QTek 8500 STRTrk review

This slim flip-phone packs a Windows-powered pocket computer

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Our Verdict

Excellent performance and features for those who don't want 3G

For

  • Full web browsing

    Adaptable smartphone applications

    Small and slim

Against

  • Memory card hidden under battery

    No keyboard or handwriting recognition

    Memory card costs extra

No one disputes the advantage of owning a smartphone. Using its own operating system, it can be customised with all manner of business, entertainment, and educational software.

If you want to carry around your own reference library, the mobile equivalent of your office desktop, or simply want an integrated approach to email, then a smartphone is what you are after.

Taiwanese specialist HTC has become the undisputed champion of Windows Mobile devices. This company has produced smartphone after smartphone for most of the major networks in the world - including Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and O2.

The company's latest venture at miniaturisation marks a new departure. Code-named STRTrk, it is HTC's first-ever smartphone that is not shaped like a candybar.

Low-profile

But this is not any conventional flip - it uses a bang-up-to-date low-profile design, of the type popularised by the Motorola RAZR. With a maximum thickness of 19mm it can't quite out-slim the Motorola, but at 99g it is reassuringly lightweight.

As usual the STRTrk is expected to join the ownbrand ranges of several of the network operators and by third-party companies. We tested the version that's being distributed by HTC itself, via its Qtek brand. It can be found on sale SIM-free for around £300.

Although powered by the Windows Mobile operating system, the phone is not only contemporary in size, it also keeps up with fashion in terms of its buttons, providing external controls for use with the onboard media player. This is a version of Microsoft's ubiquitous Media Player, but unlike some phones with musical pretensions it can support a good range of different file types.

Using the phone as your pocket sound machine however is made slightly tricky by the fact that HTC has again hidden the memory card slot. It's easy to get files on and off a phone using a card, so it's good to make this hot-swappable and easily accessible.

In this way you can carry as many cards as you like to rival the storage capacity of an iPod. Here, however, the fiddly microSD cards have to be inserted not just under the battery cover, but beneath the SIM card. Not very convenient.

The phone has a useful full-colour external screen, which remains hidden away behind a dark circular window when not required. Pushed into action it not only provides you with an attractive clock, but also lists details of the tracks you are playing - and it can also be used as an alternative camera viewfinder.

Few controls

Despite the three MP3 player buttons, the external controls are kept to a minimum and discreetly placed. Simplification of the design leads to one handling gripe: the phone uses a single multi-pin interface for charging, hardwiring to a PC's USB port, and for plugging in the supplied stereo earpieces.

You can't listen and charge, therefore - and you can't use a standard set of headphones. As this is one of the first handsets that will work with a stereo Bluetooth headset, this may not be a real issue.

The phone's operating system runs on a 195MHz processor with 64MB of RAM - perfectly adequate, but not particularly fast when it comes to some more demanding applications, and a specification that is the same as HTC was using in its Windows smartphones a couple of years back.

Onboard storage is a reasonable 64MB, but obviously the investment in a memory card is almost obligatory if you are to make good use of the camera, music player, and ability to add new apps.

The sound quality from the MP3 player proves to be very good. The audio experience through the speakerphone is nothing to get excited about but at least the music is not distorted. Plug in the supplied headset and you get a very pleasing performance - good enough to let you get lost in the music.

With just 1.3 megapixels at its disposal, the camera lacks the maximum resolution of other newly available cameraphones available at a similar price.

However, as we are constantly reminded, pixels aren't everything. In practice, the QTek turns in a good set of prints, with good exposure, contrast and colour. There was a slight tendency to produce over-warm pictures, and for highlights to be very slightly burnt out but neither fault was serious.

It should be pointed out, however, that there is no close-up macro facility or flash. Whilst the latter is unlikely to be missed, the lack of macro means that you can't use the camera for detail shots or for snapped 'photocopies'.

Web-friendly

The real attraction of this phone, however, is its email and web capabilities. You not only get the chance to keep tabs on your inbox when travelling, but a suite of Word, Powerpoint, Excel and PDF viewers mean that you can look at most of the attachments that are sent to you. There's also support for push email.

Being able to view real web pages, and not just Wap sites, is a particularly strong selling point. You can get the information that you really need on the move, from anywhere in the world.

The Internet Explorer browser makes a good job of showing the pages, even though the screen is only a quarter of the size of a desktop VGA display. There are a number of display options, allowing you to see sections of the real page, or have it flowed into a single column for easy scrolling.

You can also zoom in and out with relative ease. We were very impressed with some more complex sites that could be competently handled - and particularly by its ability to correctly rend-up Java pop-up screens on one of our favourite surf-spots.

Speed of access is reasonable, given that this is not a 3G phone, and therefore relies of GPRS (or EDGE if you find a network offering it) for data links.

Despite the impressive weight, HTC has provided a rechargeable lithium battery that is up to the demands of the heavy use that such a business-oriented phone is likely to get.

In our tests it lasted for 70 hours, during which we made extensive use of the music player, the addictive Solitaire card game, and made some 15 minutes of calls.

Intriguing

Given that there are still plenty of people who are not yet ready or willing to make the move to 3G, the new HTC phone is an intriguing option.

This is one of the few handsets that you can buy that allows you to take advantage of the power, flexibility and features of a decent smartphone - without having to be unduly weighed down. Chris George

Camera: A 1.3-megapixel camera on the outside of the shell produces good quality printable images

External screen: A slick design where the external display remains hidden as a dark window until required

Software: A rich suite of Windows Mobile Smartphone applications can be added to customise the handset

MP3 player controls: Easy to access buttons allow the built in music player to be used even when closed