I’ve been requested to review Intex’s Ace mobile handset and I assure you, dear readers I will get to it as soon as it reaches my desk. In the meantime, I have had a chance to review Intex’s new iSmart mobile handset that also comes with a QWERTY keypad and whose design and UI will seem remarkably familiar. Read on to find out more.

Form Factor
At first glance it looks like the BlackBerry Curve 8900. It’s sleek with a large QWERTY keypad that’s well spaced and easy on the fingers. It even has a trackball for navigation and only seems to lack the BlackBerry menu key. The 2.2-inch TFT LCD display is bright and clear enough to read making it easy on the eyes. A 2.5mm handsfree port is located on top and volume/zoom keys, are located on the same side as the micro USB port. A microSD card slot is on the opposite side. It’s an extremely light handset and over all one would find it quite hard to dislike it until the blaring blue light of the trackball starts to glow. The absolute contrast of the blue against the glossy wine red borders ruins the iSmart’s otherwise classy demeanor.

Intex has also included a very well designed case for this Dual SIM handset that allows you to access all of the handset’s keys without any hindrance. Slots have been cut out evenly for all necessary access points, except for the charging port at the bottom.

Features and Performance
The UI’s design, from the desktop to the main menu page is a complete rip-off from RIM, complete with background colors and icons. The oddest thing is that the submenus have miniature icons of a Symbian variety. It can be a little confusing to look at if you’ve used either Nokia or BlackBerry handsets, but when it comes to actual functionality, the UI is relatively well designed. However, it’s dreadfully sluggish and this makes the trackball a major liability to use. It takes too long to move from one selection to another and can be very quirky in this respect.

However, the UI does incorporate a few features like quick replying to messages right from the desktop so you don’t actually have go into the message section at all. You can read and reply to an SMS right from the main screen. The options for accessing either SIM are clear for making calls or sending messages and even accessing the web. Even incoming calls will identify which SIM’s number the call is coming in on. It’s a very well laid out UI but the painfully slow speed is what makes it quite annoying to use.

The funny thing is that in order to make it look as much like a Blackberry menu as possible, Intex has unnecessarily duplicated icons and features. It’s also a bit confusing as the symbols of the icons aren’t associated with the features inside. The spanner icons that usually means ‘Settings’ is the ‘Organizer’, the Magnifying glass that should be the search is the Call Log and so on.

The bundled in-ear handsfree is surprisingly provisioned for comfort and pretty good audio as well. The player looks exactly like Symbian’s S60 version and audio quality, though a little on the sharp side, is not all that bad. The music player comes with EQ presets to help enhance the audio and it manages that quite well. The FM radio’s reception was not anything to write home about but was ok. There was quite a bit of static in most areas where I usually get decent reception from other devices. An FM recorder is lacking but a voice recorder is present. The range of the microphone is about 2 feet for clear recordings. Video playback was also an issue as my standard 3GP and MPEG4 files were framing throughout.

Forget about 3G of course, as handsets in this price range are not going to be capable of that technology – not that it matters for most mobile users in India. The iSmart is however GPRS and WAP enabled. The browser is very simplistic and may not be too fast but it gets the job done. If you prefer Intex has included Opera Mini which is quicker. The problem is that due to the slow UI and quirky trackball navigation maneuvering around the screen to access links can be a pain.

If you’ve got all the required settings for your POP or IMAP email accounts, it’s not hard to set them up and send or receive mails. Intex has also provided a shortcut to Facebook’s WAP page (don’t be confused by the icon, it’s not an application but merely a link). A link to MSN and QuickIM are also available for chatting, but only for those with MSN Messenger and AOL accounts and no other. The iSmart also supports USB 2.0 and Bluetooth with A2DP.

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