Smart phones have come a long way in design. Nowadays, they come in all shapes and sizes--from the sleek to the small--and not just the bricklike variety. Yet there's one form factor that the phone manufacturers have yet to conquer--flip phones. The Cingular 3125 was a good effort, but its Trekkie look isn't for everyone. Enter the Verizon Wireless PN-820. It's certainly not sexy--some might call it dull even--but the design is practical and more important, functional. Plus, the Windows Mobile 5 smart phone packs in Bluetooth, EV-DO support, and good performance. Of course, we have our share of complaints. For example, we wish the PN-820 supported Verizon's V Cast services, and call quality was somewhat mixed. Also, the lack of a QWERTY keyboard doesn't make the device ideal for e-mail fanatics and power users. That said, for mobile professionals who want to be able to check their messages on the go, the PN-820 is a good choice. The Verizon Wireless PN-820 is available now for a reasonable $149.99 with a two-year contract.
Sexy, flashy, cutting-edge--these are all words we wouldn't use to describe the design of the Verizon Wireless PN-820, but we don't think this a bad thing. Unlike the futuristic Cingular 3125, which I still find completely odd-looking, the PN-820 looks like a run-of-the-mill flip phone. Yes, the black-and-silver color scheme is basic, but it's completely appropriate for the intended audience of mobile professionals. And sure, at 3.8x2.0x0.7 inches and 3.9 ounces, the PN-820 is on the bigger side (especially with its protruding external antenna) compared to today's lot of skinny cell phones; however, the larger size allows the PN-820 to have a spacious internal screen and keypad, which come in handy for the smart phone capabilities. In addition, it feels solid in the hand and comfortable to hold while on a phone call.
Finally, rounding out the PN-820's design elements, is a 2.5mm headset jack on top of the phone and a power-USB connector port on the bottom. Verizon packages the PN-820 with a travel charger, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, desktop software, and reference material.
The Verizon Wireless PN-820's feature set is on par with a lot of today's Windows Mobile smart phones, and we're glad to see the carrier has lightened up on some of its Bluetooth restrictions. First, the PN-820 runs Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone Edition rather than the latest Windows Mobile 6. As a result, you don't get the new Microsoft Office Mobile suite with native support for viewing and editing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files.
The PN-820 does synchronize with Microsoft Outlook, with its always-on e-mail delivery via Verizon Wireless Sync. In addition, there is an e-mail attachment viewer, but unfortunately, the PN-820 doesn't come preinstalled with the ClearVue Suite like the Cingular 3125. Aside from Outlook, you can configure the PN-820 to receive e-mails from your personal accounts (POP3 or IMAP4). As we noted in the Design section, the lack of a QWERTY keyboard makes the PN-820 better for viewing e-mails rather than sending them. Other messaging options include text, multimedia, and instant messaging.
As a Windows Mobile smart phone, you also get Internet Explorer Mobile and Windows Media Player 10 Mobile so you can enjoy your favorite MP3, WMA, AAC, and AMR-NB music files and MPEG-4, WMV, AVI, and H.263 videos. The phone has 128MB RAM and 64MB of flash memory with about 48MB of user-accessible storage and 15MB for running programs. For larger multimedia files, we suggest storing them on a miniSD card. The Verizon Wireless PN-820 includes other PIM tools, such as a calendar, a task manager, a calculator, a download agent, and a voice recorder.
Wireless options on the smart phone include integrated Bluetooth 1.2 and EV-DO support. One of our biggest gripes about Verizon has been its annoying habit of crippling the Bluetooth capabilities on its phones, but we're glad to see they've loosened their grip with the PN-820. The smart phone supports a number of profiles, including wireless headsets, hands-free kits, OBEX, A2DP for stereo Bluetooth headsets, and dial-up networking. The latter allows you to use the PN-820 as a tethered modem (via a USB cable) for your laptop, and with the EV-DO speeds, you'll be able to connect and browse the Web using the included USB cable, but you will need to sign up for Verizon Wireless's BroadbandAccess Connect service in order to do so. If you already have an unlimited data plan with qualifying voice plan, you can get unlimited BroadbandAccess Connect for $15 a month, otherwise, it will cost $30 a month.
Now, while the PN-920 lacks integrated Wi-Fi, it does work on the carrier's EV-DO network, you'll be able to connect and browse the Web at almost broadband-like speeds. Theoretically, data speeds can reach up to 2Mbps, but you'll probably experience more in the 400Kbps to 700Kbps range. We're all about the 3G capabilities, but we're completely disappointed that you can't take full advantage of them, since you can't access any of Verizon's V Cast services.
As far as voice features, the Verizon Wireless PN-820's phone book is limited only by the available memory. Each entry can hold up to 12 numbers, several e-mail addresses and IM handles, street addresses, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a contact a group ID, a photo, or one of 14 ringtones. Other phone features include speed dialing, voice dialing, and a speakerphone.
We tested the dual-mode Verizon Wireless PN-820 in San Francisco, and call quality was mixed. Our callers said we sounded loud and clear, but we had a hard time hearing them (their voices were muffled). Activating the speakerphone returned similar results. Our friends said audio quality diminished just slightly, but we had to constantly ask them to repeat themselves as the conversation sounded garbled. On the bright side, we had no problem pairing the PN-820 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset.
General performance was decent. There were times where there was a slight lag when launching apps such as the camera, but overall we enjoyed snappy response. The Web browsing experience was also good thanks to the EV-DO support, as pages loaded fairly quickly. Multimedia performance was what we expected from a smart phone, which is to say that listening to music was bearable through the included earbuds, but songs sounded tinny and weak through the phone's speakers. Video was surprisingly watchable on the PN-820 as the picture was clear and smooth and audio matched up with the video, but we couldn't imagine watching more than a couple minutes of footage on the small screen.
The Verizon Wireless PN-820 is rated for 3.3 hours of talk time and up to 6 days of standby time. In our tests, we were able to get 4.5 hours of talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the PN-820 has a digital SAR rating of 1.23 watts per kilogram.