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The smartphone space has become really competitive, especially in the past year, and it's packed with a wide variety of great devices. However, as far as GPS-enabled smartphones go, Pharos is trying to outdo the competition by including navigation software on the handset, so you're not required to sign up for a subscription-based service or rely on a cellular connection to access maps. The Pharos Traveler 127 is one of three recent models (along with the Pharos Traveler 137 and the Pharos Traveler 117) released by the company and while the Windows Mobile smartphone proved to be a reliable navigator, it takes a while to get there. The handset is extremely sluggish, and the included Smart Navigator software isn't the easiest to use. At around $530 unlocked, we'd much rather spend the money on the HTC Touch Cruise and get both accurate navigation and snappier performance.
Like the BlackBerry Tour and the HTC Snap, the Pharos Traveler 127 features a slate QWERTY design, but it's quite a bit thicker and heavier than the others at 4.5 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick and 5.1 ounces. The smartphone also has a boxier shape and looks more industrial rather than sexy and sleek, so it's not going to win any beauty contests. On the positive side, it's got quite a sturdy construction that looks like it can take a beating (though, of course, not recommended) and a soft-touch finish covers most of the device to give the handset extra durability.
On front, a 2.5-inch TFT touch screen occupies the top half of the smartphone. It displays 65,000 colors at a 320x240-pixel resolution, so images, text, and maps looked bright and clear. However, like a lot of phones, the display tends to wash out in sunlight and its smaller size sometimes made it hard to read street names while using the Traveler 127 as a navigation device. The user interface will be familiar to previous Windows Mobile users, though our review unit also came with a 15-day trial version of the Spb Mobile Shell, which presents more information in an attractive interface, but it can all look a bit cramped on the Traveler 127's smaller screen. It's much more useful and appealing on the Pharos Traveler 137, which has a 3.5-inch display, and in the end, we reverted back to the traditional Windows Today screen.
The Traveler 127's touch screen is responsive and registered our commands with no problem. The included stylus comes in handy since some of the menu items can be cramped. Aside from the touch screen, there are numerous controls to help you navigate the phone, including Talk and End keys, an OK button, a Start menu key, and a trackball navigator just below the display. Along the left side, there's a volume rocker and a voice recorder button while on the right, you get a shortcut to the navigation app, another OK button, and a camera activation/capture key. Note that you can reassign these controls to launch other apps or perform other tasks under Settings > Personal > Buttons. The only thing we missed was the back button, since there's no way to go up a level or return to the previous screen.
For text entry, the smartphone offers a full QWERTY keyboard with good size buttons. (You also get onscreen methods, such as a soft keyboard, Block Recognizer, and so forth.) The keys have a bit of a curved shape to them, which is better than flat keys, but they also felt a bit wobbly. Still, we didn't have any major problems typing messages. The number keys are also easy to identify since they're highlighted in white, but it was a bit annoying that you still had to hold down the function key for dialing numbers in the phone. Sure, you can use the onscreen dialpad but we've seen other smartphones automatically switch to number mode when using the keyboard so we know it's possible.
Some final pieces of the Traveler 127 include a lock/power switch and a 2.5mm headset jack on top of the device. On the bottom, there's a mini USB port and the battery cover release button. There's a microSD expansion slot on the left that's protected by an attached cap but there's no easy way to remove it so you have to take the battery cover off to access it, which is annoying. The smartphone's 2-megapixel camera is located on the back, and there's a 0.3-megapixel camera on front that you can use for self-portraits or video conferencing.
The Pharos Traveler 127 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more add ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ring tones, and help page.
Of course, the main attraction of the Pharos Traveler 127 is the smartphone's GPS and navigation abilities. While a good number of smartphones today include GPS radios, you often have to get a location-based service to get voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, which requires a subscription fee and a cellular connection for maps. However, with the Traveler 127, you don't have to hassle with any of this since it comes with a microSD card preloaded with Ostia Smart Navigator software so you always have access to maps.
Smart Navigator also provides voice- and text-based directions, multiple routing options, points of interest (POI) database, and a trip recorder. You can even get real-time traffic updates, gas prices, movie listings, and weather information for your location. The only notable omission is text-to-speech functionality, so you can hear specific street names rather than more generic instructions during route guidance.
The bigger speed bump of the Smart Navigator app is the user interface. The layout of the menus can be confusing, especially as you get deeper and the submenus begin to stack on top of each other. Also, the route planning process wasn't as streamlined as some other navigation software. For example, when entering an address, we'd start by entering a state and city and then proceed to enter the house number but then was asked to select the city again. Also, we were asked to enter a user ID and password when trying to search for a POI. What's worse, there's no user guide for Smart Navigator included in the box, though we were able to find one online. While the GPS performed OK (see Performance section for more), the Smart Navigator software could definitely use some refinements.
Navigation aside, the Traveler 127 is a lot like any other Windows Mobile smartphone. It runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition and includes the standard Microsoft Office Mobile Suite, Internet Explorer Mobile, Windows Live integration, and Windows Media Player. The smartphone also offers personal information management tools, such as a voice recorder and a task list as well as a unit converter, a Facebook app, a PDF reader, and more.
As a phone, the unlocked Pharos Traveler 127 offers quad-band world roaming, speed dial, voice commands, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging. The address book is only limited by the available memory, and each entry can store multiple numbers, home and work addresses, e-mail, birthdays, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can pair a contact with a photo, a caller group, or a custom ringtone. Bluetooth 2.0 is onboard with support for mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, file transfer, dial-up networking, and more. The smartphone also offers tri-band 3G support (UMTS/HSDPA 850/1900/2100) and integrated Wi-Fi.
As we noted in the Design section, the Traveler 127 is outfitted with a 2-megapixel camera with video recording and geotagging capabilities. Camera options are a bit more limited than other camera phones we've seen, but you do get a choice of three resolutions, three quality settings, various effects, and an antiflicker function. In video mode, you only get effects, two resolution options, and a choice of one of two video formats.
We were impressed with the photo quality of the camera. Images came out really clear and there wasn't any weird color tones blanketing the photo. The Pharos Traveler 127 has 256MB Flash ROM and 128MB SDRAM, which can be expanded via the microSD card slot. Unfortunately, if you happen to be using the nav app at the same time, you can't swap in a fresh memory card, since all the maps are loaded onto the microSD card.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) in San Francisco using AT&T service and call quality was mediocre. On our end, calls sounded hollow and there was a minor background hiss, though it never interfered with the conversation. Meanwhile, friends said we sounded OK but they did notice some slight distortion. Conversations over speakerphone, while clear, sounded far away and volume was a problem in louder environments, even with levels set to high. We had no problems pairing the Traveler 127 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
Unfortunately, the downfall of the Pharos Traveler 127 might be its sluggish performance. The 400MHz Qualcomm MSM7201-90 processor simply couldn't keep up with our demands and more often than not, we sat and watched the spinning pinwheel while waiting for applications to launch. This also was a problem when we were using the smartphone's Smart Navigator software. Sometimes the program would momentarily freeze while switching screens, and on a couple of occasions, it took so long that we thought we'd have to reset the device but eventually it sputtered back to life. In addition, the smartphone couldn't always connect to the Internet to update satellite data.
When it was working, the Traveler 127 was a reliable navigator. The smartphone usually found our location in a couple of minutes and accurately tracked our location. We used the device on several trips, including one from downtown San Francisco to Pleasanton, Calif., and our standard trip from the Marina District to CNET's downtown headquarters. Putting the clunky address entry process aside, on both occasions, the Traveler 127 offered accurate directions, though not always the most direct in our opinion. The voice prompts were clear, and when we purposefully missed a couple of turns, the smartphone was able to come up with a new route pretty quickly.
The Pharos Traveler 127 has a rated talk time of 7.5 hours (5 hours on 3G) and up to 8 days of standby time. The Traveler 127 didn't fare well in our battery drain tests and only gave us 3.75 hours of talk time. According to FCC radiation tests, the Traveler 127 has a digital SAR rating of 0.63 watt per kilogram.