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Orange Rio review: Orange Rio

If you fancy a BlackBerry but can't afford one, you might like to check out the Orange Rio. Considering how cheap it is, it doesn't have very many serious flaws at all. Its keyboard is great, its menu system is intuitive, and its touchscreen isn't bad either

Luke Westaway Senior editor
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
Luke Westaway
5 min read

If there's one thing we can all be sure of, it's that children and teenagers truly venerate their dear old parents. It's little wonder, then, that kids today are going mental for BlackBerry handsets, the business devices that were once the exclusive preserve of busy mothers and fathers. The trouble is, though, that BlackBerry phones tend to be expensive.


Orange Rio

The Good

Very cheap; good keyboard; decent touchscreen; intuitive menu system.

The Bad

Some features are poorly implemented; dull display.

The Bottom Line

The Orange Rio has its flaws, but not many serious ones given its price. The keyboard is great, the menus are intuitive and easy to navigate, and the touchscreen isn't bad either. For £55 on a pay-as-you-go deal, it's tough to beat

That's where the Orange Rio comes in. Its Qwerty keyboard apes that of a BlackBerry, and it also sports a touchscreen, 2-megapixel camera and all the Web-based jollies you'd expect from a proper smart phone. At £55 on a pay-as-you-go deal, this phone might sound too good to be true. Amazingly, it isn't.

Rio grand
The Rio looks just like a BlackBerry. It sports the same full Qwerty keyboard and curved, blocky appearance as most of RIM's devices. Dedicated Orange World and camera shortcuts sit to the left and right of the five-way navigation key, and there are also four standard keys for accepting and declining various options, and moving back and forth through menus.

A rubbish keyboard could have ruined the Rio. Thankfully, the keyboard is pretty good 

The whole phone is covered in glossy black and chrome, which means it looks classier than you'd expect at this price. Put it next to a proper BlackBerry, however, and it simply doesn't compare -- well built and well designed though the Rio is, it lacks the polish and sheen of its pricier rivals. Nevertheless, we like the Rio's style, and we're suckers for a good chrome trim.

Dances on the sand
Surprisingly for a device of this price, the Rio sports a resistive, 61mm (2.4-inch) touchscreen. Even more surprisingly, the display doesn't make us want to eat our own hands just so that we never have to touch it again.

The screen's resolution isn't very high, and we've seen rainy days that look more vibrant and colourful. But the Rio's touchscreen is surprisingly sensitive, and it gets the job done. The phone offers three separate home screens that you can move between with a swipe of your finger, and a healthy reserve of widgets that you can drag and drop onto these screens, rearranging them to your heart's content.

The camera is speedy, but its photos aren't exactly brilliant

A press of the central navigation key will bring up the main menu, from which you can access the calendar, settings and pretty much everything else. If you're too busy to go digging through menus, however, there's also a bar along the bottom of the screen that you can view by dragging it up out of the bottom-right-hand corner. This bar holds shortcuts to the applications you're most likely to use.

Among the apps on offer is the Opera Mini browser, which we were pleasantly surprised to see. The browser loads quickly, and cruising around Web sites is simple enough using either the central navigation key or the touchscreen. Pages rendered in this browser don't look particularly pretty, but, for a quick Google session, Opera Mini will serve you well.

Push and pull
Email is one of the Rio's killer applications. Because your mail is handled through various email clients (Hotmail, Google and so on), rather than through a central server, such as BlackBerry Enterprise Server, you won't get push email on the Rio. You can set the phone to check for new emails every five minutes (known as 'pull' email), but that's hardly instantaneous if you're trying to have a quick, back-and-forth email conversation.

If instant communication is what you need, you might prefer to use the Orange Messenger app, which is built on Windows Live Messenger. Setting up the service is, however, incredibly frustrating -- Orange forces you to sign up for an account with Orange World by finding an obscure page via the phone's browser and registering an account under the 'chat and flirt' section. Ew.

Once you've dragged yourself through this gruelling, laborious process, which involves filling in the sort of 'about you' section you'd find on a dating site, you'll finally be able to sign in. It's a shame that the sign-up process is so information-hungry -- we imagine it will leave all but the most ardent chat addicts and sexters cold.

Any typing you do -- sexy or otherwise -- will be done on the Qwerty keyboard. Thankfully, this keyboard is extremely simple to use. The keys feel responsive and, even though every button is tiny, a slim space between each one means you won't end up hitting the wrong letter by accident. Feeling your way around will quickly become second nature. A dodgy keyboard could so easily have ruined this phone, but we're glad to report that tragedy has been avoided.

Connectivity pity
The Rio is bereft of Wi-Fi or 3G connectivity. In the case of a Web-focused phone such as this, we'd have liked to have seen some support for speedier data services. But we can't complain too much when the Rio costs only £55.

On the back of the phone, you'll find a 2-megapixel camera. As with other mobile-phone cameras, you can't expect to take any prize-winning shots, but the software is remarkably snappy -- you can get from the home screen to having taken a photo in under 2 seconds. Captured video is extremely grainy.

A 3.5mm headphone jack on the right-hand side of the Rio means you'll be able to plug in your own lovely cans rather than the rubbish ones that come in the box. We're always pleased to see this jack. There's also a microSD card slot on the outside edge of the phone, rather than under the battery. That's great for quickly swapping memory cards, so you can look at a friend's photos, for example. There's also an FM radio, and a voice recorder too.

The call quality is good, and the battery will probably last you around two days with normal use. It will last for less if you're downloading tonnes of data and playing plenty of media content.

Oh, and the Rio has Tetris. That's right. Tetris.

There are aspects of the Orange Rio that we dislike. The display is rather lacklustre, and some of the features are poorly implemented, such as Orange Messenger. That said, the interface is intuitive, the keyboard is decent, and, above all, the Rio only costs £55. Any gripes we have about the phone itself more or less evaporate when we recall its price tag. If you're into texting and emailing but don't have the cash to splash out on a high-end smart phone, the Rio is a good choice.

If you happen to be checking out the Rio because it's very cheap, you might want to take a look at the extremely basic Tesco VX1 Party Phone, which is available for only £9.49. On the other hand, if you have a little extra to spend and like the Rio's Qwerty keyboard, peruse our review of the BlackBerry Curve 8520.

Edited by Charles Kloet