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Review: Cingular 8125

Matthew Maier
To say that today's smartphones are as powerful as personal computers were a decade ago is quickly becoming cliché, but that doesn't make it any less true. Witness the Cingular 8125: despite being small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, this powerful quad-band phone packs a 200 MHz processor, 64MB of RAM, enough on-board memory to store scores of MP3s, pictures or videos, and a MiniSD slot to add gigabytes of additional storage, as needed. In other words, the 8125 is a perfectly respectable personal computer that just happens to fit in your pant pocket. And did we mention that this little PC-turned-phone should work on pretty much any GSM network in the free world (providing it's unlocked)? Click on to read our review.


It's a powerful combination. After testing the 8125 for the last few days, it's clear that Cingular's latest Windows-powered smartphone may be its best yet (it is an HTC, after all). First, the phone itself is solid. Despite a rather measly 5 hours of talk time, the 8125 maintained a clear signal most of the time, and the Microsoft and HTC-designed software made it  easy to dial phone numbers, despite the lack of a number pad. Thanks to advances to Microsoft's latest mobile operating system, Windows Mobile 5.0, the phone will automatically pull up contacts from your SIM card or on-board memory once you start dialing, so you never have to go digging for a phone number. (One gripe: you still can't scroll through numbers on the virtual number pad using the directional keys, so that means you'll have to use the stylus, or your finger.)


But if you're seriously considering dropping $350 for this, its ability to make calls is just one necessary function, and possibly not the most important one. And it's the non-phone features that set the 8125 apart. Like many of the latest smartphones, this device offers built-in WiFi, Bluetooth, and a high-speed EDGE radio, making it a cinch to get online. Unlike many of the other phones out there, the 8125's QWERTY keyboard is a dream. While the Treo's keyboard is still considered by many to be the standard-bearer, this phones keyboard is actually roomier and easier to use. Backlit and with slightly raised keys, the 8125 makes it easy to bang out emails, text messages, and do quick web searches.


More importantly, the 8125 offers full native support for all Microsoft Office documents, which means you can seriously consider leaving your laptop at home next time you head off on a quick business trip. You can create, save, and edit Word and Excel documents on the 8125 and send them to your PC without worrying about any annoying formatting problems that used to occur on early revisions. (And vice versa: Documents created in your desktop translate perfectly onto the mobile version of Microsoft's office products.) The 320 x 240 QVGA screen is bright enough -- and big enough -- to make manipulating documents easy enough that you can temporarily forget you're working on a handheld device.

There's more, of course: basic support for all Office documents, a decent 1.3 megapixel camera, and, of course, the ability to sync up the 8125 with your Outlook email, contacts and appointments. Ambitious users can also download and watch Windows Media content on the 8125, including transferring recorded Tivo programs to the phone via USB or transferring songs from music PlaysForSure services such as Yahoo Music Unlimited or Napster To Go. And maybe that's where the similarities between the 8125 and your PC of yesteryear end: your old PC would have a hard time keeping up. It's definitely better suited for the power user, but the 8125 may be one of the best mobile PC replacements we've seen yet see on the US market.


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