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Firefly FlyPhone (blue) review: Firefly FlyPhone (blue)

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Though cell phones for youth came into vogue two years ago, it wasn't long before they fell out of favor. While some parents liked the idea behind simple handsets such as the LG Migo and the Enfora TicTalk, many children weren't so impressed. They wanted more features for playground comparisons, and since they already knew how to use cell phones form an early age, they didn't need to be broken into the technology slowly. Disney Mobile made a go at combining popular features and parental controls, but that carrier folded last September. Firefly Mobile, however, isn't letting such past events get in its way. Three years after it introduced its first child-friendly handset, the company released two follow-up devices. While the glowPhone is a recast of the first Firefly phone, the FlyPhone offers standard cell phone features and unique controls. It won't please your average teenager, but the FlyPhone is a good compromise for tweens. Parents get usage controls, decent call quality, and a simple calling plan. Children get a full keypad for texting plus popular features such as a camera and a music player. The FlyPhone is $99.99 with service.

6.3

Firefly FlyPhone (blue)

The Good

The Firefly FlyPhone has acceptable call quality, a cool morphing keypad, and parental controls. Its features are solid for a youth-friendly cell phone.

The Bad

Some of the FlyPhone's controls are cramped and its microSD card slot is inconveniently located. You don't get a wall charger in the box and the photo quality is poor.

The Bottom Line

The Firefly FlyPhone is a solid youth-friendly cell phone that should satisfy the needs of both parents and children.

Design
Though the FlyPhone offers "normal" cell phone features, you'll recognize right away that it's a handset for younger people. The overall shape and see-through plastic skin are reminiscent of the original Firefly and the glowPhone, while the blue color adds a fun element. At 4.2 inches by 1.7 inches by 0.63 inch and weighing 3.5 ounces, it's marginally bigger and heavier than its siblings but it remains compact and portable. It doesn't have the sturdiest feel in the hand--this is not a phone for rough play--but it should survive minimal bumps and bruises.


Normally, the FlyPhone's keypad is illuminated.

The display measures 1.4 inches (128x128 pixels). It's full color display with a pleasant resolution; graphics were relatively sharp and you can adjust the backlighting time and the brightness. The icon-based basic menus are easy to use and resemble many manufacturer interfaces. Below the display is the main navigation array that consists of two soft keys, a menu control and the Talk and End/power buttons. Though the controls are tactile, they're tiny and squashed together. They won't present a problem for little hands, but users with big paws will need to be dexterous. The soft keys can be set as shortcuts to two user-defined functions.


But when in a menu, the toggle and OK button appear.

With no visible navigation toggle, you might be wondering just how you're supposed to scroll through the menus. The answer lies behind the unique "morphing" keypad. When you press the Menu button the backlighting on the numbered keys will disappear in favor of an OK button and four directional arrows. It's a similar arrangement to the Motorola Rokr E8 and it works well here. The toggle doesn't have any definition but it has a spacious layout and you get a tactile "push" feeling when you press a control. The keypad buttons are equally flush, but the large numbers and bright backlighting made them relatively easy to use. We suffered few mistakes when dialing a number or texting even though the phone's plastic skin is a tad slippery.


The FlyPhone's volume rocker rests on its left spine.

Completing the exterior of the handset are a volume rocker on the left spine and a 2.5mm headset jack on the right spine. The FlyPhone includes a stereo-wired headset in the box. The camera lens sits on the rear face of the phone just above an external speaker. The FlyPhone uses a micro USB cable to deliver power; the port is located on the bottom end of the handset but you'll need to shell out an extra $9.99 for a wall charger (you only get a USB cable in the box). An unexpected feature is the microSD card slot, but we wish you didn't need to remove the battery to access it.

Features
The FlyPhone holds 500 contacts that you can program right on the phone (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). Each contact holds only one phone number, but you can personalize contacts with one of nine MP3 ringtones and a choice of images, pictures, or avatars. The FlyPhone offers a speakerphone, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a countdown timer, a vibrate mode, and text messaging. The handset doesn't offer multimedia messaging, which is both a benefit and a drawback. Though parents might like that their children won't run up a lot of picture messaging charges, it also means you have to connect the phone to a computer to transfer images off of it. Fortunately, this is easy to do, as the FlyPhone acts as a mass USB storage device.


The FlyPhone's camera lens is located on its rear face just above the speaker.

The VGA camera has more features than we were expecting, which makes it more than serviceable for amateur shutterbugs. You can take photos in three resolutions (640x480, 320x240, and 160x120) and select one of three quality settings. Other features include three color tones, a night mode, a self-timer, a multishot mode, and four shutter sounds plus a silent option. Unfortunately, photo quality is pretty dismal.


The FlyPhone has poor photo quality.

The FlyPhone's music is very basic, but it's perfectly serviceable on this caliber of phone. On the other hand, anyone used to a standalone MP3 player will be begging for more. You can group music tracks by artist, album, track name, and favorites. The player doesn't support album art, but you can choose from shuffle and repeat modes. Unfortunately, the video player isn't very practical. It has even fewer features, and the phone's small display isn't conducive for extended viewing. On the upside, the music and video controls are easy to use. After activating either feature, the backlighting on the keypad will change again to illuminate only the dedicated player controls.

The FlyPhone offers a healthy 25MB of memory, but you can always store get more capacity with a microSD card. You can personalize the phone with greeting message or a variety of wallpapers. If you want more wallpapers, ringtones, and games, you can download them from the FlyStore using the handset's wireless Web browser. The FlyPhone comes with two demo games--BubbleBash and Jewel Quest--so you'll have to buy the full versions for extend play. What's more, the handset comes with the flyKicks software CD that lets you create and edit your own music, ringtones, and videos. You can transfer your work to the phone plus any music ripped form a CD through the included USB cable.

The FlyPhone offers a set of parental controls. You can limit incoming and outgoing calls and text messages, and you can lock out the calendar. Accessing the parental controls menu requires a PIN number. As an MVNO Firefly doesn't operate a cellular network, but it does have its own service plans. Both the pay-as-you-go and by-the-month options charge for each calling minute and text message plus a daily access fee of 35 cents. The calling and texting rates for the latter plan are cheaper, but you're required to spend a minimum of $15 per month. Once your account balance is depleted, you can top it off on Firefly's Web site.

Performance
We tested the dual-band (GSM 850/1900) FlyPhone in San Francisco. Firefly uses AT&T's and T-Mobile's network so your coverage will vary depending on which network you're using. Just keep in mind that the FlyPhone won't have service outside of the United States. In our tests, call quality was satisfying though a bit short of great. There was plenty of volume, but voices sounded sometimes tinny and other times hollow. This isn't a phone for long, deep conversations but it's very appropriate for simply staying in touch. Callers could tell we were using a cell phone, and they said the phone picked up a lot of background noise.

The FlyPhone has a rated battery life of 6 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. According to FCC radiation tests the Firefly FlyPhone has a digital SAR rating of 1.26 watts per kilogram.

6.3

Firefly FlyPhone (blue)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 6