Did you ever meet the person that reinvented the wheel? No, of course not. A wheel works just fine. But, despite the age old adage; ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’, Vodafone has pressed ahead and attempted to reinvent the world of social networking with the launch of a service called ‘Vodafone 360’.
The phone reviewed here is the first in a line-up of handsets, and a cheaper model (the M1) will be released shortly after the H1 hits the shelves.
Vodafone is spending a lot of money on promoting 360, but if you haven’t seen the TV ads yet, you’re probably wondering what it is all about. I’ve been using the phone for a while now, and I’m still not entirely sure.
On paper, the concept is sound; a phone with an all-new operating system (a proprietary OS called ‘LiMo’ – or Linux Mobile to give it its full name) that is built exclusively around your contacts. Of course you have the usual apps and services, but the focus is on keeping in touch with your friends and family.
Whether they’re in your standard phonebook, on Facebook, the Vodafone 360 service itself, or another service to be added in the future (Twitter is on its way according to Vodafone), you can see status updates in near real-time, plus texts and instant messaging. You can then choose to communicate with them from a single page, or two, or is that three?
This is where things start to get complicated, not least because Vodafone has created its own set of icons for things that aren’t immediately obvious. Okay, so a picture depicting a bookmark is a clever way of getting you to your web bookmarks; but nearly everyone else uses a star. It has become a recognised standard, so why is Vodafone trying to change things? All of these icons seriously compromise the usability of the phone.
It’s just as confusing when you discover that pressing any of the three buttons below the screen, swaps the screen layout depending on how many times you press them. More frustratingly is the fact that when you see a contact in some views, the status update is truncated. If you take the picture below left as an example, you’ll find that Cindy Moussa’s status is shown as ‘Feels great after nice…’ – hardly an easy way of keeping informed on what’s going on in your social world. Vodafone should have spotted these issues during testing.
There are lots of nice things to say about the handset, when you start to use it more lik ea traditional phone. The large capacitive touchscreen is responsive and the management of applications (including a scroll-down list of notifications) is quite similar to that of an Android phone. Of course, that begs the question; why not just get an Android phone in the first place.
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The Vodafone Shop doesn’t show many 360 apps or widgets and it’s unlikely it ever will. I can’t believe there’s going to be massive rush to develop for LiMo, at least until other manufacturers and operators show support for it.
For web access, the browser has an excellent feature yet to show itself on anything but Opera Mobile on the now obsolete Symbian/UIQ platform. When viewing a web page with small text and links that are close to each other; a quick press in the general area brings up a large, well spaced, list of the available links. This means you can navigate with one hand, even when moving, and accurately go to the link you want.
The browser also handles multiple windows well, with the ability to zoom in and out by holding your finger down and moving up and down.
The camera is a top-performer too. At only 5-megapixels, you may not expect much but the camera has an exceptionally bright LED lamp, plenty of camera functions and preset exposure settings, as well as HD (1280×720) video recording. This means Samsung’s I8910 HD is no longer the only model to capture HD quality video, but without support for DNLA, there’s no way to stream video to a compatible TV without first tranferring the video file to a PC.
Call quality is also decent, and for alerting you to incoming messages or calls there’s a ring of white light that glows at the base of the phone (it can be disabled). The speaker on the back is loud and there’s a decent media player and FM radio, including access to Vodafone’s own music shop.
For navigation (the phone also has integrated GPS), Vodafone uses its own mapping application, but you can run Java applications – except the version of Google Maps offered for download couldn’t access the GPS, so proved pretty useless. I could not be certain if this is a restriction for all Java applications, which would seriously limit the scope for expansion beyond the limited apps offered exclusively for the H1.
Vodafone is also intending to roll out a subset of Vodafone 360 services to other devices in the coming months, including Series 60 devices, but this will be little more than the enhanced phonebook with online management. There will be no support for the custom widgets, automatic backup of data over-the-air etc.
Personally, I have reservations about whether 360 will still be around in a year from now, considering there are other handsets that can do almost the same thing and are likely to be better supported, from the INQ Mobile range to the HTC Hero and Motorola Dext.
The other problem is that Vodafone is promoting the 360 service as a premium offering. Nice as the H1 is in terms of functionality and performance, the target audience for the phone is probably priced completely out of the market.
Vodafone said it built 360 as an alternative to the iPhone and the App Store – but the proprietary operating system (LiMo) isn’t likely to attract much support in the apps department. The Samsung H1 is not the nicest looking phone, but it does have an exceptionally large OLED display that’s very responsive. It also has a decent media player, a top quality camera with flash and HD resolution video capture. All well and good, except the point of the phone is how it manages all your social networking; and this is where it becomes a confusing mess.