Review: STRTrk/QTEK 8500 smartphone

Mobile phones, PDAs, Reviews

The Propaganda

Having seen a whole slew of Windows Mobile based smartphones and Pocket PCs this week, we’ve got a further review of the HTC STRTrk (otherwise known as the QTEK 8500) having had a bit more of an in-depth look at it. Essentially, it’s a smartphone which runs Windows Mobile 5.0, masquerading as a mass market mobile. Available in pink, silver or black, Microsoft are hoping this will be the smartphone that will appeal to a broader selection of people than the corporate workaholics.

The Good

The handset itself is attractive, making it a contender for the many mobile phone users who have no previous experience with smartphones. It’s just 15mm thick, and has an external display, as well as external MP3 player controls. These controls also work as call reject and ring silencer buttons when you get an incoming call. The display itself is 2.2" square, which means it’s big enough to display a photo of the contact, as well as the name. The cover also features two LED lights, which tell you the battery level, Bluetooth status and network coverage at a glance.

It’s loaded with Windows Media Player, which makes it easy to synch music, video and even TV programmes if you’re using Windows Media Centre.  It is also equipped with Stereo Bluetooth, which means you can listen to headphones without wires, and control the MP3 player from the controls on the headset. Alternatively, it comes with wired headphones.

Unsurprisingly, the STRTrk works primarily as a phone and then as a data device, so there’s nothing to frighten off first time users on opening the phone. The typepad is similar to Motorola’s laser-etched design, which some people love and others hate (I’m a hater, and obviously suffer from butcher’s fingers).  There’s two soft keys which initially link to a Windows Start button shortcut, and another for contacts.

ActiveSync is easy to set up, as are POP3 accounts. This is fairly essential when you bear in mind the market for this phone which is not confined to those using corporate servers.

The Bad

Although the Windows Media Player is easy, in it’s current state it can’t hold any more than three songs. You can expand the 64Mb of internal memory via a MiniSD card. Unfortunately, the slot for this is tucked under the battery, and under the SIM card, making it fiddly to install. It also means that you have to take out the SIM card every time you put in or change the card.

The phone also isn’t as nippy as you might like. There were occasions during the test when messages took a while to appear, and it seemed that the MP3 player suffered if you were using something complicated like the camera. That’s the camera that doesn’t have a light, by the way.

The messaging is also a bit clumsy. Unlike many phones, there aren’t any shortcuts. For instance, if you want to compose a new message, you’ve got to go to Start/Messages and then swop out of whatever view you were previously in (Email message from the boss for instance) and then trail back through your email inbox, then choose your text message inbox and finally you can choose ‘new message’.  By which time, you wish you’d just called the person.

Connectivity wise, there’s no Wifi or 3G support which many other Windows Mobile devices now include.

In our opinion

It seems that this phone doesn’t really know what it is. It’s not intuitive enough to rival a mass market handset like a Sony Ericsson W700i, despite having the credentials there in theory (different colours, MP3 player externally, 1.3 megapixel camera). On the other hand, the lack of QWERTY keyboard and awkward controls makes it hard to make the most of what Windows Mobile can offer.  It seems like it will appeal to those who occasionally want email and internet access, but won’t be bothered with the lack of easy shortcuts you’d normally expect from a similar looking phone.  It’s available for £305 SIM free, or free on certain O2 contracts.

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