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We've seen plenty of Windows Mobile devices in our day, and at times they all start to blur together--same story, just different packaging. However, back at CTIA Spring 2008, a new company called Velocity Mobile caught our eye, impressing us with a fresh approach to the user interface. Recognizing that Windows Mobile isn't the easiest operating system to master, the company developed the Velocity Odyssey interface (somewhat similar to HTC's TouchFlo) where you can access your frequently used applications through a shortcuts toolbar and perform actions with various finger swipes. The whole idea behind it was to create an easy-to-use experience and offer an extra level of personalization to match your smartphone to your lifestyle.
Well, at CTIA Fall 2008, Velocity Mobile announced that it has started shipping its first smartphone, the Velocity 103, and we were lucky to get our hands on a review unit. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The Velocity Odyssey interface isn't as intuitive as the company would have you think. Right out of the box, you wouldn't even know the shortcuts toolbar is available to you, until you read through the user's manual. Plus, there are some performance issues, and the speakerphone is plain horrible. That's not to say the 103 is a complete dud. It's got a gorgeous VGA display and is packed with features, including over-the-air software updates. However, with other touch-screen smartphones like the HTC Touch Diamond (Sprint) and the Apple iPhone offering a better user experience and better performance, we think the Velocity 103 is going to have a hard time keeping up. The Velocity 103 is available through online retailers as an unlocked GSM phone with prices ranging from $500 to $600.
Like the latest touch-screen smartphones, the Velocity 103's design largely centers around the display and features minimal tactile buttons. The 103 is a fairly attractive smartphone with a sleek, all-black chassis and compact frame (4.4 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep and 4.5 ounces). It is slightly larger and heavier than the HTC Touch Diamond, but has a solid construction and nice soft-touch finish on the back.
The star of the show is the Velocity 103's 2.8-inch VGA touch screen. With a 262,000 color output and 640x480 pixel resolution, the display is a feast for your eyes, as images and text look amazingly sharp and vibrant. You can, of course, customize the Today screen with various background images, themes, adjust the backlight, and more. Unfortunately, the Velocity 103 suffers from the same fate of the original HTC Touch, in that it has poor text entry methods. You get a full QWERTY keyboard, but it's the teeny, tiny version that requires you to use the stylus, so this phone definitely isn't the best for messaging fanatics.
Like the HTC Touch series, Velocity Mobile also takes advantage of the touch screen and offers a proprietary user interface (UI) to provide a more personal and simpler way to use your device--in theory, anyway. Called Velocity Odyssey interface, it's somewhat similar to HTC TouchFlo 3D UI in that you can perform certain actions with finger swipes and access numerous applications with a single touch. To start, a quick flick upward from above the Velocity logo a quarter of the way up the display will bring up a single line of applications, where you can then scroll left to right and then select with a tap. Alternatively, you can press the toolbar shortcut on the left side of the phone, since we found the response time of the touch screen to be a bit slow.
The differentiating factor between Velocity Odyssey and TouchFlo is that you can add and remove applications to the toolbar on the Velocity 103. With a longer swipe of your finger (from bottom to top), you can access a full menu of programs. To add a shortcut to the tray, just tap and hold an icon and then you can drag it up to the tray; same idea for removing an item. Unlike the Samsung Omnia, we really like that you get so much customization and aren't limited to certain applications.
All that said, we had some major complaints about the Odyssey UI. Though it's designed to make the Windows Mobile smartphone easier to use for all types of people, it doesn't quite succeed. Right out of the box, it's not clear that the shortcuts menu is available to you. It's hidden and we only knew about it since we were given a demo beforehand. For a new user, we'd imagine you'd have to read through the user's manual on the software CD to even be aware of its existence. We much prefer that the toolbar was always present on the screen.
Below the display, you get Talk and End keys and a trackball navigator (a la RIM BlackBerry Pearl). You can press the trackball to select an item, but we had some trouble since it was set fairly deep beneath the phone's surface, so something to note.
The left spine holds a camera activation key, a volume rocker, and the aforementioned toolbar key, while there's a microSD expansion slot on the right. However, to access the latter, you have to take off the back cover, open the protective flap, and insert the card. On the bottom of the unit, you have a mini USB port, a back cover release switch, a 2.5mm headset jack, and the stylus. There's a power button/lock on top and the camera lens is located on the back along with a self-portrait mirror and speaker.
The Velocity 103 comes packaged with an AC adapter with several adapters, a USB cable, a wired headset, a soft protective pouch, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
In the features department, the Velocity 103 is well poised to compete with other smartphones. To start, the 103 is a quad-band world phone and comes with a speakerphone, speed dial, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging. The address book is only limited by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts); each entry can hold multiple numbers, work and home addresses, e-mail, birthday, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can pair a contact with a photo, a caller group, or one of four polyphonic ringtones. Bluetooth 2.1 is onboard with support for mono and stereo headsets, hands-free kits, dial-up networking, and more. No need for a Bluetooth GPS receiver, either, since the 103 has assisted GPS.
The Velocity 103 is also a 3G-capable handset. More specifically, it supports the 850/1900 HSDPA bands, which means you'll be able to get 3.5G speeds, provided that you are using an AT&T SIM. T-Mobile's 3G network operates on the 1700/2100 bands so you won't be able to enjoy the same advantages. Fortunately, the smartphone also has integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), providing an alternative method for surfing the Web.
The smartphone runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional Edition and comes with the full Microsoft Office Mobile Suite and support for Microsoft's Direct Push Technology for real-time message delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. The 103 can also be configured to access your POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts.
The one advantage the Velocity 103 offers over other Windows Mobile devices is over-the-air software updates. You can configure your device to automatically download the updates (whenever available) every time you fire it up, or you can set it so you receive a notification before you download. Either way, there's no need to connect the Velocity 103 to your PC to get updates, which is a nice convenience.
Other PIM tools include a PDF reader, a remote desktop client, a task list, a unit converter, a notepad, and a calculator. There's a Task Manager to help optimize CPU and memory usage. The Velocity 103 comes with 128MB DDR SDRAM and 256MB NAND Flash storage.
Multimedia features on the Velocity 103 includes Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, which supports a number of music and video formats, such as AAC, MP3, WAV, WMA, MPEG-4, and WMV files, to name a few. Plus, if you have TV shows recorded on your Windows Media Center PC, you can transfer them to your device for on-the-go viewing or stream your home's TV programming right to your device with a Slingbox and SlingPlayer Mobile.
The Velocity 103 features a 2-megapixel camera with video recording capabilities. Options are a bit more limited than other camera phones we've tested, but you do get a self timer and flicker adjustment. Still images can be shot in one of three resolutions and one of three quality settings. Unfortunately, there's no flash and also no way to adjust the white balance. You can, however, add various effects. In video mode, you have the option of two video formats and two resolutions.
Picture quality was quite decent. Objects were clearly defined and sharp. Some colors looked slightly flat, but overall, we were pleased with the results. Video quality was also impressive with minimal pixelation.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; HSDPA 850/1900) Velocity 103 in San Francisco using AT&T service and call quality was decent. We heard a slight background hiss during calls, but overall, we enjoyed loud and clear audio quality. We had no problems using an airline's automated voice response system. Our friends reported similar results, but there were a couple of mentions of voice distortion. Unfortunately, the speakerphone was pretty abysmal. We could barely hear our callers, even with the volume at its highest level. It was so bad that we didn't even realize the speakerphone was on when we first activated it. This was in a quiet room, too, so we imagine you wouldn't be able to hear anything in a louder environment. We were able to pair the Velocity 103 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
The Velocity 103 is powered by a 400MHz Qualcomm MSM7201 processor, and general performance was OK. The smartphone didn't feel quite as snappy as the Touch Diamond, as there was some lag when using the touch screen and various applications. Multimedia performance was also affected by the weak speaker. Song playback was very soft and sounded tinny. We watched a couple of short WMV clips, and video and audio were always synchronized and looked better than on other devices, thanks to the smartphone's VGA display.
The Velocity 103 comes with a 1,410mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 4 hours and up to 8 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, the Velocity 103 was only able to squeeze out 3 hours of talk time, but this was using 3G. According to FCC radiation tests, the 103 has a digital SAR rating of 0.98 watt per kilogram.