Sharp have been known as innovators in the field of multimedia when it comes to mobile phones. The GX20 was the first ever GSM phone to include a high-resolution QVGA (240x320) display (and released more than 18 months ago). The GX30 was the first to include a megapixel camera in a GSM phone. In Europe, Sharp were the first with a two megapixel, optical zoom-enabled 3G camera phone, distributing the Sharp 902 handset to Vodafone 3G networks there. The list of innovations is long.
With the GX25, Sharp hasn’t invented any new technology, but they have managed to integrate a collection of mainstream technologies into a compact, stylish clamshell handset. VGA camera, QVGA main screen, complete messaging support, Bluetooth and more. Read on for the review.
Being a mid-level handset, nothing new has been introduced in the Sharp GX25. However, it does make improvements over the model it replaces, the Sharp GX20, introduced nearly 18 months ago. The large looking shape of the GX20 has been shrunk, with the result being a smaller, lighter and classier looking clamshell phone. The boring, mainstream silver colour has been partly replaced with a more stylish looking black/silver combination. The stub antenna has vanished, now being located at the top of the phone inside the casing.
Certain technological points have also seen improvement. The screen has been upgraded to 262,144 colours from the GX20’s 65,536, while retaining its resolution of 240x320 pixels. The synthesiser has gone from 16 tones to 40, and Java MIDP support has been revised to version 2.0. The addition of Bluetooth with headset and data transfer support is very welcome, and the calendar application has been completely redesigned and is now practical to use. You can even display it on the standby screen.
However, some things have been scaled back. The screen has physically shrunk from 2.2 to 2 inches (5.5 to 5 centimetres), possibly to accommodate the smaller design. What was once a detailed external colour screen has become an extremely small monochrome line that displays basic information only. The standard design of the keypad has been replaced by a stylish one, with the result that the control buttons (the centre key and directional pad keys) are now more difficult to press. The camera has been downgraded to a mediocre CMOS unit, and the macro focus switch which made the GX20 unique has vanished in the GX25. The LED flash lamp is now one colour only, compared to the GX20’s assortment of seven colours.
The GX25 is a medium size clamshell. It measures 92 x 46 x 23.5 millimetres and weighs 90 grams. It feels lighter than it looks and is easily at home in a lady’s hand, or in her handbag.
The front of the phone is adorned with the camera, self-portrait mirror, flash lamp, single speaker and small external screen. Yes, that’s quite a few things, and in fact that’s virtually everything to do with the outside of the phone altogether. On the left hand side rests the volume up/down keys and infra-red label, and on the right hand side the headset socket with rubber covering. On the bottom you’ll find the traditional charging/data socket, also with a rubber protector. Incidentally both covers are attached to the phone, so you won’t lose them accidentally. The back of the phone contains the battery, and underneath, as always, is the SIM card slot.
When you open the phone up you will find the large, bright, two inch TFT LCD colour display spring to life. Below that is the keypad, which follows the traditional layout. The round, ellipse-shape directional pad with centre button is flanked by two soft keys, dial and end buttons, as well as a direct access key for the camera. They are all shaped around the centre ellipse and look great, but unfortunately their thin shape make them difficult to press. Below them are the twelve numerical keys. These keys aren’t as bad and easier to press, although using your nails rather than fingers will make life simpler to do so.
On the standby screen each control key (those part of, or surrounding the ellipse) has a specific function. Pressing the centre button will take you to the main menu. Pushing the up or down keys will take you to the bottom or top of the address book respectively. Pushing the right key will take you to your stored pictures, while pushing left will take you to stored Java applications. The left soft key takes you straight to your messages, while the right key links you to the Vodafone live! portal. The camera shortcut does just that – starts the camera. While each function can’t be customised, they are well thought out and will work for most people.
User Interface & display
The TFT main display is one of the best, running at 262,144 colours and a large 240x320 pixel resolution. Sharp are one of the leaders in LCD displays, and it shows here. The display is nice and crisp, with pictures displayed beautifully and clearly. Text can sometimes be a bit smaller than I would like, and a function to customise font sizes would have been welcome.
The external screen, as mentioned earlier, is a single line monochrome LCD. In standby mode it displays the clock across the length of the screen (which is still very small). Pressing either volume key will light it up (in blue) and display the clock in even smaller font, as well as reception and battery levels. Pressing volume buttons from here will toggle the display of the clock and the date, while keeping the battery and reception indicators constantly there. After a period of inactivity the display reverts to displaying the clock across the screen.
The user interface is that of the standard Vodafone live! theme, but with a redesigned set of icons. The main menu consists of a square grid of nine icons. From top left to bottom right going right, they are: Games & More, Vodafone live!, Applications, Messages, Camera, My Items, Calendar, Contacts List and Settings. Each sub-menu is based on text lines and up to seven can be displayed at once. While the phone doesn’t show it, you can use the number keys to jump through menus up to three levels deep. For example to use the video camera you would access the menu using the centre key, and then press 5, 2. This shortcut system works well and helps reduce the amount of time spent on needless keypresses.
Making and receiving calls
Despite the internal antenna, the GX25 picked up a signal fairly well, even in areas I know to be black spots. Call quality is good, but the volume of the call could be made higher. Unfortunately there is no speaker phone functionality, despite the large speaker on the front of the phone. Speakerphone has become a feature that is included in most phones these days and would have been a welcome addition.
A wired hands-free is included in the retail package, and is similar to the ones Nokia used years ago. It plugs into the phone’s 2.5 mm socket and has one earpiece and a microphone, with a clip for attaching it to your shirt and a answer/hang-up button. Call quality was very clear through the earpiece and much louder than what you can accomplish with the phone’s own call speaker. Finally, the phone supports Bluetooth headset and handsfree profiles, so you can use a wireless headset with the phone.
Polyphonic ringtones sound great through the 40-tone compatible speaker, but I got the feeling that the included tones were better at demonstrating how good the speaker was than actually being practical to use. Most of them were annoying or not played at a high enough volume. Hopefully Sharp will include better ringtones in the future.
The address book can store up to 500 contacts in the phone’s memory, with each contact able to store three phone numbers, two email addresses, first and last name entries as well as a ‘real’ address. Searching the phonebook works much quicker than in the GX20, so Sharp have made a processing improvement here. You search the list through the ‘first name’ field, and can type letters to narrow the search to specific entries. You can also assign contacts their own ringtone and picture, which will play and display respectively when a phone call from that contact comes through.
Messaging options consist of ‘Multimedia’ (MMS), ‘Text’ (SMS), and Email. Multimedia messages can be up to 2000 characters in length (1000 per slide if you have slides turned on) and can contain attachments up to 100 kilobytes in size. Pictures, sounds and videos can be attached, and you have the option of creating new material straight from the MMS menu, without losing the message you are writing. Items can be added in traditional, email-style attachment form, or slideshow style, where each attachment occupies a ‘slide’ that appears in sequence when the message is viewed. 800 kilobytes of memory is set aside specifically for MMS, and there is a function that allows the phone to delete the oldest messages when you run out of space to store them.
Text messages can be up to 1024 characters in length through concatenated (long) SMS functionality. There is no EMS support here, so text messages are restricted to text only. However, text input has been improved significantly since GX20 days and is now much faster. T9 predictive text input is on by default and there is now a proper custom word dictionary that allows you to manually input words you want included as part of the predictive text system. Text messages can be sent to up to five numbers at once.
Finally, Sharp have included an email client for sending basic text email directly to other email addresses without using the MMS system. POP3/SMTP email systems are supported only – there is no IMAP support. You will need a POP3 email address and all the server details entered into the phone to be able to use the email client. A maximum of 2000 characters can be entered into each email, and email up to 100 kilobytes can be received.
The GX25 has a tri-band GSM radio that works on the 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz frequencies. It will work in Europe, Asia and some areas of the American continents without any problems. The phone supports GPRS for WAP and internet access through the WAP 2.0 compliant Openwave browser.
Local connectivity consists of USB cable, infra-red connection and Bluetooth. Either of these connection methods can be used to connect to a PC running the Handset Manager for GX25, and allows you to exchange picture, sound and video files between the two, as well as back up the phone book to your computer. You can send SMS messages directly from the computer, and synchronise your phonebook with that of Outlook Express or Microsoft Outlook. The phone can also be used as a GPRS modem with the right software.
Infra-red and Bluetooth allow you to send contacts to other devices that conform to the vCard standard. Bluetooth can also be used for wireless headsets with the phone.
Build quality is excellent and is the signature of Sharp phones. The flip is one of the firmest I have ever used and will stay anywhere you rotate it to. It may even be too firm, as a little effort is needed to push and open it, but it doesn’t show any signs of wearing out for a long time. Everything feels firmly attached and the flip opens to a satisfying click sound that locks it in place.
With a 780mAh Lithium-ion battery, the GX25 supports official standby times of up to 10 days, 10 hours, with 3 hours 30 minutes of talk time. In practice I was able to use the phone for two full days before having to recharge the phone. This was with light usage – around 30 minutes of phone calls, and light internet usage and game playing.
Anything involving prolonged use of the main screen will suck the battery dry, as it is a complex screen. If you play many games on the phone I would recommend you keep a charger cable on hand, or even a spare battery. Recharging the phone takes about 140 minutes.