So, this little fellow turned up today, courtesy of one of O2s agencies who are running a scheme for a few bloggers. You might therefore consider that, based as it is on a freebie, this review is liable to bias. I can reassure you in the name of journalistic integrity that after 8 years doing this mobile thang, there is little that excites me less than a new phone turning up. Mind you, even if I hate the thing I'm still giving it exposure - oh I dunno, I'll give up thinking about the moral minefield I'm in and just go for a gander.
So, first impressions: the packaging was nice, and opening the box itself quite enjoyable, in a not-quite-Apple-but-nearly way. The device comes with a reasonable range of cables (headphones - with a double-headphone adapter, quite cute - a dock which O2 have christened the Nest and another which I presume is an FM antenna).
The phone itself is a reasonable piece of industrial design: the styling is reasonably nice actually, in an early Star-Wars aesthetic (cf. rebel alliance cruiser interiors, stormtrooper uniforms), and whilst I'm not a big fan of clamshells as a form factor, it fits neatly into my trouser pocket and I don't have the justified "shit-my-keys-will-scratch-it-to-death" fear I get with most phones. It feels slightly plasticky, though some of the promo material spins this as being "light" - which isn't unreasonable I guess.
The main feature of the phone is its external display, which lights up the casing with a digital readout: cute-ish, even if it gives the whole device the feel of an 80s alarm clock (double the feel of an 80s alarm clock when it's nestled in its erm "Nest"). I think it might be genuinely useful to have the name of callers turn up on this display when the phone rings, let's wait and see.
My big fear about any new phone which is positioned as a slick piece of industrial design is the UI: post-RAZR I actually shiver when I see a handset which looks half-decent, because this tends to imply the interface inside (more important once it's out of the box and you're trying to use the darn thing) has been starved of attention. Initially, I have to say I think my fears are justified: whilst the UI is reasonable attractive (and it's nice to see a handset making good use of all available resolution without cloning Nokia), the menu structures are a little bit iffy, some of the options are downright bizarre ("Enter Object Mode" when browsing a WAP page? What monkey allowed that terminology to be kept in?), and the whole thing is just slow enough to annoy me.
It's a small thing, but if the keypad felt more responsive I think the device would feel way better. Right now it suffers from the same faults as some of Nokias Series 60 devices: press a key, wait half a second, get to the thing you wanted - that's just long enough to be dissonant. A suggestion from Mr Hopper of FP was that perhaps the pretty yet faintly annoying animated wallpaper was slowing the whole thing down, but try as I might I can't work out a way to disable said wallpaper (only replace it).
There are a few nice features lurking in there though, and I was really chuffed to see the National Rail service from Kizoom (easily the most useful WAP service to me) preloaded onto a home-screen menu. This kind of integration of portal content with the on-phone menu structure is really good to see happening out-of-the-box; it's not exactly a leap forwards technically or design-wise, but it's useful nonetheless and ought to happen more often.
The "daily wallpaper" feature, which purports to automatically download new content regularly, also seems cute - presuming it gives me stuff I want, and actually works. I'll keep an eye on this one.
The inbuilt speakers are, I think, the best I've heard on a phone (not that I use mobiles for listening to music much) - they might appeal to a generation that insists on blasting music out of its handset as it lurches around cities. The camera is basic (2 megapixel) but decent, and screen quality is good. Colour use within the UI is a bit inconsistent, but where it's done well it works really nicely, and the whole thing seems coherently O2 somehow (where some operator-branded handsets get a little schizophrenic).
Cocoon claims to sync with macs, but it didn't show up in my Finder when I plugged it in and I got a load of error messages in /var/log/system.log. Not great.
So, so far: I give it 6 out of 10. Not bad for an operator-branded device, and version 2 (or even this one with a firmware upgrade that speeds it up a bit) has potential to be a reasonable device. In its current form I'd see it competing quite effectively with the Motorola RAZR, as a reasonable stylish device that has a UI you can actually use.
I'll write another post once I've had a chance to use it for a few days...