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T-Mobile's SDA reviewed


We've been spending some quality time with T-Mobile's SDA Windows Mobile 5.0 Smartphone. The $300 phone boasts some pretty good features for the price, including EDGE data, Bluetooth, a QVGA screen, and a 1.3 megapixel camera. The real kicker is the WiFi connectivity lacking in its 2125 cousin from Cingular, but how does it hold up under rigorous solitaire play and indiscriminate texting of ex-lovers? You'll have to read on to find out.

The first thing you'll notice about this phone is the screen. Well, we suppose that's not exactly true, since the start up time borders on the millenia (60 seconds from pressing the power button to making the first call), but after the phone is finally fired up you'll notice just how great this QVGA screen really is, bordering on the brightness of one of our beloved 2405FPWs.

Speaking of startup reminds us of our main gripe of this phone: the buttons. The power button takes great will and dexterity to activate, the side rocker button that controls volume is painful use, and the side camera and comm manager buttons aren't much better. Then there's the keypad; it's much more tactile than the aforementioned buttons -- a very shallow, clicky feel -- but it's squeezed tightly into the bottom fourth of the phone, causing finger cramps, especially during extended texting sessions. This of course makes data entry more of a chore than it already is on a keypad-only smartphone.

The media buttons are a bit of a waste of space since they merely provide redundant functionality for Windows Media Player and are compatible with little else. The center joystick also teases with great feel, but causes difficulty due to the cliche problem with joysticks: it's hard to make a straight and center button press.

Otherwise there's plenty to love about this phone, including great signal (even the occasional single bar when waiting for the subway), and great data capabilities with the included -- and speedy -- WiFi. With a dedicated button for the communications manager, allowing us to enable and disable the phone, WiFi, and Bluetooth radios within a few button presses, the phone couldn't be much easier to use with wireless connections, and we had little trouble finding and using random networks.

As for actual phone functionality, the SDA works fine. We found there to be clear -- if a bit quiet -- voices on both ends and plenty of battery life -- for talking at least. While we found the battery fairly indifferent to talking and PDA usage, the phone usually didn't make it past a couple of days of standby, no matter how little time we spent with it. The speakerphone was our main caveat for phone use, offering clear audio but too little volume.

It's hard to believe the SDA is a Smartphone based on the size, barely out bulking Sony's candybar classic, the T616. Once picked up, though, it makes more sense. The phone has a solid build, and felt a tad heavy after long conversation, but we really can't blame HTC for this one (the SDA is based on HTC's Tornado design), since they really do pack it in. There's a decent 1.3 megapixel camera for a few shots on the go, and also a miniSD slot -- annoyingly placed under the battery -- to expand the phone's paltry 64MB of storage, half of which is already used out of box (hey, that OS has to go somewhere). We would recommend planning to spring for a decently-sized miniSD along with the phone's $300 price tag, especially since the phone excels with media, offering Windows Media Player syncing and great video playback on the QVGA screen. Syncing media files over USB 2.0 went fast, and while the 200MHz processor's performance isn't stellar, we were able to play some DivX "24" in TCPMP without a hitch.

Of course the Smartphone crown is a moving target, but the SDA does plenty for the price for now, and should serve many touchscreen or size-averse Windows Mobile types very well.

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