Corporate email, VPN access and security may seem like the most important features of a smartphone, but as these high-spec devices trickle in increasing numbers into the mainstream, it seems a decent Facebook app is the must-have feature. For those who want Facebook without paying for the rest of a business phone, 3 Mobile has come to the rescue with this astoundingly cheap prepaid handset. For AU$179 this phone is yours, or you can choose a AU$39-per-month contract that comes with 1GB of included data.
The Skypephone, released at the end of 2007, was the last time 3 Mobile put its name to a handset. While we liked the Skypephone for what it offered, its plastic build was exceptionally flimsy and fragile — not a good mix for any electronic device. The INQ1 is a different kettle of fish. Its brushed metal finish feels sturdy and solid, and the sliding mechanism is as good as we've seen on any of the big name brands.
The INQ1 sports a QVGA display which displays its colourful menus with decent clarity, though we have found some of the text in apps, such as the Facebook app, to be eye-squintingly tiny. The phone's keypad is a good size, with slightly raised keys giving definition to use it comfortably and, with the exception of the "clear" and "menu" buttons, the main selection keys are easy to locate and use quickly as well.
On the back is a flash-less 3.2-megapixel camera with a dedicated camera function button on the right-hand side of the handset. Above this button is a key to scroll through the standby applications menu on the home screen. This is a great way of opening apps single-handedly when you're on the move.
The interface is one of INQ1's most impressive elements. Not only is the home screen well laid out with an active standby menu and space for web-active widgets like the weather, but the system menus are some of the easiest to navigate we've ever come across. Each of the menu items, especially in handset settings, have easy to understand titles, making set up a breeze.
Facebook junkies: this is the phone for you. Similar to more expensive phones, the INQ1 has a Facebook app for keeping up-to-date with friends online, but this app has a few key differences to the Facebook app you find on the iPhone or Xperia X1. Importantly, this app can be "always on", meaning it runs in the background and updates on the fly. Not only does this mean the information is current when you check the app, but it also sends you notifications when people send you private messages, similar to receiving an SMS.
The other big difference is that your Facebook, Windows Live and Skype contacts can be integrated with your SIM contacts on your phone, and you can merge the several contact details for the same person into one single entry in your phone book. Thereafter, every time your contact calls you their current Facebook profile pic is used as their caller ID image and it will change every time they change this photo on their Facebook profile. The only problem with this system is that it requires a lot of manual input. Hopefully the merging of contacts will be automated in future INQ releases.
To make the most of all this data 3 has packed HSDPA data transfers into this handset, though no Wi-Fi. This shouldn't be a surprise, however. The carriers are obviously keen to have us using as much cellular data as possible, so like with the Vodafone co-developed BlackBerry Storm, phones made by or in conjunction with the carriers should be expected to be sans Wi-Fi. 3 is bundling the phone with some very reasonable data rates so we're not really too concerned about this omission.
We've had a lot of time with the INQ1 and we remain as impressed with its performance as we were on the day we took it out of the box. Even with Facebook and Skype opened in the background, the processing performance is first-rate. At this price point we've been surprised at how fast and stable the INQ1 is — the rare lag spikes we experienced were infrequent and short lived.
Battery life is also strong with each charge cycle lasting an average of three days between recharging.
The INQ1 does have a built-in camera, as mentioned above, and will play MP3 music files, though without a flash or a 3.5mm headphone jack it only does an average job of both tasks. The phone comes bundled with stereo ear buds which connect to the phone via the same mini-USB port used for charging.
The INQ1 is easily the most impressive phone we've seen at this price point. Even without the excellent social networking integration, the INQ1 is fantastic value for money, with its solid, stylish construction and HSDPA web access. Facebook fiends really need to check this phone out. Those looking for a camera phone or a music-playing phone may not be as impressed, but then you'll be looking to pay twice as much to improve these parts of your phone.