T-Mobile Comet review
- Surprisingly well-built
- Amazing price point
- 802.11n and HSPA 7.2Mbps capability
- Sluggish at times
- Very poor quality video capture
- Small, low-res TFT display
It'd be deceptive to say that the Comet has a premium appearance to it, but in the same breath, calling it "cheap-looking" would probably be doing it a disservice. It generally looks like Huawei has done everything it can to use ultra-cheap materials and make them look (and feel) higher-end, starting with matte black plastic on the back cover and front bezel trimmed with small strips of soft-touch material in between. The company mercifully limited its use of chrome to the d-pad's ring and the volume rocker, and the plate surrounding the d-pad has concentric ridges that produce a nice optical effect. We can definitely picture the Comet looking great in a variety of colors (in fact, Huawei showed a bunch of Ideos colors at IFA), but for now, black's the only option.
As for ports and controls, they're simple: micro-USB in the center of the bottom, 3.5mm headphone jack and power button up top, and the aforementioned volume rocker is on the left side. The power button is a little too small and too flush, making it tricky to tell whether you've pushed it at times... but this is one button that we'd much rather have too hard to push than too easy. On back, you've got the 3.2 megapixel camera next to two holes that look like a dual LED flash, but they're actually for the speakerphone -- there is no flash on this one.
Moving back to the front, you've got the standard four Android buttons as touch-sensitive icons below the capacitive display, and below that, vertically-oriented Send and End buttons on either side of the circular d-pad. This area of the phone is really the only part that we take specific issue with: at a glance, it seems wasteful. As we mentioned before, the concentric ring design is kind of cool, but it doesn't serve any function, so you end up with this relatively huge expanse of dead space that could've been either used for more screen real estate or killed off entirely to make the phone smaller. In reality, we suspect Huawei was backed into a corner on this one -- making the display any bigger would've increased costs, and there are probably electronic guts behind this area that couldn't have been easily moved elsewhere without making the phone thicker or more expensive (or without sacrificing battery life). And we don't want to blow it out of proportion, either -- it really looks fine, it's just a styling element that simply wouldn't exist on a pricier device. Heck, most Android devices don't have physical Send and End buttons at all, though it's pretty nice to have one-touch access to the phone app.
The display is definitely the weakest link in the Comet's arsenal -- and considering that displays are one of the priciest components on any phone's bill of materials, that comes as little surprise. It's got a 2.8-inch QVGA TFT screen, which is kind of a trifecta of suck: it's smaller, lower-resolution, and less contrasty than today's Android trendsetters. But can it get the job done? The actual display is far enough beneath the capacitive layer (we'd say by 1mm or so) that viewing angles are kind of irrelevant, because as you tilt it, the display ends up being obscured by reflection off that layer rather than by any negative LCD effects. The good news is that, as we mentioned, the screen is capacitive, and it pays off: we had no issues with sensitivity, it felt fine, and we were surprised by what an easy time we had with the on-screen keyboards (more on that later). Strangely, it doesn't seem to support multitouch at all -- though then again, on a screen this small, the usefulness of it is debatable. We didn't really miss it.
Above the display you'll find the earpiece (of course) surrounded by a proximity sensor to the left and a notification light to the right that can be configured in the standard Android ways. The sensor is pretty weird -- it works just fine as far as we can tell, but it very noticeably flashes red every half second or so when you're in a room without much light. Interestingly, we weren't able to get the display to go out simply by covering it, we had to hold our hand over pretty much the entire face of the phone. Magic!
Considering the meek processor and small screen, we expected the battery to run forever on the Comet, but it wasn't anything spectacular -- possibly due to the fact that the battery is a relatively light 1200mAh. Then again, it was far from terrible: we got about 24 hours of relatively light use including an hour with the hotspot turned on. With heavy use, we think you could easily make it through a day, but you'll need to be sure to charge it nightly.
T-Mobile Comet camera samples
The Comet runs stock Android 2.2 -- a side-effect of Huawei's partnership with Google on the phone, we're sure, evidenced by the large "with Google" logo placed right below the camera on back. That said, there are a couple pack-in apps -- nothing too controversial, and nothing we haven't seen before: the view-only version of Documents To Go, T-Mobile's My Account and My Device apps, Swype, Telenav, and a generic "Note pad" app are all in ROM. We put "Note pad" in quotes because that's how it's actually written, and the poor capitalization is kind of indicative of the whole app -- sloppy with virtually no functionality. We suspect Huawei wrote this themselves and tossed it in as a stopgap to make up for Android's lack of a standard note-taking app, but we would've preferred that they just let us download one of the many free (and good) ones ourselves or let T-Mobile partner up with a decent developer to include one.
We won't lie: the phone can get sluggish. That's obviously attributable to the 528MHz processor that Huawei included -- partly as a battery saver, we're sure, but more as a cost saver. We never got to the point where we were ready to throw the phone against a wall, though -- the speed was bearable, particularly (and importantly) in the browser where scrolling seemed to basically keep up with our demands.
One odd misstep comes when you plug the Comet into your computer. The phone initially presents itself on your machine as a CD labeled "Mobile Partner," a branding opportunity on the Ideos that T-Mobile appears to have missed altogether for the Comet. Opening the CD reveals a PDF with some GPL disclaimers for BusyBox among other things, along with an offer from Huawei to receive a CD of all the GPL source code in the Comet for €20 -- yes, that's 20 euro, not 20 US dollars. That's not even the strangest bit, though -- that honor would have to go to the phone's "drivers" folder, which contains both ADB and -- get this -- a link to download Microsoft ActiveSync 4.5 for Windows 2000 and XP. You know, the software you use to hook up your Windows Mobile device to a computer. Don't ask us. Of course, this isn't the first time that we've seen really obvious and preventable software weirdness in a T-Mobile device, so we think this probably speaks to the fact that T-Mobile has one of the less stringent device testing regimens in the industry -- we can't verify that claim, but it certainly seems that way.
It's easy to read through some of our criticisms here and dismiss the Comet as a mediocre device -- but again, we need to focus just as much on the price and the market significance as we do on the device itself. As of this writing, the Comet is actually free on contract if you buy it off T-Mobile's site... and that's for a brand-new, just announced smartphone running the latest available version of Android direct from a carrier. That's simply unprecedented.