Orange Vegas £49.99
9th Jun 2009 | 09:35
Orange's entry-level touchscreen phone brings tap control to the masses
Orange Vegas: overview and design
As the cheapest, lightest and smallest touchscreen-equipped phone to hit the UK, the Orange Vegas is bound to excite curiosity from mobile buyers tempted by a bargain-priced taste of touchphone action.
But while it dabbles in tap control technology, with a 2.4-inch full touchscreen display, at under £50 on pre-pay Orange's own-brand Vegas deals a more modest hand when it comes to other more conventional functionality.
The Vegas has an entry-level feature set-up, including a low-grade 1.3-megapixel camera, a music player, and an FM radio. MicroSD card expansion is included too, with cards up to 4GB supported, though none is boxed.
Its browser is set up for the Orange World mobile internet portal, with free access to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Bebo included on Orange Dolphin pay as you go deals.
There is, however, no high-speed 3G connectivity for zippy browsing, or for high-speed multimedia connectivity (only GPRS is available on this dual-band handset).
Alongside the trend-savvy touchscreen appeal, the Orange Vegas attracts attention with its compact bodywork. Available in either matt black or pink, with chrome trim, the phone has dinky dimensions for a touch phone (93(h) x 53(w) x 16(d)mm) and weighs a pocket-or handbag-friendly 84g.
The 2.4-inch QVGA display is smaller than most touch devices, so screen finger space is limited. However, a small extendable stylus is tucked into the back casing of the Vegas, allowing more precise screen jabbing when required.
Orange Vegas's touch user interface is a less sophisticated set-up to many recent high-enders we've seen. It's not used to stretch the parameters of what an entry-level phone can do or to redefine its usability.
It's mostly a functional way to operate the phone, with most sub-menu selection procedures similar to a conventional phone set-up – albeit with the facility to touch the screen to select an option.
The presence of conventional buttons under the display reinforces this impression.
The Vegas has a large regular navigation D-pad, plus softkeys and call and end buttons, offering an alternative standard manual button-pushing way of negotiating menus.
BUTTONS: Soft keys supplement the touchscreen interface
These can be used for most of the phone's functionality, scrolling and selecting as normal. Of course, with no physical numberpad, there's no getting around using touch keypad for new number dialling and text messaging.
Operating the touch interface, it's generally straightforward. To unlock the homescreen, an iPhone-esque sideways swipe does the trick without fuss.
From the home screen, you can call up a bank of eight feature shortcut options by swiping across the clock at the top of the screen (these can all be user-defined easily enough, though four are pre-set).
A tap on the central homescreen icon pulls up the soft numberpad for dialling, while an upward stroke on the homescreen brings up the main menu.
This can be done by tapping a softkey – either the physical ones or the buttons onscreen; as in most options, navigation can be done with the manual control keys. The D-pad also has the regular sort of feature shortcuts set up you find on most phones.
The Vegas's main menu is configured with the small amount of available screen space in mind. It's split into three separate grids of four icons, which you can swipe between, or select by tapping a category tab at the bottom of the display. From here you can select functions or applications.
Haptic feedback is used when swiping through or choosing homescreen or main menu options. It's not used consistently throughout menus though - most softkey options and menu lists are haptic feedback-free.
This can be slightly frustrating, as you can sometimes feel unsure of whether a screen press has been registered, particularly if the user interface is being sluggish.
You can swipe down long lists, such as contacts though you can also search by tapping in a name – though this requires virtual numberpad manipulation.
Menu list selection by finger pressing works fine – provided you haven't got large fingers – though the stylus does reduce mispressing possibilities. Or you can simply scroll with the D-pad.
Calls, messaging and internet
Where there can be fiddliness is with the virtual numberpad. In dialling mode, this fills the screen, so numbers are large enough to be pressed.
We did find, though, that it was easy for our fingers to stray accidentally onto adjacent buttons, so we found ourselves reaching for the stylus for convenience, and to avoid frustrating, time-consuming corrections.
Using the contacts list for calling, the lack of a physical keyboard made text searching for contacts more laboured than with a conventional handset. Still, with making calls the Orange Vegas was on the money, producing a solid and reliable voice performance.
Texting can be a tricky area for touchscreen mobiles, as matching the ease of use of regular phones simple keypads is problematic.
On the Orange Vegas, the text-input keyboard space is too cramped for speedy, error-free finger-dabbing – it's too easy to make mistakes, so again we preferred using the stylus for accuracy
The interface isn't the worst we've seen on a touchscreen phone, but some elements – such as the predictive word composition, which happens in a bar below the main text before you select individual words, plus the upper and lower case selection – are clunky
The Orange Vegas also offers a Qwerty keyboard text-tapping alternative. Keys are absolutely tiny though – there's no way you could use it without the stylus.
Handwriting recognition is offered, which works OK but isn't a particularly fast option and is limited.
MMS photo messaging is supported on the Orange Vegas, but there's no email client present.
Lacking 3G, and with GPRS-only data connectivity, the Vegas delivers a lacklustre browsing experience. Its browser is set up for the Orange World mobile internet portal, which it renders reasonably promptly, but searching other sites you'll find page rendering slow.
The interface allows for tapping on links onscreen, though there's no other fancy stuff such as pinch zooming or panning across pages – just onscreen scroll bar navigation (which can be done via the D-pad too). Options are typical for an entry-level phone browser, and it offers pedestrian-paced mobile web access.
1.3 MP Camera
Images produced by the Orange Vegas's low-grade 1.3-megapixel camera are limited too, the low res shooter lacking autofocus and a flash.
The shooter fires up in a couple of seconds, and the interface offers a column of touch option icons for settings changes.
The set-up doesn't work well though, as tapping one of these icons changes it instantly to a new setting rather than bringing up a list of options to choose from; you then have tap several times to rotate back to the original setting.
MOVEMENT: the camera doesn't like moving subjects
This can be annoying if you inadvertently brush the screen and accidentally change a setting while shooting.
Taking images, we found colour rendition was acceptable in good light, but image quality was unsatisfactory overall, with limited detail in shots.
DETAIL: the photos lacked detail, and colours looked washed-out
EXPOSURE: photos look over-exposed in shots with high contrast
In addition, picture processing is slow for such a low-res camera. Low-light shooting was as bad as you might expect in what is very much an entry-level camera.
LIGHTING: the camera performed poorly in low light conditions
It does have a video capture facility, though its performance is rudimentary, shooting at maximum 176x144 pixels resolution to produce ropey quality, jerky video playback.
Media, battery life and connectivity
The music player on the Vegas is disappointing too. Its player interface looks adequate, with settings adjustments to go with its touchscreen control buttons. But loading up tunes, you get a simple list of tracks rather than any more sophisticated categories.
And if you want to listen to tunes, you'll have to invest in a MicroSD card – Orange's stated 64MB of memory turned out to be nearer just 0.5MB of user storage on our sample, so there's no room for storing tracks on the phone itself.
The music player produces a mediocre performance, the accompanying earphones – connected via a Mini USB socket – delivering below par sound quality that's anaemic and bass-light.
There is a decent enough FM radio option, which is easy to tune in and operate. It can store up to 9 channels, and you can record clips straight from the radio to play back later (though the quality of these is ropier than the orginal broadcasts).
Power performance from the Orange Vegas isn't particularly impressive. Orange quotes optimum standby time of up to 7 days, or talktime of up to 3 hours, which is on the low side for a non-3G phone – albeit one with a touchscreen.
With limited music player activity, we managed two days with our normal levels of phone calling; more active feature use reduced that further.
The Vegas has a typical array of basic phone organiser tools inside, include a detailed calendar, alarm, calculator, stopwatch, convertor and world clock functions.
The usual touch text input set-up is used for making calendar task notes, but otherwise the other elements work effectively enough for a handset like this.
Bluetooth connectivity is available in this handset, so wireless stereo ear-gear can be used. File transfer is slightly less intuitive than on other models from the main manufacturers like Nokia and Sony Ericsson, but it works OK.
The Mini USB connector takes care of business for data transfer, charging and earphone duties. The Vegas does support mass storage transfer – though you'll need a MicroSD in place to have any meaningful storage on the handset. No PC synching software is supplied. however
Incidentally, the Orange Vegas can also function as a USB webcam when hooked up to a PC.
The Orange Vegas is certainly playing for different stakes than other high-rolling touchscreen models like the Apple iPhone, LG Arena, Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and Samsug Tocco Ultra Edition.
It's nowhere near as sophisticated as the best touchscreen models, and has a modest level of features. The nearest touchscreen competitor is probably the LG Cookie, which costs around the £100 mark on pre-pay, though there are plenty of conventional budget phones around at the £50 mark.
The Cookie offers a more sophisticated touchscreen experience, albeit still limited compared to the high-enders, but there isn't such a low-grade feel about the features or control system.
The bargain-basement price for this touchscreen-equipped mobile will undoubtedly attract some potential touchphone interest, as will its compact design.
Its sub-£50 pre-pay price tag, though should prepare you for the compromises that the handset makes to deliver touch control gadgetry on a shoestring.
Its operating system isn't particularly sophisticated for a touch-operated phone, and it isn't really used to expand the usability of the phone – something that has been placed firmly in the spotlight for touchscreen phones since the iPhone arrived.
Getting your fingers on a touchscreen phone at this price is eyebrow-raising in itself, and the compact design and finish does give the Vegas some additional appeal.
The user interface does its jobs functionally – though if you prefer, the navigation pad and other manual keys can take care of most feature business without tapping.
Graphics are unexceptional but decently sorted to make menus accessible and controls usable – though there are times when the stylus is essential for accurate tapping.
The user interface though is limited, particularly with the screen being so petite for a touch device. We'd have preferred a more consistent use of haptic feedback throughout the menus too.
Texting is not as smoothly casual as on a regular phone, and accurate text-tapping can be tricky for the larger-fingered unless the stylus is used.
We were disappointed by the media features such as the low-grade imaging action and underwhelming music player performance. In addition, the low internal storage necessitates the purchase of a MicroSD card.
The lack of 3G limits the multimedia activities of the handset too and the browsing experience is limited. In essence, it's very much an entry-level apart from the touch interface.
The limitations of the Orange Vegas should, however, be taken in context of the low-cost price-tag. It provides a taster of fashionable touch control, albeit in a very limited way, and has few pretensions in the additional features department.
Its interface is functional, but won't make you feel you're experiencing anything particularly novel or essential.
User interface aside, you could get more functionality for your cash in a conventional handset, but for any cash-conscious buyers considering the Orange Vegas, touch control – however limited – will be the deal-maker.
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