At the end of 2008, the Hutchinson-owned handset manufacturer INQ released a cracker of a pre-paid handset, the, earning itself the honour of being the cheapest 3G handset at the time and taking the top prize at Mobile World Congress 2009 for . Since this time, the smartphone market has been turned on its head, and the sub-$300 market that the INQ Cloud Touch plays in is littered with a range of excellent devices from Samsung, LG and Hauwei, to name a few. Can the INQ Cloud Touch earn the same accolades as its forerunner?
As part of the Hutchinson family, it's no surprise that the INQ Cloud Touch will be an exclusive member of the VHA range here in Australia. To signify this, the handset will be available in two teeth-achingly bright colours: a brilliant white and a screaming red. The handset chassis looks and feels like an iPhone 3G, only cheaper and more plasticky. Having opened our unit to insert our SIM card beneath the battery cover, we found we couldn't replace the cover properly; though it clicked into place, there was a sizeable gap in the seam running around the edge of the handset.
As with the iPhone 3G, the INQ Cloud Touch relies on a 3.5-inch touchscreen for input, though unlike Apple's stable of products, the Cloud Touch features a comparably low-resolution display. Its 320x480 pixel count is fine for reading text onscreen or sharing photos, but it definitely lacks the impressive punch of clarity and colour that we are coming to expect from phones, even at this price. The graphics on the Cloud Touch look soft, like every image is slightly out-of-focus.
Unfortunately, a higher resolution display wouldn't have helped in making the design of the handsets icons and user interface look any better. We love that INQ has gone to the trouble of skinning so much of the UI with its own images, but there's no helping the fact that the overall aesthetic of this design looks messy and a little childish. Everyone that we showed the phone to had a similar reaction to it, commenting on how they didn't like the look of the phone despite our best attempts to have them look past the design and at some of the unique features.
There's no doubt in our minds that the team at INQ has given a lot of thought to the design and functionality of the user experience, and what they have delivered includes some really great ideas. Essentially, the Cloud Touch is an Android-powered smartphone (running on Android version 2.2), but the INQ user-overlay is so extensive that Android is barely recognisable under the wealth of custom widgets and icons.
Facebook is the focus on the Cloud Touch, a fact that is unavoidable from the moment you turn the phone on. Central to this experience are five INQ-designed widgets comprised of four shortcuts to specific Facebook features and a large updating news feed. Along the bottom of the screen is a dock, with six visible app shortcuts, that scrolls horizontally to reveal another five smart links. Between these elements, you should feel as connected to Facebook as any person should ever need to be.
Perhaps our favourite customisation is the inclusion of a quick settings shortcut button on the left-side of the handset. Pressing this button reveals a screen overlay allowing the user to quickly connect to a Wi-Fi network, connect to Bluetooth or GPS or set an alarm — plus there's a number of important stats to check, like the remaining battery time.