When the Verizon Wireless Blitz came out late last year, we were quite taken by the handset's cute and compact shape, even though some thought it looked a little fat and squat. So when we saw at CTIA that PCD, the maker of the Blitz, was coming out with similar models, we looked forward to it. Now it seems that one of the models, the PCD TXT8026, is available from regional carrier Cricket Communications and has been rebranded as the Cricket TXTM8 (pronounced "textmate"). It's not a really advanced phone, but we like the design, and simple features like a 1.3-megapixel camera and stereo Bluetooth are good enough for most people. The Cricket TXTM8 is available now for $159.99 without a contract.
Like the Blitz, the Cricket TXTM8 is square and chubby. Measuring 3.75 inches long by 2.6 inches wide by 0.7 inch thick, the TXTM8 is rounded all around and has the appearance of a cute child's toy. It feels really comfortable in the hand, and is well-designed for texting. The slider mechanism feels sturdy as well.
On the front of it is a 2.2-inch display that supports 262,000 colors and 220x176 pixels. The colors are bright and the text is crisp, but the relatively low resolution does result in rather blocky images. The menu interface is easy to use and you can choose between grid and list type. You can adjust the backlight time, the size of the dialing font, the contrast, and the greeting banner text.
Along the left hand side of the home screen is a series of widgets customized by Cricket. As you scroll through the widget icons, a box pops up on the screen displaying the widget's properties. For example, if you scroll to the Weather widget, you'll see the current forecast for your area. Widgets included in the phone are the Cricket storefront, your daily horoscope, a shortcut to your Cricket account, Web links, breaking news headlines, sports scores, Mocospace, which is a free mobile chat service, and the weather forecast. You can have up to 10 widgets along the side, and you can add more by accessing Cricket's widget catalog.
Underneath the display is the navigation array which consists of two soft keys, a round toggle with a middle OK key, a speakerphone key, a Clear key, and the Send and End/Power keys on either side. In idle mode, the right direction of the toggle acts as a shortcut to the messaging menu, while the left direction leads to the Web browser. On the left side are a 2.5-millimeter headset jack and the volume rocker, while the right spine is home to the microSD card slot, a camera key, a voice command key, and the charger jack. On the back are a camera lens, a self-portrait mirror, and the external speaker grille.
When you slide the phone open you'll reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. It's roomy, well-spaced, and the keys are raised above the surface, so it's easy to use as well. The number keys are specially marked in blue so they're easier to spot. Of course you also get special keys like a blue shift key, a Symbol key, a Caps Lock key, and a dedicated messaging key that leads to the messaging menu. We really like the keyboard on the whole and can see this as a great phone for messaging fans. Our only complaint is with a skinny raised bar in the middle of the keyboard that makes it a tiny bit harder to type the keys in the center.
The Cricket TXTM8 has a 1,000-entry phone book with room in it for five numbers and two e-mail addresses. You can then organize the contacts into caller groups, pair them with a photo, and one of eight ringtones. Other basic features include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a world clock, a notepad, and a stopwatch. More advanced users will like the voice memo recording feature, voice command, e-mail, A-GPS, stereo Bluetooth, and a wireless Web browser. We were a little disappointed to not see any instant messaging support.
The TXTM8 doesn't have much in the way of multimedia features, but it still has a music player and a camera. The music player is quite basic, with the typical play/pause and track shuttle controls. Settings include repeat, shuffle, and mute. You get a pretty nice visualizer graphic as the song is playing, but you can't change it. The only way to add music to the phone is to load a song onto a microSD card--the TXTM8 supports up to 4GB cards.
There's also a 1.3-megapixel camera that can take pictures in four different resolutions (1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240, and 160x120), three quality settings, five white balance presets, and four color effects. Other camera settings include a self-timer, brightness, and three different shutter sounds--note there's no silent option here. The photo quality was actually quite decent for a low-megapixel camera. There was a touch of blurriness, but otherwise colors looked good.
If you want, you can personalize your phone with a variety of wallpaper, screensavers, and alert tones. If you want more, you can download more from Cricket's online store. The TXTM8 comes with a few games and applications like The Oregon Trail, Midnight Bowling 2, MyFriends (Cricket's social networking solution that combines LiveJournal, Vox, and Xanga), and MyBackup. Again, you can get more from the Cricket store.
We tested the tri-band (CDMA 850/1,700/1,900) Cricket TXTM8 in San Francisco. The Bay Area isn't part of Cricket's home coverage, so the calls are made over the carrier's roaming network. We were pleased with call quality overall. We did get a little bit of static, but the signal was strong, and we heard our callers loud and clear. We did think their voice sounded a tad harsh at times, but that's not a big deal.
On their end, callers said we sounded fine for the most part. Again, our voice sounded a bit machinelike and it did sound like we called from a cell phone, but that wasn't a deterrent. However, speakerphone calls were pretty bad. They said we sounded muffled, even when we spoke quite closely to the microphone. On our end, the speakerphone calls came through clearly, but the volume could use a boost.
The audio quality from the music player is decent, but nothing to write home about. The bass is lacking, and the speakers give the music a slightly hollow quality. We would recommend using a headset for better fidelity.
The Cricket TXTM8 has a rated battery life of 4.7 hours talk time and 16.7 days standby time. Our tested talk time was a tad less at 3 hours and 9 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the TXTM8 has a digital SAR of 1.3 watts per kilogram.