Starmobile T601i: An In-Depth Review

Last week, I received a Starmobile FeatureSmart T601i courtesy of Starmobile, when they gave away the phones to all media and bloggers that were invited during the launch. I’ve been using the phone for over a week now and these are my thoughts on the phone. There is also an original article on the T601i at StyleRPA.com.

Introduction

These days, touchscreen is the way to go if somebody wants a snazzy phone. However, the cost of these mobile devices are prohibitive to most people, where those with screens larger than 3″ costing about eight grand or more (in Philippine Pesos). The local mobile phone companies, which mostly import pre-made phones from Chinese or Indian companies, try to compete with the major brands by customizing and re-branding the imported devices. However, these usually can’t hold their ground when faced even with the most basic Samsung device (such as the Samsung Corby 2) — that is until I saw Starmobile’s Feature Smart T601i.

According to my research, the T601i is based on the Spice M-6868N FLO ME phone from India, which has the following specifications:

  • 2G Network: GSM 900 / 1800
  • Dimensions: 116 x 60.9 x 12.8 mm
  • Weight: 87.3 g
  • Screen type: TFT Capacitive Touch Screen, 256 colors
  • Resolution / Screen size: 320 x 480 pixels / 3.5″
  • Processor: 312 MHz
  • Notifications: Vibrate, MP3 ringtones
  • Audio: Loudspeaker, 3.5 mm jack
  • Built-in memory: 44 MB
  • Expendable memory: up to 32 GB (according to Starmobile)
  • Phone book entries: 1000 contacts
  • Data connection: GPRS / EDGE
  • WLAN: 802.11 b/g
  • Bluetooth: Yes V.2.0
  • USB: micro USB
  • Camera: 3.2 megapixels
  • Video: yes
  • Sensors: accelerometer
  • Browser: Opera Mobile V.10.10
  • Media: MP3/AAC+ music player, MP4/3GP video player, wireless radio, television
  • Operating System: Java-based MAUI
  • Battery: 1150 mAh Li-ion

Starmobile’s T601i has the look and feel of most smartphones, offering a sleek and well-built phone in a small package. The interface is also smooth and responsive – it even performed better than my old Nokia C2-02, which has been with me for almost three-quarters of a year already. However, this phone is almost a smartphone, not really a full-fledged, completely multitasking, always internet connected smartphone.

Nevertheless, for an asking price of just over 3k, I’d say this phone is a steal. I’d say this phone is intended for the regular Joe out there who is dreaming of a phone that looks and feels like an Android or iPhone yet can’t afford to shell out the needed cash to get one, even second hand.

The Package

The phone comes in a nice black-and-white glossy box which contains:

  1. 1x Starmobile FeatureSmart T601i
  2. 1x power adapter
  3. 1x microUSB cable
  4. 1x headset
  5. warranty card and user manual

Sadly, there is no microSD card that comes with the package so buyers are limited to the miniscule 44 mb internal memory until they are able to get one. Also, user manual needs to be contain more information, as it only offers basic information on the phone’s settings. Even if it just runs a Java-based operating system, it can be quite a capable phone under an experienced user.

On the bright side, the microUSB cable that comes with phone allows for data transfer and it also charges the phone.

Design and Build

The design of most local mobile phones, especially those in the entry-level bracket, are usually light and creaky. The plastic surfaces of these devices are glossy to the point that it looks like a toy and the key-press feel is stiff, making it unnatural for typing. The earlier models of the touchscreen phones, too, are not up to par with international standards, where the resistive touchscreen can be unresponsive and the resolution of the screen borders between I-can-live-with-it-as-long-as-it’s-touchscreen to just plain horrible.

Starmobile’s T601i breaks all these stereotypes. When I first laid my hands on the phone, it felt less like three grand and more like ten thousand pesos. The buttons are well-fitted and the key-press feel is balanced in such a way that you won’t have to wear out your fingers pressing the buttons but it’s also hard for you to press the buttons accidentally. The battery cover fits snugly at the back of the phone and its has a smooth matte texture which makes the new user to just keep on feeling that smooth, sliding sensation. You just have to be careful that you don’t drop the phone. Even the 320 x 480 pixel screen resolution provides for a nice viewing image and the 3.5″ screen is absolutely a relief for people with large fingers like me. The mobile’s TFT capacitive touchscreen panel is actually good enough for me to load some of my work as a photographer to share with potential clients.

The phone’s face has three buttons: call-answer button, home button, and call-reject button. The 1st button has pretty much no function at all, except to answer incoming calls, to put on-hold already connected calls, to access the call log and to dial numbers. But that’s not a problem since this is primarily a phone. The home button is much like the iPhone’s home button, bringing the user back to the stand-by screen in one press. When the phone is locked, it also activates the screen to show the unlocking options. The call-reject button is primarily the phone’s back button, where pressing it would bring the user back one-step from wherever they are. The downside is that you can’t really use the back button while you’re in a call because it will end the conversation.

On the lower right of the face, right below the call-reject button, would be the microphone input for the phone. There is also an ambient light sensor located on the right of the phone’s speaker which also locks the screen during a phone call when it is blocked to prevent the face from accidentally pressing the touchscreen.

The phone’s right side contains the volume control buttons and the camera button while the top side contains the screen lock button, the 3.5 mm headphone slot and the USB/charging port. The top side also contains the pull-out antenna for better TV reception.

In the upper center of the rear is where the 3.2 megapixel camera is located and just to the left of it is the loudspeaker.

The black battery cover and buttons, silver sides and bronze front cover works very well, giving the phone a serious yet sporty look. The natural earthy hues and sturdy build of the phone makes it very suitable for professionals.

User Interface

The T601i is no Android phone, but its java-based operating system is perfect for the 312 megahertz processor. This means that the phone performs, theoretically, 33% faster than other mobile devices running the same UI. Comparing this to other devices, like the Nokia phones which run Symbian S40, it responds faster and has a smoother interface.

The typing system is also flexible; it gives the user the options of having a full-qwerty keyboard quite similar to the Android and the iOS, an alphanumeric keypad similar to the Samsung Corby and Champ series, or a handwriting recognition software. The qwerty keyboard, like in all other touch screen devices, is a bit cramped; especially when the phone is held vertically. Hold it horizontally and there would be more space for the keyboard – but it now demands two-handed typing. The alphanumeric keypad lets users who are not familiar with qwerty keyboards to type easily, but just by simply setting the phone on its side, the keypad will automatically switch to qwerty — perfect for those who are practicing their typing skills but needs the keypad for quick typing solutions. Finally, the handwriting recognition is a clever addition in any touch screen phone: but only if it works well. In my experience, Sony Ericsson’s P900 series has perfected this technology, especially with their stylus, but Starmobile fails pretty badly in this aspect. The writing speed in this mode is very sluggish because it takes a while for the phone to recognize what is written on the screen. It is very frustrating for me, especially because I know that Sony Ericsson has perfected the technology more than 7 years ago.

One curious thing about the keyboard/keypad system though: it lacks some very important symbols such as “/” and “\” but has more advanced symbols like “1/2″ and “1/4″ which is not quite useful. Also, there is a redundant globe button on the input screens, which also lets the user to select what typing mode they want.

The phone also has a menu effect customizable option, where the user can choose which effect they prefer when the menu changes. I prefer the rotating cube but whenever I plug the phone on the computer, either to charge or to transfer files, it resets to the default zoom-in option. It must be a bug in the software so I do hope that they release updates for the phones to address these issues.

Aside from the Android feel, T601i’s accelerometer detects the orientation of the phone and adjusts the screen accordingly on some specific applications (such as messaging and Opera internet browser). It also lets the user to control the phone by shaking it in the proper direction, such as when playing music or viewing photos. It just might be a hassle, though, because sometimes, it doesn’t go the direction you want to. And also, it is not applicable on all applications, even in the home screen.

Home Screen / Lock Screen

There 5 home screens in which widgets can be placed according to the user’s taste. However, there are only a limited number of widgets: calendar, clock (4 different analog and 1 digital type), gallery frame, VIP contacts, FM radio and music player. There are also 3 home shortcuts which can be customized and the home button. By default, the shortcuts are dialer, messaging, lock and home button.

The lock screen has three slide buttons: the left one which takes you directly to the dialpad, the right one which takes you directly to messaging and the middle one which takes you back to last screen when you locked the phone.

In case that you have the radio or music player app running, then all you have to do is to press the home button twice to activate the controls even when the screen is still locked.

Contacts / Call Log / Dialpad

The Contacts has a maximum capacity of 1000 names, with multiple possible entries per name. One advantage this phone has is that it is a very simple exercise of turning on the Bluetooth and syncing the contacts with my old Nokia C2-02. But it won’t sync with my Nokia E63 so I guess it is only compatible with Symbian S40 phones, not S60.

The call log records the details of the missed, received and dialed numbers. But aside from that, it also shows which sim was used for the call and the number of times that that number has been recorded.

From the dialpad, the user may save the number they have dialed directly just by pressing the “+” button. On the lower portion, there are corresponding buttons for each sim so that the person just need to press either button 1 or button 2 to make the call from the corresponding sim. Finally, the rightmost button opens the messaging application where the user may immediately begin composing their message for the said number.

Messaging

The phone’s messaging is similar to iPhone or Android phones, where the SMS are all stacked one upon the other. Again, the downside with this phone is that the messages are limited to 1000. Beyond that and you might have to delete old texts to free up space for new messages. For those who wish to stick with the old system of inbox-outbox, there is also an available check box to remove the conversation method of keeping messages.

Again, each contact has an icon in front of the name which indicates from which sim card was the number received.

Camera

Nowadays, from premium phones, even those coming from local brands, must have a camera. Starmobile’s flagship Featuresmart T601i has a 3.2 mp rear camera, suitable for shooting memories. It doesn’t have very high quality but is enough to record images. It can also record basic videos. There are also different drive modes, such as continuous, normal, burst shot selection, smile shot and frame for photographing different scenes. Night mode and auto is also available, but it usually has a slow shutter speed.

Wishlist

Now I understand that this phone is a beefed-up basic phone, not really a smartphone, but Starmobile did a good job of making it feel like one. I only have some issues or features that I hope they would look at and maybe implement.

  1. PC Suite: while this is not a smart phone, the features that it has calls for a PC suite in which users can sync their data with their computers, especially the contacts and calendar.
  2. Notes: the phone has a built-in note application which lets users take down notes. But it only limits you to 100 characters per note, which is utterly useless (the standard SMS is actually longer at 160 characters).
  3. Messaging: the number of characters in a message does not show up until I’ve used up the maximum capacity (around 640 characters). I wish that I could see how many characters and messages I’ve already written because not all people have unlimited messaging plans.
  4. Music player: it has a random function, but it is not so random because it tends to stick to a specific artist first before moving on to another set.
  5. Calling: there should be a notifying beep when the call ends, because sometimes, when the call is cut, I actually don’t notice the difference (between in-call and when the call is cut) and feel like a fool.
  6. App Store: if the phone doesn’t have an app store, please remove it. It just takes up space.
  7. Return button: please incorporate a back button (maybe in the notifications bar) because I end up killing the call when I press the back button if I’m using the phone and have a call at the same time.
  8. Rotate lock: can we have a rotate lock in the notifications? It is quite a hassle to dig deep in the settings just to temporary turn off the auto-rotate (such as when I am browsing the net when I’m in bed).
  9. Bluetooth: please add a Bluetooth switch in the main menu. Again, it is very hard to dig through the settings just to turn on and off the Bluetooth device.
  10. Ringtones: provide more built-in ringtones for the phone (such as MP3 files) because, frankly, the ones supplied in the menu aren’t quite good (I’m using the files supplied with my old C2-02).
  11. Keyboard / Keypad: please prioritize symbols that are existing in standard physical keyboards instead of “1/2″ and “1/4″ numbers (the “/” and “\” symbols are missing in messaging).
  12. Manual: please provide a more detailed manual. It may be that few people read it but it is very helpful for those who do. It also allows the owner of the phone to utilize it more effectively.
  13. Birthdays: when I place my contacts’ birthdays’ , I wish it would automatically sync with the calendar.
  14. Memory: please include at least a 2 GB or 1 GB memory card in the package. Also, please expand the memory of messaging to unlimited.
  15. Opera mobile: please make a WiFi / GPRS/EDGE switch on the outside so I do not have to dig in deep the settings / advanced to switch between my data account and WiFi service.
  16. Connection: 3G version, please.
  17. Software version updates: to make the rest of my wishes possible, please update the operating system.

Kudos to Starmobile for bringing more mobile power to the average Joe. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your products.

Conclusion

If you want a smartphone, but don’t have the resources to get a decent sized-one (it’s a pain to type in touchscreen phones, especially if the screen is small), then this phone is for you. There may not be much applications for it, but if you know your way around Java then you might be able to get some applications for additional benefit. It may not be truly multi-tasking, but its functions is more than enough to get you through some business applications. Its media applications such as music, radio and TV can be a good remedy to transit boredom and finally, the WiFi capability is more than enough to satisfy one’s need to have a fast connection.

But most all, for a price 3 grand, this phone is definitely worth your money.

Sources

The Intelligent Phone for Everyone | Style RPA

Spice M-6868N FLO ME – Full Phone Specifications | GSM Arena

Spice Flo Me – M 6868n : Features and Price | Full on Tech

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