The Motorola Hint QA30 ($249.99 direct) is an unusual-looking texting phone for MetroPCS, Cricket, and Alltel. (I tested the MetroPCS version.) It's got some real pluses, such as threaded text messaging and good media players, but its troublesome phone performance leads me to caution you if you want to use this for heavy calling.
The Hint is odd-looking, but not hideous. Closed, the 4.2-ounce phone is very rectangular, measuring 3.2 by 2.4 by 0.7 inches (HWD). It has a 2.5-inch, 320-by-240-pixel screen, a big cursor pad, and several buttons on the front, including a dedicated music button. Slide the screen up to reveal a small QWERTY keypad with extremely pointy keys, like little mountains—designed to help you type in view of the keyboard's reduced size. There are dedicated messaging, speakerphone, camera, and WAP-browser buttons along the bottom.
This isn't an outstanding voice phone. Its reception isn't quite as good as that on the Samsung Finesse. The earpiece gets quite loud, and there's plenty of side tone (the sound of your own voice piped into the earpiece, which many people like). But transmissions, especially from noisy areas, sounded indistinct and occasionally staticky; the speakerphone has the same problem. One big advantage is that you can send MP3s to your phone via Bluetooth from a PC or Mac and then use them as ringtones, which saves you money. The ringer is loud enough for most situations, and the vibrating alert is both noisy and vibrant. Battery life, at 3 hours 49 minutes, is a bit short.
I tested two Hint units and experienced some serious problems connecting with Bluetooth headsets on both. Both units succeeded in making calls using the Motorola H700 mono and the Plantronics Pulsar 590A stereo headsets, but both failed through the Plantronics Voyager 520, the Plantronics Voyager Pro, the Iqua 603 SUN, and the Altec Lansing Backbeat 503 headsets. If you intend to use a headset, be sure to try it with the Hint in the store before buying it.
The Hint is the best texting phone we've yet seen on MetroPCS. The innovation here is threaded text messaging: It groups your messages into "conversations" so you can see all the chatter you've had with a specific person—this is ideal for heavy texters. The Hint also has an IM program that supports AIM and Windows Live Messenger.
For e-mail, the Hint uses MetroPCS's standard Mail@Metro application. This app is much easier to set up here than it is on the Samsung Finesse—it's designed to be used on a phone with a keyboard—but it supports a very short list of ISPs (plus generic POP/IMAP e-mail). I got it working with a Gmail account and was able to view messages in a simple, text-only format without attachments.
There's no real Web browser on the Hint, just Openwave's WAP browser, which can load a limited set of mobile-formatted Web pages. WAP pages, which load slowly, were hard to read because of a very condensed, poorly designed text font. Although the Hint is a 3G phone, MetroPCS has a 3G network in only two cities, Dallas and Detroit. (If you're getting your Hint from Cricket, by the way, it will work at 3G speeds in most Cricket cities. Cricket uses the same WAP browser and text-messaging software but has its own e-mail app, which we haven't tested.)
MetroPCS somewhat compensates for the lousy browser by including a bunch of fun Internet-based applications. Handmark Pocket Express gives you news stories, weather, stocks, and movie showtimes in a relatively efficient, easy-to-use way. Loopt helps you track your friends via GPS location. And the MetroNavigator GPS navigation software properly generated maps and driving directions.
The Hint makes a pretty good media player. You remove the back cover to pop in a microSD card up to 16GB in capacity (I had no problems with my 16GB SanDisk Mobile Ultra card). The Hint comes with a 256MB card preloaded with three Wyclef Jean songs. The phone doesn't play AAC files—so, nothing from iTunes—but MP3 and WMA files played fine. You can navigate by artist, title, and the usual criteria, but you can't easily transfer playlist data from your PC. Video playback was especially good: MPEG-4 videos at 320-by-240 resolution looked fine, and the phone plays 3GP and WMV videos, too. The 3.5mm headphone jack lets you use any standard pair of wired headphones.
The phone's 2-megapixel camera takes rather soft photos, with some blurring in low light and hypersaturated colors in daylight—it's not the best we've seen. The video mode records somewhat jerky 320-by-240-pixel videos at 12 frames per second. You can store your photos on a memory card or in the phone's 154MB of free RAM.
The Motorola Hint QA30 is just the ticket for messaging fiends who want to take advantage of MetroPCS's unlimited plans, and the strong MP3 and video playback features are nice bonuses. But since the Hint isn't a great voice phone, it's more for folks who text more than they talk. If you're looking for an all-around MetroPCS phone with a keyboard, there is the Samsung Messager SCH-R450, which has much better voice performance but lack the Hint's threaded SMS application and video player.
Benchmark Test Results
Continuous talk time: 3 hours 49 minutes
Almost 40% of the UK will have access to speeds up to 40Mbps by 2012
The UK government has signalled its commitment to ensuring everyone in the country has access to broadband speeds of two megabit per second by 2012.
Earlier this year Lord Carter set out his interim recommendations for Digital Britain, in which he proposed a Universal Service for broadband.
He recommended a minimum of 2Mbps, which the government has now backed.
The Treasury said the cost would be met in part by underspend from the BBC's promotion of Digital TV switchover.
The government's backing of 2Mbps was contained in the Budget Report.
Speaking to MPs at the House of Commons, the chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling said: "It is vital to ensure the entire country and economy benefits from the digital age.
"So I am allocating extra funding for digital investment, to help to extend the broadband network to almost every community."
2Mbps - will that be enough to count as broadband by 2012 when around half the country will have access to 40Mbps or more?
Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC Technology correspondent
Read more on the Dot.Life blog
That speed would "allow virtually everyone to experience the benefits of broadband, including the increasing delivery of public services online".
It added: "It will also offer advantages to UK businesses, both those located in areas that will benefit from the network upgrade and those that make use of online channels to engage with their customers."
The government said Universal Service would be complemented with "further support to improve basic digital skills and promote broadband take-up".
The Budget report said the cost of Universal Service could be met in part by the Digital Switchover underspend.
The National Audit Office has calculated that as much as £250 million of a larger £803 million might not be spent.
The government said it would be discussing with the BBC Trust on the best use of this money.
In a statement the BBC Trust appeared to broadly welcome the move.
Complete Budget report [2.59MB]
Most computers will open this document automatically, but you may need Adobe Reader
Download the reader here
What the Budget means for you
Budget measures for business
It said: "The BBC Trust can accept the prospective value of universal broadband access and take up, consistent with the public purpose of helping deliver the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services to the public."
The government said other costs associated with widening access to broadband could be met as per Lord Carter's recommendations.
They were that the cost be spread between "communication providers, and those who provide communication services over the network", namely the owners of the networks and the Internet Service Providers.
The Digital Britain report also said the consumer would have to contribute to access "beyond a certain point".
It is not yet clear how the Universal Service will be delivered technically - either through fixed line, satellite or wireless broadband access.
The government said the details of how Universal Service is rolled out will be contained in the final Digital Britain report, due in the Summer.
In a statement, a BT spokesperson said: "We are looking at the details of the announcements made by the chancellor today.
"Significant investment will be required to keep the UK ahead of the game in communications sector and BT is already playing its part. Today's announcement sounds encouraging and we look forward to receiving further details."
If you believe rumors and industry analysts, Apple is getting ready to bring some big products to market.
First and foremost, the company is likely to launch a tablet that's similar to the iPod Touch, but larger, in the first half of 2010, marking the company's entry into the Netbook race, according to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. In a research note, Munster handicaps the gaps in Apple's product lineup. The gaping hole: there's nothing between the iPod Touch and the MacBook. Enter this iPod Touch on steroids for $500 to $700.
Apple's game plan will revolve around its multitouch patents to cook up something different from your generic Netbook. Munster's theory makes a lot of sense. A Netbook would tarnish the Mac's average selling price and potentially cheapen the Apple brand. A tablet wouldn't. Double bonus: a Mac tablet would compete with Amazon.com's Kindle e-book reader.
Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook called Netbooks junky, but he never dismissed the consumer demand for them.
We can also expect the next version of the iPhone on July 17, according to AppleiPhoneApps.com, which cited a source who is "closely connected to Apple's hardware development team." The Web site posted some details on just what the third-generation iPhone will offer.
Meanwhile, as part of the ramp-up toward releasing this software to the public, Apple began running a stress test of push notifications--the hallmark feature of the new operating system. This system sends notifications to your phone whenever there's an update from an application, even when it's not running.
The newest data from Gartner shows that Apple's share of worldwide smartphone sales grew from 5.3 percent in the first quarter of 2008 to 10.8 percent in the first quarter of 2009. In terms of unit sales, Apple jumped from 1.7 million in the first quarter of 2008 to 3.9 million during the same period in 2009.
While the quarter's iPhone adoption metrics may be impressive, Apple wasn't the only smartphone maker with big gains. Research In Motion saw its BlackBerry market share rise from 13.3 percent in first quarter of 2008 to 19.9 percent in 2009. The company's unit sales grew from 4.3 million to 7.2 million over the same period.