Reviewed January 31, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Verizon has had a reasonably strong selection of PDA phones, from Palm OS Treos to a variety of Windows Mobile Pocket PC phones, but their smartphone pickings have been slim. With the SMT5800, they've got an innovatively designed, high quality offering that's one of the coolest looking WinMo 6 smartphones currently on the US market. The SMT5800 is the CDMA cousin to the HTC S730, a GSM smartphone that never made it to US carriers, giving Verizon exclusive bragging rights.
The SMT5800 (code named HTC Libra) looks like a traditional candy bar phone, albeit thicker. It's got a very good numeric keypad below a sharp portrait orientation QVGA display. Like the Samsung i760 Pocket PC phone and the Pantech Duo smartphone on AT&T its party trick is the side-sliding QWERTY thumb keyboard. Push the top section of the phone to the left and the keyboard slides out while the display switches to landscape orientation. Thus you get the best of both worlds: no need to forego the convenience of a number pad when dialing or meandering through a phone tree, yet you can type emails and enter URLS using a real keyboard.
Design and Ergonomics
The SMT5800 is about the size of the BlackBerry Pearl but thicker since the keyboard and slider require additional space. This is by no means a "thin is in" phone, but it's not too bulky for a pants pocket either. It feels great in the hand and is neither slippery nor a fingerprint magnet thanks to textured plastics. Though the smartphone is primarily made of plastic it looks and feels like an expensive phone. Elegant, modern with a touch of brushed metal-- nice. One thing that isn't so nice is the slider which doesn't stay firmly closed. This means the top half of the phone giggles and wiggles easily when handled with either the left or right hand. HTC, is is so hard to put a locking cam in there?
The smartphone has a microSD card slot on the left side along with the power button a volume slider. On the right there's only the camera button and on the bottom you'll find the usual mini USB port for sync/charge/proprietary HTC stereo headset jack (headset not included) and a slider that releases the back door that covers the battery compartment. The camera lens with self-portrait mirror and loudspeaker grille live on the back.
Phone, Reception and Keyboard
Since this is a Windows Mobile 6.0 Standard device (the new and confusing name for MS Smartphone edition) it does not have a touch screen. Windows Mobile Professional (Pocket PC) phones have touch screens. This means you'll use the d-pad, soft keys and numbers to navigate the phone. We like the d-pad with its raised edges and responsive feel but the chromed center action button is too slippery and we found ourselves slipping off of it and instead pressing a d-pad directional. Like all WinMo phones it has smart dial (tap in the first few letters of a contact's name to bring up a matching list), speed dial and call history. The phone has basic voice dialing software which you get to via contacts: go to a contact, highlight one of their phone numbers then hit the menu key and select "Edit speed dial" to record a voice tag and assign a speed dial number. If you prefer true speech recognition rather than a voice tag system, consider MS Voice Command 1.6 is the most popular add-on solution and it costs $40.
The phone has XT9 for text input (oddly you can use it not only with the front number pad but also with the QWERTY keyboard) along with multipress and numeric entry modes useful primarily for number pad texting. The front number pad is backlit in blue. The keyboard letters are also backlit in blue and there's a light sensor that determines if backlighting is needed (we found it too conservative and disabled the sensor). Fn keys including numbers on the QWERTY keyboard are masked in red and are a bit hard to see in low light. Press the shift key twice to turn on caps lock and the Fn key works the same way. Small LEDs above the keyboard let you know when either is on.
The keyboard is pleasant to use and feels a bit better in terms of key travel than the HTC S710 (HTC's first smartphone sporting this design) we reviewed last year. There's a click when you press each key, good spacing between keys thanks to the longitudinal design and I had no trouble reaching the center keys with my thumbs. Even large-handed fellas should find the keyboard as manageable as the BlackJack II and Moto Q9m's, which is to say less spacious than the VX6800 (a much larger device).
The Verizon Wireless SMT5800, like most HTC manufactured smartphones, has good voice quality and average volume. We tested it with the Plantronics Discovery 655 and Jawbone headsets and it performed well in terms of range and sound quality for both incoming and outgoing voice. Signal strength is a little lower than the Motorola Q9m and a bit better than the LG Venus. In our area of the Dallas metroplex Verizon's signal isn't very strong and we got 1 to 2 bars out of 4 but voice quality remained good (some Verizon phones voice quality deteriorates at 1 bar). We didn't drop and calls nor did we suffer significant pauses in streaming media. Since this is a smartphone, Verizon doesn't include V Cast, so you'll on your own to find streaming multimedia entertainment on the Net. AT&T has been offering their multimedia service, CV for some time now and we hope Verizon one day adds V Cast support to their PDA and smartphones.
The SMT5800 has EVDO rev. 0 for high speed data, with fallback to 1x in areas lacking EVDO coverage. IE Mobile page download and rendering times were good, as were email attachment download times. The phone's 400MHz processor no doubt helps with rendering times in the web browser but should have little effect on email downloads. The phone ships with the standard mobile versions of Internet Explorer and Outlook (called Messaging). Messaging handles SMS as well as POP3, IMAP and MS Exchange email with support for multiple accounts, authentication, MS Direct Push Email (requires Exchange 2003 SP2 or later) and HTML email if you're using Exchange Server 2007. It syncs to Outlook in Windows for contacts, calendar, tasks and files, with no Mac or Linux support in the box (Mac users an buy Missing Sync from markspace.com to sync with Mac OS X). The phone can also sync to Exchange servers. Opera Mini fans will be bummed to hear there's no Java VM on the 5800, so the browsing options are the included IE or Opera Mobile which is a standalone app rather than a Java app.
Horsepower and Multimedia
The SMT5800 has a Qualcomm MSM7500 CPU running at 400MHz which is fast for a smartphone (until recently smartphones have averaged 200MHz). The phone is responsive by Windows Mobile standards with little of its telltale lag. The screen orientation switches in just a second or two when the keyboard slider is opened and windows and programs launch fairly quickly. Movie playback is just average among MS smartphones released since the summer of 2007, with 350kbps at QVGA resolution being the sweet spot. Go much higher and you'll see frame drops.
The Pantech Duo (also with side-slider keyboard) and the SMT5800.
The SMT5800 and Samsung i760.
Though the SMT5800 goes the extra mile in the CPU department, it has just a status quo 64 megs of RAM and 128 megs of flash memory. Recent smartphones have beefed up flash memory to 256 megs and RAM sometimes to 128 megs, and we wish the SMT5800 had as well. Still, there are 24 megs of free RAM at boot which isn't all that bad. The phone can handle IE, e-mail and Windows Media Player Mobile open at the same time without slowing to a halt. Of the 128 megs of flash memory, 38 megs are free for your use. Should you need more storage, the phone has a microSD card slot that supports SDHC for cards greater than 2 gigs in capacity. We tested the phone with a SanDisk 4 gig card and it worked fine.
Music playback quality is very good through Bluetooth stereo headphones. We tested the Motorola S9 and Plantronics Pulsar 590a Bluetooth stereo headsets with the phone and got clear audio and good separation, with very good bass on the Plantronics (thanks to their over-the-ear design). No wired headset is included in the box but the phone uses HTC's ExtUSB connector standard to all HTC phones made in the past 1.5 years, which shouldn't be that hard to find online or in cell phone stores. Windows Media Player Mobile handles video playback and music (WMA, MP3 and and protected WMA). The features are basic and don't compete with a dedicated media player, but there are 3rd party apps for those who want to ditch their iPod or Zune for the converged SMT5800.
Battery life isn't the SMT5800's strong point. The fast CPU reduces battery life and we got about 1.5 to 2 days on a charge with moderate use. Heavy use, including surfing the web, talking 30 minutes, using push email and watching 45 minutes of video stored on a microSD card required nightly charging. The 1050 mAh Lithium Ion battery is replaceable, so you can carry a spare if you need more staying power. Claimed talk time is 3.5 hours and we managed about 2 hours and 20 minutes when not using the phone for anything else. Claimed maximum standby is 6.8 days, but we got 5 days.
HTC isn't wow-ing us with their cameras. Though the specs might sound great (for example the 3MP autofocus camera on the AT&T Tilt takes fairly poor shots), the quality just isn't there. Most phones offered by US carriers are in the 1.3 to 2MP range, so 2.0 megapixels isn't bad, right? Well, it's not how many pixels, but their quality. The SMT5800's images are painfully over-sharpened (even when the quality setting is lowered) yet there's not a lot of real detail so the result is lots and lots of artifacting-- I haven't seen any camera phone sharpen images so harshly. When sized down, say to 250 x 188 pixels as are the sample photos here, the sharpening doesn't look bad, nor does it on the phone's screen. But view a 1200 x 1600 image on a computer and it's remarkably harsh. Moral is: if you want to size down your photos, you're in luck, but don't expect great things from the full res originals.
This full res detail from the pool photo below shows the oversharpening and artifacting.
Colors are also strange for outdoor photos, with Disney-esque enhancements (see the sky and water in the pool shot below). There's a good amount of white-out even in indoor shots with contrast (see kitty photo to the right) but indoor shots without strong contrast are surprisingly good with normal colors. Indoor photographers rejoice.
There are plenty of settings to tweak photo settings including metering, white balance and brightness. You can set the camera to save photos to a card and there are options to send photos and videos via MMS. The SMT5800 can also shoot video in MPEG4, H.263 and 3GP formats. The two available resolutions are low: 176 x 144 and 128 x 96-- good for sending via MMS but not much more.
The Verizon Wireless SMT5800 is a solid smartphone with good voice quality, EVDO and design that's both cool and useful. Slim phone fans might be better suited to the Motorola Q9m, but those who prefer something less wide than the broad Q9m should consider the SMT5800. The SMT has a good keyboard, fast performance by WinMo standards and other than the non-locking slider, feels well-designed and built. It lacks popular extras like a GPS and WiFi, but EVDO is a good substitute for WiFi. We wish it had a bit more memory but overall had no problems with stability due to low memory as long as we rebooted the phone at least once a week.
Pro: Great design, good keyboard, bright and sharp display. Fast for a WinMo smartphone with a fast CPU.
Con: Battery life is so-so. No WiFi and no GPS for power users and travelers. No Java VM and not easy to add one.
Price: $349.99 before $100 rebate if ordered from Verizon Wireless' web site with a 2 year contract
TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 2.4". Resolution:
240 x 320, supports both portrait and landscape modes.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1050 mA. Claimed talk time: up to 210 minutes. Claimed standby: up to 163 hours.
Performance:Qualcomm MSM7500 400 MHz processor. 64 MB built-in RAM. 128 MB Flash ROM with 38 megs
available for your use.
x 2.1 x 0.7inches. Weight: 4.2 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital (800/1900MHz). EVDO rev. 0 for data with fallback to 1xRTT.
Camera:2 MP with fixed-focus lens and self portrait mirror. Max photo resolution 1200 x 1600, also takes photos at 960 x 1280, 480 x 640, 240 x 320 and 120 x 160. Can take video with audio at 176 x 144 and 128 x 96 resolutions in 3GP, MPEG4 and H.263 formats.
in speaker, mic and HTC proprietary stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.
Networking:Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP support. Also supports handset, handsfree, serial port, FTP and DUN profiles.
Mobile 6 Standard Edition (Smartphone) operating system.
Microsoft Mobile Office suite with viewers for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, Internet
Explorer, and Outlook Mobile (Messaging).
Windows Media Player
10, Pictures and Videos, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker, Voice Recorder
as well as Voice Speed Dial and speed dial. Additional applications:
Camera, Comm Manager,Task Manager, File Explorer, Adobe PDF viewer, Clear Storage, (wipes
out all data and resets unit to factory defaults).
ActiveSync 4.5 and Outlook 2007 Trial for Windows.
microSD card slot, supports SDHC high capacity cards greater than 2 gigs in capacity.
In the box: Phone, HTC compact charger, USB sync cable, USB splitter, guide, software CD and neoprene slip case.