is bulky, and that’s noticeable from the second you lay eyes on it. It’s not as sleek as a BlackBerry, and it resembles a PDA more than anything. It runs Windows Mobile Professional 6.1 with Velocity Mobile’s small and custom UI overlay which provides weather information and a hiding quick-launch bar that pops up from the bottom of the display with a finger swipe. We like the large 2.8-inch display, but it’s not that bright. The trackball is exactly like one you’d find on any of the current BlackBerry models, but we think it would be much more valuable if it worked with an on-screen mouse, and it doesn’t. But there is a lot to like about the unit too. Its 640 x 480 resolution makes for a very crisp picture, and its support for HSDPA in the United States means it will run on AT&T’s 3G network. It also supports 802.11b/g Wi-Fi networks. Over AT&T’s 3G network we loaded in a slow 20 seconds, but in a much more acceptable 7 seconds. The 103’s 2MP camera is a nice addition, but if this phone costs more than $500, it has serious competition against phones like the HTC Diamond which has a 3.2MP camera and flash. You can also output your display to a TV using the TV/VGA out capabilities of the 103, and add multimedia through a microSD slot. The desktop UI, which shows the weather, time, and date, is really easy to use and nice for quick glances at that information. You can add other cities and switch between them with a finger swipe. This action is smooth, but the system is noticeably laggy when recognizing your finger swipes. A faster processor may help improve that.  When we last saw the device, the desktop had a bit more clutter with icons for messaging and launching the Web. That feature is now replaced by a left side “Velocity button” brings up a quick-launch menu up from the bottom of the display, which can be accessed by swiping your finger upwards. You can add your own programs to this list, like an internet browser, to make accessing the Web easier. As with all Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional devices, you can add your own POP/IMAP account to the 103 very easily. But the onscreen keyboard is Microsoft’s own, and we again, felt like we were using an old school PDA while typing wiith. We would have appreciated a more stylish, up to date, keyboard developed by Velocity Mobile itself. The 103 doesn’t come bundled with any software, either, another feature that other unlocked phones like the Samsung Omnia sport. That phone, for example, comes bundles with DiVX playback support, Opera Mobile, ShoZu, Google Maps, and more installed out of the box. These are small, but noticeable and mostly free, improvements that Velocity Mobile should consider adding to the device before it ships. Far more importantly, the device supports GPS and must ship with an application that takes advantage of it. Right now, it doesn’t. Stay tuned for our full review when we put the 103 through its paces, for now we’re feeling a bit underwhelmed by the device. While we like Velocity Mobile’s outlook on providing over the air updates and improving the device based on customer feedback, the 103 may be lacking more than it offers, and that could be a problem for consumers if it ships at the expected $599 pricepoint. Note: Better pictures will be up shortly, we’re writing this in the airport with a small camera for product shots.

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