Name: Cloud Touch (INQ)
Type: Android Froyo smartphone
Specifications: Click here for full specs
Price: £239.99 SIM-free
INQ’s Cloud Touch smartphone takes bare-bones Android Froyo and packs it full of Facebook widgets, a pre-installed Spotify app and an intriguing Wi-Fi hotspot database. Is the budget-friendly Cloud Touch bolstered by these additions, or bloated to bursting point?
Though available in less-garish black and white hues too, the INQ Cloud Touch’s red-casing variant, so removed from the usually demure look of Android devices, seems the one best suited to its particular take on the smartphone scene. Perfectly pocketable with a 3.5 inch capacitive touchscreen, it’s doing things slightly differently by leading with a heavily customised version of Android Froyo, putting Facebook and the cloud-music service Spotify front-and-centre.
The Facebook elements of the Cloud Touch come in the shape of a live widget that takes up the majority of the main homescreen. Signing into both Google and Facebook accounts when you first boot up the phone, the widget constantly throws the latest updates and images from your Facebook contacts to the centre of your homescreen, ready to be checked with a glance or replied to within a few presses. Events, Notifications, People and Places tabs at the top of the screen can then be used to delve deeper into to the social network. The phone also uses Facebook’s Social Graph Data to highlight your five most contacted pals, meaning you don’t have to trawl lengthy lists to get to the friend you need quickly.
All in, it’s an intuitive and slick design, taking many of its cues from the look of the Facebook web version to make it as familiar as possible. It wont be for everyone, but Facebook fans need never fumble for a dedicated Facebook app again with the Cloud Touch. Up to five homescreens can be used and customised in the regular Android way, removing the Facebook elements altogether if you chose, but that would totally undermine the point of buying the INQ Cloud Touch.
Spotify, the music streaming service currently causing record executives the world over headaches is unusually the default player of choice here. If you’re a regular reader of Tech Digest you’ll already know that we adore Spotfiy. For £9.99 a month, it gives you unlimited access to millions of songs, accessible anywhere where you have a data connection, as well as letting you download playlists for offline playback. It has a great user friendly UI, and over the course of its short life has been improved to allow locally stored tracks to be included in your personal Spotify library, making it a true iTunes-beater. You can use the app for free too if you just want access to your own locally stored tracks, or use an entirely different music player with the INQ Cloud Touch if you so choose, but we think Spotify is well worth the monthly investment for its full feature list.
As well as packing three backlit soft-touch buttons (Menu, Back and a Home key that takes it’s inspiration from the INQ logo) the Cloud Touch also sports two unusual hardware buttons. First up is a dedicated Spotify button that sits on the lower-right edge of the phone. Long pressing this fires up the app, while short presses pause and play tracks. If you’re a paid-up Spotify fan it’s a welcome addition, but if you favour a different music player this button becomes pretty much useless as it is only compatible with Spotify.
More useful is the Info button found on the left hand side of the device which, as its name suggests, fires up a screen packed with info on your phone’s current state. Here you’ll find handy colour-coded stats on connectivity, volume profiles, battery life, alarms, storage space and more, including a nifty tab for checking how many minutes worth of music playback you’ll be able to squeeze out of the phone before your next recharge. We found this a particularly quick and easy way to micromanage our use of the Cloud Touch, and would be a welcome addition on many menu-heavy smartphones.
The Info screen also has a dedicated area for Wi-Fi management, particularly useful as INQ have introduced a novel Wi-Fi hotspot database. The Cloud Touch not only logs Wi-Fi networks you’ve used in the past, but their GPS location as well. The smartphone will switch on and off its Wi-Fi connectivity dependant on whether or not it can find any GPS data on Wi-Fi networks you’ve connected to in that locality in the past. Any open hotspots you’ve used will then be added to a database that other INQ Cloud Touch users can also tap into. It’s a smart, battery saving idea for those who don’t closely monitor their power-sapping connections, but as GPS connectivity itself can be a fairly big drain on your power levels too, having to leave that connection constantly on seems to undermine the point of the feature. You can of course manually manage the Wi-Fi settings as well.
While an acquired taste, the INQ Cloud Touch gets a lot right on the software front. With the budget price firmly in mind, it’s the hardware side of things then that inevitably let the phone down.
First off is the screen itself. Though bright, its HVGA (320 x 480 pixels) display wasn’t very sharp, leading some text to be a little fuzzy and leaving a few colourful apps a little muted. The 600MHz processor onboard too is showing its age in this era of dual-core phones, and while navigating the Cloud Touch was speedy enough, opening large PDF files or playing back video was a little sluggish.
In a nice touch, the 5MP rear camera can be fired up from the phone’s lock screen (by dragging its icon to the unlocking position), but you’re unlikely to get much joy from the images it produces. Though touting auto-focus, it’s a hit-or-miss affair at best, failing to identify the focal point of most of our frames. Low light shooting is particularly poor, with no flash to aid the detail-lacking snaps. We’re grateful that a phone with such strong social networking credentials allows you to post the images to Twitter and Facebook straight from the camera UI, though you may be a little embarrassed with what the phone manages to capture.
Lastly, battery life isn’t great too. Despite INQs attempts to intelligently switch off power-hungry services, you’ll be unlikely to squeeze a working day out of the Cloud Touch with even only moderate use. In this respect perhaps the Facebook-focus is a double-edged sword; the phone encourages continued use of its data and Wi-Fi connections through its constant stream of Facebook notifications, with your interactions in turn hardly giving the phone a moment’s rest. That’s sure to test the life of any smartphone battery we suppose, but the Cloud Touch’s “always-socially-connected” emphasis seems to actively encourage battery-draining practices.
If you’re a total Facebook addict with a Spotify premium account, the INQ Cloud Touch will likely tick many of the boxes you’re after from a smartphone purchase. It’s affordable and, while by no means jaw-dropping in terms of specs, quite uniquely styled compared to the de rigueur black squares most phones look like. Having said that, if you’re just after a cheap Android fix and don’t care much for Zuckerberg’s network, there are plenty of older handsets, such as the HTC Desire with the Sense UI, now plummeting in price that do a much better all-round job.