Review: Slip-sliderin’ away…

Not long ago I talked about Virgin Mobile and how refreshing it was to find a different kind of cell phone company. Now it is time to take a look at the phone…

The Kyocera SE47 is a bit of a mouthful, but fortunately they gave it the more mouth-friendly nickname of “Slider” Why? Because… well… It slides; the front plate slides upwards to reveal the keypad. It slides open, it slides shut.

The slider first hit the market in early 2004, and the RRP is $150, though at the time of writing Virgin Mobile and Best Buy are selling them for $99. Whether this is a special offer or they are phasing them out, time will tell. Either way it matters not, as I bought mine for $61 on eBay, which included a belt pouch and a spare battery.

Some of you may have heard the horror stories of exploding phones and recalls – Fear Not! The problem was not with the phones, but with the batteries, some of which were sub-standard or faulty. Both of the batteries that came with my phone worked fine, but since they were among those recalled, I called the appropriate number and Kyocera sent out a pair of replacements without fuss.

This phone is marketed to the hip, the trendy and the fashionable… but anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with me knows that I am the very antithesis of all of the above – I consider fashion to be a commercial device to part fools from their money. However, this phone is different enough from the run-of-the-mill flip-phone mob to pique my interest.

So… as Eric Idle would say… “what’s it like?

The first thing that catches the eye is, of course, the design. Build quality is surprisingly good. The sliding action has detents at each end or the travel that give tactile feedback that you have reached an end-stop. Battery Life is superb – three days on standby is not unusual, and I suspect that four is attainable.

One of the features of the phone (at least on the Virgin Mobile service) is a beep that sounds ten seconds before the end of every minute. If you are on a pay-as-you-go plan (as I am), this is an extremely useful feature, as it helps prevent you from having to pay for another minute because you went a few seconds over. For me this is a lifesaver.

You can switch the phone on when it is closed, but to do anything else you have to slide the phone open. Personally I found this to be the biggest annoyance (which isn’t saying much). I would have liked to see access to non-phone functionality (games, settings, voice recorder etc) without having to open the case. Once the phone has been opened, however, there are one-key shortcuts for silent mode, balance, recent calls and “VirginXtras”.

Reception is poor inside buildings – my office has two big windows, but I only get one bar or occasionally two (out of five). I suspect that this is more to do with Sprint (the network that Virgin Mobile uses) rather than the phone, as our previous Sprint phones have had problems with Ferroconcrete. This phone has excellent reception out of doors and at home, so I know that it is not the phone. However, if you plan on using the phone in office buildings this may be an issue. Since I use the phone mostly when out and about it is a non-issue for me.

As well as a reasonable selection of ringtones, the slider has a selection of short soundclips that can be associated with the slide open and closed events. This is a superb feature, but badly implemented. The problem is that these sounds are played at the end of the slide travel, rather than at the beginning, resulting in a slightly “out-of-sync” effect that is reminiscent of a badly-overdubbed Martial Arts movie.

Like most electronic gadgets, deep within lurks a computer, and this is particularly noticeable in use. Sometimes, when playing a game or navigating the menus, there is a small amount of “lag; a momentary pause, though it is never bad enough to be considered a serious issue.One must-have extra is the communications cable. Kyocera sell it for $45 but it can be had for less on eBay. This comes with software that allows you to save and modify the Slider’s address book from your PC.

One of the coolest features that I have found on this phone – or on any phone, for that matter – is the ability to make your own custom ringtones and wallpaper from PC sound files and bitmaps using some freely available software and the cable mentioned earlier.

Some have complained that the number keys are somewhat small, and they are right. However, the “joypad” is eminently usable and the voice-dial features makes dealing with the small buttons largely unnecessary. That’s not a problem for me, since I use voice-dialing almost exclusively. However, a heavy user who needs to use the keypad regularly might have some problems with this.

Verdict: For a light user who needs a phone to stay in touch on the move, or a teenager in need of a lesson in moderation – this phone is IT.

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