Toshiba Portege G900 review: PC in your pocket

GSMArena team, 14 November 2007.
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Keypad means business

The Toshiba G900 has a really great hardware QWERTY keyboard. Since the large display dictated the need of an ample body, the keyboard also takes advantage of this spaciousness. The result is large keys with enough headroom to make typing comfortable. The tactile feedback and responsiveness are first rate.

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The large QWERTY keyboard slides out to the left - this solution is really comfortable for right-handers as the navigation keys can be operated by the right-hand thumb

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Using the QWERTY keyboard is really comfortable

We were also delighted with the keyboard backlighting. The white color is great for working in the dark. The only problem we found with it is that the backlight time was really short. Of course, that's fixable through a simple registry tweak.

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The QWERTY keyboard is great with an even white backlighting - the green characters are a really nice touch (backlighting though goes away pretty quick)

The Toshiba G900 display is probably this PocketPC's highest advantage. The amazing 3" diagonal and the stunning WVGA (800 x 480) resolution are not a common feature in current PocketPCs with an integrated GSM phone. However, we found three usability downsides of the display that are worth noting - it is a real fingerprint magnet and it does perform really badly under direct sunlight. PocketPCs by HTC usually come with transreflective TFT displays that do way better in bright light, so we were rather turned down by this disadvantage. And finally, the last problem with it is that the high resolution makes the system font rather small and you really have to adjust it using software means.

There has been a lot of agitation in the mobile community over the 65K color (16-bit) TFT displays used in PocketPC, while some smartphones already pump up 65 million (24-bit) colors (you didn't hear us say Nokia, did you?). We've never found the regular PocketPC color palette inadequate, so we really think having 65K colors is just enough. There are some manufacturers such as HP and Giga-byte that are putting 256K color (18-bit) displays in their units but that's a mere marketing trick. The LCD panels they are using are indeed 256K color, but they do not use the full color potential and are instead displaying only 65K colors.

A simple test that you can do on your PC screen is just to open up a 24-bit photo and preview it with a 16-bit color depth setting. You won't see much difference, we assure you. The only visible difference will show up in 2 color gradients for example. Regular photos will look just as good at 16-bit color depth as they would at 24-bit one.

With the CPU being 32-bit, the most efficient way of drawing pixels is by filling them with either 16 or 32 bits of information, meaning that it's either 65K colors or 16M colors that's most effective for the CPU. However, at 32-bit setting having twice the bits means twice the work for the CPU and hence, video and gaming performance slows down. So, with mobile devices, it's essentially a balance between performance and visuals. It's just early for the ultra portable computing to take the step to 16M colors.

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The display is really great when there is no direct sunlight • the D-pad has white backlighting, which is not so even

Telephony

The Toshiba G900 performed great when used as a regular telephone. The Phone application is in charge of all call-related features. Beside the alphanumeric keys, there are also a Backspace key, a Speed Dial key, the Call History key and, finally, the Video call key - it's a rather standard configuration really. The thing we like most about Windows Mobile devices is that you hardly ever need to open your phonebook in order to dial a contact. You just open the Phone and use its built-in Smart Dial feature. As soon as you've punched a few digits, it automatically filters the available contacts by their numbers… and their names. It uses the letters assigned to each number key for that - but unlike a feature phone, it checks all the available combinations (much like T9 when writing). Smart dial even searches in your recent calls list.

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Smart dial searches within names and numbers • you can have the on-screen dial pad hidden • dialing Dexter

Windows Mobile goes 6.0

When we first saw the G900 back in February 2007 at the 3GSM World Congress it was a more than promising prototype - WM6 was just announced and developers hadn't been able to adjust it to the unusual resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. Now obviously the problem has been solved and the screen looks great. The user interface seems to be making good use of the screen real estate and the large resolution (unlike HTC Advantage X7500).

This latest version of Windows Mobile doesn't bring the groundbreaking changes it was believed to, back in the day. There are a lot of usability issues inherent to the operation system that still need addressing, but obviously we'll have to wait for 7.0 to do that one day.

The OS has been around enough for everyone interested in Pocket PC to have become familiar with it. To start with, all Windows Mobile devices are pretty much the same software-wise. Essentially, any PocketPC is just a software platform which you can expand according to your needs - there are so many applications out there and it's a growing business. So we acknowledge that any current PocketPC user would hardly need a review of the default Windows Mobile applications that come preinstalled with the device - they are always the same.

The Windows Mobile 6.0 doesn't bring the groundbreaking changes it was believed to, back in the day. There are a lot of usability issues inherent to the OS that still need addressing, but obviously we'll have to wait for 7.0 to do that one day.

Anyways, we'll still give you something on the software part - for people new to PocketPC, as well as for those interested in what they get straight out of the box when buying the Toshiba G900.

The first thing you'll notice when you power up the Toshiba G900 is the standard Windows Mobile Today screen. It shows info about the time and date, connectivity features, and pending messages, tasks and appointments. It's totally customizable - you can strip it bare or you can add new third-party plug-ins.

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The Windows Mobile Today screen

Now, for those of you that are not familiar with PocketPC, we should probably explain that those devices have no "main menu" the way feature phones or Symbian S60 devices do. Instead, here you have the Programs menu and the Settings menu - they are almost all you need to access the PocketPC features. They are both accessible through the Start menu which, unlike the one in the desktop Windows, is a user configurable list of shortcuts to some applications. Again, unlike the desktop Windows, the Today screen is not necessarily a place for your applications - instead you usually use the Start menu to access them.

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The Start menu • it takes scrolling to see all the entries in the Programs menu: at first it might be confusing to see all items without any thematic sorting, as on feature phones • the Settings menu is more organized

The Comm Manager (short for Communication Manager) is where you turn all the connectivity features on or off, such as Bluetooth, WLAN, Bluetooth, and Flight mode.

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The Windows Mobile Comm Manager

Windows Mobile 6.0 offers full multi-tasking to the extent that it makes it quite hard to shut down open applications. The OS is designed in such a way that it should remain fast and stable without having to close running applications. Those of you with longer experience with this OS however, will surely agree that it does not always work this way, especially in the case of particularly heavy applications when the available memory seems to drain rather fast. The Task manager for the currently running processes is hidden deep in the Settings menu, so you'd be better off installing a third-party application that allows quick access.

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The Running Programs list

Windows Mobile traditionally offers customization through themes but they only change the color scheme. You can of course change the wallpaper on the Home screen too, but that's pretty much all you get. In order to apply some more advanced customization, you would need a third party skinning application. Those kinds of applications however usually eat up your RAM.

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Playing around with themes doesn't really change the interface that much

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