INQ Mini 3G £59.99
28th Oct 2009 | 16:17
Is the budget Twitterphone trying to do too much?
INQ Mini 3G: Overview, design and feel
INQ is following up the success of its INQ1 'Facebook' phone by releasing an even cheaper model, the INQ Mini 3G, which packs in more technology.
The INQ Mini 3G only costs £59.99, exclusively on 3, but has Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Windows Messenger all included out of the box. It's a lot to pack into such a dinky device, so has INQ tried to do too much this time?
The main thing about the INQ Mini 3G is just how light it is at 90g. Its dimensions of 102.9 x 45.8 x 12.8 mm mean the phone fits very well in the hand – if anything, it may even be a little too small for the average adult palm.
The QVGA 2.2-inch screen looks nice enough, and given the dimensions it actually looks rather big – think iPod nano and you'll get what we mean.
The keys are heavily rubberised, and a little bit cramped if we're honest – although all the correct ones are there (menu, two softkeys, clear and call/terminate) they can be hard to press at times and hitting the wrong one happened more often than not.
The phone itself feels very plasticky due to its weight, but it does have a nice look to it with the silver rim running around the outside. Given the price we can easily let this one slide, and there are a lot more expensive phones on the market that look a lot worse.
The back cover to the phone is released with a small button on the top – it's a little difficult to remove this, and getting the cover back on isn't easy either, with a degree of force needed to clip everything back into place.
Those of you that played with the INQ1 will remember the carousel key which brings up quick access to the applications on board – this is back, but this time it appears to be slightly lower, meaning less accidental operation, which we liked.
There's also a camera shutter button, which activates the camera when pressed, and a volume up/down key on the other side. Other than that, the chassis of the INQ Mini 3G is pretty sparse.
Despite the lack of keyboard space, the phone has a nice navigational key, with the large and easy to find in the pocket circular D-pad encasing a large enter key. It's a nice touch, not only adding to the aesthetics of the INQ Mini 3G but also making navigation a cinch, even if heavier pressure is needed to operate it compared to the other keys.
The back of the phone is a plain affair, although the chrome styling is still present around the 2MP camera. There's a speaker on the bottom in a flowery design, and the covers are interchangeable (although sold separately) so you can customise your design.
Anyone that remembers the Nokias of the late '90s will fondly recall the interchangeable covers, and it's nice to see such a feature on its way back (if only for nostalgia's sake).
The INQ Mini 3G connects using miniUSB, which is an odd choice considering the industry is quickly drifting towards the microUSB standard. Given the phone is so dinky we would have expected a similar port here.
The connector is also uncovered, so unless you have something permanently plugged in there you're going to have to be careful it doesn't get clogged up with dust or dirt.
In the box
The INQ Mini 3G doesn't offer a huge amount in the box, with a miniUSB cable doubling as a data lead and a charger thanks to a socket converter.
With no 3.5mm headphone jack on the phone, INQ needed to put a converter to allow use of users' own cans. Unfortunately no such thing is included in the box, with a full set of bundled buds available.
These are of average quality, but for those with more specialist tastes or non-normal ear shapes these are just unusable, despite doubling as a hands-free kit too.
INQ Mini 3G: Interface
The interface for the INQ Mini 3G is an evolution of that seen on the INQ1, with a similar setup of widgets and a carousel giving easy access to the most often used aspects.
However, the Mini 3G has been given a more artistic upgrade, with new artwork and a more colourful and cartoony home screen, with more vivid icons.
The carousel is ever present on the home screen, with pre-defined items like Facebook, Skype and Twitter clients within easy reach. If you don't want to press the left and right key, hitting the carousel key will move you along one icon, making one handed operation very easy for social networking.
While you can add applications and bookmarks to the carousel, you annoyingly can't take the pre-defined ones off for full customisation. This means you're stuck with a link to the 3 home portal and My3 account management, even though they're pretty useless when you could just pop them as bookmarks in the browser.
You can also have up to three widgets on the screen too, with options like RSS feeds, Google or Yahoo search and weather all available. If you leave one of these free, you can see which tracks are playing when using the music player.
Having up to three RSS feeds on display at once is a really nice option to have, as is being able to see imminent or long term weather – both options are things you wouldn't expect from a phone at this price.
When starting the phone for the first time you're encouraged to add in all the relevant details for Facebook, Skype and so on, which it then sorts through and adds in to your phone.
The bad news is that this sorting is performed every time you start up the phone as the INQ Mini 3G goes through your online accounts to check for updates. This is bad news as it makes the phone very slow, abysmally so at times, making doing anything else like calling or texting a no-go until it has finished.
However, once it is done, navigation and use of the phone is very easy and most things are where you'd expect them to be, meaning you don't have to mess around with a user manual.
Entering a number will give you the option to call it (obviously), save it to contacts or send a message, and nothing else. It's simple, easy to work out and what a lot of people will be looking for in a phone like this, with a large and visible font throughout.
The menu is similarly well laid out, with artistic icons arranged in a grid. It's clear INQ is positioning the Mini 3G at the more youthful market, where social networking is key and has therefore upped the cool factor on the phone.
The overall layout of the keys can make operation slightly difficult at times, with the softkeys in particular needing a concerted effort to hit correctly.
This means unlocking the phone can be slightly tricky, pressing the * key and the left softkey. Unlocking requires the user to press the left softkey and then the central button – something we liked as it means it's very difficult indeed to accidentally use the phone in the pocket.
Despite being cramped, the menu and clear keys are well placed during navigation and general use, meaning you can get to where you need swiftly and as you'd expect.
The INQ Mini 3G has tried to do a lot with a limited interface and small key space, and at times comes close to breaking point. But for the most part, the phone works well, especially for a budget offering.
INQ Mini 3G: Calling and contacts
One of the main features of the INQ Mini 3G is the integrated contacts menu, with Facebook, Skype and MSN contacts all included under one name.
This is an idea pioneered in the INQ1, and has since been copied by the likes of Palm and Motorola with the Pre and Dext. One account that isn't included is Twitter, with CEO Frank Meehan telling TechRadar that this was because you're less likely to personally know those you're following on Twitter, making it hard to place them to a specific contact in your phonebook.
It's not a simple process to put all the relevant information in the right place – it requires users to merge contacts by selecting all the information in turn and asking the phone to combine them. Considering most people have north of 200 contacts, and even more Facebook friends, this is a laborious process.
However, once done it works very well to have all the information in one place, giving easy access to the people you want to speak to via a variety of mediums.
The bad news is that the amount of information stored in the contacts menu makes it very, very slow to use at times, requiring users to wait two to three seconds to press one button.
Users can search through contacts by typing in the name, but this just makes things even slower than before, making it feel like the Mini 3G is searching through the entire internet to find the information you're after.
It's not too bad once you find the contact though, as there's a plethora of information available. We're talking your friend's Facebook status updates, and the option to poke, message or see pictures they've uploaded.
The same is true of Skype, allowing you to start a chat or VOIP call right from the contact (providing they're online, of course).
You can also video call a person from your contacts menu, but this feature is completely useless as there's no front facing camera, meaning you have to use the rear. Given the point of video calling is being able to see the person you're talking to, this is a pointless feature, unless you are trying to show somebody something.
Another cool feature is being able to back up all your contacts to a memory card – while the SIM will hold a large amount of numbers, if you're switching between INQ phones or flashing the Mini 3G you don't want to have to re-merge everything again, and backing up contacts onto the memory card just makes sense.
Call quality on the INQ Mini 3G is very good, with sound clear and crisp, and the microphone picking up our voice well.
Picking up and rejecting a call is easy too, with the large rubber keys the easiest thing to hit on the phone.
For a phone that's data centric, the Mini 3G is actually a good telephone, something that much more expensive smartphones fail to manage these days.
INQ Mini 3G: Messaging
What was good for the contacts list is similarly excellent in the messaging application too. From the home messaging screen users are asked what kind of message they'd like to create.
This means that not only can you send a normal text message, but one for Facebook and Skype too. It also contains information about whether you've received any pokes or friends requests, and stores these on the handset.
The good thing about this is should you go out of signal (on the London Underground for instance) you can send messages and respond to requests, with the Mini 3G updating the server as soon as the signal returns.
Text messaging is also great on the Mini 3G, with the standard message editor holding a number of options to upgrade a normal text to an MMS by adding a pre-defined picture or video clip, or recording such a thing yourself directly from the editor.
Inputting text can be a little difficult on the cramped keypad, but it's not too bad once you're used to it. The good thing about the Mini 3G is INQ hasn't tried to re-invent the wheel – the * key cycles through words, the # key changes between letters and numbers – making it easy to pick up and use.
And you're also able to edit the user-defined T9 dictionary for predictive text, which is a feature we see far too infrequently on today's phones. It means that should you accidentally add in a word you didn't mean ('oto' instead of 'mum' for instance) you can stop it appearing above a more frequently used option, which greatly reduces the level of texting frustration you feel.
And, of course, you can choose pre-defined phrases to add in (which is much easier to interact with than templates) and contacts too – basically all the messaging options have been covered here.
INQ Mini 3G: Internet and Media
It's very strange that a phone designed for data use should have such a basic internet browser, but that's the case on the INQ Mini 3G.
Essentially it's best for mobile-based sites, such as the BBC version. In fact, it can't even access the BBC full HTML site, stating 'can't connect' every time we tried.
We therefore thought the Mini 3G couldn't handle full websites, but navigating to TechRadar proved otherwise. What is strange is that using the internet on the phone was generally a slow experience, with the likes of Google and BBC mobile taking a while to load, far longer than other phones.
However, on more HTML-heavy sites the Mini 3G was surprisingly swift, which makes it hard to work out the full capabilities of the browser.
The internet was also slowed down by the mini-map being present as a default, as scanning quickly down a page made the whole thing juddery and slow. It's good to be able to see what part of the web page you're viewing, but when the mini-map obscures the screen and ruins the experience, it's not really worthwhile.
The landing screen for the internet was well-stocked though, with a Google/Yahoo search bar (depending on your preference), feeds, bookmarks and history all within easy reach. We're not generally fans of an extra page before you can get browsing, but this one worked pretty well.
You can also see saved pages, as the INQ Mini 3G offers the chance to cache offline sites for viewing when out of signal. Given the amount you can actually view is a little limited this isn't going to be an oft-used feature, but we're still impressed by the option.
Another cool feature is being able to send links via Facebook or text message, meaning it's easy to share your internet experience with others. It's a shame there's no way to Tweet it, but then again this phone isn't as Twitter-centric as some might think, more a phone with a client on board.
Overall, we were a little disappointed by the internet experience on the Mini 3G – while we weren't expecting much and it does have some very nice touches, the speed of the internet on the phone leaves a little to be desired.
As we mentioned above, this phone will always struggle with media because it simply doesn't have a 3.5mm headphone jack on board, which minimises the ease of using the content.
Couple that with the fact INQ has supplied frankly rubbish headphones in the box with no 3.5mm converter, and we could tell we were on a hiding to nothing. The only two options left are to buy a cheap third party miniUSB-to-3.5mm converter, which will invariably break within weeks of purchase, or use Bluetooth cans.
The wireless option we plumped for was the Jabra Halo, with a dual microphone on board for good speech pickup. These worked well and the INQ Mini 3G pumped out some good sound, but we wonder how many people will be willing to fork out over £50 for headphones on a phone that costs around the same.
The music player on the Mini 3G was basic but did the job. Essentially you've got the forward and back, play, pause, fast forward and rewind options, and the most advanced thing on there is the equaliser.
We've heard some people say that the Mini 3G is never going to be anyone's primary music player, but given the simple use and the easy to find circular D-pad, it actually works pretty well. Music is laid out in the usual way, through album or artist or track, and that's all a lot of people need in a standalone music player.
Add to that the fact music playing gets its own little widget on the home screen (as long as you've left space) and we're left feeling pretty impressed with the INQ Mini 3G.
We're also saddened by the loss of last.fm from the INQ Mini 3G – the INQ1 had it, and for the price it was a great addition. We've no idea why it's not been used here, unless the much rumoured Spotify phone is coming in the near future and last.fm is seen as too much of a competitor.
We were very disappointed with the INQ Mini 3G we were given, as despite the company claiming it could play MPEG4 files, it simply refused to do so for us.
The only video we were able to see was that captured on the device, and downloaded video direct from the 3 mobile web portal.
The video is controlled in a similar way to the music with a small central console offering the basic play/pause and navigational options.
Video could be viewed in both landscape and portrait, although it obviously looked pretty ropey on the low resolution screen.
We thankfully had more luck synchronising media through the doubleTwist PC software that comes with the phone – a number of music videos downloaded from YouTube and even a full length movie went straight onto the device, which is again a great new level of functionality for the price.
INQ Mini 3G: Camera
The camera on the INQ Mini 3G is a basic effort, with a 2MP sensor that can be scaled down to 1.2MP, VGA and MMS quality.
There's also no flash mode, so night mode is the only option when the lights go down, but then again we're sure nobody expects to be the next hot-shot photographer with the Mini 3G.
Taking pictures is fairly quick, with not a huge amount of shutter lag. However after each picture is taken there's about a seven-second delay before you can take another as the Mini 3G wants to show you the picture you've just snapped.
Admittedly there are some nice options from there, such as uploading to Facebook, or separately via email, Bluetooth or MMS.
Video recording is also present on the Mini 3G, allowing you to take movies in both high and low resolution.
And in both camera and video mode, pressing right and left will change the white balance of the photo, which was an unexpected bonus and actually does go some way to changing the quality of your photos and videos.
As we said, photography on the phone isn't going to change your world, but the amount of options make it a decent addition to the Mini 3G.
INQ Mini 3G: Applications
This is where the INQ Mini 3G comes into its own, with a whole raft of applications for users to play with.
The main addition is, of course, Twitter, which sits nicely on the home screen carousel and provides a direct link to the service. However, it's only any good if you're not following a lot of people, as it only lists a few before asking you to click a link to see older Tweets.
This then takes you to the mobile web page for Twitter, and we'd have liked to see some more Tweets displayed before having to wait for the new page to load up to see more from our friends.
Windows Messenger on the INQ Mini 3G is also a let down, as it just didn't work on the phone. Every time we tried to open up the Java application it took us to the website where we were asked to sign up for a Windows Live ID. This then let us log in but only to use the web application to interact with our MSN buddies.
So there was no way of keeping the application running in the background, no notifications of new messages and no chance of synchronising your friends' contact listings with their MSN screen name. We have no idea why this was the case, and can only hope it was a one-off with this device.
Facebook is the same as some will have found on the INQ1, with the basic (if a little small) application giving you a great deal of access to messages, status updates and friend searching. It's not going to be used a huge amount simply thanks to the amount you can do on the phone with Facebook already, but it's still more than enough should you want to take things further.
Skype is probably the best application on the phone, and that's just because it's so simple. The first time you start it up it looks for your friends (after a login) and then synchronises them to your phone. But from the application you can see clearly who is online and choose to call or start an instant message chat.
These chats are located in a separate tab and users get notifications should a chat become active in the middle of using another function. It's well laid out, easy to use and the clear product of three previous Skype-packing phones from INQ.
Other applications include a raft of game trials, including Deal or No Deal and Tetris, which are good but far too expensive. £5 for a game? Have you seen how much the equivalents cost on the iPhone?
Google is present and correct in the applications segment as well, with Google Mail and Google Maps both offered within the Apps menu.
The former works just fine, although there's no option to authorise data use for the session, meaning every action results in users being asked if it's OK to suck down some data to do something email-like.
Google Maps was an odd one for us. Frequent attempts to use it resulted in us being told that we didn't have a data connection and thus couldn't use it, which was really irritating. However, it suddenly decided to work for no reason when we tried it for roughly the sixth time, and to be fair, works pretty well.
There's no GPS on the INQ Mini 3G, but the phone does a good job of triangulating your position with cellular towers, and the application updates quickly so navigation is pretty slick.
Having a decent Google Maps experience on your phone is crucial to some people, and being able to do so for under £60 is brilliant.
INQ Mini 3G: Battery life and organiser
Battery life on the INQ Mini 3G is surprisingly good considering it only has an 1150mAh power pack on board. That's not a small battery by any means, and certainly not so at this price, but the Mini 3G still outperforms expectations.
We managed to get around three days of charge from the Mini 3G before the battery ran into the red zone, and that was with all the Twitter, Facebook and Skype applications constantly running.
Granted, the phone doesn't have a very good web browser at all, so use of that was minimal, but we were still impressed that despite using nearly all the features on board there was enough juice to keep running the phone for two nights without needing to find a power source.
Organisational functions on the Mini 3G were sparse, but ultimately more functional than most will ever need.
There's a pretty cool world clock that lets you select a number of areas to check the time in with a decent graphical overlay (well, decent in a very Spartan way), a stopwatch that tells you how long has elapsed since you started it (you can tell we're having to draw this out) and a calendar too.
Actually the latter is fairly useful as entering reminders and appointments is quick and easy and very intuitive for a feature phone like this one. We're also treated to a currency converter too, although it doesn't draw data from the cloud like we would like it too. Having to type in the amount from data gleaned from the internet kind of defeats the point.
INQ Mini 3G: Connectivity and PC software
It will actually take longer to run through the things the INQ Mini 3G doesn't have, in terms of connectivity, than those which it does.
Bear in mind the price (we know we've said it before, but it's worth mentioning again) but there's no Wi-Fi, no aGPS and no full GPS either. HSDPA is supported, as is Bluetooth, and given the fact it's both a modem and has no 3.5mm headphone jack, these are probably the most important.
The Bluetooth connectivity isn't the best though, taking four attempts to find our Jabra Halo headphones despite them being ready for searching and less than a metre away. But after pairing was complete the two were automatically in sync, so at least it's only going to be frustrating for one episode.
PC connectivity is very well stocked indeed. Users don't need software in the box, instead just connecting the phone via miniUSB bringing up a myriad of options.
Users can choose to install the phone as a mobile modem, connect using the PC Suite, install doubleTwist media centre or just transfer files via USB.
All that and pressing cancel will still let you charge the phone, which isn't too shabby.
The PC Suite is as basic as they come, with files from the phone available on one side and the folder directory of the host PC on the other. While it's easy to set up copying across, it's very, very slow to do so (think speeds in the early part of the century and you're on your way to imagining it).
Just copying across seven photos from the phone to the PC took over five minutes, which is frankly ludicrous in this day and age.
The modem software worked a lot better though, with the now familiar interface asking you to connect when you want to and offering a signal strength read out as well.
Using the phone as a modem is a very simple operation indeed, as once connected it allows you to surf the web at a reasonable speed on a stable connection. Users can track their data use too if they're worried about allowances and whatnot, giving peace of mind if you're on a limited data plan.
The doubleTwist software is a great piece of kit as well, aping the iTunes design and allowing users to send files directly to the phone in a compatible format. It does all the hard work for you, like downloading videos from YouTube, and displays them in an easy to see grid for simple drag and drop playback.
You can even send the media to friends if you're into that kind of thing (perhaps you want to show your mum your latest drunken antics or something weird like that) so there's even a 'Send to' function.
In fact you can even get involved with making friends on the media application – not something we're particularly into, but if you're a social networker (and you probably are with this phone) then this application might appeal.
INQ Mini 3G: Hands-on gallery
INQ Mini 3G: Official photography
INQ Mini 3G: Verdict
The Mini 3G might be a top model for INQ, but that doesn't mean it can even begin to compete with the likes of the iPhone, Palm Pre or HTC Hero.
But that's not where it's being aimed – you could buy nearly 10 of these phones for the price of a top-end iPhone these days, so it's important to keep in mind who would actually want to buy this phone.
There's a lot to like on the INQ Mini 3G – a lot. Even at £200 we'd still be pretty complimentary about it, but for £59.99 it beats nearly every other phone close to that price point.
The Facebook and Skype integration are tip top, and the simple ability to interact with contacts and use the main social networking functions from within the phone are brilliant features.
It might not excel at anything particularly, but it certainly does manage to do a lot of things well. The list of satisfactory features is pretty long – decent music player, web browsing, calling and messaging to name but a few – and that's before we even mention how good it is as a mobile modem as well.
There are a few negative points as well – the speed of the phone is a big one. One of our biggest gripes about the INQ1 was the fact it would slow down so much when using Facebook, and in a way the Mini 3G is even worse. Browsing contacts is ridiculously slow, and watching the phone scan through Facebook makes our heart sink.
The interface isn't as customisable as it could be either, and the loss of last.fm is a real shame, especially as we can't fill the void with anything else.
The INQ Mini 3G is probably the best budget phone on the market at the moment, packing in more features than some phones three times its cost.
However, it's guilty of attempting too much at times – if it stripped out some of the processor-hungry features it would be even better. We'd rather have less Facebook than having to suffer the irritating slow down, but if you're willing to get used to it then you left with a pocket-friendly powerful phone that will still leave you with some great change from £100.