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Editors' note: The Pharos Traveler 137 shares similar features to the Pharos Traveler 127. For this review, we will be focusing on the different design and performance. For more details on the phone's features, please read our full review of the Pharos Traveler 127.
Earlier this month, we looked at the Pharos Traveler 127. The GPS-enabled smartphone offered the advantage of coming with its own navigation software and maps, which eliminated the need for fee-based location services and a cellular connection. Unfortunately, the benefit of this was lost on the clunky software and the device's sluggish performance. We had higher hopes for the Pharos Traveler 137. After all, the smartphone features a sleeker design with a full touch screen (perfect for viewing maps) as well as a faster processor and more memory. In addition, it offers 3G support, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a 5-megapixel camera. Sadly, the Traveler 137 also let us down with its inconsistent performance and navigation capabilities. The device could be extremely slow at times, and directions weren't always accurate, so it's really hard to justify paying $600 for the phone. If Pharos can make the performance improvements, the company could certainly give the competition a run for its money.
The Pharos Traveler 137 is a sleek and attractive device, with a nice clean and streamlined design similar to other candybar-style, touch-screen smartphones like the Samsung Omnia. The device measures 4.6 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide and 0.5 thick and weighs 4.9 ounces, so it's a pocketful but it has a nice, solid construction and soft-touch finish on back.
The real attention-grabber is the Traveler 137's display. It measures 3.5 inches diagonally and displays 65,000 colors at a sharp 480x800-pixel resolution. Images and text looked extra-clear and vibrant on the screen, and the larger display definitely made it easier to see and read maps compared to the Traveler 127. Adding to goodness, Pharos ships the smartphone with the Spb Mobile Shell 3.0, which provides a lot more information in a more user-friendly and attractive interface than the standard Windows UI.
The Spb Mobile Shell features three sliding panels; the center panel and default home screen, features the mainstays, such as your calendar, messages, time, weather, and so forth, while swiping the touch screen to the left will bring up an Apps panel, and the right panel offers your multimedia features. Along the bottom of every panel, you also get one-touch access to a Favorites page of all your, you guessed it, favorite programs, a Contacts (also customizable by favorite contacts), a handful of Settings, and a button that lets you scroll through more panels in a 3D carousel view.
To enter text into the Pharos Traveler 137, there is an onscreen portrait and landscape QWERTY keyboard. The keyboard is a bit cramped in portrait mode, but you can use the included stylus for more precision, and the keyboard provides haptic feedback. As a Windows Mobile device, you also get the older, more traditional input methods, such as Block Recognizer, Letter Recognizer, and Transcriber.
The touch screen also has a built-in accelerometer so the screen orientation will automatically switch from portrait to landscape mode when you rotate the phone. However, we found the accelerometer to be quite temperamental. At times, it was sluggish and the screen would momentarily freeze halfway through the transition, while other times it was almost too sensitive, changing at the slightest movement. Needless to say, we got pretty frustrated by the inconsistent performance.
While you'll use the touch screen most of the time, there are some navigation controls below the display, including Talk and End/Home keys, a Start menu shortcut, an OK button, and a trackball navigator. We were particularly fond of the latter since it allowed for smoother scrolling than a traditional directional keypad.
There's a lone mini USB port on the left side, which also doubles as the power connector and headset jack. Unfortunately, this means you will need to get an audio adapter to use your own headphones with the smartphone. On the right side, you will find a volume rocker and a camera activation/capture button, while the power button is on top. Finally, the camera is on the back while the microSD expansion slot is located behind the battery cover. Unfortunately, the expansion slot is located in an inconvenient location where you have to remove the whole battery itself in order to swap out cards.
The Pharos Traveler 137 comes packaged with a 2GB microSD card preloaded with maps, 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, ringtones, and home page.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS/HSDPA 1700/1900/2100) Pharos Traveler 137 in San Francisco using T-Mobile service and call quality was mixed. There was noticeable background hiss on our end and while it didn't prevent us from having a conversation, it was bothersome. Speakerphone quality also sounded quite tinny, and we couldn't hear our callers in louder environments even with the volume at the highest level. On the other side, our friends had nothing but good things to say. They reported excellent sound quality, and they were quite impressed with the speakerphone, noting that they couldn't tell a difference between the speakerphone or regular voice calls.
T-Mobile provided reliable cell service throughout our testing period, and we were also able to get good 3G coverage throughout the city. As an example, CNN's and ESPN's mobile sites came up in 16 seconds and 23 seconds, respectively, while CNET's full site loaded in 51 seconds. We also successfully paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
In terms of general performance, the Pharos Traveler 137 wasn't quite up to task, despite having a faster processor (528MHz Qualcomm MSM7201A) and more memory (256MB SDRAM, 512MB Flash ROM) than the Traveler 127. As we noted in the Design section, we encountered inconsistent performance from the accelerometer and this behavior spilled over to everyday use. More often than not, we had to wait a few seconds for applications to launch and even simple tasks like switching between panels on the Today screen could cause the smartphone pause. On one occasion, while trying to exit out of Internet Explorer Mobile, the Pharos Traveler 137 seemingly froze but after waiting a couple of minutes, the device came back to life. Issues like this just added up to a frustrating experience.
GPS was also slightly off the mark. First, as noted in our Traveler 127 review, the Smart Navigator software isn't very intuitive. Entering addresses is a bit laborious, as is finding recent destinations and searching for POI. Navigating through the software can also get a bit confusing and clunky as you get deeper in submenus as well.
On the road, the smartphone handled tracking well; it consistently found our position within a couple of minutes and accurately tracked our movements as we drove around San Francisco. However, when we plugged in our standard trip from the Marina District to CNET's downtown headquarters, we noticed a major turn missing from the route summary. Fortunately, we knew where we were going, but it definitely didn't give us much confidence about using the Traveler 137 as a navigator in unfamiliar territory. To be fair, this didn't happen in every case and on other trips, the smartphone was able to get us to our destination with clear audible prompts and also was pretty quick with the route recalculations.
The Pharos Traveler 137 features a 1380mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 7 hours (5 hours on 3G) and up to eight days of standby time. We are still conducting our battery drain tests but will update this section as soon as we have final results. According to FCC radiation tests, the Traveler 137 has a digital SAR rating of 0.758 watt per kilogram.