Huawei has just launched its consumer brand onto the Australian market, but its U8300 Android smartphone, re-badged as the Boost Droid, is a good example of the manufacturer working with Australian carrier partners. The Boost Droid smartphone promises a budget, value for money Android experience. It has an excellent keyboard, but unfortunately the mobile phone sacrifices usability with a poor screen and slow performance.
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The Boost Droid smartphone stands out due to its overly square design. Its odd shape gives it a cute look, which lends itself to the target demographic of young teens. The shape of the Boost Droid smartphone appears to be split into two thanks to small contours almost three quarters down; the top half houses the 2.6in resistive touchscreen, and the bottom half the physical QWERTY keyboard and controls. The Boost Droid smartphone has answer and end call keys and a menu and back button, along with a clickable trackball. Strangely, it doesn't have a physical search button, which is standard on most Android-powered smartphones.
The Boost Droid's keyboard is excellent. The rubberised keys are slightly raised and curved, and provide good tactility and a fair amount of travel when pressed. The space bar does feel a little awkward, preferring to be pressed on the left or right rather than in the centre, and the keys on the outer edges are a bit too close to the edge of the handset, but otherwise, the keyboard is impressive and is definitely the best feature of the Droid.
Even though it retails at just $149, the Boost Droid smartphone has the same feature capabilities of a top-end Android smartphone. It has full 3G connectivity, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a basic camera, a full Web browser, a standard headphone jack, comes with a microSD card for extra storage, handles personal and corporate e-mail, and provides access to the Android Market for third party applications. Boost has also pre-loaded the Droid with a number of handy apps including the excellent Documents To Go viewer for reading Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF files, RoadSync for Microsoft Exchange e-mail support, Richpad for note taking and Twidroyd for Twitter. Boost also packs the 1GB microSD card full of apps, though these are all free apps that can be downloaded from the Android Market.
Unfortunately the Boost Droid does all these things with a hefty sacrifice in usability and performance. The resistive touchscreen is often unresponsive, requires too firm a press to register taps and is small and cramped. As an example, we had to use a fingernail, rather than a fingertip to drag down the notifications bar; a basic action that most users will undertake frequently. The display also has poor viewing angles, is hard to see the screen in sunlight, and has a low resolution; its odd shape also means that some apps — such as the official Twitter app for Android — don't display in the correct orientation.
The Boost Droid smartphone is sluggish during general use. Apps are slow to open and close and though it is technically capable of handling multitasking, it really hasn't been designed with this in mind. The Web browser is slow to load and doesn't always render pages correctly, there is no multitouch or Flash support, while scrolling isn't smooth and text isn't displayed crisply, so it can often be hard to read.
Battery life is below average; the Boost Droid barely lasted a full day with moderate use; regular push e-mail and social networking updates eat into battery life. If you're coming from a basic feature phone, you'll need to get used to charging the Boost Droid every night.
Keep in mind that the Boost Droid smartphone is a data centric handset, but Boost's plans don't seem to be that generous with data allowances, with a $30 recharge on the 1cent text plan providing just 100MB and a $40 recharge giving you 300MB. You will get a bonus of 400MB and 1.2GB respectively on these plans until 28 February 2011.
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