MWg Zinc II review

News 12:44, 4 Jul 2008

We review the catchily-named MWg Zinc II smartphone and decide whether this bulky Windows Mobile 6 PDA is worth the hefty price tag

MWg is not a name you are likely to know unless you are a real fan of smartphones, and even then it hardly trips off the tongue lightly.

The company used to be part of O2 and concentrated on making Windows Mobile-based smartphones for the Far East. But those days are over and it now exists as a smartphone maker in its own right, with its wares sold by financial partner Expansys.

The Zinc II is the flagship model in the current MWg portfolio, and it's brimming with features. It runs Windows Mobile 6.1 – the most advanced version of that operating system currently available. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a GPS antenna are all buried within its innards, as is 3G with HSDPA up to 3.6Mbps, quad-band GSM, GPRS and EDGE.

There is a 2 megapixel camera whose lens is on the back of the casing. Oh, and it has a real Qwerty keyboard too. Not one of those mini thumb keyboards that sit on the front of the hardware, but one that slides out of a long edge.

In fact, if we were totting up a list of features for a smartphone of our dreams there is only one thing that we’d say is missing: a front-facing camera for two-way video calling.

A tale of two keyboards

The Qwerty keyboard means this is a pretty large device. It weighs in at 185g and will spoil the line of your tailored trouser pocket with its hefty dimensions (18mm thick, 109mm tall and 59mm wide). But when you need that keyboard it is easy to slide it out from the long left edge.

The mechanism is well constructed – just like the best slider phones it is spring-loaded and feels very solid. In fact built quality in general for this Windows Mobile device is good. We reckon this one will take the knocks and come up smiling.

The keyboard itself is a bit of a mixed bag, though. It looks lovely. Each key has a blue frame and this is backlit when you tap any of the keys, which not only looks rather swanky but also makes it easier to use the keyboard in dull lighting conditions.

Usability is not so hot, though largely because the keyboard isn’t actually made up of individual keys. Instead it is a flat membrane, and you have to hunt for the area inside the blue frame to get to the key you want. This inevitably makes it less responsive than a physical keyboard would be. And with the absence of 'haptic feedback' (vibration to you and me) the only confirmation you have that you’ve hit what you want is when the required letter, number or symbol appears on screen.

Screen secrets

At first glance the MWg Zinc II looks like a pretty standard device, but in fact it has a secret up its sleeve. Press a button on the left side of the screen and the standard Windows Mobile Today Screen is replaced with a four-part grid. Because the MWg Zinc II has a touch screen you can now tap in one of the four areas to get to either the Windows media player, the built-in camera, games, or the Windows Mobile pictures and videos viewer.

There is more. Sweep a finger left to right across this screen and you get to a new screen which can show your twelve most favorite contacts. Sweep again and another screen lets you set up shortcuts to fourteen applications on the device. A final sweep gets you to a set of eight pre-defined shortcuts to messaging, Internet Explorer, connectivity, calendar, file manager, notes, calculator, and settings.

You can move left and right through this set of screens, and they make getting about not only easy but that little bit different. Quite obviously, this system is modeled on HTC’s TouchFLO, but then imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, isn’t it?

A nippy performer

The MWg Zinc II sports a 500MHz processor and it fairly zips along. Often we notice that when we have several applications opened at once Windows Mobile devices can slow down to the point where using them is like tapdancing through mollasses. Not here, though. We were able to have four, five, six even seven apps running at the same time and he Zinc II was still pretty fleet of foot.

Memory is not an issue, either. There is 64MB of SDRAM and 256MB of flash ROM, with 140MB of storage available on our review sample and a microSD card on the left side so you can easily add more.

Our grumbles are few but significant. That keyboard isn’t the best we’ve seen, and we really would have liked a front-facing video calling camera.

Overall this is a sizeable device to carry around, and if you are a keen user of Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G you could find the battery can’t see you through a complete day of usage. That’s not unusual for Windows Mobile, but if the features are there you are likely to want to use them, right?

MWg Zinc II info

Typical price: £449.95 SIM-free, from £52.95 with contract

Pros:
Fast processor
Built in Wi-Fi and GPS
Solid build quality

Cons:
Flat Qwerty keyboard is not as good as some
Expensive
No front-facing camera

Verdict: The MWg Zinc II is brimming with features but is slightly let down by its flat Qwerty keyboard and a high SIM-free price

Rating:

More info: MWg Zinc II official site

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