Vodafone 555 Blue
12th Aug 2011 | 15:39
Keeping you connected without phone contract commitments
Vodafone 555 Blue: Overview, design and feel
With social network-'addicted' teens and a global Facebook population greater than that of the United States, bringing out an affordable PAYG Facebook-integrated feature phone should be a sure bet, in theory. But then we also know that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. So, is the Vodafone 555 Blue as sure a bet after all?
Well, for a basic feature phone, the Vodafone 555 Blue is a pretty enough handset. With its silver-and-white matt plastic casing, it has only just enough weight behind it. It sits comfortably in the hand with its curved corners, and with a QWERTY keyboard it's very, very reminiscent of that other Facebook phone, the HTC ChaCha – without, it seems, any of the ChaCha's features.
At only 12mm thick and rather light, the Vodafone 555 Blue will fit easily into teenage pockets. It's built to be cheap, yes, but the build itself is light and bright, and although there aren't too many features to crow about, it is at least nicely packaged.
Aimed at 16-25s who want a little social networking without monthly bills, the Vodafone 555 Blue is a pay-as-you-go handset fully integrated with Facebook, right down to the little blue logo key that, when pressed, will take you straight to your news feed.
There's a 2MP camera on board for uploading pictures to the social network, a QWERTY keyboard, microSD slot and an earphone jack.
Along with the physical keyboard, the phone is navigated by a series of five soft keys (including the navigation pad) located beneath the screen:
And the volume rocker on the left-hand side:
The camera is reached via a button integrated into the keyboard, which is handy for pulling up the feature quickly.
Speaking of the camera, despite only boasting 2MP, the Alcatel-constructed mobile phone comes with a single LED flash.
However, the Vodafone 555 Blue's screen measures a mere 2.4 inches and only 320 x 240 pixels, so the subsequent viewing of images isn't the highest quality ever. Plus, the connectivity of the Vodafone 555 Blue is a little poor, with only EDGE and 2G capabilities. Given the lack of contract-style data allowances, a little Wi-Fi wouldn't have gone amiss.
Still, it's not a handset that was made to be top of the range, for app-lovers or for addicts of several social media sites. Indeed, it's simply to fulfil those basic Facebook overshare needs, plus a few calls and texts.
Vodafone 555 Blue: Interface
Having been built on a Java-based system designed specifically for this handset, and packing only 200MHz processing power, the user experience of the Vodafone 555 Blue was never going to be particularly speedy.
Setting up Facebook from the second you turn on the phone, you're prompted to log in to the network – or sign up for an account, if you're one of the seemingly few people who don't have one yet.
Once you've made it to the home screen, the view is set up like a giant mobile Facebook app, making room for a few extras such as calls, texting, a browser and a music player. All of it, however, is in that familiar design you're already used to.
Predictably, with such a small amount of power behind it, the Vodafone 555 Blue is pretty slow to use. Navigation itself is fine, and there are even a couple of cool keyboard shortcuts, such as Alt+M to take you to the Music player. You can also head into the settings to add shortcuts of your own.
But when you dip into things that need a bit of extra juice – such as attempting to view a friend's photo album – things begin to slow to a frustrating pace.
The trackpad is responsive enough, but might end up giving you RSI in your thumb from repeated scrolling, especially if you want to brave a little internet browsing in Opera Mini.
There's one home screen, with a scrolling bar along the bottom for shortcuts to your most-used parts of Facebook (Messaging, News feed, Chat and so on).
For extra-speedy News feed navigation, just press the Facebook logo soft key. One irritating thing about the News feed itself is the fact that it's supposed to update over the air, but we never found that happened.
Our Profiles? Absolutely fine, and would auto-update whenever we opened them, but not the News feed. We found that you hou had to manually update it – and wait forever while doing so. Not cool, and unlikely to go down well with the target market on account of everyone being used to things being instant.
The menu page is customisable to a small extent, allowing you to choose which apps you want to see in its grid view. However, don't get too excited, as when we say 'apps', we mean… the calculator. Or the notes editor. Adventurous things, those.
For almost everyone who picks up the Vodafone 555 Blue (because, let's face it, to buy this phone you must already have a pretty severe love of Facebook) navigating around its system will be easy, as you're guided by the familiar.
The softkeys and QWERTY keyboard aid in the ease of it all, and there's nothing here software-wise that's complex enough to get even less techy people in a spin. All in all, having borrowed a familiar interface, it looks cute and will easily attract hardcore but low-tech Facebook fans.
Vodafone 555 Blue: Contacts and calling
The contacts book is one of the few impressive things about the Vodafone 555 Blue. With its deep Facebook integration, the contacts setup is reminiscent of an Android phone, merging both SIM and Facebook contacts into one lovely list.
The contacts view is populated with friends' Facebook profile pictures, and reaching the actual profiles themselves from the contacts view is quick and easy.
The phone even managed to match up some SIM contacts to their Facebook profiles, despite the fact that they were listed under different names – which is something that even actual smartphones often have a problem with. If there are a few doubled contacts, however, simply manually 'merge to Facebook' and you're all set.
Dipping into profiles from the contacts list, you're presented with the standard Facebook information – Info, Wall posts, Photos and Likes and interests.
For some reason, not all of a contact's information is held here, however, and opting to see the full profile will take you out of the app and into the Opera Mini browser, which breaks up the experience a little. Still, it's fairly great integration for such a standard phone.
To call a contact, all you have to do is find their name and press the call softkey. There's also smart dialing – begin to type a contact's name and it will bring up their information, which is always handy.
There's a separate Favourites list for your most-contacted friends, plus a Phone list that separates out your purely SIM-held contacts, should you need them.
Although Facebook profile integration is still a factor in the phone list, it's nice to be able to see the contacts whose phone numbers you didn't get by pure accident of it happening to be included on their profile.
Calling is fairly standard on the phone – connectivity is fine and the speaker emits a loud, clear sound. Shortcutting to your last-dialled numbers can be done by clicking the call key, and a voicemail tab is also included in the call log.
Vodafone 555 Blue: Messaging
Messaging: the second place where Facebook integration comes out tops on the Vodafone 555 Blue.
Messaging with this feature phone is awesome. From the innocuous little envelope shortcut on the home screen, you're taken to the universal Little Inbox of Wonder, with your SMS, MMS, Facebook messages and emails all in one place. We loved it, but wished there was a bigger screen to make the experience really great.
That aside, having all of these forms of messaging in one place is really useful, and it was even momentarily amusing to see SMS and email overlaid with the same style as Facebook messaging. The ease of being able to contact your entire Facebook family, as well as your SIM contacts, without dipping in and out of apps is something that we can see becoming a little addictive.
And then there's the other messaging gem: the close proximity of Facebook Chat, the shortcut for which can sit on the scolling bar at the bottom of the home screen. But one tip: get rid of the 'Who's available' alert, otherwise you'll find it difficult to have a conversation with anyone at all.
With the physical QWERTY keyboard, typing is pretty swift on the Vodafone 555 Blue. And despite the lack of spacing between the keys, it didn't take us too long to get up to speed. There's a messaging shortcut to take you to the editor, with the option to write a new message sat at the top of the inbox.
Vodafone 555 Blue: Internet
Again, as with everything else on the Vodafone 555 Blue, the phone's internet browsing capabilities are limited to what a very casual user might need. Connectivity is a bit rubbish, with just 2G, Bluetooth and no Wi-Fi. No Wi-Fi – on a Pay-and-Go phone!
The HTC ChaCha has 3G, Wi-Fi and a USB port, so obviously the Vodafone 555 Blue was never intended for any sort of greatness in its market.
The handset comes with an Opera Mini browser and there are several issues that hamper any decent usage: the processor, the 2.4-inch screen and the touchpad navigation. It takes an absolute age to load anything, and needless to say there are no Flash or video capabilities.
When you open the browser, however, links shared by your Facebook contacts are all rounded up and waiting for you to read, which is a nice little feature.
On the screen the colours are bright, although imagery gets a little pixelated when you start to zoom in too far.
The internet capabilities of the Vodafone 555 Blue are very definitely aimed at light usage markets, and it's not about to set anything on fire.
It copes fine with standard usage – maybe for someone who just wants to catch up on the news or Google something now and again, when they can tear themselves away from their Facebook feed. However, it's slow to load, and who can say if the target UK audience will have the patience to wait for it?
Vodafone 555 Blue: Camera
With the HTC ChaCha and INQ Cloud Touch both packing 5MP, the Vodafone 555 Blue is an instant letdown at 2MP. It does have a single LED flash – a small saving grace – but that doesn't stop photos looking grainy on the 320 x 240 pixel display.
Any pictures you do upload to Facebook, then, are going to be rather blurry disappointments. Colours are decently true to life, if a little dull, and there are no editing tools to speak of.
The camera itself has few modes: there's the Night mode and Video mode, and that's about it. You can change the brightness a little, but we couldn't see that it made any discernable difference to the photo quality. You can zoom, if you knock down the image quality, but what you gain in closeness to your subject you'll lose in clarity.
The camera will automatically switch off if left unused for a few seconds, and can be reached via the keyboard shortcut key.
NO FLASH: Taken without a flash, this grainy image is lacking much detail, although the colours are accurate and some of the blue of the sky was captured.
NIGHT: Again taken without flash, the lights and colours that were so bright in person are barely picked up by the camera, with most of the subject staying in darkness.
NOISY:This picture, taken in direct sunlight, results in surprisingly realistic colours, but the shadows are quite intense, putting the rest of the image almost entirely in darkness. Again, the image is noisy and lacks overall detail.
DARK:Taken outside on a sunny day, without flash, the overall tone of the picture is quite dark
GREY: Also taken on a sunny day, with no flash, the colours are washed out, resulting in the blue sky looking particularly grey
DIM:Taken indoors while light outside, without flash. It doesn't pick up the light source from the candle very well, and the overall picture quality is dim.
REFLECTIONS: Taken indoors while light outside, with flash. Objects can be seen more fully, but the flash reflects badly off the table surface, washing out the centre of the image.
Vodafone 555 Blue: Video
Similarly to the stills camera mode, the video capabilities of the Vodafone 555 Blue are basic.
Unfortunately, you can't upload videos to Facebook because even small files are too big, and you can't email them either. The inability to do this seems to defeat the point of a Facebook phone. Then again, it is a PAYG effort, so perhaps it shouldn't be that big of a surprise.
There are only three options to toggle with in video mode – the brightness levels, Night mode and microphone. There's not a single editing tool, so you're not going to be churning out crowd-pleasers with this one.
Vodafone 555 Blue: Media
For the Vodafone 555 Blue feature phone, media isn't a priority. Thoughtfully, Alcatel has thrown in a music player and FM radio, but other than that there's little going on.
The internal memory is a tiny 400MB, but a microSD slot has been provided for external memory of up to 16GB. The music player supports MP3 and WMA files that, with the additional memory from a microSD card, means that the Vodafone 555 Blue would be decent enough for a little listening on the go.
You're provided with a pair of moulded plastic earphones that, although uncomfortable, do give a decent enough sound even into the top ranges of volume, but wouldn't do for any extended periods of listening.
We tested them with the FM radio, which we found a little difficult to tune with the trackpad. It's also not possible to subtly follow a station's tuning when white noise starts creeping in.
The external speaker is surprisingly loud and gives a very balanced sound without too much bass. With the provided earphones the sound is somewhat muted and the bass distorts at the highest volumes (although these aren't too loud).
With our own, more comfortable, earphones, the connection left a little to be desired – producing muffled sounds unless the connector was hanging half-in, half-out of the jack.
Transferring music to the Vodafone 555 Blue is a bit of a hassle, as you have to do so via Bluetooth rather than just plugging in.
Once all devices are connected, start your computer's Bluetooth transferring software and pick the Vodafone 555 from the list of devices. Transferring large files can take a few minutes, but the downloaded files are immediately sieved through to the music player.
This means that there's less to sort, but there's actually no way to sort through files with formats not immediately recognised.
There's no building of playlists, but you can set the songs to shuffle and the music player will keep playing in the background while you browse Facebook. But be warned: this is one of the few things the Vodafone 555 Blue can do that will actually have an adverse affect on your battery life.
Vodafone 555 Blue: Battery, connectivity and apps
The good news about the lack of features on the Vodafone 555 Blue is that the battery life is pretty good; mainly because there's nothing in it that's heavy-usage enough to drain the resources.
It has a standard Lithium-ion battery that's quoted as offering three hours of talktime and 324 hours of standby time, and we lasted a good couple of days without having to charge it.
This may be handy for the target market and was great for us, too – until we cried thinking about all the cool features it could have had. Or how it could have been a smartphone.
Connectivity-wise, as we've already mentioned, there's not much going on. 2G, EDGE and Bluetooth are all on board, but there's not a peep of Wi-Fi, no 3G and no USB port for computer connections. It's painful. When trying to pair the device with a computer using Bluetooth, we failed miserably.
Maps are easy to explain on the Vodafone 555 Blue: there aren't any. And as for apps, well, what are described as 'apps' are your bog-standard calculator, note editor and so on. They're not about to set anyone alight, and although there's the option of a couple of Java games (including Sims 3, which is pretty cool for this phone), they're just trials and you'll have to fork out for the full things.
There are a couple of RSS news feeds, though, which is a plus. However, the feed simply gives you the headline paragraph and then the URL to open the rest in the browser, which then takes an age to open. As a result, there's no news-reading for the Vodafone 555 Blue owner without a signal.
For anyone whose Gmail contacts differ from their Facebook contacts, there's also Palringo, for instant messaging.
The calendar is nicely synced with Facebook, automatically adding in any contacts' birthdays, which is good given that they're not actually mentioned in the news feed itself.
Of course, what you're paying for with this phone is essentially one giant app that's solely Facebook-oriented. The additional add-ons are pared down so that Facebook is the main focus. It is of course, well integrated, but that doesn't mean it can't make for something a little boring. Unless, of course, you're 13 years old and live on the site.
Vodafone 555 Blue: Hands-on gallery
Vodafone 555 Blue: Verdict
So, what do we have here? We have a feature phone. A cheap, cheerful, enjoys-dabbling-in-Facebook-without-commitment phone.
Considering the price range and low-tech market it's aimed at, the core Facebook integration of the Vodafone 555 Blue and ease of use without commitment to contracts are big pluses in its favour.
It's lightweight and easy on the eye, with quick and simple access to the minimum of features that a low-tech Facebook lover is likely to need.
It has deep integration and some pretty sweet contacts and messaging features for such an otherwise poorly specced piece of equipment. For young people who want to keep in touch without getting too deep into the tech, or having the commitment of a contract, this will be perfect.
For them, you imagine, always being just a small step away from their entire Facebook contacts list might be a pretty enticing thing. To be able to snap a quick pic and upload to Facebook on the go can just about be done with this phone.
However, we're talking about a generation who are used to getting what they want and getting it now – and here the slow connection speeds and dire horsepower of the Vodafone 555 Blue are likely to be a turn-off. You can't even get too deep into the Facebook experience itself, because watching videos and viewing photo albums are a total faff.
Those looking for a smartphone with added Facebook integration will probably plump for the HTC ChaCha (the white phone in the picture above) instead.
Perfect for those who want a nice-looking handset and minimal networking capabilities without any contract commitment - plus love to spend as much time as possible on Facebook. For those looking for a more media-based experience, however, you won't find it with the Vodafone 555 Blue.
In today's smartphone-enlightened times, we're expecting more even for the price. Unless your three favourite things are Facebook, phoning and texting, you'll want more from your handset.