Ballroom Blitz

January 13, 2009

blitz1I much prefer when phone manufacturers and carriers assign a name to a phone, rather than just a boring alphanumeric nomenclature. Who wouldn’t rather have a Sway than a U650, or a Chocolate instead of a VX8500? How many Storms would Verizon have moved if the first touchscreen Blackberry was called the 9530? And if the iPhone were called the iM2GA4U…well, it wouldn’t have mattered, because all of the trend-hopping, numbnutted doucheknobs would have gobbled them up anyway.

Just kidding, iPhoners. I love every one of you. Seriously. Have fun with those MMS.

So when a phone called the Blitz bursts – or rather sashays – onto the market with a saucy wink and a come-hither waggle of the eyebrows, sometimes an avowed hetero like myself can’t help succumbing to curiosity. What’s the big deal, anyway? Penis shmenis, we’re all people, right?

The TXT8010 Blitz is built by Pantech for UTStarcom (now PCD, formerly Audiovox), and is sold by Verizon. It’s another upright qwerty slider, like the Motorola Hint and the Samsung Propel, with a full qwerty keyboard nestled beneath a large, landscape-oriented screen. The Blitz is thicker than most phones (or phone books, these days), but it takes up relatively little area thanks to its slider form factor. It weighs about as much as teacup chihuahua, but it won’t crap on the floor or hump your Barbie Dream House furniture, and I’ve yet to see it shake itself into a semi-coma.

The Blitz comes in two colors, depending on where you get it; Verizon stores carry only the Fisher-Price Blue version, which I used for a few days before returning it in tactile disgust. Thanks to its high-gloss paint job, the blue Blitz holds on to every microgram of finger oil and random environmental detritus like dust and hair, covering it in a layer of slimy belligerence that would make Willy Cicci beam with fraternal pride. The silver version – exclusive to Best Buy – is virtually spooge-proof, sporting an entirely different surface feel with a semi-gloss finish that not only hides fingerprints, but grants them safe conduct back to their homeland. The silver Blitz also has better earpiece quality than the blue one that I used for three days; callers sound more natural, and less like they’re stuck in a deep, deep hole.

Professor Xavier’s most bitter failure went on to hit number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975

Professor Xavier’s most bitter failure went on to hit number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975

Where the Blitz absolutely Baby-Jane-bitch-slaps the Motorola Hint isn’t with its mediocre screen or unwieldy heft, but in its button design and placement. The Hint’s keys are a collection of unforgiving slashes and minuscule squares, but the Blitz doesn’t mess around; it thrusts its large, thumb-friendly top-slider buttons in your face and dares you to press one – go ahead, just one – while its keyboard is well-shaped and amenable to even the thickest digits diddling its Ps and Qs. The result is a phone that might not turn any heads with its design, but which is a pure joy to navigate; it never sacrifices function to form, a rare attribute in anything these days.

Unlike the Samsung Sway, which requires a convoluted system of pulleys, hydraulics, and group prayer to slide the damn thing open without flipping it across the room, the Blitz’s slide mechanism is smoother than butta and easier to manipulate than the presidential election in a banana republic. The phone’s overall thickness seems to help here, as the rear (or lower) half provides ample purchase to grasp while sliding the front upwards.

Standard reception is top-shelf, but the Blitz lacks high-speed data access for those of you who routinely groove in the EVDO lane. The camera is average; pictures show severe compression artifacts on the phone’s small screen, but that problem disappears once they’re moved to a better display venue, where they’re clear and colorful enough for day-to-day snapshots. The phone also supports microSD cards up to 4GB, and will automatically collate any music already on the card into Verizon’s My Music folder. As usual, imported sounds cannot be used as ringtones or alerts, though any picture may be set as the Blitz’s wallpaper.

For anyone looking at a qwerty slider for heavy-duty messaging, the Blitz is a tough customer; it won’t blow you away with its multimedia capabilities, but it provides excellent call quality, seamless UI navigation, quick and accurate text messaging, and it won’t set you back two hundred clams, pre-rebate, like the Motorola Krave or the Samsung Glyde. The Blitz is not nearly as feature-rich as either the Krave or the Glyde, but in the arena of closed-loop, technological oneupmanship, sometimes that’s okay.

Sometimes a phone is, after all, just a phone.


Feels Like the First Time

January 9, 2009

hintIt’s almost over. The long anticipated acquisition of BubbaNet by LeviathanCo will be completed on Friday, January 9th, marking the end of an era. Granted, it was largely an era of frustration and uncertainty, with shades of unreliability thrown in for good measure, but ’twas an era nonetheless. Kind of like the Inquisition. Without the confetti.

To commemorate the passing of yet another regional carrier into the calloused clutches of communications homogenization, me and BubbaNet went for one more spin on the scruffy, run-down carnival ride o’ ineptitude that is their network. I figured, quite wrongly, that seven months might have been enough time for them to get their shit together, but (as usual) they’ve met my admittedly attenuated expectations.

The Motorola Hint QA30 is a hybrid experience of pleasure and pain, somewhat akin to listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations and consuming a morsel of Valrhona’s finest while a dyspeptic midget head-butts you in the unmentionables for forty-five minutes. It’s an upright qwerty slider, like the Samsung Propel, the UTStarcom-Pantech Blitz, and to a lesser extent the Samsung Blast (though the latter employs a SureType keypad, which technically precludes classification as a true qwerty slider). The upright orientation of the keyboard on this type of slider separates it from its clumsy, bar qwerty slider cousins like the LG Rumor/Scoop and the Samsung Gravity/Messager; due to its inherently extra-wide keyboard, typing a simple text message on the bar qwerty form-factor requires the thumb travel of a disconcertingly eager hitch-hiker and/or proctologist, and as we all know, neither a-them be bons mangers.

Where the Hint smacks itself on the ass and parades across the camp dressed as its own grandmother, bucking for that elusive Section Eight, is in two critically unforgivable areas: The first is its unfortunate shotgun betrothal to the aforementioned BubbaNet, which, everything else being equal, it handles with grim-faced, Victorian aplomb. The second – and in this case most important – is its ergonomic design, which, everything else being equal, sucks.

First, let’s get the tasty bits out of the way right off; the Hint (and a dumber name you’ll not find in your comprehensive telecommunications travels) has a scrumptiously lickable screen, with a good 2.0 megapixel camera and clear, undistorted sound. It’s a competent signal hound, and it’s got a strong, compact, don’t-fuck-with-me build reminiscent of Mary Lou coming off the uneven bars in the summer of 1984. It sports a 3.5mm headset jack, and a revamped UI that’s a refreshing change from the inelegant bloatware that Motorola’s been updating for almost five years now. It also has a nifty, built-in Google SMS template that simplifies one of the simplest text messaging features on any phone, and for you serious tumor mongers, it supports ten different Bluetooth profiles, including OPP, FTP, and BIP. No PBS, though. Sorry, Elmo, you pathetic, third-person self-referencing little bastard.

This is NOT...the greatest phone in the world

This is NOT...the greatest phone in the world

That’s where the love comes to an ignominious end for the Hint. The hardware on the front half of the slider, such as the send/end buttons, the 4-way toggle, and the menu and back keys, all lack the appropriate surface area to provide sufficient tactile feedback; the send/end buttons and the center select key are nothing more than narrow, severe rectangles, thin enough to make Paris Whatsername blush with girlish, curvaceous allure, but not substantive enough to indicate that the Hint is paying any attention whatsoever to you until something changes on the screen. The same can be said for the 4-way button, which offers so little surface area on which to apply thumb pressure that it’s often impossible to feel the travel of the button itself.

The Hint’s qwerty keypad fares no better, as each of its buttons is diagonally bisected with a curious little ridge, the purpose of which I can only surmise is to frustrate the living shit out of anyone whose thumbs are larger than those of the average three-year-old. The “A” and “delete” keys are mosh-pit-close to the phone’s frame, requiring the manual dexterity of an Elven watchmaker to press them with any degree of accuracy. Eventually you’ll learn that it’s just as efficient to smash your face against the Hint’s keypad as it is to use your thumbs; you might not accomplish anything using that method, but at least you’ll provide hours of entertainment for friends, family, and random passers-by.

For all its hardware design shortcomings, the Hint is not a bad phone; it’s got a great UI and superior construction, but the fact that it’s only currently available for Veralltelizon (coupled with a few questionable ergonomic choices) makes it hard to recommend. If your thumbs are no wider than matchsticks, and you’re not too picky about whether your network, you know, actually works, I’d say go for it. Everyone else should steer clear.

(Using the Hint on Alltel U Prepaid has been an exercise in pecuniary prognostication, as the sole means of obtaining my remaining balance – *369 – no longer works at all. On any phone. Ever.) Welco… to Am..ica’s …ost Relia…le Net…rk, A… …oles!