With more than 53 million instant-messaging (IM) users in the United States, a device such as the Ogo from Cingular Wireless seems like a sure bet. It is the first mobile device designed strictly for unlimited domestic text messaging, instant messaging, and e-mail on AOL, MSN, and Yahoo. Unlike the T-Mobile Sidekick II, however, the Ogo doesn't include any phone capabilities, Web-surfing features, or a camera. That said, the Sidekick II is geared for a slightly older crowd and gadget hounds, while the Ogo should strike a chord with younger chataholics. For lack of voice and Web features, the price of the device is fair at $79 (after the $30 rebate), but you then have to sign up for one of the rate plans, which start at $18 for access to only one IM and e-mail account. Each additional IM and e-mail account will cost you $3, or you can sign up for all three services at $24 per month with no annual service contract. We like that there is no annual contract, but considering that most people will still have to carry a cell phone, a break in the monthly fee would be nice.
The look and feel of the Ogo is a bit quirky and could take some getting used to. The clamshell design is compact and lightweight (4.5 by 3.0 by 1 inches; 4.8 ounces), but the ridges on the cover and the bulky battery pack on the bottom make for an uncomfortable ergonomic experience. Open the device and you'll find a 3.25-inch screen that is pretty disappointing. The Ogo sports only a 4,000-color display; in comparison, even the most basic cell phones today shine bright with 65,000-hue screens. As a result, the display feels quite dark, and there is no brightness setting to adjust this. You get a contrast setting, but it doesn't make much of a difference. Moreover, the text was blurry and may leave you thinking you need an eye exam.
Below the display, there are various shortcut keys, such as Inbox, IM, Compose, and Home, and the full QWERTY keyboard. Putting aside comfort in hand, we found typing on the device to be fast and accurate. The buttons are well spaced and very responsive. The eight-key navigation pad, which sits to the bottom right, is a bit awkward, though. The principal four-way toggle sits in the middle and allows for easy navigation through the main screen menus. However, once you are in a menu, you must use four outer directional buttons surrounding the toggle, which take some maneuvering, as they're close to the main keypad; users with larger fingers could end up hitting the wrong button. And while the keys are backlit, they're not very bright, making it difficult to type in darker environments. Some other minor issues included holding down the Cap key for five seconds to enable caps lock and hitting the Alt key each time you want to use numbers or add punctuation. But considering IM has a language all its own, we doubt the kids will care about caps lock or punctuation.
As we mentioned before, the Ogo's feature set is pretty basic. This is purely a messaging device, but you have your choice of text messaging, IM, and e-mail from the three big players: MSN, Yahoo, and AOL. There's a 500-contact book where you can store up to five numbers and an e-mail address for each name. You can also pair contacts to one of 16 alert icons, which consist of a quirky animated icon and an accompanying sound. Other features include a vibrate mode and a help section that connects to a live support technician via--what else--IM.
We tested the Cingular Ogo in San Francisco, and in spite of some of the device's flaws, it delivers as promised. Setting up IM and e-mail accounts was easy, and we were chatting away in minutes. A word of caution: E-mail takes a while to load during initial setup, and even then, you don't get full functionality (no folders). Text messaging to mobiles also was a breeze, especially when you're armed with a full keyboard. The signal could be a lot stronger, considering the Ogo uses the new Cingular/AT&T Wireless GSM network. That said, we experienced only three service drops during a two-week period. Battery life was solid. With casual use, the Ogo lasted five days before requiring a recharge.