Editor's Note: If you're hunting for the rare clamshell smartphone, aren't married to Windows Mobile and want 3G, check out the Nokia N75, released by Cingular in May 2007.
Review posted September 23, 2006 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The RAZR has gone to college and returned a smartphone. The Cingular 3125 proves that you can have your sexy, slim flip phone and get it with brains too. The 3125 is the most recent variant of the HTC STRTrk (Star Trek, in full-voweled English) which appeared several months ago overseas as the QTEK 8500 and i-mate Smartflip. While the QTEK had reception issues, the Cingular has none of those and improves on the previous models by doubling flash memory and increasing battery capacity by 50%.
The 3125 is a quad band Windows Mobile 5 smartphone with EDGE for data. It's available on Cingular for an absurdly low $149 with 2 year contract and data plan after rebates, making it one heck of a smartphone deal. Clamshell smartphones are rare; this and the Motorola MPx220 are the only two released in the last two years. Americans love their clamshells and the MPx220 was warmly received but problems with the phone turned its reception sour. The Cingular 3125 is in some ways the phone that Moto should have been: smart, sexy, reliable with a decent camera. While the Moto didn't try to win fashion acclaim, the 3125 tries and succeeds, adding to its appeal. And for those whose work requires you go camera-less, Cingular also offers the 3100 with no camera.
Since this is an MS Smartphone rather than a Pocket PC phone, it lacks a touch screen and is considerably smaller than a Pocket PC. It's a phone first and a PDA second with standard phone design and ergonomics. The device syncs to MS Outlook on Windows over USB (and Bluetooth) so you can easily keep your contacts, calendar and tasks updated on the phone. Like all Windows Mobile smartphones it comes with Internet Explorer Mobile, email, Windows Media Player Mobile, a photo and video viewer and more. Cingular throws in ClearVue's MS Office and PDF viewers since Office software isn't standard on MS Smartphone Edition.
Design and Ergonomics
We've ascertained that the phone is a looker and it's slim as all heck. No big bulge in the pants pocket, no craving a weekend phone to replace your staid and bulky work smartphone. The 3125 weighs only 3.9 ounces, is 0.64" thin and is the same width and height as the RAZR. A metal casing means it feels sturdy and is sturdy; no plasticy look and feel here. Fit and finish are excellent and the flat brushed metal keypad (think RAZR again and Motorola SLVR L7) looks good, isn't slippery and has keys that are large enough to operate easily. Though the keypad is perfectly flat and is made of a single sheet of metal, depressed lines help you tell one key from another when dialing by feel and the keys have a positive click when you press them. The keypad numbers, letters and front buttons are backlit in light blue (controlled by a sometimes laggy light sensor) . The d-pad is large and easy to use: great for games and one-handed operation.
The front of the flip houses the camera lens (no flash), circular outer display window (for looks, the actual outer LCD inset in the window is square) and music playback controls for fast rewind, play/pause and fast forward. These buttons change context to incoming call ringer silence and ignore call keys when a call comes in— nice touch. The outer display does a lot of work. When not illuminated it acts as a mirror. When the phone is closed and idle and you wake it up by pressing any of the accessible keys, it shows an attractive clock, along with signal strength, Bluetooth status, charge level and data network availability. When a call comes in you'll see the caller's photo ID (if entered in your contacts), phone number and name if the caller is in contacts. If you've missed a call, you'll see a big missed call indicator telling you how many you've missed. Likewise it will let you know if you have voicemail. When in the camera application, the displays acts as a secondary viewfinder when the clamshell is closed (handy for self-portraits). When in Windows Media Player Mobile, it will show you current track information.
The phone has two LEDs on the front face to the left of the Cingular logo and these indicate network status (for voice) with flashing green indicating your phone is receiving a signal. The light also indicates charging status (amber for charging) and the second LED indicates Bluetooth status. Thankfully, the lights aren't overly bright since there's no way to turn them off. The loudspeaker is also located on the outer flip to the right of the Cingular logo. The small volume up and down buttons are on the upper clamshell's left edge (amazing they fit buttons on such a slim spot) and the voice dialing button is just below the volume keys. On the opposite side you'll find the camera launcher. HTC's new multifunction sync/charge/headset port is on the right edge of the bottom half of the clamshell. This isn't the mini USB connector used on previous HTC Windows Mobile devices: audio out is integrated and the 2.5mm jack is gone (HTC says the phone is too thin for 2.5mm jack). But as a consolation, the 3125 does support stereo Bluetooth audio. A short splitter cable is included so you can listen to music or chat on the phone via the headset while charging the device.
As you'd expect, both the battery and SIM are under a door on the phone's back. The MicroSD (TransFlash) card slot is a part of the SIM card assembly, so no hot swapping cards. Though you need not remove the battery to get to the MicroSD card slot, you do need to remove the SIM card. And if you take off the phone's rear cover to get to any of these, it automatically powers down (there's a switch that knows when the cover has been removed). HTC went with MicroSD for their newest smartphones since it helps keep device size down and they believe that MicroSD will become the standard media for phones. They also believe that the card, which is no bigger than a pinky fingernail, is easily lost and thus belongs in a protected spot. That's fine, but having to power down the phone to take the card out or put one in is less than ideal. Since there are no MicroSD WiFi cards (nor is it likely there will be), there is no way to add WiFi to the Cingular 3125.
With the phone closed, there's the slightest gap between the display and keypad which prevents marring of the display. Unfortunately the area just below the display (the shiny chrome surround) does contact the call send, end and d-pad outer rings. And and a few millimeters at the very bottom center of the display contacts the top of the d-pad outer ring. This leaves schmutz (finger oils mixed with grime) which can be wiped off. So far those who've owned other STRTrk variants that have been used for 3 months haven't seen permanent marking.
Phone Features, Data and Reception
The Cingular 3125 is a quad band (850/900/1800/1900MHz) GSM phone that will work anywhere in the world GSM service is available. It has EDGE and GPRS for data but no 3G. The phone is locked to Cingular which means it will only work with a Cingular SIM. Like the Cingular 2125 and Cingular 8125, voice quality is excellent. Callers remarked that we sounded like we were calling from a land line. Volume is good by GSM handset standards and is louder than some recent Nokia phones we've reviewed. The speakerphone (press and hold the call send button when in a call to activate it) is loud and clear as well. Reception has been very good and is quite similar to the Cingular 8125 and Nokia N73 with the Nokia having a slight edge (Nokia is king of RF). The phone is definitely not plagued with the reception issues QTEK 8500 owners experienced. Like some WM phones, it does take up to a minute to acquire a signal on a cold boot thought, and it takes up to a minute for it to re-acquire a signal if you go from an area of no signal to a very weak signal area. It's faster when going from no signal to a strong signal area.
Press any button to wake up the outer display to check the clock, signal strength, missed calls, charge level and more.
The phone has voice dialing built-in, which you can activate using the left side key. It uses voice tags rather than true voice recognition, but it's very accurate and works with Bluetooth headsets and car kits (yay!). Like all Windows Mobile 5 smartphones it has speed dial, call history, photo caller ID, and supports call waiting, conference calling and flight mode. The phone has T9, multipress and numeric entry modes. should you wish to really get serious about data entry or email, purchase a Bluetooth wireless keyboard such as Think Outside's Universal Bluetooth Keyboard.
For data, the Cingular has 2.5G EDGE and the old, slow GPRS standard should you find yourself in a place with no EDGE service. Alas it doesn't have 3G. Data speeds are good and we got an average of 170k on Cingular's data network (with and without their proxy server, for some reason it made less difference on this phone than on some others). The phone can be used as a wireless modem for a notebook over Bluetooth and the USB cable. Though we tested the phone with an account that has MediaMax, the Cingular Video option didn't appear on our MediaNet home page (as it does for the Nokia N73 using the same SIM). Cingular states their video service is for 3G phones only, so we're not too surprised. You do get MobiTV 2.0 which works decently over EDGE with some occasional hiccups and long buffer times. Should you wish to use MobiTV, it will set you back $9.95/month.
The Messaging application is your one-stop place for sending and receiving SMS, MMS as well as POP3 and IMAP email. The client is extremely capable and handles attachments, scheduled email checks as well as Direct Push email with Exchange 2003 servers. In addition Cingular bundles Good Mobile Messaging (monthly fee if used) and Cingular's own Xpress Mail which is included with their recommended $19.99/month SmartPhone Connection Unlimited data plan.
Performance and Horsepower
On average, MS Smartphones are neither speed demons nor unbearably slow. Most share the Cingular 3125's 195MHz Texas Instruments OMAP processor which is powerful enough to make the grade in some Pocket PC phones like the T-Mobile MDA and Cingular 8125. For some reason, video playback is never as good on smartphones as it is on their big brother Pocket PC phones. The 3125 is reasonably responsive in most tasks, even with several applications open but it can't handle video encoded over 350kbps very well. So stick with QVGA video at rates less than 350kbps if you're a video fan. Since the phone is exquisitely thin there's not much between you and the motherboard. When the phone is playing video (one of the most processor intensive tasks) for extended periods of time, you'll notice the handgrip area just below the number pad gets a bit warm. Not hot, just warm.
When the external display is asleep it makes a good mirror.
Cingular users get a double-memory boost on the 3125 which has 128 megs of flash memory as opposed to the 64 megs found on other STRTrk variants. Yes! Approximately 73 megs are free to store programs and data, and you can store more on a MicroSD card (not included). The device has 64 megs of RAM (used like RAM on your desktop computer) to run programs.
Display and Music
Like all Windows Mobile 5.0 smartphones, the 3125 has a QVGA 240 x 320 pixel TFT color main display. It measures 2.2" diagonally and supports 65,000 colors. The color 128 x 128 pixel outer display employs LED backlighting. The outer display is more than adequate for its tasks and the inner display is super sharp, colorful and just plain nice to look at. It has a bit more contrast than the T-Mobile SDA and Cingular 2125 which makes text easy to read but is a bit less gentle with photos and videos. They still look great, but I prefer a more natural contrast level for multimedia.
Clearly, with its memory expansion slot, front MP3 playback controls and track info on the outside of the flip, the 3125 wants to be your mobile music player. An iPod it isn't (but what is?), though we were really impressed with the quality of music playback and the thoughtful outer clamshell design. Not that we have a lot of choice in the MS Smartphone clamshell department, but even if we did, this would likely be one of our favorite music playing models. The bad news is that you can't (yet) use standard 3.5mm stereo headphones with the 3125 since it lacks a 3.5mm jack. You'll have to make do with the included stereo earbud headset with in-line mic and volume controller. It's a pretty decent headset with clarity, no shrillness but not much in the deep bass department. Accessory manufacturers like PocketPCTechs are likely to come out with an adapter that will allow you to use your favorite set of headphones with the 3125 and other recent slim HTC devices with that special port. HTC says they will provide the info necessary to build accessory cables for the device and will not charge licensing fees.
Using Windows Media Player Mobile 10 which supports MP3, WMV, AAC, WMA and files with Microsoft-supported DRM, we found audio quality to be darned good with the included headphones. Acoustic guitar solos were crisp and nuanced, classical music had clarity and good separation while rock music had decent bass. The good news is that the phone supports Bluetooth stereo headsets and headphones, so we tested it with Plantronics Pulsar 590 which uses the new AVRC (Audio Visual Remote Control) Bluetooth headset profile for on-headset playback control. The two sounded great together and the larger cans on the Plantronics really improved bass.
Pretty much every Bluetooth profile you've heard of is supported by the Cingular 3125, even AVRC. It comes with Microsoft's standard Bluetooth stack and software which is plain but efficient. You'll use it to pair with devices, set status (on, off and discoverable) assign default stereo headset and handsfree devices and the like. The phone supports DUN (Dialup Networking, serial port, OBEX, HID, A2DP (high quality stereo audio), the afore mentioned AVRC and voice gateway profiles. It's compatible with headsets, car kits, stereo headphones and headsets, Bluetooth GPS, Bluetooth keyboards, PCs and Macs for file transfer and ActiveSync (on Windows) and Missing Sync (Mac). The class 2 Bluetooth 1.2 radio managed very good range with some of our less "rangy" headsets such as the Plantronics Discovery 640 and we got 30 feet through a wall with the Plantronics Pulsar 590 stereo headset . File transfer speeds average about 25k, which is normal for Bluetooth 1.2 non-EDR. Battery life doesn't take much of a hit when using Bluetooth.
The smartphone runs OS version 5.1.195 with Microsoft's AKU2 update which adds Direct Push email support with Exchange 2003 servers and bug fixes. All Windows Mobile products ship with ActiveSync and Outlook 2002. ActiveSync gets your phone syncing to Outlook and allows you to add and remove programs, explore the phone and copy files to and from internal and card memory. Mac users will need to get a copy of Missing Sync from markspace.com to sync and copy files. The good news is that it works great (I tested it with my Mac Pro and the 3125) and it has been more stable than ActiveSync in Windows .
The Cingular 3125 comes with the usual suite of standard Windows Mobile 5 software, which included mobile versions of IE, Outlook (minus notes), Windows Media Player 10, task and file managers, calculator, call history, caller ID (both ringer and picture support), Pictures and Videos, a voice recorder, Pocket MSN (includes HotMail support), Solitaire and Bubble Breaker. Cingular and HTC add voice dialing, a Java runtime, ClearVue's MS Office and PDF viewers (these can view but not edit or create Office documents), MobiTV, Cingular Music which you'll use to buy music, watch steaming music (when available on Nov. 1, 2006) or use it as a shortcut to launch Windows Media Player, and HTC's Comm Manager which helps you manage wireless connections, ActiveSync and silence the ringer.
We don't expect a lot from a 1.3MP camera and the Cingular 3125 doesn't deliver a lot. It's an average camera compared to the 1.3MP competition, and we'd hoped HTC would have put a more fashionable 2MP in the STRTrk, but no such luck. Images are fairly clear with a strong dose of contrast and JPEG smoothing. In good light the camera has reasonable color fidelity but indoor lighting sends images to the magenta zone. Fortunately, the camera application lets you control the color bias which does wonders to improve shots. In fact you can also tweak the gamma and contrast to improve photos: good stuff. The phone can take photos at a maximum resolution of 1024 x 768 with lower resolutions supported for MMS and caller ID photos. You can save photos and video to internal memory or a MicroSD card. If you insert a MicroSD card, the next time you launch the camera application it will ask you if you'd like to save photos to the card. The camera supports digital zoom up to 8x (2x in the highest resolution setting), has several white balance pre-sets, a brightness control (rock the d-pad left and right to change brightness and watch the viewfinder until all looks well), a self-timer and several effects.
Sample photos taken at the highest resolution and quality settings, unedited other than re-sized to fit this page.
The video camcorder can take regular and MMS-sized video with audio. Standard video is capable of 176 x 144 and 128 x 96 resolutions and there are myriad settings available. You can take video in motion JPEG, MPEG4 and H.263 formats and the set the recording length to 10 seconds,, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 3 minutes, 250k, 1 meg, 2 megs or no limit. Video quality is the standard camera phone stuff, not wonderful but better than missing a special moment.
The i-mate Smartflip and QTEK 8500 had decent runtimes for smartphones but the 3125 has exceptional staying power thanks to the 50% increase in capacity in Cingular's version. The 1,100 mAh Lithium Ion battery will keep you talking in excess of 5 hours (Cingular claims up to 7) and the phone simply seems to go on forever even with Bluetooth on, heavy use of the web browser, email and video playback features. Even power users and those who check email frequently will likely get at least two days on a charge and average use will get you 3 or 4 days on a charge. Excellent. The phone supports charging over USB and the battery is user-swappable.
At $149 with a 2 year contract and data plan, this phone is a bargain. If you need or want a smartphone, run now and get this phone. It's got great looks, is nearly the same size as the RAZR and it's your only clamshell phone choice at the moment. This quad band GSM phone will work anywhere in the world GSM service is available and it has EDGE for good data speeds. Cingular's network in the US is strong and their $20 unlimited smartphone plan is a decent deal. The phone can act as a modem over Bluetooth and USB for those who need emergency data access on a notebook when traveling and it comes with USB modem drivers for Windows. The Cingular 3125 syncs easily and well to Outlook and Exchange servers and supports Direct Push email as well as Good's messaging solution. Bluetooth is robust with a boat load of profiles and it even works with stereo bluetooth headsets and headphones. Music sound quality is excellent and the external controls are good.
Pro: Fantastic looks and super slim— a rare thing on smartphones. Weighs only 3.9 ounces and won't put an unsightly bulge in your pocket or require a belt-mounted case. Syncs to desktop data and is expandable in terms of storage and 3rd party applications. Decent video playback and great music playback quality. Lovely main display and good use of the external display. Marathon battery life, reliable Bluetooth with very good range and lots of profiles, good phone reception and excellent voice quality.
Con: Must shut down phone to insert or remove a MicroSD memory card.
List Price: $149 with 2 year contract and data plan. $449 without contract.
Display:2.2" 65K color transflective
TFT color main LCD. 1.2" 128 x 128 pixel TFT external color display with LED backlighting.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1100 mA. Claimed talk time: up to 7 hours. Claimed standby: up to 9 days.
Performance:195MHz Texas Instruments OMAP850 processor. 64 MB built-in RAM
and 128 MB Flash ROM with ~73 megs for your use.
x 2.02 x 0.64inches. Weight: 3.9 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band (850/900/1800/1900MHz) phone with EDGE class 10 and GPRS for data.
Camera:1.3MP CMOS sensor camera.
in speaker, mic and proprietary stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Mobile Media Player 10 included.
Bluetooth 1.2 supporting headset, hands free, OBEX, A2DP, Voice gateway, AV Remote Control, DUN, HID and serial port profiles. USB 1.1.
Mobile 5.0 Smartphone Edition operating system with AKU2 (OS 5.1.195).
ActiveSync 4.2 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included. Java runtime, Outlook mobile suite (messaging, contacts, calendar and tasks but not notes). Pictures and Videos application, Windows Media Player Mobile, File Manager, Internet Explorer Mobile, Task Manager, File Explorer, Calculator, Call History, Speed Dial, Voice Notes, MobiTV, camera and video recorder applications, Pocket MSN, voice dialing, ClearVue suite for viewing MS Office documents and PDF files, Solitaire and Bubble Breaker.