T-Mobile Pulse £179.99
26th Oct 2009 | 16:03
Cheap handset arrives to bring Android to the masses
T-Mobile Pulse: Overview
With the Android smartphone platform gaining momentum as the number of handsets available expands, T-Mobile has introduced its own-brand low-cost touchscreen alternative – the T-Mobile Pulse.
The Pulse offers a pay-as-you-go route into the Google-powered smartphone world.
Starting at £179.99 in pre-pay deals (and expected to be free with contracts), it's the most affordable Android-equipped smartphone so far.
While HTC has made the early running as the main Android handset producer, manufacturers like Samsung and Motorola have recently joined the game with their own debut Android touchscreen phones, and a bunch of others, including LG, Sony Ericsson and Acer, are committed to releases in the near future.
The market certainly is about to get a whole lot hotter.
T-Mobile's own-brand Pulse is a handset sourced from Chinese mobile communications maker Huawei (best known in this country for supplying mobile internet dongles to the major networks). The Pulse is a T-Mobile optimised version of the HU8220, and is a slab design with a 3.5-inch touchscreen – the largest on an Android phone so far.
The T-Mobile Pulse may be the most affordable Android handset to date, but that doesn't mean a lean set of features.
It has HSPA and Wi-Fi high-speed data connectivity, is equipped with A-GPS satellite location-finding technology and supports a rich spread of video, music and other media functions, including a 3.2-megapixel camera.
Running on the Android 1.5 Cupcake version of the smartphone OS, it comes loaded up with the usual healthy set of standard Android applications and has plenty of functionality out of the box, including all the Google regulars.
In addition, users can, of course, augment the onboard software with application downloads, using the embedded Android Market application to browse apps online.
T-Mobile Pulse: Design
The T-Mobile Pulse works that now-familiar touchscreen phone minimalist look, with its 3.5-inch, HVGA (320 x 480 pixels) 16 million-colour capacitive touchscreen display dominating the front panel.
The screen has a similar resolution to other Android handsets, including the HTC Hero, Magic and Samsung i7500 Galaxy, but the extra screen space does provide a fraction more fingertip room and viewing space.
In many functions, an onboard accelerometer auto-rotates the screen between landscape and portrait orientation as the phone's moved.
Accommodating that screen, but with no physical slide-out keyboard, the 116(h) x 62.5(w) x 13.5(h)mm bodywork has a large footprint, however it's slim enough not to feel too chunky.
It's a well-constructed device. It may lack the finesse of the Apple iPhone, and has a hint of an older Pocket PC device about it, but it's quite a tidy design.
Like most touch phones, its single sheet front panel attracts fingerprints, but its glossy, curvy rear plastic panel – which has a subtle carbon fibre pattern on it – is comfortable in the hand.
Below the screen, the control panel revolves around a central trackball controller, a typical Android supplement to touchscreen operation. Vertical Call and End buttons bookend the controls, the Call key bringing up a virtual numberpad with calling options displayed underneath.
A Menu button opens up a box grid of menu options on the screen appropriate to the app or menu you're using, and with a long press you can pull up a virtual keyboard for typing.
On the other side of the trackball, there's a Home/Back key that'll take you back straight to the home screen with a long press, or back a step at a time with a quick jab.
Around the bodywork, there's a camera button and volume controls, a power/lock button, plus a slot for holding MicroSD cards. A 2GB MicroSD is supplied with the Pulse, but higher capacity cards, currently up to 16GB, are supported.
Socketry is concentrated on top of the phone. The Pulse uses a microUSB port for charging and data connectivity, while there's a separate socket for headphones next to it.
This is for a 2.5mm jack rather than the standard 3.5mm one you get on most headphones; T-Mobile does, however, include a 2.5mm-to-3.5mm adaptor in the package – not quite as good as having one on the body, obviously, but at least there's an in-box solution supplied.
T-Mobile Pulse: Interface
The Pulse uses a mostly a standard Android 1.5 user interface with a touch of home screen re-working.
It combines touchscreen finger action with trackball control, and is powered by a Qualcomm MSM7200A 528MHz processor.
The capacitive touchscreen used here is pleasingly responsive and precise. It responds quickly and flows very smoothly when finger swiping, dragging and pressing.
It reacts to light touches, and sweeping actions have a motion-flow feel to them, so you can whiz through lists (such as contacts or music tracks) and navigate screens with proportionate movement related to finger action. It's very well done.
The trackball too is suitably responsive, giving a good sense of control over navigation.
Home screen customisation
T-Mobile has themed the Pulse menu backgrounds to a default dark grey with understated carbon fibre patterning in it, and it looks pretty classy. Unlocking the screen requires an upward finger flick rather than a typical sideways swipe.
The home screen look has been tweaked from the usual setup of sideways swiping between multiple home screens; the Pulse offers an expandable multi-screen style 'canvas' of an initial six joined home screen panels, allowing you plenty of scope to customise the display with the numerous app widgets, shortcuts and other goodies you can add to the home screen.
These panels, which can be swiped between using a bit of finger or trackball action, are arranged in a 3 x 2 formation - three panels across and two up - though the canvas can expand further as you add content to the home screen.
To get an overview of what's on the home screens, and to move around quickly, you can zoom out or in with a quick press of the trackball and then scroll between the panels using your finger or the trackball.
Pressing and dragging down the tab on top of the screen provides additional information, including notification status for messages, connections and so on.
Out of the box, the home screen features a tidy row of function shortcut icons in typical Android style. These include shortcuts for the content gallery, dial-pad, and music player, plus T-Mobile's Mobile Jukebox and Web'n'Walk browsers, and a suite of Google apps including Google Mail, Google Maps, Google Talk, and YouTube.
There's also a button to take you directly to the Android Market apps download service.
Out of the box, there are a just two control icon buttons on the bottom of the home screen. One pulls up a 'My favourites' carousel of user-defined photo contacts, illustrated by images you've assigned to your contacts.
Scroll and press the one you're after and a list of communications options pops up on screen (call, send message, send email, start chat plus an activity log).
This can be expanded as much as you like or re-ordered, and you can also change it so that it opens any other of your defined groups instead of your favourites.
The other home screen button pulls up the phone's applications menu – a scrollable grid of icons that displays 20 apps at a time. Here you can peruse all the software pre-loaded on the phone in regular Android style. Functions can be opened with a quick tap, and sub menu options can be scrolled and selected by finger or trackball.
Within apps, further menu options can be pulled up by pressing the Menu button next to the trackball, with grid options appearing in a pop-up panel at the bottom of the display. It's an intuitive system to get to grips with, and the screen's responsiveness makes it feel comfortable to operate. There's plenty of head-room for your fingers too, which is always good on a touchscreen device.
T-Mobile Pulse: Calls and messaging
The T-Mobile Pulse also handles the workhorse stuff like calling commendably well, with a straightforward voice calling setup. As well as all the phonebook shortcuts you can pepper around the home screen, and photo calling lists you can zap up and flick through, simple calling is delivered in a simple non-tricksy way.
Press the green Call button, and it brings up the dialpad, with lovely large buttons and no-fuss layout. From here, you can tap in a new number, pull up your list of contacts or check out your recent call log for numbers.
Additionally, you can tap a dialpad shortcut icon on the screen, but either way it's easy to use.
We found call quality on our review sample to be clear and perfectly acceptable, even in areas where T-Mobile coverage was marginal. We had no problems in hanging on to calls, and audio quality was pretty good too.
There are no issues with accidentally pressing the touchscreen mid-call, as it automatically locks while you are connected. You can still drag up a dialpad if needed, or unlock if you need to view other functions mid-call.
There are extensive options to add more details to contacts and to manage them, with a clear, easily workable phonebook feature.
Messaging is well catered for on the Pulse, with a neatly integrated set of messaging options. Text messaging, email and instant messaging are handled on this device. Although there's no physical keyboard, there are multiple soft keyboard options available for inputting text.
Initially when composing a messaging – or imputing text in any other feature context – a standard Android QWERTY keyboard pops up on screen, in either portrait or more spacious landscape modes, depending how you're holding the phone.
Even in tighter portrait mode, the characters are accurate and typing is relatively error free. With the full width in portrait mode, it's a good touchscreen typing experience.
In addition to the standard Android QWERTY option, you can choose an alternative TouchPal input method.
In TouchPal mode, as well as getting QWERTY input, by pressing and dragging the keyboard sideways you can get other alternative keyboard input options – a mobile phone-like numberpad (which is usable but a bit squashed for the screen size), and a semi-QWERTY option, with two letters per character in BlackBerry Pearl style – something that can take a little getting used to.
Each of the text input options can be used with or without predictive text (with word completion) to chivvy you along. In non-predictive mode, you can press and drag down on a QWERTY letter to use the alternative character on the key, which is useful once you get used to it. You can also cut and paste selected text.
A stock Android Google Mail application is pre-loaded onto the handset, enabling you to view your email inbox, send email and manage your account from the handset. It's extremely well integrated into the phone's UI, as you might expect from Google's Android UI.
The Google Mail interface looks consistent with the online version, with clear controls and an intuitive way of getting round. Setting up is simple, as it is effectively done once you first initiate the phone with Google account details. It really is a breeze to use, and anyone who's used Google Mail should feel very comfortable working it.
As well as Google Mail, additional email accounts can be set up and used on the handset. Another application handles other POP3/IMAP4 web-based email or other email accounts, with the set-up procedure for web mail simply a matter of tapping in email address and password; settings are then automatically loaded up in seconds.
The email is also very straightforward to operate, and works well, albeit with a more functional user interface and with more limited options than the integrated Google Mail setup.
A Google Talk application for instant messaging and VoIP is also included as part of the standard Google Android messaging software package.
T-Mobile Pulse: Internet
With Wi-Fi onboard and HSPA mobile data connectivity (HSDPA downloading at up to 7.2Mbps, HSUPA uploading at up to 2Mbps), the Android browsing experience works exceptionally well on this device. The Android browser is highly usable, with controls well thought out and intuitive.
Full web pages load up rapidly, with pages rendered accurately, and there's support for Flash lite. Multiple windows can be opened and switched between using the intuitive control buttons.
You can scroll around web pages, zooming in and out quickly with touch control buttons, and a press of the menu button brings up a selection of desktop style control buttons; you can go forward, reload and open bookmarks – which also presets a list of most visited sites and a history of sites visited.
There's also a useful browser zoom button that enables you to quickly get up a page overview, with the portion of the page you've zoomed into superimposed slightly enlarged on the overview, enabling you to scroll the page as if you were using a magnifying glass.
Initially, the phone is set up for the T-Mobile Web'n'Walk homepage, though there are a number of bookmarks pre-listed for popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace, and for news, information and other web services such as BBC News, Wikipedia, and Ebay.
We certainly like the Android browser, and the Pulse offers a fast, reliable and intuitive way of navigating to and around web pages.
T-Mobile Pulse: Camera
The T-Mobile Pulse isn't however a major cameraphone player. The main camera is a modest 3.2-megapixel snapper (there's also a secondary low resolution camera just above the display). It does have an autofocus system built in, but there' s no flash to aid low-light shooting.
The camera certainly isn't one of the best features of this handset, and its autofocus and exposure system seems to struggle when light conditions aren't bright.
SAMPLE:In decent lighting conditions the Pulse's 3.2-megapixel camera can take reasonable snaps
It fires up from cold with a press of the camera button in around 5 seconds, though once running in the background, you can switch to the camera application in a couple of seconds. The large display provides a good viewfinder screen, which isn't cluttered by too many icons.
In fact, there's aren't a huge amount of settings adjustments you can play with; there's a limited selection of white balance settings plus a few colour effects – the auto system takes care of everything else. Although there is a digital zoom, this doesn't work at top resolution (you can downgrade resolution in the settings menu).
SAMPLE:Images are lacking in detail, and can appear soft
The camera's autofocus system enables you to get reasonable close up shots, but it's not a sensitive system. Our review model struggled sometimes to get the focus right and with ensuring correct exposure levels in some conditions.
In subdued light we found shutter lag more marked as an issue than in bright conditions; some images taken in similar ways were more blurry and generally the camera's auto system doesn't respond well to lower light environments or vaguely tricky lighting situations.
SAMPLE:When lighting conditions are more subdued, there appears to be more shutter lag, and it's difficult to get sharp images
When light is very dim, such as in a dark bar or club, shots deteriorate even further and aren't worth bothering with.
In decent lighting conditions we did find colour rendition was acceptable for this grade of cameraphone, if not exceptional. Worryingly, we did have an issue with digital artefacts in some images – random lines running part of the way across photos.
SAMPLE:Although this shot demonstrates acceptable mid-range shooting, a stray artefact appears as a line across the left middle of the image
This may have been an early pre-production sample glitch – we'll update you on this when we've tried out a full on-sale sample.
You can upload images straight to Picasa or send via Bluetooth or email. Unlike on most other touchscreen devices there's no snazzy photo-tweaking software pre-loaded here; it's all very basic camera-wise, though if you want them, you could hunt for some image enhancement apps on Android Market.
SAMPLE:You can take some decent-looking snaps where colour balance is fine, but it isn't particularly sharp or detailed
There is a slideshow viewing option, and the photo gallery layout is quite serviceable. However you can't do multiple selections for deleting or Bluetoothing several images at a time, which can be frustrating.
Video capture quality doesn't get the pulse racing either. Again, it's a rather mediocre camera effort, shooting at 352 x 288 pixels resolution at best, running at a maximum of 20 frames per second. Footage looks soft and unrefined on playback. You can load it up directly to YouTube pretty speedily using the handset's fast data connectivity, if you're not concerned too much with the quality.
T-Mobile Pulse: Media
The T-Mobile Pulse packs regular Android music player software, which does a decent job at presenting tunes you've loaded onto your phone or MicroSD card.
It automatically arranges them under appropriate categories, appearing in conventional list format under headings including playlists, artists, favourites, albums, tracks, recently played and genres.
It's regular music player stuff; it may not have the swishness of the iPhone, but it's tidily arranged and a perfectly serviceable user interface. When the music's playing, the screen displays large, obvious control buttons, with a draggable timeline, shuffle and repeat options.
Cover art is supported (if available), and if you turn the phone sideways you can get an almost Cover Flow way of skimming through albums with a bit of finger swiping action. It's not as slick as the iPhone, but it's presentable enough, nonetheless.
The Pulse has a 2.5mm earphone socket built into the top of the bodywork, but it also has an adaptor lead for using with standard 3.5mm jack-equipped headphones. Our review sample Pulse arrived without the standard boxed set of earphones, so we can't comment on their performance.
We were, however, able to upgrade to our reference affordable Sennheiser headphones, using the adaptor lead. Through these we got a pleasing, well balanced audio performance, with decent handling across the range; it was perhaps a tad toppy at higher volumes, but it has a rich bass presence.
One issue we had with our review sample was a quirk or two with the adaptor lead attached. With a variety of standard headphones attached (including basic iPod ones), when we pressed the pause control on the screen, pause would deactivate after around 7 seconds and start playing tunes again. Odd.
It may be another early sample issue, but, again, we'll report back when we've had a look at an on-sale model. When we plugged in our own 2.5mm-equipped earphones, this wasn't an issue. However, we also weren't convinced by the quality of the dangling adaptor we had in-box, which we frequently had to wiggle to get full stereo playback.
There is a loudspeaker option too. It's OK, in a typical mobile phone sort of way – not too piercingly harsh, but lacking bass depth.
Unlike most mobile devices now, there's no FM radio function pre-loaded onto the Pulse. As a T-Mobile branded smartphone, the Pulse has an app (and link from the music player) for T-Mobile's Mobile Jukebox music download service.
This is essentially a simple link to T-Mobile's online portal for buying and downloading a selection tunes and music video over the air – iTune's it isn't.
The Pulse also supports video playback, with its onboard software supporting MP4, H.263, and H.264 file formats, but not DivX or Xvid. Playback looks reasonably good on the large display in full screen mode.
The pre-loaded YouTube app is well implemented, providing a fast and user-friendly way to access the online video streaming service. It updates with thumbnails of featured videos and category leaders, making browsing easy and intuitive. Naturally, you can also manage your account too and upload videos to the site from the Pulse.
T-Mobile Pulse: Misc features
Our review sample had us reaching for the charger once a day, albeit with plenty of function-fiddling on our part on top our normal usage.
T-Mobile estimates that the Pulse's 1500mAh battery pack can keep beating away for up to 300 hours of standby time or provide up to 210 minutes talktime. Again, our review Pulse was an early sample, but battery life could be a little disappointing if you really want to go to town on the more power-hungry features.
While you can download more apps from Android Market to customise the Pulse, a healthy set of organiser tools and applications come ready for action. The Google integration works very well, and the calendar application syncs seamlessly with your online Google Calendar. It's easy to manage and intuitive to use, with consistent control conventions to the rest of the Android package.
The usual type of mobile options are included, such as a calculator (with advanced panel options to go with the regular basics), a straightforward notepad function, an easy to operate voice recorder, and there's a useful Servo Search search tool for looking up something on the phone itself or searching online.
T-Mobile has packaged this device with a few additional third-party apps too.
DataViz Inc's Documents To Go software is included, enabling you to view Microsoft Word, Excel PowerPoint and Adobe PDF files received as attachments, downloaded or transferred over to the handset.
Should you wish, you can also pay to upgrade to a full version of the application that enables document editing, creating new files and more advanced viewing options.
In addition, RoadSync software from DataViz is included offering full synchronisation with Microsoft Exchange Server-based corporate push email, contacts and calendars.
The T-Mobile Pulse's HSPA mobile capability keeps the online connectivity speedy enough to ensure a smooth browsing, email and web-based application experience.
It offers HSDPA download rates at up to 7.2Mbps and HSUPA uploads up to 2Mbps – though, of course, real-life rates are lower than these optimum capabilities. It runs zippily in areas with T-Mobile 3G coverage without any hanging.
As well as mobile high-speed data, Wi-Fi connectivity is built in, offering a low cost convenient way of getting online via home or office WLANs or public hotspots. It's straightforward to set up and switch on via the settings menu – wireless controls are top of the settings menu list. It works effectively, and we had no issues with it as it operated in the background while connected online.
Bluetooth is supported too, and is simple to switch on and off with a quick few taps in the menu system. Stereo Bluetooth headphones or speakers can also be used with the device. As normal, you can switch the phone into airplane mode too if you want to enjoy content or applications offline.
USB connectivity is also on offer, via a microUSB port next to the headphone socket. You can use it in mass storage mode too to transfer content between the device and PC or Mac.
A-GPS technology is integrated into the Pulse, providing exact location-finding capabilities that you can use with a variety of applications. Google Maps is pre-installed. It works exceptionally smoothly, with the device's A-GPS gadgetry getting a fix on to your position, and the phone loading up maps in seconds.
The touch user interface is great to use too, responding quickly to finger dragging and zooming using magnifying glass icons on screen. The UI is quick and attractively presented.
A long press of the display pulls up Street View thumbnails of a location, with another press bringing up further options that include a neat full screen Street View mode where you can spin around a location with a finger flick.
You also get the regular selection of Google Maps search options for businesses, services, amenities and so on, plus directions for in-car journeys, walking or public transport. It's certainly a handy app to have onboard any phone, and it works very neatly on this touchscreen device.
A built in compass provides directional orientation too, which as well as being handy for sat nav direction-finding apps may also come in useful if you want to explore augmented reality applications, such as the Layar Reality Browser, which is downloadable free from Android Market.
T-Mobile Pulse: Verdict
The T-Mobile Pulse may initially grab attention as a relatively affordable pay-as-you-go Android smartphone, but there's far more to this handset than just an attractive price tag.
Its touchscreen display is responsive and works smoothly, and the device supplements a full complement of Android standard features and functionality with a smattering of decent third party applications.
There are a few compromises that could put off some buyers, but the flexibility to customise the software and add more apps – combined with some finely integrated out-of-the-box apps – makes this an attractive option for would-be Android users on a limited budget.
We like the Android platform, and while this phone doesn't go far in re-skinning the standard look, it offers some great features and customisation options, from the home screen canvas to applications themselves. It has a very intuitive, easy-to-operate user interface, and the screen is swiftly responsive to finger action.
High-speed HSPA mobile data connectivity and Wi-Fi provide a fast route for the Pulse's online applications, and the software inside delivers a pleasingly smooth browsing and online experience that's well integrated into the handset's UI.
A-GPS works neatly with Google Maps too, and offers the flexibility of adding a sat nav software upgrade.
Although we'd have preferred to see a standard 3.5mm socket on the phone's bodywork, an adaptor in-box is a welcome second-best. The tune player software does a decent job in delivering a good audio performance.
The Pulse might have offered more in terms of battery life, although we did put it through its paces with some heavyweight usage during our tests.
The camera was a big disappointment though, with a lacklustre overall performance and some poor shots in marginally subdued lighting conditions. Digital artefacts were also present in some shots. Video shooting, too, was mediocre.
We had some issues with the headphone adaptor when using our review samples' music player that we'll be checking on a full on-sale model.
More onboard storage would have been welcome, although the Pulse does offer MicroSD expansion, with cards up to 16GB supported and a 2GB card supplied.
It may be the most affordable Android-powered smartphone yet, but the T-Mobile Pulse delivers more than just a taster of the platform.
Its smooth, responsive touchscreen performance, combined with an intuitive and versatile user interface and a fine set of well integrated out-of-the-box applications and features, provides a highly attractive, very usable smartphone package that's great value for money.