Review of the VTech A700


The V-Tech A700 is the newest low-end phone offered by Fido. Most people are familiar with the name V-Tech from a line of consumer electronics products, including cordless phones. Unfortunately, V-Tech isnít exactly known for excellence, but you shouldnít let this taint you view of the A700.

Last Updated: 31-Mar-2003

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

General

The first thing that strikes you about the phone is its incredible lightness. The phone weighs a scant 2.4 ounces, and it almost feels like you are holding an empty shell. Part of the reason for the low weight is the use of a 540-mAh battery, but donít let that fool you into believing it has poor battery life. My tests of the phone revealed that it has very good battery life, both in standby and talk time. I got over 3 days of use from a single charge, and that included most of my testing.

The phone is physically well constructed, and arguably quite handsome. It has a nice feel in your hands, and the earpiece is reasonably comfortable for long conversations. Keypad feel is good, but it could be improved. However, for the price itís not really that great a hardship.

The ringer was unfortunately rather faint, which means that it is hard to hear in noisy environments. There are 15 different ringtones to choose from, but you cannot compose or upload your own. None of the ringers is especially inspiring.

The phone includes a vibrator alert, but it isnít much better than the ringer. The big problem is the relatively high frequency of the vibration, which makes it extremely difficult to feel unless you have the phone pressed against bare flesh.

Features

This is definitely a low-end phone, despite some surprising features that Iíll mention in a minute. What phone doesnít have is:

- GPRS (Packet Data)
- A WAP Browser
- An industry-standard 2.5 mm headset jack
- Voice Dialing
- Voice Recorder
- Multi-band capabilities

However, despite its lack of the above features, the A700 surprisingly includes the following:

- Calendar with Alarms
- Calculator
- Games
- Predictive Text Input
- User-Defined Function Shortcuts

I believe that the inclusion of the above features more than outweighs the loss of the other features. For the vast majority of users, especially Pre-Paid subscribers, this phone has most of the features that they will really use.

The screen is quite large, but the fonts are a bit weird. This is mostly because they try to cram more text on the screen than they really should. However, having said that, I should note that I had no trouble reading the screen, and on all but close examination, the characters look very much like Microsoftís Comic San Serif font (which isnít at all a bad thing).

Backlighting is excellent, and is provided by relatively bright orange LEDs. You can disable the backlighting to conserve battery power, and switching the lights on and off can be assigned to a single numeric key using the User-Defined Function Shortcuts.

Menu navigation is provided by a four-way nipple, which also acts as a selection key when it is pressed straight down. I didnít like the feel of the nipple at first, especially because of its rounded top that felt as though my finger would slip right off. However, after playing with it extensively, I found that it worked much better than I thought.

The User-Defined Function Shortcuts were a great feature to see included in such a low-end phone. You can assign one of 15 major functions to keys 2 through 9. By pressing and holding the key, you gain immediate access to the function. I didnít find this as flexible as Motorolaís recent implementation of the idea, but it was way better than what you get with most phones, which is usually nothing at all.

Phonebook functionality is very rudimentary. You are limited to storage on the SIM card only, and phonebook entries hold just a name and a phone number. Itís just as well Fido is now selling SIMs that allow 250 phonebook entries, otherwise the A700 would have been rather limited. As noted, you cannot voice dial those entries, but standard first-letter searches are easily performed.

SMS capabilities were surprisingly good for such a phone. While it didnít have any advanced features, such as user-defined folders, it did do some things rather well. For example, when an SMS arrives the phone displays the first two lines of the message directly on the screen. Virtually all other phones just say ďMessage ReceivedĒ, and require that you press buttons to see them.

For message sending, the phone includes Predictive Text Input with a user dictionary. The system is not T9, and V-Tech doesnít actually call it by any trade name. I would assume that it is a proprietary implementation. Itís actually quite good, and it includes one feature Iíve not yet seen. When spelling words, the closest match (no matter how long) is displayed. You can select that word at any time.

For instance, if I type 2667, I see the word CONSCIOUS appears on the upper part of the display, but only first 4 letters are highlighted. I can choose that word right away, I can scroll though all the words matching those first four keystrokes, or I can continue entering letters.

Unfortunately, it does not support contractions (like donít or isnít). Although it appeared as though I could add a contraction to the user-dictionary, I couldnít figure out how to access that word. Pressing the 1 key (where the apostrophe is located in normal multi-press entry mode) always terminates the word in Predictive Text Input mode.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

Weíve discussed the features enough, now letís now talk about how this phone stacks up in the areas that count: RF Performance and Audio Quality. RF performance is actually not bad. It doesnít match the stellar performance of a phone such as the Motorola P280, or many of the recent Nokia, but it blows away the Mitsubishi G310, which it essentially replaces in Fidoís lineup. In fact, it works better than most Ericsson phones Iíve tested over the last year or two.

Not only is the RF sensitivity quite good, it also has very good handoff performance. Handoffs are reasonably subdued, and they donít seem to occur at a very high rate (as it the big problem with my old G310). Overall handling of real-life signal conditions was excellent.

The only fly in the ointment is the amount of time it takes to find service, especially right after you turn it on. Iím not sure what the phone is actually doing during this time, but it is far and away the slowest phone for finding a signal that Iíve ever encountered. Once it gets the signal however, it holds onto it well.

Finally we get to audio quality, and in this respect the phone is a bit disappointing. Volume isnít the problem, since the earpiece is actually quite loud. However, to achieve the full volume you must first find the ďsweet spotĒ on the earpiece, and that location is very small. This means that until you get used to it, you might actually find the phone a little faint. Try moving the earpiece around until it gets the loudest.

The big problem is the tonal balance, which is rather hollow sounding. It reminded me very much of the sound quality I get with the Nokia 7190. Outgoing audio isnít much better, but I would characterize it as being a little tinny. Oddly however, I found that I could adapt to the sound somewhat, and so I believe that most people will find the audio more than acceptable. Remember, Iím spoiled daily by the stellar sound of the Motorola P280 (and later the Nokia 6310i) and so my ability to accept the sound of the A700 is a testament to the audioís cleanness, even if it doesnít sound super-great.

The A700 looks like a great phone for low-end users, especially those getting into pre-paid. It costs very little, has many useful features, good RF performance, and okay sound quality. While I couldnít see myself using it personally, I found that using it during the test period wasnít such a bad experience. Iíve certainly come away with much lower opinions of seriously more expensive GSM hardware.

Other Reviews of the VTech A700

Howard Chui

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