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It had to happen sooner or later. A handset that can show you TV, we mean. And it has, but maybe the source might surprise you. Virgin Mobile, not known for leading from the front when it comes to new-fangled tech, has exclusively launched the Lobster 700TV, a Windows Mobile smart phone that not only delivers TV but also DAB digital radio.
The Lobster 700TV will set you back £199 if you're a pay as you go customer. TV and radio are free for the first 90 days, then they'll cost you £5 a month. Contract customers paying £25 or more can have the handset and mobile TV for free.
The Lobster 700TV isn't small or perfectly formed. In fact, we'd go as far as to say it is one of the ugliest handsets we've ever seen, and one of the stubbiest to come our way for some time too. Size-wise you are looking at 111mm of height, 58mm of width and 24mm of depth.
At 140g, it's heavy by modern standards too, even for a smart phone, and particularly for a Windows Mobile smart phone, which tend to tip the scales around the 100g mark these days.
We guess the weight -- and the size -- are due to the fact that the Lobster 700TV has within it the capability to turn TV signals into something that's displayable on its 240x320-pixel screen. That gubbins sits, we suppose, in the same rather ugly right-side protrusion that houses the TV/radio on/off switch.
The grey and silver colour scheme, complete with a black frame for the screen, are not unsurprising -- we'd have liked something more jazzy for such a groundbreaker, but the colours are not a major turn-off.
We aren't sure we can say the same for the number pad. Its keys are quite large, and they depress nicely when pressed, which are plus points. But there is a lot of play behind them. We were a little worried at times that keys might fall off -- but that may have just been a feature of our review unit. The other keys, Call, End, Home and Back, are all much more stable under the finger and are also very large compared to other Windows Mobile smart phones.
The navigation button has a nice design tweak, as it has three square corners and a rounded one. The two softkey buttons are small and long -- again, they are easy to find and press. On the upper-right edge is a control button for the built-in camera. Its lens is on the back. The left side has a volume rocker. On the bottom edge is a mini-USB connector for mains power and synchronising with a PC, and a 2.5mm jack for the provided stereo headset.
You'll have probably noticed during that quick tour that we didn't mention a memory-expansion slot. There is one -- it takes miniSD cards, and its location is the single most irritating thing about this handset. It lives under the SIM.
Given that the Lobster 700TV incorporates Windows Media Player and so can play back music, you might be tempted to use is as a portable MP3 player. Now, the version of Windows Media Player in the Lobster 700TV can synchronise with version 10 of the player on your PC, and you could sync tunes into some of the 70MB of free memory on the device. But equally you might want to copy tunes (and other stuff too, such as images or files) to and from a miniSD card directly. You might want to do that, but you'll be put off by the need to power down and remove both battery and SIM to get at the card.
To receive TV and radio you have to plug in the provided headset, as this acts as an antenna. You can play the sound through the handset speaker or headphones. We were able to tune into close to the maximum 50 DAB stations available. The number you get will vary depending on where you are in the country, just as with any DAB set. There are some channels that offer 'interactive' services via Pocket Internet Explorer -- you hit the TV on/off button and if these are available they load into Pocket IE.
The TV coverage is more limited. There are four channels -- BBC1, ITV1, Channel 4 and E4. BBC1 is trailing for a year. Channel 4 isn't yet the full C4, but rather its Short Cuts made-for-mobile channel. On all channels, some US, sports and film content won't be broadcast at all due to rights issues. There's a seven-day programme guide, and you can set a reminder to watch a channel on a particular day at a particular time.
The 1.3-megapixel camera lacks a flash or self-portrait mirror and therefore its specifications are decidedly average. Which, apart from the TV, is probably a good word to sum this handset up. Average.
The TV and radio performance was pretty good. They both worked watchably well in areas with good reception and we successfully tested them on a moving bus and car. However, it didn't work well on a train -- it frequently froze -- and occasionally cut out on the bus and car if we were in areas with very bad reception.
Another problem we found was that the images on the TV didn't refresh fast enough in relation to the audio, creating a dubbed film-like effect, with people's mouths not moving in time with what they were saying.
The camera delivered quite well considering its low pixel count. We wouldn't be embarrassed to share the images it produced.
Battery life is a letdown, though. Continuous TV play off a full charge got us three hours of watching. That is enough for a movie and some soaps, but we'd have liked more. A more traditional MP3 rundown test with the screen forced on delivered just over eight hours of music.
Edited by Mary Lojkine and Andrew Lim
Additional editing by Nick Hide