Review: Pharos Traveler 137

ph1Short Version: Time to follow up on John’s brief hands-on with the Pharos from back in June. If you like a Windows Mobile handset, and want outstanding GPS functionality, the Pharos Traveler is an excellent choice. It’s not without it’s issues however.

Pharos has been around for many, many years. In fact, I used to have a Pharos GPS for my Pocket PC. I’d plug it in to my PDA, toss the puck into the back seat, and then go on my way. So when I was offered the chance to see their mobile phone device, I jumped at it. I came to realize that I’m actually not a huge fan of the “WinMo” interface anymore; it feels clunky and outdated to me compared to the new Blackberry devices. The good news is that Pharos uses a modified version of the Spb Shell in order to provide a more customized look and feel. And honestly, except for those rare occasions when I did reach the underlying WinMo interface, it works.

The display is a massive 3.5 inch 800 x 480 pixel touchscreen, which you can navigate with either your finger or the included stylus. I didn’t use the stylus unless I was texting, or composing email. Like most WinMo devices, the keyboard is a little small to type on if you have large fingers. In general though, the design is sleek, and well thought out. Pharos has included a trackball and four application buttons, which helps.
Battery life, as I mentioned before, is an issue. Initially, I had both the Bluetooth and wi-fi turned on. This ended up being a problem. First off, I left the phone sitting on my desk, and after 6 hours of just sitting, the battery was dead. In addition to the battery issue, when I went anywhere with the wi-fi on, the phone kept asking if I wanted to connect to various access points as I traveled around town. This was incredibly annoying, needless to say. However, after shutting off the wi-fi and Bluetooth, the battery life improved significantly. I was able to get about 12 hours of almost constant texting and web browsing, which is quite reasonable considering the large display and many capabilities of the phone.

The GPS quality was somewhat disappointing. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the handheld and car units that I have, but it took what seemed to be an unreasonably large amount of time to lock on (about 15 seconds). And this was outdoors, in the desert! No trees or large buildings to get in the way out where I am. Since Pharos is originally a GPS company, this was very disappointing.ph3

Despite the issues, the Pharos does have a very nice feel to it. The interface swaps between the screens smoothly, and applications feel responsive and quick. The trackball moves fairly smoothly, and works as a directional pad if needed by the applications. The phone has a nice weight, and the slightly thick profile gives it a good feeling when you are gripping it.

Pharos is selling this as an unlocked unit, without any help from a carrier, so you won’t have to renew your contract. The bad news however, is that you’ll have to pay the full price $599.99 (or less if you shop around) for it. It is a 3G phone, and fully compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile.

If I’ve given you the impression that the Pharos is a bad phone, let me say that it’s not. It just has a few issues that I have trouble getting past. It is a stellar PDA, the interface is slick, and user friendly. After the GPS does connect, it does stay connected, I just think it’s a little slow getting locked in. The screen is large, sharp and useful, but the WinMo interface and the resistive touchscreen are just a little too 1990’s for my taste, and it’s hard to justify the high price when other smartphones are available for much less.