Reviewed September 2, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The MWg Zinc II is a tweener; a traditional old school Windows Mobile Professional QWERTY side-slider with a few updates to help it compete with today's trendy touch screen WinMo devices like the HTC Touch Diamond, HTC Touch Pro, Samsung Omnia and the slightly older HTC Touch Dual. In fact, if you crossed the E-TEN Glofiish M810 (the Zinc II seems to be a re-worked M810) with the Touch Dual you'd have the Zinc II. MWg is a Singapore-based company made up of the old O2 Windows Mobile phone team, backed by Expansys, a UK-based online retailer of all sorts of cool phones and other mobile technology. The Zinc II is an unlocked GSM phone with worldwide 3G HSDPA that's sold unlocked for use with any GSM carrier. It is not offered by US carriers, but will work fine with T-Mobile and AT&T.
The Zinc II is a Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional phone with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard whose design is similar to the HTC TyTN or the TyTN II/Tilt minus the tilting screen feature. Like a car that's gotten tail lens updates and a new spoiler, the Zinc II is a more modern take on the TyTN II, Tilt and Glofiish M810 with a flush screen that's more finger-friendly and a curvy body clad in soft-touch black. And MWg has added their own touch launcher to make common tasks finger-friendly. Otherwise, it's business as usual for Windows Mobile side-sliding PDA phones. The specs are good with the exception of RAM, which is low at 64 megs (more on that later). It runs on a 500MHz Samsung processor, with 256 megs of flash memory, an SDHC microSD card slot, 3G HSDPA, QVGA display, WiFi, Bluetooth, 2 megapixel camera and a yummy SiRFstarIII GPS. There's a streaming media player by ArcSoft for mobile youtube entertainment, but oddly no FM radio.
Much as we love the folks at E-TEN, we'd have to say it would be a no-brainer to pick up the Zinc II instead of the M810. Why? The Zinc II fixed all our niggles with the M810: it manages to run extremely quickly despite the same cramped 64 megs of RAM (someone's a genius at MWg!), it isn't loaded with an overabundance of probably not needed or wanted software, it has a soft touch finish with updated looks and that flush screen which is must these days (no one likes to fight with the display bezel after all).
Non-identical twins separated at the factory? The MWg Zinc II left and the E-TEN Glofiish M810 right.
Indeed the Zinc II is a little (err, not so little) speed demon. MWg's software engineers have done a bang up job of getting the most out of this PDA phone, and it's one of the faster WinMo Pro phones on the market. Even with hungry apps like IE and Windows Media Player mobile running in the background, it didn't slow down. But with 64 megs of RAM, you may occasionally see memory error message or Windows Mobile may automatically close down an app or two (inevitably the one you really didn't want killed) if you leave a handful of demanding apps open. The Zinc II starts with about 30 megs free at boot, which is pretty good for a 64 meg smartphone.
The Zinc II runs on a 500MHz Samsung processor and it has 256 megs of flash ROM with well over 100 megs free for storage. You can expand that with microSD cards and the device supports SDHC (we tested it with an 8 gig Kingston card). The slot is on the phone's left side and thus it supports hot-swapping. There's no rubber door to fiddle with, and we like it that way, though folks who don't keep a card in the slot (are there any of you out there?) might worry about dust creeping into the empty slot.
The MWg is a champ at video playback, and it did a good job with 550kbps QVGA video played in the included Windows Media Player mobile and in CorePlayer Mobile. The screen is bright and sharp for video watching and photo viewing, though not as crystal clear as the VGA HTC Touch Diamond and Touch Pro. It's touch friendly and didn't require deliberate hard presses and swipes like some other touch screen phones.
MWg's Zinc II Quick Menu is very similar to HTC's original TouchFLO launcher, minus the customized Today screen. In fact, it makes some improvements over TouchFLO: you can have many more applications and speed dials, and it's a tad faster (possibly due to the faster CPU). There's a Today screen plugin for quick access to Quick Menu and a right side hardware button, but we still wish we could use a gesture to bring it up, similar to TouchFLO since it takes time and precision to tap the Today plugin and the small, flush launcher button isn't easy to find and press. You can however swipe from the top/middle of the screen to the bottom to dismiss Quick Menu, and swipe side-to-side to switch panes, just like TouchFLO.
There are panes for basic multimedia, commonly used apps and settings, applications of your choosing and photo speed dial.
The apps and shortcuts above are hardwired, but the custom apps pane below is filled with the applications of your choosing.
Keyboard and Buttons
Not so good. Sorry MWg, but the flat, membrane style keyboard with nearly no travel and a tiny click isn't so hot. And worse yet, there are only 3 rows of keys, which means the space bar gets sandwiched between the C and V keys on the bottom row. You've got to use the Fn key for the period and comma-- ouch. Yes, you can type with this keyboard and get reasonably better at it over time but that doesn't mean you'll grow to like it. Better than nothing, certainly, but not ideal.
The Zinc II has very few buttons, which makes for a clean design and it won't intimidate new users like the button-laden Tilt. The bad news is that there are so few keys, one-handed operation is hindered; particularly the lack of OK and Windows Start Menu keys. Yes, they do exist on the QWERTY keyboard, but we're talking about using the phone when it's closed, on-the-go.
Never get lost again
The Zinc II has an integrated SiRFStarIII GPS; a powerful dedicated GPS that can get a signal in challenging locations like urban jungles where Qualcomm integrated chipsets such as that used in the Tilt and Touch Diamond, get lost. The PDA phone ships with a basic GPS applet but no navigation software. Free map applications like Google Maps and Windows Live Search work well, and you need not tweak settings to get it working. We also tested CoPilot Live 7 and Garmin XT Mobile, both of which worked perfectly with the Zinc II. The phone has a remarkably loud speaker that's also clear: even a top-down sports car wouldn't stifle the speaker as it gave directions. The GPS is accurate and manages a cold fix in 30 seconds or less and a warm fix in 10 seconds.
Phone and Data
The Zinc II is a quad band unlocked GSM phone: no contract required, but there's no carrier-subsidized pricing either. It has worldwide 3G HSDPA 3.6mbps, and that means it works on AT&T's 3G network here in the US. Data transfer speeds were excellent and Windows Mobile's strong suit is robust and fast networking. We averaged 720k in the Dallas area on DSL Reports mobile speed test, which is excellent. Web pages load quickly, email including attachments come down fast and even with 1 bar out of 4, speeds remained good. As a data phone, the Zinc II is hard not to like, though some folks will prefer a higher resolution display so they can see more of a web page on-screen without scrolling.
The smartphone ships with the standard IE mobile and Outlook mobile (the email component is called Messaging). We installed Opera Mini without a hitch since the phone has a Java VM, and NetFront 3.5 ran well (a great browser!). Like all WinMo phones, the Zinc II supports POP, IMAP, Exchange and push email.
Voice quality is very good on both GSM and 3G, with slightly above average earpiece volume and an incredibly loud speakerphone and ringer. If you don't hear this phone ringing with the volume set fairly high, it's time to visit the ear doctor. Reception is middle of the road, being a tad weaker than the Tilt but better than the Omnia (the Omnia comparison is for GSM only since it lacks US 3G). Nokia S60 phones like the Nokia E71 and N95 beat it easily for reception and the ability to hold onto a weaker 3G signal. But then, Nokia S60 phones generally beat every other phone on the market. There's no voice dialing software but MWg does provide a picture caller ID pane in Quick Menu. The Zinc II worked well with a variety of mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets including the Plantronics Discovery 925, Jawbone and Samsung SBH500.
A 2 megapixel fixed-focus camera won't get anyone terribly excited these days, but the Zinc II does take nice photos by 2 megapixel standards. Colors are balanced and naturally saturated, but focus isn't super-sharp as we've seen with auto-focus camera phones. Even at the high quality setting, the camera sometimes creates jaggies in areas where tree leaves meet the sky, but it managed lower than average noise in indoor shots. Though the camera module looks otherwise identical to the Glofiish M810, the Zinc II loses the flash, so don't plan on using it for late night club snaps.
Maximum photo resolution is 1600 x 1200 and there are a variety of less resolutions suitable for MMS, email and photo caller ID. The camera has a macro mode, which on the Glofiish M810 is intended primarily for the business card reader, but here it's just macro mode. There's no significant delay when the shutter button is pressed vs. actual capture since the lens doesn't take time to focus, and image save times are quick to internal memory and microSD card. The camera application uses the entire screen as the viewfinder, and there are settings for resolution, quality, white balance, timer, shutter sound and more. The Zinc II can also shoot video with audio at QVGA 320 x 240 resolution and MMS-size 176 x 144 in 3GP and MPEG4 formats. Quality is decent though the audio is low and not very clear.
The MWg Zinc II ships with a 1530 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's user replaceable. That's a fairly large battery, and the Zinc II needs it to power all those wireless radios, particularly 3G and the GPS which are power-hungry. For a device in this class, battery life is good, averaging 2-3 days of moderate to light use and 1 to 1.5 days of heavy use that include an hour of navigation, push email and video playback.
The MWg Zinc II represents a nice modernization of the HTC TyTN class of PDA phone. It's got soft, rounded edges that make it look smaller than it is, a soft touch finish to help keep it in hand, and our favorite-- a flush display with no raised bezel to fight with. It's a well-equipped with all the staples of a high end Windows Mobile Professional phone, and with MWg's Sept. 2008 price reduction to $499, the price is just about right. Its selling point over the TyTN and Tilt (or E-TEN's M810) are those modern touches that make it look cool and improve usability. Since it's an unlocked phone, you need not sign a contract-- always nice for those who have commitment issues. With worldwide GSM and 3G (not counting T-Mobile US' fledgling 3G network which isn't supported), this phone can follow you anywhere and handle both voice and data. The Zinc II's biggest challenge is the crop of innovative Windows Mobile Pro phones that have come out recently (or will soon be released) that compete with the iPhone-- HTC Touch Pro, Samsung Omnia and others.
Pro: Nice design makes this tank-like form factor seem more modern and smaller than it really is. Unlocked and has US 3G HSDPA that works on AT&T, while GSM and EDGE work fine on T-Mobile. Flush display makes MWg's own Quick Menu and 3rd party touch-optimized software a pleasure to use. GPS is strong and speaker is amazingly loud and clear. Has WiFi and Bluetooth A2DP.
Con: The keyboard is not so nice-- the flush keys and lack of a 4th row make for a weak typing experience. 64 megs of RAM is just plain silly for this sort of power user's PDA phone.
Warranty: 1 year for phone, 6 months for included accessories.
x 2.32 x 0.71 inches. Weight: 6.52 ounces.
Phone:GSM unlocked quad band 850/900/1800/1900MHz, triband 3G HSDPA 3.6mbps 850/1900/2100MHz.
GPS:Integrated SiRFstarIII GPS, no navigation software included.
Camera:2.0 MP fixed focus with LED flash. 1600 x 1200 max resolution. Can shoot video at 320 x 240 and 176 x 144 in 3GP and MPEG4 formats.
in speaker, mic and mini-USB stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR.
Mobile 6.1 Professional with MWg's Quick Menu launcher.
Outlook Mobile (email, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks), Microsoft Office Mobile (Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, OneNote Mobile), Internet Explorer Mobile, Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, Notes, Calculator, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker, Internet Sharing , Task Manager and Esmertec Jbed Java VM. Additional applications: Streaming Media Player, GPS viewer application. ActiveSync 4.5 and Outlook trial version for PCs included.