It is remarkable how much smartphone Telstra is offering for AU$129 (with a prepaid SIM). For a fraction of the price of a top-tier model, the Qwerty-Touch is exactly as its name describes: a smartphone with both a full QWERTY keyboard and a touchscreen for input. It has a 3.5mm headphone socket, as you'd expect, and it comes bundled with a 2GB microSD memory card, which is generous considering the price.
The keyboard is better than you might expect, too. Its stiff plastic keys respond with a quiet click, and there is ample space between each key so that typing mistakes are minimised somewhat. The navigation pad could use a little extra room (or fewer buttons), with six buttons and a five-way nav pad crammed into the space provided. We'd also like it if the power/standby button was a little more prominent.
The phone's 2.6-inch QVGA touchscreen is this model's greatest weakness, but this isn't particularly surprising given the price. The LCD is dim and often difficult to read, especially if the screen is viewed on any angle other than directly straight on. The QVGA resolution is passable in a screen this small, but adds to the low legibility of this display. The Landscape orientation of the screen also poses problems, with numerous third-party apps refusing to be viewed horizontally, forcing you to turn the phone on its side to interact with these apps successfully.
User experience and performance
In keeping with its modest price, Telstra (and manufacturing partner ZTE) opts for a bare necessities approach to the user experience in the Qwerty-Touch; offering Google's default Android Gingerbread user interface with a splash of Telstra colour and apps over the top. This is fine mostly, we quite like the colours of Telstra's new corporate ID, but we don't like the way the horizontal orientation of the screen forces the main Android taskbar to the right-hand side of the screen. Regardless of whether you're left- or right-handed, the buttons in this position are difficult to get at with a single hand, and these are three of the most commonly used shortcuts on the device.
Performance-wise, you get about AU$100 worth of computing power out of the Qwerty-Touch, which is to say not much computer at all. The Qwerty-Touch runs on an unspecified 600MHz processor and reports less than 200MB of available RAM, so the performance swings from reasonably smooth to a bit sluggish for everyday tasks. You'll notice the lower spces most when loading a new app, rather than when you're using one. Though fast-paced gaming is mostly off-limits here, with games like Fruit Ninja being bogged down by the processing limitations to a point where there is no point in playing.
We've also struggled to connect the Qwerty-Touch to a PC in Mass Storage mode over USB. Once connected, the phone displays a confusing message and refers to PC software, which isn't included with the phone either physically or digitally. We managed to track down the PC software, called Join Me, but a simple process like copy files to your new phone shouldn't be so tricky to accomplish, and we haven't encountered this with a vast majority of smartphones.
Features and extras
It really is remarkable that manufacturers this year have been able to produce smartphones with the same core suite of hardware and software for phones under AU$200 as they do for phones costing four times as much. The Qwerty-Touch is no exception, with 3G and Wi-Fi internet access, a GPS receiver, stereo Bluetooth, USB connectivity and an FM radio tuner.
Telstra also adds a few software goodies, including its Foxtel Mobile TV app and a shortcut to the Tribe social media tool. You also have the choice between Google Maps and Whereis Navigator for your GPS-guided navigation needs.
Hip pocket photographers can snap pics of family and friends with a 2-megapixel camera, but without a flash, auto-focus or any other camera niceties, the photos are completely forgettable. Our tests all came out blurry, with a bluish tinge and a strange vignette-like halo around the images.
Should you buy it?
Even if your budget is a strict AU$150, you'll be surprised at how many phones you'll have to choose from, so we suggest you take your time and take a closer look. The Qwerty-Touch stands out only because of its full keyboard, something the competition doesn't have. But this keyboard is also the main reason the Qwerty-Touch has such a small screen in this awkward horizontal orientation. If you don't need or want a keyboard, your options expand dramatically to include phones like the LG Optimus Spirit, HTC Explorer and Samsung Galaxy Gio.
If you can stretch your budget further, you'll find some excellent phones in the next price category. HTC has the Wildfire S and the QWERTY-packing Cha Cha both for AU$199, and for AU$279 you can pick up the Huawei Vision along with a big step up in hardware and performance. Unless you really want the keyboard or you just can't stretch your budget, we'd suggest overlooking Telstra's Android offering this time around.