Vodafone has recently announced a pocket friendly mobile phone – 555 Blue, with social network Facebook integrated to its core. Targeted at the Facebook loving youth, the new Vodafone 555 Blue is more of an entry level feature phone that tries to offer anytime Facebook access.
India has over 25 million Facebook users and Vodafone aims to tap the consumers of this segment with this new phone which features a dedicated Facebook button on its Qwerty keypad.
Vodafone 555 Blue handset is meant for the Facebook fanatics who are not much demanding about other features in a phone but always wish to stay connected with their friends, colleagues, or contacts on Facebook.
Along with handset, Vodafone offers free Facebook access for a year as an exclusive offer with that handset only for Vodafone subscribers.
Notably, INQ and HTC had also launched such Facebook integrated mobile phones some time back.
Design and Hardware
Vodafone 555 Blue comes in a nice white background package that includes the handset, earphones, charging adapter, warranty card and getting started manual.
In terms of physical appearance, the Blue might get you confused with HTC ChaCha initially. However, the Blue has a dedicated Facebook key accommodated within the full Qwerty keypad. The handset does not have any sharp edges anywhere on its body. Over all, the physical presentation of the device is good and carries a premium-like finish at the face value.
Vodafone 555 Blue has been manufactured by TCL and carries a proprietary operating system based on Java platform. The handset features a 2.4 inch TFT LCD display that supports QVGA 320×240 pixel resolution and offers 252k colours, which is enough for an entry level non-touchscreen handset.
The handset carries silver colour on its front panel and has white matte finish at the back panel with a metallic logo of Vodafone stuck right in the centre. Volume rocker buttons lie on the left side of the handset and comes with a micro USB port on the right side for charging and data transfer.
In the front, the full Qwerty keypad rests with three gaps between four rows of square buttons. The keypad has a large spacebar and also accommodates the Facebook key in the same row. This Facebook key can be programmed to quickly access the different Facebook features with single press. Apart from that, there’s a dedicated key for camera on the keyboard.
Numbers are printed on the keypad with blue icons on the silver keys. Grip of the keypad feels good enough to try it out at least and the keys give sort of mechanical feedback. These aren’t the soft keys but more like the mechanical keys. The handset features a call and end key with two soft keys and an optical directional trackpad in the middle. The micro SD card slot is located under the back panel cover and the slot can support up to 16 GB memory card.
At the back, the phone has a 2 megapixel camera with LED flash and a speaker grill. In terms of physical appearance and design, the Blue has been smartly crafted and is quite a ‘looker’ for an entry level device.
Facebook all the way
Vodafone engineers have closely worked on the deeper integration of the Facebook. Featuring a proprietary Java based operating system, Facebook has been so deeply integrated that one would feel that it is Facebook OS for real. That is not the case here. One can download and install Java (J2ME) based apps and games on the handset.
Facebook has become part of life for many folks in India, so why just put it only on teenagers. To be honest, it is the youth that has been hooked more than ever to the Facebook than people from other ages.
Under the 12 mm thin chassis, Vodafone Blue houses the MTK6235 processor chip clocked at 200 Mhz which certainly makes the phone bit slow and sluggish if compared to other smartphones. On booting up the phone, you’ll be greeted with Facebook login screen where you can enter your login credentials instantly. Else you can use the soft keys to add those details later.
Native home screen interface is like a Facebook app with wallpaper in background. The big ‘F’ icon along with a text box, which states — what’s on your mind, will let you instantly type and share an update over Facebook. The icons on the bottom task bar are generous mix of basic telephony icons (SMS, Calls, Phonebook) and Facebook feature icons (News, Profile and Events). The optical track pad is to be used to scroll between the shortcut icons on this toolbar where one can also add custom shortcut icons.
All new notifications will indicated with the neon-blue light blinking on the top bezel. When the lockscreen is active those notifications show up with relevant text pop-up. At the home screen, there’s one icon with user’s Facebook image thumbnail as the icon which is basically user’s one click access to the notifications, wall posts, groups and of course, your Likes as well as Interests.
Only when you navigate further into the menu, you’ll observe that all icons have been given the more of a Facebook treatment.
Contacts menu is one place where Blue shows it true worth. The Contacts menu integrates and pairs the SIM/Phonebook contacts with the Facebook friends. This pairing works wonderful as the user can browse through any contact, type a message and then choose whether to send it as an SMS or a Facebook message. Do note that network operator will charge you respective tariff for sending SMS while sending the Facebook Message would be almost free.
Meanwhile the Photos feature does bit of a surprising job. It downloads and caches the thumbnail of your different Facebook albums but the thumbnails of the images are not cached and shown. This means you will have to manually download the respective images; the only hope in this regard is a future software update that might help fix the issue.
It would have been great if on-demand Facebook data update timing was customisable manually instead of choosing between automatic and on-demand options. Data usage conscious folks can select the items to be synced from Facebook in order to save some data usage.
Multimedia and others
Though the proprietary operating system is based on Java platform, one can download all the Java based applications as well as games to run on this handset. So all those 320×240 display resolution supporting Java games can be loaded on this handset. Unfortunately, the handset comes with mere 40 MB internal memory out of which an 11.4 MB screensaver eats up majority of the space. If you delete the screensaver, then the lockscreen continuously shows “Failed” warning. There’s no option to disable the screensaver. So that’s one bug you will have to live with or just do a Factory Reset.
Sound quality of the phone is decent and not that loud like the other entry level devices which is basically off-putting. The basic native music player supports MP3, WMA, MIDI, AAC, AAC+ and AAC+Enhanced. For video playback, the phone supports MPEG4 and H.263 format.
The 2 megapixel camera at the back is not good enough if you are looking for great quality photos. Be ready for some blurry images while you are at a party or social function. However, the beauty the camera application is that you can upload that image directly to Facebook while it is fresh or share it via Bluetooth with your friends or anyone else.
Vodafone 555 Blue comes pre-loaded with Palringo App that allows multiple account login for chat. Besides that, there’s also a Java-based Facebook Chat client that lets one chat with Facebook friends. There are separate applications for Tasks and Notes so one doesn’t mix them up. The Calendar app syncs the birthdays of your Facebook friends and marks the date with red colour in the top right corner of the respective date. However, you will have to manually set the alarm/reminder for birthdays.
The manufacturers along with Vodafone should really work on providing at least Hindi language support if not other regional languages. Apart from that there is something we really found missing which is crucial was a GPS presence. Not only the users, but even the guardians or parents could use it to locate the users in case of emergency.
Vodafone 555 Blue supports 2.5G networks and EDGE in dual-band, so forget the speedy downloads or web browsing experience. Packing a 1000 mAh battery made by Alcatel, the Vodafone 555 Blue promises three hours of talk time which could’ve been better if bumped up to 5-6 hours.
However, if there is no heavy usage like calling, texting and Facebook usage, then the battery would actually last longer. Also setting the Facebook updates to manual would help.
Battery life can be a bit of bag of hurt for Vodafone and one might worry about it while going on a weekend trips or long drives. Developers should pay attention to the same and roll out specific updates if anything can be done on software part. However, if it is not broken, then one should not try to fix it.
Colloquially referred as the Facebook phone, the Vodafone 555 Blue is more of a feature phone. Available at a price of Rs 4,950, the users can make the best of it by taking the exclusive offer — free Facebook browsing for one year with it. Existing Vodafone users will have to contact the Vodafone Gallery for more details and procedure.
Vodafone 555 Blue is meant for the teenagers and youth who possible would be having their first phone. Clearly, the phone is targeted at the youths and would be available for those itchy fingers that solely need it for accessing Facebook. In terms of pricing, Vodafone has certainly hit a sweet spot if bundled with full year free-Facebook access offer. Do note that the phone is unlocked and can be used with any other GSM network operator.
If there is a successor of this handset in works at all, then the network operators and handset makers should seriously include a good operating system like Symbian Series 40, GPS, WiFi and 3G network support. At the launch, Vodafone clearly mentioned that they are not into handset business and this was one of its kind user experience attempt.