Art students are sometimes thought of as being "a bit different", often with a distinctive look and a flair for the visual unmatched by their peers. If the INQ Chat 3G was a person it would be an art student with its distinctive visual identity that sets it apart from other mobile phones. Like an art student it has to achieve this style without breaking the bank making it suitable for people who might want a stylish mobile phone but do not want to pay smartphone prices. The INQ Chat 3G comes with a physical keyboard and its functionality revolves around the idea of keeping people in touch through a range of services such as email, SMS, Twitter and Facebook so it may well appeal to the multiplatform chatterboxes amongst you. It also has some surprising features like GPS.
It seems crazy to talk about the box, but when the INQ Chat 3G arrived it attracted a lot of attention as the box design is very distinctive. In the box the usual manual has gone and been replaced with a series of topic specific help cards each sporting a different bit of artwork on the reverse. This theme even continues onto the phone itself with artwork being present in menus and backdrops. I love this use of artwork it gives the product a really exciting and distinctive feel and I wish more manufacturers would consider following INQ's lead in this area. It is a world away from the traditional look of mobile phones. INQ continue this cutting edge look into their website and blog about their illustrators, people like Tooco and Brett Wilson. You can find out more about the artists towards the bottom of http://www.inqmobile.com/#more.
The phone itself slightly resembles a BlackBerry or a Nokia E63. It fits comfortably into the palm of a hand and has a screen at the top and a QWERTY keyboard at the bottom. On the rear is a 3.2 megapixel camera (but no flash). Inside space for a MicroSD card up to 4GB. I found the keyboard quite comfortable to use, but the keys are quite small so I could not type quickly on it. Elsewhere on the keyboard is a directional keypad which worked well and above that two context sensitive keys (i.e. they have different uses depending what is on the screen) with the call and hang up buttons on the sides. When the text was shown on the display for the context keys meaning it did sometimes look like the labels were over the call and hang up buttons which might be a bit confusing at first. The phone is quite slim, but still felt robust. Sadly there is no standard headphones connector on the device so you have to use the supplied headphones that have a mini usb plug, this would probably limit it as a music player.
The user experience of the phone is bright and colourful as you would expect with a series of applications preinstalled on the phone to get you chatting. Supplied are clients for Facebook, Twitter, Email, Skype and Microsoft Messenger. When you sign into Facebook you get an interface optimised for the phone and also your Facebook contacts are imported to the phone's address book which is really handy. The Twitter client is good but shares a trait with the Sony Ericsson T715 in that it is better for situations where you only follow a small number of people. The email client was something I liked, it was very usable and creating emails with the built in keyboard and big screen was a nice experience. Text entry is predictive so you can type that important email really quickly. If you get a new message from any of these diverse sources you will get an alert on the screen. Additionally you can show the latest updates from Twitter with a widget. There is space for up to three widgets which can include the latest weather, search boxes, Facebook updates and RSS feeds.
Dive into the menu and more functionality is available. The phone runs BREW OS which is not as well known as mobile operating systems like Android or Symbian, however it does support Java Mobile so many applications and games are available for it. One notable application loaded onto the device is Google Maps which can work with the built in GPS which seemed pretty accurate, it worked out my location within 90 meters! Multitasking is possible and it will happily check for emails and such like while you go web browsing or playing games. I did find though that when running a few applications together the phone seemed to struggle and freeze for a few seconds like it could do with a little more computing power. Browsing the web also seemed a little disappointing, the browser felt slow to use and did not render the pages as nicely as some other mobile browsers.
Of course you won't always want to browse the web on your phone and handily the INQ Chat 3G includes built in modem functionality. If you are using Windows you get to install a client which gives you a big green button to press to connect to mobile broadband. Sadly no software is included for Ubuntu and I found that if I connected the device to an Ubuntu machine with the USB lead it did not know what to do with it. However, using Bluetooth was a different story. Replacing the default bluetooth manager with the excellent Blueman means you can connect to the phone and transfer files to it and use the mobile broadband functionality. I tried getting an Internet connection this way and it worked. So this way the phone will peacefully coexist with an Ubuntu system, the only problem being that transferring large files this way, like MP3s is quite slow, so you might want to directly write them to a MicroSD card and put that in the phone. Windows users get software they can install from the phone to sync contacts, transfer files and manage music.
The INQ Chat 3G is (at the time of writing) available on 3 UK on contract for £10/month or £89.99 on pay as you go. I think you get a lot for your money, this is a phone you can be proud of thanks to its strong visual identity and it feels like it is well made. It attracted a lot of attention from my colleagues who really liked it with one mentioning it would make a great gift perhaps for teenagers. It is certainly a fun phone and great for keeping in touch with people through lots of services and packs a lot of functionality in. If I could change the phone I would add a standard headphones socket, more power and maybe a nicer browser. Many people might not be that familiar with INQ now, but the innovation they have showed so far with their products, coupled with their stated intention to bring out an Android powered handset will make them a company to watch in 2010.
Thanks to 3MobileBuzz for lending me the INQ Chat 3G to review.