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Plenty of messaging phones have come our way lately, with clamshell models like the LG Lotus from Sprint to square slider models like the Verizon Wireless Blitz. All of them come with full QWERTY keyboards to facilitate easier texting, and some of them have more features than others. But the new AT&T Quickfire (made by UTStarcom and distributed by PCD) takes it up a notch with not only a full QWERTY keyboard, but a touch-screen interface as well. And not just any touch screen, either; the Quickfire uses a capacitive touch screen, similar to the one used on the Apple iPhone and the T-Mobile G1, which results in a very intuitive and responsive experience. Sure it loses a few style points here and there, but its functionality and feature set more than makes up for it. The AT&T Quickfire is available now for only $99.99 with a two-year service agreement.
When the Quickfire first appeared in public, many people described it as a clone of the T-Mobile Sidekick. It's easy to see why; the Quickfire does have a similar form factor to the Sidekick, with the large, wide screen in the middle and bezels to the left and right (or top and bottom depending on your perspective). Like the Sidekick Slide, the Quickfire slides open to reveal a full QWERTY board, and also like the Sidekick, the Quickfire is on the bulky side. Measuring 4.3 inches long by 2.2 inches wide by 0.7 inch thick, it's even a little thicker than the Sidekick, albeit a bit smaller in size. The overall style of the Quickfire is rather blocky and clunky, and its hefty 4.8 ounce weight adds to that impression.
Dominating the front surface of the Quickfire is its main attraction: a 2.8-inch, diagonal, capacitive touch-screen interface. This sort of touch screen is similar to the one used on the Apple iPhone and the T-Mobile G1, in that the screen uses the electrons from your finger to complete circuitry, which is why you can't use a stylus (for more detail, see this Wikipedia article). As you might expect, this results in a very intuitive and responsive touch interface. The screen doesn't require a hard press to activate something, just a light press will do. The same thing goes for scrolling through menus; light finger swipes will do the trick. However, we noticed that we did have to be quite precise about what our fingers were pressing; sometimes we would be pressing the wrong menu item, for example. Also we noticed that we had to hold down our presses longer than expected in order to activate something. There are a couple of problems with the browser interface as well, but we'll address that in the features section. On the whole, we like how responsive the touch interface was, but it's not quite as refined as we expected.
The screen itself is beautiful. It has 262,144 color support and a 240x320 QVGA pixel resolution. Images and graphics appear sharp, crisp, and saturated with color. You can adjust the screen's backlight time, the design of the home screen, the screen lock timer, as well as the usual wallpaper, greeting banner, and color theme. The Quickfire does not have an accelerometer, but the screen does adjust to landscape mode when you slide out the QWERTY keyboard.
The menu interface when the Quickfire is closed is different from the menu interface when it is open. When it is in the closed position, or touch-screen-only mode, the home screen consists of four shortcuts that lead to the main menu, the dialpad, the AT&T Music menu, and the address book, respectively. When you bring up the main menu in this mode, it's displayed in a grid style. However, when you slide up the QWERTY keyboard, the home screen changes to display five shortcuts instead; they lead to the messaging menu, mobile e-mail, the instant messenger, the address book, and the main menu, respectively. And when the keyboard is open, the main menu is displayed in a list style. We don't really mind this, but we do wish we had a choice about which menu-style option was implemented.
Underneath the display are the Talk and End keys, as well as a Shortcut key, which brings up a pop-up shortcuts menu in the middle of the screen, which Quickfire calls the Quick List. The shortcuts in the menu go to the main menu, the number dialpad, the messaging menu, the Web browser, and the music player. You can bring up this shortcuts menu from anywhere you are in the phone, so you can easily switch from application to application if you wish.
Slide it open, and you'll find the aforementioned full QWERTY keyboard. Though the keyboard is not as roomy as the Sidekick's, we thought it felt spacious enough for thumb-typing. The individual keys are nicely raised above the surface of the phone, which makes for faster texting. Along with the typical Function and Symbol keys, we liked that the keyboard also has Tab, Back, and arrow keys, which helped us in navigating the phone without having to use the touch screen.
The volume rocker is on the left spine of the Quickfire, while the right spine is home to the dedicated camera key and a voice-command key. On the top of the Quickfire is the power button, which also doubles as a screen lock key, and the microSD-card slot and charger jack. The 1.3-megapixel camera lens and self-portrait mirror are on the back.
As far as features go, the AT&T Quickfire is probably one of the more advanced messaging phones we've seen. It isn't a smart phone, so you won't get anything like Exchange support, and there aren't a host of third-party applications for it like you would get with the Sidekick. But you will get plenty of multimedia and high-end features like 3G/HSDPA.
But before we get to that, let's start with the basics. The Quickfire comes with a pithy 500-entry address book, but each entry has room for seven numbers, an e-mail address, a Web address, an instant-messenger handle, a birth date, a company name, a job title, a street address, and a memo. Entries can then be categorized by caller groups, and paired with a photo and one of 11 polyphonic ring tones for caller ID. You can also use any of your own MP3s for a ringtone if you wish. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, an alarm clock, a calculator, a tip calculator, a to-do list, a world clock, a notepad, a unit converter, a voice memo recorder, and a stopwatch. You also get stereo Bluetooth, mobile e-mail, instant-messenger support, and A-GPS. Since it has A-GPS, the Quickfire also comes with AT&T Navigator, AT&T's own traffic and turn-by-turn direction service.
One of the more surprising features of the Quickfire is that it comes with a full HTML Polaris browser. (Although AT&T calls it a MediaNet browser, to fit in with its other handsets.) It doesn't support Flash, but we didn't expect that anyway. Like most touch-screen browsers, you can drag your finger across the screen to scroll through the Web page, and you tap to select a link. Since it doesn't have the pinch gesture for zooming in and out of a Web page like the iPhone, you'll have to use the little magnifying glass icon on the bottom left to zoom in and out of Web pages.
One of the more serious downsides to the browser is that it appears to have a lot of lag. We had to wait a few seconds before it registered a page drag, or tap a button a few times before it went through. The browser certainly isn't as slick and as intuitive as iPhone's Safari, and it's not as responsive as other touch-screen phones. But it's not a terrible browser either; we like that it supports full HTML, and it does come with a few basic browser preferences like clearing your cache, history, and cookies. You can adjust the font size of the browser text, and you can do keyword searches through a Web page. And since the Quickfire has 3G/HSDPA support, it loads Web pages in a matter of seconds. There is no Wi-Fi support though.
The Quickfire has access to AT&T's stable of broadband services and applications too, like AT&T's Cellular Video, which streams video clips from content partners like NBC and ESPN, and AT&T Video Share, which lets you stream live, one-way video to another Video Share-compatible device. Last but not least is AT&T Mobile Music, which is a gateway to a number of music-related services, like the ability to stream and download music from Napster and eMusic, access MusicID (a song identification service), XM radio, and stream music videos.
Under the AT&T Mobile Music menu is also the built-in music player. You can upload songs from your PC, or purchase them directly from Napster or eMusic. When purchasing the songs, you also have the option of a simultaneous download to your PC for around $1.99 per track. The music player supports MP3, MIDI, AAC, AAC+, and AMR file formats. The player interface is fairly typical of most music phones, with the album art in the middle and the player controls at the bottom. You can create and edit playlists, set the tracks on repeat or shuffle, and there are a number of preset equalizer options, too. We also like that you can look through the track info of each song to see details, like the artist and album name. The Quickfire comes with 29.3MB of internal storage, but the microSD-card slot can hold up to 8GB of additional storage. Also important to note is that the Quickfire supports multitasking, meaning you can browse the Web and listen to music at the same time.
The Quickfire has a 1.3-megapixel camera, which can take pictures in three resolutions (1,280x960, 640x480, and 320x240), three quality settings, five white-balance presets, four color effects, and five fun frames. Other camera options include a brightness setting, and 4x zoom. There's also a built-in camcorder, which can record video in 320x240 and 176x144 resolution, three quality settings, and can implement four image effects. Photo quality was average. Though photos looked sharp, the colors appeared dull and slightly overcast. Video quality was predictably jerky and pixelated, as with most camera phones.
You can customize the Quickfire with a variety of graphics and sounds for your wallpaper, screensaver, and alert tones. You can even set "Answer tones" or "Ring back tones," which your callers can hear when they call you. The Quickfire comes with games and applications, like demo versions of Brain Challenge 2, Jewel Quest 2, a full version of Sudoku, Billboard Mobile, MobiTV, Mobile Banking, a mobile version of People Magazine, and Yellowpages.com. If you wish to get more, you can download other apps via AT&T's MediaMall application.
We tested the quad-band GSM AT&T Quickfire in San Francisco using AT&T's service. Call quality was impressive. We heard our callers loud and clear, and vice versa. They reported slight static occasionally, but overall sound quality was good. Speakerphone quality was a bit on the tinny and hollow side, but that's not unexpected. Automated voice-recognition call systems had no problems registering our voice as well.
Audio quality was decent, but not great. Like the speakerphone, the speaker quality seemed tinny, hollow, and rather harsh. Volume was plenty loud, though. We definitely recommend the use of a headset for better quality.
We were impressed by the HSDPA speed on the Quickfire. It certainly lives up to its name, as it downloaded a 2.87MB song from Napster in less than a minute. It loaded Web pages a bit more slowly than we'd like; the CNET page took several seconds to load, for example. But surfing the Web felt quite fast overall. The same goes for streaming video; there was little-to-no rebuffering time.
The AT&T Quickfire has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time and 12 days standby time. Our tests revealed a talk time of 3 hours and 7 minutes. According to the FCC, it has a digital SAR rating of 0.563 watts per kilogram.