Review: The HTC Star Trek/Cingular 3125

Just like my friend Dan Cederholm, I’ve been in the market for a new mobile phone for a while now. My old one, a Sony Ericsson T637, is a candybar-style phone with a TFT display, Bluetooth, camera, and Mac OS X iSync compatibility. Back when I bought the phone, these features were somewhat cutting-edge.

Today, these options are common-place, and compared to what’s available now, even on low-end phones, The T637 is heavy, bulky, and slow, with a crap keypad, a low-res camera, and an error-prone joystick that is easily broken (I had to replace the phone once already and it’s broken again). Worse, there’s no capability to check or send email, and no web browser.

Sure, it was a good phone two years ago, but by today’s standards, the phone is crap and I’ve kept it past its half-life. Lucky for me, my plan was up and I could renew (or switch).

The HTC Star Trek/Cingular 3125

I got the HTC Star Trek/Cingular 3125 and I love it. It’s a super-thin clamshell smartphone with QVGA display, Bluetooth, 1.3 megapixel camera, quad-band GSM, EDGE data, dual color displays, a microSD memory card slot, and a speakerphone. It runs Windows Mobile (more on this later) and can sync with Mac OS X iSync using the excellent Missing Sync for Windows Mobile from MarkSpace.

Below, I detail why I picked this phone and why I think it’s good enough to recommend to pretty much anybody looking for a new mobile phone with some great media and connectivity features.

My Requirements

I know lots of people who want bleeding-edge features on their phone, like the ability to stream video at broad-band speeds or use an on-board laser to carve their initials into a tank’s armor plating. Watching almost-live TV on a phone is pretty cool, but what I was after was more like IMAP email access and decent browsing. I had a pretty specific list of requirements and criteria for both phone and carrier, and after lots of research, the 3125 was the only phone that met the requirements:

  1. Carrier: I wanted to stay with Cingular. They’ve been the best carrier I’ve used, and I’ve tried a handful (including Sprint, and Verizon). I really like T-Mobile, but their latest “cool” phones (like the HTC Excalibur/T-Mobile Dash) aren’t available just yet and worse, their coverage is unreliable and spotty (at best) here in Florida unlike Cingular which is EDGE or 3G. Further, I’m on a great family plan that’s not available anymore, and I don’t want to lose it.
  2. Email: An affordable data plan that would include real IMAP email access (not push-style mail, which doesn’t reflect how I actually work with email) and a nice, usable browser, MMS, and text messaging. The 3125 offers this in spades, with built in IMAP capability. Now when I read, delete, or send mail on the phone or in Mail.app, it’s reflected on my actual account in real-time. The 3125 even supports IMAP4 over SSL.
  3. Browser: I just want simple stuff like the latest news, and (of course) weather updates, sometimes veering off to read a few of my favorite blogs. The 3125 has Internet Explorer, and to my surprise, it’s great. It even handles image scaling well.
  4. Speed: EDGE or better capabilities. Check.
  5. Size: the phone needed to fit into a pocket and not be too heavy or brick-like. I was willing to sacrifice a full QWERTY keypad for T9-style text entry (just so long as I didn’t have to use the horrible, horrible SureType). I’m used to T9 and can get by pretty quickly with it … in fact I typed this whole post using it. Just kidding. But it’s not bad for email and text-messaging. The 3125 sports a flat keyboard which lights up and isn’t slippery like the RAZR’s. And unlike the wifi-equipped 8125, the 3125 is light and compact.
  6. Shape: I wanted to go back to a flip phone. I was so tired of having to lock the keypad every time I was finished using it. No more candybar phones for me.
  7. Battery life: I don’t mind having to charge the phone each night, but it would be great if I could go a few days without a charge. The 3125 claims a 9-day standby time, and so far that actually seems realistic. It also claims to have a 7-hour talk-time, and after a few days of regular use, I’m only down 1 bar. Amazing.
  8. Call quality/reception: I’m not fanatical about having crystal-clear reception, but static and dropped calls are unacceptable. The 3125 sounds better than any mobile phone I’ve ever used, and is much more reliable than my previous phone.
  9. Screen Resolution: You can’t read and send email or browse the web with clunky fonts and a low-res screen. The 3125’s QVGA screen is simply amazing, and Windows Mobile is a wonder at making small fonts legible while keeping them anti-aliased. It almost looks like text on a page.
  10. Camera: I love snapping pics and sending them to Flickr, and I expect I’ll want to do more of this as time goes on. The 3125 has a 1.3 megapixel camera which works just fine for pics and video.
  11. iSync Compatibility: I need my contact list. But because the 3125 phone runs Windows Mobile, it won’t “naturally” share data with iSync. Enter MarkSpace’s excellent Missing Sync software. At first it might seem a bit pricey at $39, but it’s deeply configurable (unlike iSync), and makes the process seamless over USB or Bluetooth.

So What’s Missing?

Of course, as always, there are a few “downsides.” They aren’t show-stoppers, and for me they were actually non-issues, but it’s worth mentioning the following items:

  1. Connector: the Cingular 3125 has a proprietary USB cable rather than the typical mini-USB connector. I don’t have any devices that use the typical mini-USB connector, so it made no difference to me, but some people on forums seem to think that this matters. On the up-side, the phone comes with a headset, charger, USB cable, and splitter (for using headset while charging). Even better, the phone can charge via USB, so there’s no need to bring a separate charger with you if you’re planning to take your laptop with you.
  2. microSD Slot: the microSD slot is under the battery. Well, until I bought this phone, I didn’t even know what microSD was. Turns out it’s a super small flash card. At the time of this writing, you can buy them in sizes of up to about 1GB … which is what I have in my digital camera (A Canon SD450, but that’s another post). 1GB seems big enough to hold pretty much everything I’d need in between syncs, so I doubt I’d be switching these out frequently.
  3. Operating System: the 3125 runs Microsoft Windows Mobile. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Well really, it isn’t that bad. In fact, it seems that Windows is actually well-suited for running a phone. The OS actually stays out of the way, is generally quick and responsive, and includes the capability to open and view Word, Excel, and other office documents as well as PDF files. Plus it makes working with email a snap. And IE Mobile is actually easy to use. Maybe Microsoft should quit trying to make OS’s for PC’s and focus on their mobile OS. I’m just thinking out loud here.

Final Thoughts

So, who knew that a side-effect of my phone review would be that I’d wind up recommending people use Windows. Go figure. But in the end, really, the OS doesn’t matter much. This is a great phone for people who want a nice mix of fun features like camera with video and web browsing with more “business” type apps like email and office document viewing.

Even With the large number of phones out there today, the HTC Star Trek/Cingular 3125 really stands out by offering PDA capabilities in the form of a compact, attractive clamshell.

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