Software, buttons and keyboard
We won't bore you with a full list of preinstalled Android apps on our Mini 5, but there are indeed a few that are worth mentioning: the usual bundle including Google Mail, YouTube, Amazon MP3, WebKit browser (with pinch-to-zoom but no Flash support), Google Maps (no pinch-to-zoom, boo!), K-9 Mail (which supports Exchange server) and Quickoffice (a file browser that can also view Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents). For multimedia there's the standard Android music app, a Gallery app by ArcSoft (pinch-to-zoom supported), and a three-year trial of the forthcoming CyberLink Live for Android that gives you "instant access to your photos, music, and video stored on your home computers." There's no social networking integration (like MOTOBLUR
) as such, but you can use the preloaded Meebo IM for chatting on AIM, Facebook, Google Talk, ICQ, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo, etc. If you want to be discrete about your gigantic phone, you may find the Voice Control app by Nuance
handy for voice-dialing -- it can be triggered by holding down the button on the bundled handsfree earphones.
Many of the apps support both portrait and landscape modes, although landscape mode only works one way (with the dock connector pointing downwards). This is actually pretty neat for those who like to read in portrait mode while lying in bed, but you'll have to get used to leaning on your right side of your body for this. The dialer app -- as pictured above -- is only available in portrait mode and does look like work in progress, plus we haven't found a way to initiate or receive video calls, leaving the front-facing 640 x 480 camera pretty useless except for some casual self-portraits. Hopefully the final software build will have these fixed. As for normal phone calls we've found voice quality on both ends to be satisfactory.
Going back to the homescreen, we see that Dell's done some skinning -- the top bar houses a button for triggering the apps menu (unlike the traditional pull-up menu on most other Android devices), along with a homescreen switcher button and notifications button. The shortcut icons are contained in shaded grey squares. Only a couple of widgets got our attention: Power Control allows us to quickly change the screen brightness and turn on / off various wireless connections, while the cute TasKiller widgets let us kill apps one by one or all in one go. The widgets for Twitter, Facebook and RSS are useful, but like those on other Android phones, they still lack options for refresh rates. Any chance that we can have enhanced versions, Dell?
The only physical buttons on the Mini 5 all reside on the top edge (when held as pictured above). Starting from the left we have a 3.5mm headphone jack, followed by buttons for volume, power and camera (which has two stages: focus and then capture). On the right of screen there are three touch-sensitive buttons with haptic feedback: back, menu and home. Like other Android phones, the on-screen keyboard can be triggered by holding down the menu button, and as you can see above, the landscape version has a numpad that you may or may not like -- frankly, the keyboard offset is pretty annoying since we need to stretch our right thumb across the numpad for handheld typing, plus the keys could've been bigger if the numpad wasn't there. We think those two factors are to be blamed for our constant typos, so a numpad-less option would totally make our day. That said, when the phone's placed on the desk, we typed better on the landscape keyboard using our index fingers. Similarly, the portrait keyboard performed better with our thumbs while we held the device.
Given the MID form factor and that gorgeous five-inch screen, we immediately loaded a few MP4 videos of various resolutions (1080p, 720p and 480p) to see what the Mini 5 could take. Annoyingly, our Mini 5's default video player could only handle MP4V video codec, so we had to convert our test videos, including the MP4 files that were compiled by iMovie (which encodes in H.264). On the contrary, Carrypad's
heard from Dell at MWC
that the final product will
support "H.264 and other codecs." Even then, the device failed to open our 1080p files, but that's not the end of the world considering 720p is already plentiful for the 800 x 480 screen -- we had a 7Mbps 720p video playing smoothly with just the odd stutter. On a similar matter, the preloaded YouTube app performed nicely for us, except for the lack of higher quality playback options to make full use of the large screen.
Moving on to audio: the Mini 5 has a mono speaker on the back that sounds loud and surprisingly clear, but naturally, the bundled earphones sound even better -- we'd scale it to somewhere between the levels of the iPod buds and Apple's in-ear headphones. Fans of stereo Bluetooth headphones will be pleased to know that our Mini 5 supports A2DP and AVRCP, which are particularly useful for devices of such size.
The main camera offers five-megapixel pictures of reasonable quality, along with decent 640 x 480 video capture but with slight rolling shutter effect (aka "jelly motion"). The accompanying camera app has a wealth of settings for both modes: scene, white balance, brightness, contrast, and resolution. Extra settings for photo mode include flash, self-timer, multi-shot, shutter sound, GPS location and flicker adjustment, whereas video mode has options for video format (MPEG-4 and H.263). Both support digital zoom of up to 4x. Once a picture is taken, you get a three-second preview along with options to edit, send, set as wallpaper / contact icon and delete. You get the same options by accessing the photos on the left-hand bar. In edit mode you can rotate, crop, adjust colors, draw, resize and add various goodies (effects, frames, text and clipart). Thankfully, there are undo and redo buttons, too.
Here are a couple of videos and some photos captured by the five-megapixel camera: