Plenty of messaging phones have come our way lately, with clamshell models like the LG Lotus from Sprint to square slider models like the Verizon Wireless Blitz. All of them come with full QWERTY keyboards to facilitate easier texting, and some of them have more features than others. But the new AT&T Quickfire (made by UTStarcom and distributed by PCD) takes it up a notch with not only a full QWERTY keyboard, but a touch-screen interface as well. And not just any touch screen, either; the Quickfire uses a capacitive touch screen, similar to the one used on the Apple iPhone and the T-Mobile G1, which results in a very intuitive and responsive experience. Sure it loses a few style points here and there, but its functionality and feature set more than makes up for it. The AT&T Quickfire is available now for only $99.99 with a two-year service agreement.
When the Quickfire first appeared in public, many people described it as a clone of the T-Mobile Sidekick. It's easy to see why; the Quickfire does have a similar form factor to the Sidekick, with the large, wide screen in the middle and bezels to the left and right (or top and bottom depending on your perspective). Like the Sidekick Slide, the Quickfire slides open to reveal a full QWERTY board, and also like the Sidekick, the Quickfire is on the bulky side. Measuring 4.3 inches long by 2.2 inches wide by 0.7 inch thick, it's even a little thicker than the Sidekick, albeit a bit smaller in size. The overall style of the Quickfire is rather blocky and clunky, and its hefty 4.8 ounce weight adds to that impression.
Dominating the front surface of the Quickfire is its main attraction: a 2.8-inch, diagonal, capacitive touch-screen interface. This sort of touch screen is similar to the one used on the Apple iPhone and the T-Mobile G1, in that the screen uses the electrons from your finger to complete circuitry, which is why you can't use a stylus (for more detail, see this Wikipedia article). As you might expect, this results in a very intuitive and responsive touch interface. The screen doesn't require a hard press to activate something, just a light press will do. The same thing goes for scrolling through menus; light finger swipes will do the trick. However, we noticed that we did have to be quite precise about what our fingers were pressing; sometimes we would be pressing the wrong menu item, for example. Also we noticed that we had to hold down our presses longer than expected in order to activate something. There are a couple of problems with the browser interface as well, but we'll address that in the features section. On the whole, we like how responsive the touch interface was, but it's not quite as refined as we expected.
The screen itself is beautiful. It has 262,144 color support and a 240x320 QVGA pixel resolution. Images and graphics appear sharp, crisp, and saturated with color. You can adjust the screen's backlight time, the design of the home screen, the screen lock timer, as well as the usual wallpaper, greeting banner, and color theme. The Quickfire does not have an accelerometer, but the screen does adjust to landscape mode when you slide out the QWERTY keyboard.
The menu interface when the Quickfire is closed is different from the menu interface when it is open. When it is in the closed position, or touch-screen-only mode, the home screen consists of four shortcuts that lead to the main menu, the dialpad, the AT&T Music menu, and the address book, respectively. When you bring up the main menu in this mode, it's displayed in a grid style. However, when you slide up the QWERTY keyboard, the home screen changes to display five shortcuts instead; they lead to the messaging menu, mobile e-mail, the instant messenger, the address book, and the main menu, respectively. And when the keyboard is open, the main menu is displayed in a list style. We don't really mind this, but we do wish we had a choice about which menu-style option was implemented.
Underneath the display are the Talk and End keys, as well as a Shortcut key, which brings up a pop-up shortcuts menu in the middle of the screen, which Quickfire calls the Quick List. The shortcuts in the menu go to the main menu, the number dialpad, the messaging menu, the Web browser, and the music player. You can bring up this shortcuts menu from anywhere you are in the phone, so you can easily switch from application to application if you wish.
Slide it open, and you'll find the aforementioned full QWERTY keyboard. Though the keyboard is not as roomy as the Sidekick's, we thought it felt spacious enough for thumb-typing. The individual keys are nicely raised above the surface of the phone, which makes for faster texting. Along with the typical Function and Symbol keys, we liked that the keyboard also has Tab, Back, and arrow keys, which helped us in navigating the phone without having to use the touch screen.
The volume rocker is on the left spine of the Quickfire, while the right spine is home to the dedicated camera key and a voice-command key. On the top of the Quickfire is the power button, which also doubles as a screen lock key, and the microSD-card slot and charger jack. The 1.3-megapixel camera lens and self-portrait mirror are on the back.