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Sierra Wireless Voq GSM Windows Mobile Smartphone

Posted Nov. 26, 2004 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

This has been a great year in the US for MS Smartphones with several models released including the Voq, Motorola MPx220, Samsung i600 and the Audiovox SMT5600. Windows Mobile Smartphones are similar in size to a standard feature phone, but add impressive sync, web and email capabilities. But how easy is it to compose emails using a numeric keypad? Not easy, and that's why Sierra Wireless introduced the Voq, currently the only MS Smartphone to sport an integrated thumb keyboard.

Though larger than other Windows Mobile Smartphones, the Voq is still significantly smaller than Pocket PC phones and features a phone-centric design that beats holding a Pocket PC phone to your head. The Voq comes in two flavors: the A11 for the North American market which we received for review, and the A10 triband world phone. The A11 supports the GSM 850/1800/1900MHz bands (850 and 1900 are used in the US, 1800MHz is used primarily in Asia and somewhat in Europe) and the A10 supports the 900/1800/1900MHz bands (900MHz is pervasive in Europe). Other than band support, the two models are identical. The Voq is sold unlocked by various electronics, handheld and computer vendors and isn't offered by US carriers. That means you can buy the phone for use with any GSM carrier and will not have to start a new contract to obtain the phone. Sierra Wireless tells us that Voq is pronounced "voke", reminiscent of the word invoke.

Voq
back view

side view

 

 

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VoqMail: the Unique Way to Stay in Touch

The Voq targets the business market rather than consumers. While it lacks a camera and Bluetooth which are found on consumer oriented devices, the keyboard and included VoqMail make it great for road warriors who need to stay in touch. The Voq comes with VoqMail Personal and you can upgrade to the Pro version for a $99 one time charge. Often you'll find the phone bundled with the more capable Pro version. What's the difference? Personal supports IMAP4 mail and Profession supports the full gamut of popular corporate email solutions: MS Exchange, Lotus Notes and Novell GroupWise. It also adds VPN support with Certicom MovianVPN. Oddly, neither version supports POP3 email, perhaps because that's more commonly used for home rather than business email accounts and the included standard MS Inbox app has support for POP3. With VoqMail you need not pay your service provider for email handling and forwarding services or setup a BlackBerry server to have email pushed to your phone. VoqMail is easy to set up and offers reliable email handling. It can also check mail on a variable schedule, which means you can set it to check frequently during business hours, sparingly in the evening or even set a different schedule for times when the phone is roaming.

In the Box

The phone comes with a world charger, USB sync cable, Lithium Ion battery, mono earbud headset, printed manual and software CD. Accessories such as spare batteries, stereo headsets, cradles and car chargers are available for separate purchase.

Design and Ergonomics

The Voq has a unique design thanks to its flip-open keyboard and curvy design. With the keyboard closed, the Voq looks like a long candy bar mobile phone. It's made of durable ABS plastic finished in black with silver accents and has a 2.2" color display running at the standard MS Smartphone 176 x 220 resolution. As you can see from the side and front view photos above, the Voq curves in at the sides and has a gentle back curve which makes it very comfy to hold and use. The keypad panel flips open to reveal a QWERTY thumb keyboard— certainly an ingenious and functional design. The keyboard's large plastic hinge is very sturdy and the only drawback is that it's wide enough to create a good deal of separation between the left and right hand sections.

On the front face with keyboard closed you'll find a standard numeric dial pad with large, adequately spaced keys. The number pad is backlit, though the center column of keys is a bit dim. The standard left and right Windows Mobile Smartphone action keys are just below the display as are the back and home keys. Like all phones, the Voq has dedicated call send and end keys. The unit has a 5-way joystick for navigation and button just below it to launch the handy MyVoq application.

voq open

The Voq with keyboard flipped open.

keyboard

A close up of the keyboard

Above: comparing the size of the Motorola MPx220 MS Smartphone, Voq, Audiovox SMT5600 MS Smartphone and the Sony Ericsson T610.

The volume up/down rocker is located on the left upper side of the phone with the 2.5mm headset jack just above. The power button, Voice Notes (recorder) button and SD slot are on the phone's right side. The IR lens is on the top edge of the phone and the sync and charger connectors are on the bottom. The user replaceable battery is located on the back of the phone, and the battery is integrated with the battery cover.

Horsepower and Performance

The Voq uses the capable Intel XScale PXA262 processor running at 200MHz, which is the most common clock speed for Windows Mobile Smartphones. Like other MS Smartphones, the Voq has 32 megs of RAM which works like RAM in your computer. It has 48 megs of ROM, where the operating system and built-in apps are permanently installed. The remaining ROM is available for your use to store programs and files (like the hard drive in your computer). The Voq uses Intel StrataFlash ROM and approximately 16 megs were available on our A11. That's less storage memory than competing Windows Mobile Smartphones with 32 megs of available storage and 64 megs total ROM, but the Voq is expandable using SD cards if you need more storage.

The devices feels snappy and responsive when opening menus, launching programs and working with PIM applications. Video playback is generally not impressive on Windows Mobile Smartphones compared to Pocket PCs which have much faster processors, but the Voq does an excellent job of playing MPEG1 and WMV files using the free BetaPlayer. We used one of our favorite Pocket PC test files, "The Chosen" (a neat BMW flick with Clive Owen) which is a 4:26 minute long, 10 meg MPEG1 file recorded at 320 x 240, 308 kb/s. This movie plays back with some occasional stuttering and frame loss on other MS Smartphones but played smoothly on the Voq. That said, I'd suggest keeping the bit rate under 400kbps for smooth playback and 300kbps is advisable.

While recently released competitors run the latest OS, Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition for Smartphones, the Voq runs Windows Mobile 2003 (not Second Edition) for Smartphones.

Phone Features, Reception

Sierra Wireless has been in the business of making cellular wireless products such as AirCards for some time and their expertise clearly shines through with the Voq which has excellent reception that rivals if not bests recent Nokia phones. The Voq generally pulled in one more bar than did the SMT5600 and held its own against the impressive Nokia 7610.

Phone features are standardized among all MS Smartphones, so the experience is similar across these devices. To make a call, you can press the call send button and dial using the number pad, dial from Contacts or dial from call history. You can also speed dial by pressing and holding a number that's assigned to a phone number in Contacts. You can add a speed dial entry from the Contacts application for anyone in your address book and have up to 99 speed dial entries. Standard phone features include profiles, call waiting, call history, speakerphone, call barring, call forwarding and caller ID. As with all MS Smartphones, you can turn on keyguard by pressing and holding the call end button. This prevents the phone from reacting to accidental button presses when it's in your pocket or purse. For some reason, unlike most other phones, the power button isn't disabled when keyguard is on, so you can accidentally power the phone on or off.

Along with the standard multi-press and numeric input methods, the Voq offers EziTAP predictive text input which will guess words based on your multi-tap input before you've finished entering a word. This isn't as elegant a solution as T9 or even Motorola's iTap since it does require multi-press style input. Thank goodness for the keyboard!

For voice dialing, Sierra Wireless includes smARTspeak NG which allows you to create voice tags for contacts. You'll record voice tags for contacts using the smARTspeak NG application and you can fine tune recognition to improve results. The application also supports digit dialing and you need not record numbers as voice tags: it uses speech recognition for numbers. When you activate voice dialing you can either speak a voice tag or dictate a phone number and both modes are enabled by default.

Display and Sound

The Voq's 2.2" 64,000 color display is colorful and reasonably bright, though it's not as sharp and bright as the screens on the MPx220 and SMT5600. It's certainly sharp enough for reading text and lively enough for watching videos, even though it's not the best of breed. The screen is viewable outdoors, though like most smartphone displays it loses a bit of contrast.

The Voq has good quality sound with only a bit of the background hiss heard on GSM networks. The built-in earpiece speaker is one of the loudest we've heard on recent MS Smartphones and you'll have no trouble hearing your caller even if you're outdoors. It's easily twice as loud as the MPx220 and SMT5600! We heard no audible distortion despite the amazing volume and the mic did a good job of sending our voices loud and clear to call recipients. The speakerphone is also good and offers average volume. You can use the included mono earbud headset for calls and if you wish to listen to MP3s using the included Windows Media Player 9, you can purchase a stereo earbud headset from Sierra Wireless.

Software

The Voq comes with the standard set of WM2003 applications, including Inbox which supports POP3, IMAP4, SMS and ActiveSync email, Windows Media Player 9 for MP3 and movie playback, MSN Messenger, Contacts, Calendar, Tasks and the Windows Mobile version of Internet Explorer which does a good job of rendering HTML and WAP sites on a small screen. Sierra Wireless includes a nice bundle of additional software including the excellent ClearVue Suite for viewing MS Office and PDF files, VoqMail, MyVoq, jMMS by Jataayu Software which allows you to send picture or audio MMS messages, smARTspeak NG voice dialing software, Voice Notes and Mount Voq which is a game that helps you practice keyboard input and texting. ClearVue is permanently installed in ROM, so you won't need to use precious storage space to install it.

MyVoq is an interesting notes-like application where you'll enter some text then assign it a context. MyVoq offers five possible contexts (History, Contacts, Notes, Calculator and Favorites) and will try to determine the proper context for an item based on what you've typed. For example, you can press the handy MyVoq button just below the joystick to launch the application, and type in the number 7. MyVoq assumes the Calculator might be what you want and presents a list of operators under the left action key. If you type in "www.", the application assumes Favorites is what you were after and presents a "Go" action so you can visit then URL you've entered. Don't worry, the application leaves other possible contexts available, so if you were typing 7 as the first number of a phone number, you can continue entering that number and select the Contacts context. A very useful and clever application that acts as an intelligent launch pad for common actions.

Battery Life

The Voq has a user replaceable 1,050 mAh Lithium Ion battery that should last two days with light to average use and will likely require nightly charging if you have VoqMail set to check email every 10 minute during business hours. Checking email once per hour from 9am to 7pm, surfing the web for about 45 minutes, using the device to look up PIM information, and talking on the phone for 30 minutes per day we got two days on a charge. The unit gave us three days of standby (not using the phone at all, not using automatic email checking but merely leaving the phone turned on and unused).

Conclusion

If a Windows Mobile Smartphone seems like the perfect tool for daily business use but you lamented the lack of a keyboard, the Voq has your name on it. Perfect for messaging on the go, the Voq may be larger and heavier than other MS Smartphones but it is smaller than Pocket PC phones and Palm OS smartphones with integrated keyboards.

Pro: It's the only Windows Mobile Smartphone with an integrated keyboard. The device is fast and responsive. VoqMail Pro does an excellent job of handling common corporate email needs.You won't have any difficulties hearing your caller when in public places: this phone has a much louder earpiece than recent MS Smartphone and Series 60 competitors. The phone is unlocked, which means you can use it with any GSM provider's SIM. Has a full sized SD card slot so you won't have to hunt for mini SD cards (used on the newest MS Smartphones) or RS-MMC cards which are used in the latest Nokias. Excellent GSM reception.

Con: Larger (particularly longer) that other MS Smartphones. Unlike some recent competitors, the Voq doesn't run the latest version of the Windows Mobile Smartphone OS. No Bluetooth. Display is good but not as good as that of the MPx220, Audiovox SMT5600 and Nokia 7610. No SDIO support. The predictive text and voice dialing apps aren't up to the competition's. Less available memory for storing applicaitons and documents compared to other recent Windows Mobile Smartphones.

Web site: www.voq.com

Price: $599 unlocked for use with any GSM carrier (new activation not required)

 

Specs:

Display: Transflective TFT color LCD, 64K colors. Screen size diag: 2.2 ", resolution: 176 x220.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1050 mA.

Performance: Intel Xscale PXA262 (200 MHz). 32 MB built-in RAM (acts like RAM in your PC). 48 MB Intel StrataFlash ROM with 15.6MB for storage (similar to the hard drive on your PC).

Size: 5.25" x 2.16" x 0.8". Weight: 5.11 oz.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 2.5mm stereo headphone jack. Voice Notes and Windows Pocket Media Player 9 included.

Networking: GSM phone with GPRS class 10 for data. A10 model supports 900/1800/1900MHz bands. A11 supports 850/1800/1900MHz bands. Phone is unlocked and can be used with any GSM carrier.

Software: MS Smartphone version of Windows Mobile 2003 operating system. Smartphone versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer, Inbox (email/SMS/MMS, Contacts, Calendar and Tasks), MSN Instant Messenger, Calculator, Call History, Speed Dial and Windows Media Player 9. Third party software included: ClearVue Suite (for viewing MS Office documents and PDFs), smARTspeak NG for voice dialing, MyVoq, VoqMail, jMMS, Voice Notes, and intent Java MIDlet Manager by Tao Group Ltd. Games: Mount Voq, Solitaire and Jawbreaker. ActiveSync 3.7.1 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.

Expansion: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot (does not support SDIO). IR port.

 

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