Considering how picky and tech-savvy tweens are, you might wonder how they'd ever consent to using the TicTalk. We asked ourselves the same thing, of course, but after we took a closer look, we discovered that the phone has some things going for it. The oval form factor is somewhat awkward, but it's quite sturdy and a step above the dull plastic casing on the Firefly. The silver-and-black TicTalk is compact at 3.2 by 2.2 by 0.8 inches and lightweight at 2.9 ounces. Like the one on the Siemens CF62T, the TicTalk's antenna forms a loop on top of the phone, which you can use to clip the phone to a backpack, a belt loop, or the included lanyard. A small speaker on the upper-right corner sits just above the display. The monochrome screen is large for the phone's size (1.25 inches diagonally), and its large font is very legible. You can change the contrast, the brightness, and the clock style.
Controls on the Enfora TicTalk took some acclimation, not that they're hard to use. Rather, it's not immediately apparent what each control does. A lighted scrollwheel on the left spine lets you navigate through the bare-bones menus, select individual choices, control the volume, and place calls. Two buttons on the left side perform a variety of functions. Though it's not marked as such, the upper button powers the phone on and off, ends calls, and functions as a Back button. The lower button also works as a Back control but only in some menus. It also takes the phone to a power-saving screen from the main menu. To get out of this mode, however, you have to press the upper button--a confusing arrangement. Also, when turning the TicTalk on and off and ending a call, you must confirm your choice with the scrollwheel--an unnecessary step.
The Enfora TicTalk packs in a fair number of features for both parents and kids. On the parental side, moms and dads get extensive control over how the phone is used. The TicTalk Web site provides all the controls, which made for a much easier and quicker experience than with the Firefly, where we had to do everything on the tiny phone. First, you can program the TicTalk to receive and make calls to a limited set of phone numbers. It has room for 12 "anytime" numbers and 10 "reward" callers. While the former group has no restrictions, you can limit calls to the latter group to certain times of day or a certain number of minutes per day. You can also program an emergency number (such as 911) and indicate whether the user can call it.
Other parental controls include displaying the child's name on the screen, setting the time, putting the phone in a sleep mode where it can't be used, locking access to games and other features, and changing the calendar. Using the Web site, parents can also send one-way text messages to the phone (with multiple-choice answers) and items to the TicTalk's to-do list. Older kids won't enjoy the lack of two-way text messaging, so you may want to invest in a more teen-friendly cell phone instead.
The TicTalk provides a range of mostly educational features. Besides a stopwatch, a to-do list, a calendar, and a countdown timer, kids get four LeapFrog games: Monkey Spelling, Monkey Math, Fact Attack, and Hangman. Each game has a series of levels. To encourage, or maybe punish, their kid, parents can determine the difficulty level of each game and monitor progress. According to Enfora, more games should be available in the future. Kids can also download photos their parents have uploaded to the Web site, but the phone's monochrome display will limit their resolution. Kids can't download more ring tones beyond the four included ones (three are polyphonic), but they can record five of their own. Nevertheless, we'd prefer more personalization options.
We tested the dual-band (GSM 850/1900) Enfora TicTalk in San Francisco using Cingular's service. Call quality was unimpressive. We could hear conversations well enough, but voices sounded hollow, and we encountered static from other electronic equipment. The phone's oval shape also makes it uncomfortable to hold against your ear. On the plus side, the TicTalk uses a USB charging cable that you can plug into a computer. The TicTalk has a rated battery life of 8 hours talk time and a week of standby time, which we met in our tests.