While Vodafone readies itself for the launch of its 3G service, up until now it's been a mostly mid to high-priced affair if you wanted to latch on to its 2.5G service, Vodafone Live! The Sharp GX15 fills the lower price bracket out nicely, and while we had some concerns over its keylocking facility, it's otherwise a sturdy and generally capable phone. There's no doubt that Vodafone Live! users can get better phones for more money, but for the asking price of AU$349, the GX15 is a reasonable buy.
If you want a rough guide to what the GX15 looks like, go no further than the Sony Ericsson T610 -- put side to side, we could essentially only tell the difference due to the integrated red Vodafone logo on the GX15. Mind you, the T610 has been a sucessful little phone for Sony Ericsson, so there should be little surprise in a vendor picking up the same ideas and running with them.
Measuring in at 17.4 x 105 x 45mm with no protruding antenna (something that irked us with the Sharp GX30) and weighing in at 84g, it's a relatively unobtrusive phone in what phone makers call a 'candy bar' shape. Sadly, despite the name, it's not a good idea to bite into a phone to check for a chocolate centre. The number keys are well spaced and lie beneath the five-way navigation, call, cancel and selector buttons. A selection switch on the side offers easy and quick access to the GX15's integrated VGA camera.
The GX15's 1.9" TFT screen uses a 65K colour display at a resolution of 120x160, and in our testing was extremely easy to use for most display-related tasks. It's a tri-band GSM phone with Bluetooth, GPRS and WAP functionality, although at this price point and with the feature set it boasts, it seems to be aimed more solidly at the young adult market than as a serious business phone.
As it boasts a VGA camera, and connection to the Vodafone Live! service, the two main hooks for the GX15 have to be the ability to send MMS messages -- which Vodafone, in its branding wisdom, re-names as PXT -- and use the features that Vodafone Live offers. On the PXT front, the GX15 works much as any other VGA-capable phone does; the pictures aren't spectacular, but they're solid enough in a fun while you're down the pub kind of way. It's capable of up to 4x digital zoom within the camera, but as with any interpolated images, you're always much better off moving closer to the object at hand. At the time of writing, and until the end of September 2004, Vodafone's offering free PXT between its customer's phones, so if you want to go image-crazy, now's the time to do so.
With regard to Vodafone Live!, the GX15 worked well enough, although, as a new phone, it has less content available than existing models like the GX30. This was most noticeable in the games area, although we also found some picture directories within Live! were also bereft of content that the GX15 would accept. This is something that will hopefully improve with time.
As a phone for general calling or SMS purposes, the GX15 worked quite well in our testing. We did find the earpiece to be a little soft during some calls, but that could well have been a signal issues rather than the phone itself. Anyone familiar with the Vodafone Live! service should have no trouble using the GX15 within its 2.5G environment, and while we're expectantly still left waiting for the day that mobile data speeds approach those of broadband, the GX15 transferred and downloaded our Vodafone Live content as swiftly as could be expected.
We did hit one unusual error with the GX15, after we'd downloaded a game from the service (Pitfall, based loosely on the Activision classic). For some reason, while keylocked, the GX15 would randomly launch into games of Pitfall, and if the game was quit out of -- which could and did happen with a jostle of the keypad in our pockets -- then the phone was left fully live and not at all locked. Deleting the game did fix the error entirely, but at the same time it left us more than a little concerned.The GX15 supports polyphonic ringtones, and there's a fair selection of tunes on offer on the Live! service; it didn't take us long to have Prince's Musicology as our ringtone, with an alternate choice of the Knight Rider theme for those really special moments.
The GX15's battery lasted a little over six days on a moderate usage pattern during our testing. That's not exceptional, but it also means you're unlikely to be left struggling for battery power quickly, unless you're the forgetful type.
While there are better phones on the Vodafone Live! service (we're still rather fond of the GX30, if you hadn't already guessed) as a low entry point phone, the GX15 is entirely suitable, strange keylock problems notwithstanding.