QWERTY handsets are taking over. They’re the new norm when it comes to handset design and their popularity is getting increasingly visible in the budget mobile segment. Airfone, one of the newer entrants to the segment have launched this, the AQ9 ultra budget QWERTY handset that’s designed for speedy typing but not high-end connectivity like Social Networking or internet access. Take a closer look.

Form Factor
The AQ9 is a neat, lightweight handset with a raised QWERTY keypad and a colored LCD display (128 x 128 pixel resolution). The keypad is great if you have slim fingers. If you don’t you’ll have to use your finger tips for typing as the keys are quite close together, so that can take a little getting used to. Large dedicated keys for the FM radio and music player are very evident on either side of the control keys surrounding the very large five way nav-pad. It has a 2.5mm handsfree socket on one side and an extendable radio antenna.

The antenna allows you to use the radio without having to connect a handsfree, similar to LG’s Intenna technology but not as advanced obviously. However, you don’t really need to pull the antenna out but it does help a bit with getting better reception. The antenna also adds a bit of nostalgia to the overall appeal of the AQ9. The handset also supports external memory via microSD cards (up to 2GB, not a hot swap option). A pair of raspy, loud speakers constitutes the speaker phone.

Features and Performance

The UI is extremely simplistic and easy to use. Separation of each SIM's functions are easy to manage and well laid out with easy to distinguish markings. There’s no lag or speed issues with navigation or typing.

The only media functionality that the AQ9 brings to the table is a music player with EQ presets and an FM radio that works independent of the handsfree. The music player is really good and is capable of dishing out audio at quite a high decibel level. The EQ presets do come in handy to help enhance the audio experience. One issue was that I was unable to fast-forward tracks and when I tried the device would hang forcing met to retract the battery to restart. Hopefully this is an issue with just this test piece. The lack of USB connectivity means you’ll have to keep shutting down the handset, removing the battery and the retracting the memory card to add or remove data via a card reader.

The FM radio was a non issue. The antenna helps provide a slight boost to reception when you’re in a low reception area. It’s also handy while commuting. The reception still isn’t great but it does help a little in this case as well. The lack of a recording option could be an issue for some. The AQ9 is not capable of reading .TXT files or JPEG or other image files. There aren’t even any preloaded System wallpapers except for Airfone’s logo.

Misc. Features

Like I said in the beginning of this review, the AQ9 is a strictly basic handset. It offers no modes of connectivity other than to make and take calls and send and receive messages. Other features include a LED flash light option for which 5 small LEDs are located at the top. They’re bright enough to read a book with. Some of the more mundane features include a Calculator, Alarm Clock, World Clock and a Calendar that doesn’t allow you to schedule appointments or leave reminders. A password lock for the handset is amongst the few security features that are included.

The 1200mAh battery will cover you for over two days of usage easily. Talk-time averaged over 3 hours and 10 minutes which is not bad at all.

The Bottom Line
The price tag on the AQ is Rs. 2000 which makes it quite a worthwhile purchase if you’re looking for something strictly basic with a few frills. The handset’s media features work out quite well except for the weird forwarding issue with the music player. The only other issue is the lack of USB connectivity to access the memory card, but how often does one keep replacing the card anyway.

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