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Toshiba TS 803 review: Toshiba TS 803

The TS803 is the first music and 3G combi handset from Toshiba, and it has been snapped up exclusively by Vodafone. It's an ugly looking beast, all strange angles and blocky design. It has an excellent, large screen and a useful miniSD card slot, but having only one camera hinders video calls

Sandra Vogel
5 min read

At first glance the TS 803 is an ugly looking beast, all strange angles and blocky design. Its clamshell is large when closed, larger when opened, and not well suited to smaller pockets.


Toshiba TS 803

The Good

Fabulous front screen and music control combi; accessible miniSD card slot; lots of variation for camera image resolution.

The Bad

Not enough internal memory; image quality is average; sound output quality is average.

The Bottom Line

The TS 803 sits at the head of the pile in terms of specs, but there are some flaws. With just a single camera, face-to-face video calls are out, and it won't slot easily into a small pocket. It is redeemed somewhat by an excellent front screen and music control panel combi, but sound quality can't match a dedicated music player

The TS803 is the first music and 3G combi handset to come from Toshiba, and it has been snapped up as an exclusive by Vodafone. It's available from free on a £30 monthly 18-month contract, or £80 on a £25 monthly 18-month contract.

Physically, the Toshiba TS 803 feels like a step back to those days of hulking great 3G handsets that were too hefty for a pocket and offered too little battery life to warrant bothering to carry them in a bag.

Its height off the table is particularly noticeable at a whopping 26mm: there's going to be an unsightly bulge in whichever pocket gets the job of snuggling this handset. It gets worse when you open the clamshell. At that point the 100mm of height quoted in the official specifications expands into a massive 188mm, making this handset protrude beyond the end of anyone but Bruce Forsythe's chin.

The physical design isn't very appealing, either. All silver and black, with a very blocky appearance it doesn't appeal to our sense of aesthetics at all. There is good news, though. There's a relatively large front screen and beneath it is a huge rectangular pad that you use for controlling music playback -- music is one of the key features of this handset, and we'll get to it properly later.

Around the edges are plenty of controls and connectors. On the left, a rocker controls volume and camera zoom, while on the right sits a camera shutter button, a miniSD card slot and a headphones connector. These latter two are covered by plastic protectors that you'll need fingernails and some effort to remove. On the back is a pair of speakers, nicely designed to blend in with the camera lens and flash unit.

Open the clamshell and you reveal the main screen and the keyboard. The screen is big, but it looks lost in the vast expanse that is the surrounding casing. Its 240x320 pixels and 262k colours do it proud, though. The best news about the generous size of the TS 803 is the spacious number pad, whose shiny plastic keys are responsive and easy to find.

The TS803 comes with software that allows you to share data between it and your PC either via the provided USB cable (it's only USB 1.1) or Bluetooth, as well as stereo headphones that you can attach to the handset either via a simple proprietary-to-3.5mm converter or a converter with a music controller built in to a rather bulky (in keeping with the handset itself) rectangular controller with a solid hinged clothing clip.

The handset offers a good range of basic personal productivity software, including an address book, a diary and email support, and it comes with all the gubbins needed to share information with a PC, which puts it into the big league as far as personal information management-capable handsets go.

But it's also strong on entertainment, with Java support for gaming and, its main claims to fame, a camera and music-playing capability. Just to give one example of some of the good stuff that's going on here, you can set up seven different alarms, and for each you can use an alarm tone, a built-in sound, or a video or sound you create. The alarms can be set to sound every day, on weekdays only, on specific weekdays you choose, or just once only. It's all very flexible, and if added to the countdown timer, makes for a wide range of options to get this handset to shout at you.

If you're keen on 3G for making video calls, you should note that this handset has just the one camera built in, and its lens sits on the back of the casing. You can show the person you are calling what you are looking at and see their image in the handset's screen, or turn the TS 803 around and video yourself, but you can't see both you and them at the same time.

The camera is designed for shooting stills and video, and takes pictures at up to 2.3 megapixels, offering different picture sizes in its landscape and portrait orientations. For the former you can choose between 1728x1296, 1600x1200, 1280x960 and 640x480 pixels. The latter is rather more restrictive, offering 240x320, 144x176, 120x160, 112x112 and 96x128. Don't expect a great deal from image quality, which we found to be only average.

You can make camera settings either from the main menu options grid, or from within the camera itself, using number-pad key presses. One of these turns the LED flash on and off, making this handset an excellent substitute for a torch. Other goodies like a self timer, and various picture effects are on hand too, all mapped to buttons on the number pad. It takes some learning to remember which number you have to press for which control, but at least tiny icons on the screen show the effect of your selections.

When it comes to music, you get 10MB of internal memory along with a 512MB miniSD card, which is easily swappable with other cards as its slot is in the side of the casing. The card has some exclusive audio and video from Oasis. Playback quality is average rather than outstanding, with a definite lack of bass.

A button above the number pad is dedicated to starting the music player, and the front screen shows information like track name, band and suchlike. That large button we mentioned earlier is great for controlling playback and moving around your music library. This control system is one of the best things about the TS 803.

As a voice handset, the TS 803 performed well, with good audio quality and no dropped calls. When making video calls it was immensely frustrating not to be able to see ourselves and the caller at the same time, though the camera provided smooth video throughout.

Battery life is not especially good with this handset, and if you intend to use it as your main music player, which surely must be the point, you will need to ensure a good daily dose of mains power.

Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide