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I haven't used the word "fun" to describe a phone for a long time, but the thought crossed my mind after I began playing with the Huawei Pinnacle for MetroPCS. No, the portrait QWERTY cell phone doesn't have flashing lights like the LG dLite, and it won't project images on a wall like the Samsung Galaxy Beam, but it does provide an engaging user experience and some colorful accents on the chassis.
This is the phone you get when you want to focus on texts, and on personal-assistant applications. However, the smaller 2.4-inch screen, sluggish processor, and slower 2.5G network speeds make waiting for Internet a real drag. And unfortunately, it stumbled on call quality.
The price is one sweet spot. Originally $49.99, the Pinnacle now costs $19 after a $30 mail-in rebate. Considering all the goodies inside -- including a music player, hooks into social networks and e-mail, and the ability to create folders, to name a few -- the Pinnacle is a nice surprise.
There are ugly phones and boring phones, and the Pinnacle is blessedly neither. It's got a gray face and a smooth black back coated with a soft-touch finish, but what stands out for me are the circle motif on the navigation buttons and the bright red accents on the navigation toggle and on the keyboard. Otherwise, it's a medium-size cell phone that comes in at 4.3 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick. The 3.5-ounce weight is a little light, but it does feel fairly balanced in the hand. At least it won't sit like a brick in your pocket or purse.
The Pinnacle's screen would be on the small side for a touch-screen phone, which this is not. Instead, the configuration is pretty typical for this type of portrait QWERTY handset. Its screen measures 2.4 inches on the diagonal, which works OK with the keyboard combination for navigating and entering numbers and text. Resolution is a typical QVGA (320x240 pixels) on a TFT screen with support for 262,000 colors. All this leads to colors and sharpness I can't complain about.
One of my favorite things about using the Pinnacle is navigating through the interface. It's a proprietary operating system, but it borrows heavily from Android's visual philosophy in its graphically rich icons, and it has bubbly menu options reminiscent of Web 2.0. Huawei has offered up a lot of control over finer points of the phone experience. For instance, you can choose among six brightness levels, set your ringtones, and turn on predictive text for typing. You can't do everything, like tweak the font, but I generally felt like I had options.
Soft-key buttons control the menu options and widgets. As with many MetroPCS phones of this class, poking the central select button also pulls up a bar with shrunken apps, most from MetroPCS or its partner publishers. These include Metro Navigator, Metro411, Metro Mail, Pocket Express, and an IM and Social app shortcut that can get you chatting on social networks and checking Twitter and Facebook.
This extra app portal creates a disjointed experience. It isn't obvious that unique tools are there, the icons are teeny-tiny when you do find them, and not all the app shortcuts are readily available from the tool and app folders within the standard menu.
I mentioned that the navigation array is one area I liked. It consists of round Call and End buttons on either side, a large central select navigation toggle in the middle, and soft keys in between the two. You'll also see a speakerphone button and a Back button flanking the central navigation.
Beneath the navigation, four rows of keys rise from the surface to form a QWERTY keyboard. While it's compact, I didn't have any problems with spacing, and I like the rounded tops. However, typing wasn't as comfortable or as fast as I've experienced with other keyboards before. I got used to it, and it's fine, but perhaps the buttons are just a tad stiff.
You'll find that the hardware button to launch the camera shares space with the symbol button. You have to press and hold and wait to launch the app. Hardware shortcuts are a good thing, but it's odd and unfortunate that there's no Menu control for accessing the camera.
On the right spine you'll find the Micro-USB charging port and up top there's the 3.5mm headset jack. The volume rocker is on the left, and the 1.3-megapixel camera/camcorder lens is on the back cover. Pop off the back cover to get at the microSD card slot, where you can pump in up to 16GB more memory.
Thanks to MetroPCS' standard swatch of Internet-connected apps, you have more goodies on here than one might initially think. Still, the Pinnacle is best suited to be a texting and talking phone. The friendly look and feel of the address book includes basic fields for up to 1,000 contacts, with a spot for a photo ID and for group calling. It's a little thin on extra fields for memos and birthday reminders, but you do have a Web site slot and space for multiple phone numbers and e-mail addresses. The Pinnacle starts you off with 10 ringtones, and there's always silent mode.
Wi-Fi isn't a staple on the Pinnacle, but Bluetooth 2.0 is, and of course texting and multimedia messaging. You'll also find old standards such as an alarm clock, a calculator, a calendar, a memo app, a voice recorder, a stopwatch, a weather shortcut, and a world clock. The MetroWeb browser brings you the Internet, and if you've got a microSD card installed you can play its songs through the music player.
If you want additional apps and wallpaper beyond the presets, you'll have to go online through one of the MetroPCS portals and download them.
There is a 1.3-megapixel camera/camcorder on board, but it isn't very satisfying for anything beyond a casual shot. The photos sometimes lacked vibrancy or were oversaturated when taken indoors during daylight hours. Outdoor pictures showed balanced color reproduction, and the focal point is entirely dependent on you. Without a flash, low-light shots are a lost cause. (Compare our standard studio shots here.)
Luckily, there is pretty much the full complement of effects and adjustments on the camera settings menu, like white balance and effects, a self-timer, and even extra frames.
I'd shy away from video completely, if you have the choice. The capture was delayed and blurry compared with real life, and playback was equally blurred.
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) Huawei Pinnacle in San Francisco on MetroPCS' network. Call quality went from mediocre to worse. On my end, volume was low and my caller sounded a little distant and robotic; his voice sounded almost wavy, coming in and out. Despite the rocky voice quality, the call clarity remained intact. I didn't catch any white noise or other blips and interruptions.
On their end, callers complained that my voice sounded "disturbingly loud." I apparently also sounded somewhat distorted, with choppiness and missing syllables. My testing partner agreed that there was no background noise in the calls.
Huawei Pinnacle call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone volume was so low it was nearly unusable. On the highest volume setting, I still had to strain to hear. On the plus side, there wasn't much echo or reverberation and the line stayed clear. On his end, my test partner heard normal amounts of echo and hollowness, plus a distortion that made my voice sound unnatural. Volume was fine, however, and he decided that speakerphone was OK overall, but not fantastic.
The Pinnacle has a rated battery life of up to 4 hours of talk time and up to 10 days of standby time on its 900mAH battery. During our talk-time test, it lasted 6.33 hours. According to FCC tests, it has a digital SAR of 1.14 watts per kilogram.
If only the Huawei Pinnacle gave me excellent call quality, or even just plain good audio, I'd call it a cell phone find. I find the physical design of the QWERTY feature phone appealing, and the interface even more so, with its user-friendly icons and menus that feel familiar without being hackneyed. I appreciate the onboard tools, and the price is right -- as long as you recognize that MetroPCS won't give you blazing data speeds on its sub-3G network. The call quality wasn't so bad on my end of the line that it would keep me from placing calls completely, but over time I could see myself becoming annoyed and keeping calls to a minimum. I'd still recommend the Pinnacle to a sliver of MetroPCS subscribers who understand the phone's limitations and would mostly use the onboard tools and text messaging.