capsule review

Pharos Traveler 127 (Unlocked)

At a Glance
  • Pharos Traveler 127

    PCWorld Rating

    The feature-packed Pharos Traveler 127 delivers solid GPS features, but has a counterintuitive user interface.

The Pharos Traveler 127 ($530, unlocked) Windows Mobile smart phone packs tons of features, including a highly capable GPS. Unfortunately, this handset lives up to the WinMo reputation of coupling a confusing interface with sluggish performance.

Windows Mobile smart phones tend to get a bad rap: The operating system can be difficult to navigate and is often quite counterintuitive. But many handset manufacturers, like HTC and Samsung, have taken these tendencies into account and come up with slick overlays to simplify the headache-inducing OS. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the Pharos Traveler 127 (siblings will include the 117 and the 137). And this is really too bad, because despite the baffling OS, the Traveler 127 has some really great features.

The Pharos Traveler 127 has 3.5G network support based on a tri-band UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA and quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE cellular modems. Since 3.5G network support is limited in the United States, we tested the Traveler 127 with AT&T's 3G network.

Physically, the Traveler 127 resembles an older-generation BlackBerry. It measures 4.6 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches and weighs 5.1 ounces, which makes it quite a bit heftier than phones with a similar form factor, like the BlackBerry Curve 8900. A crisp 2.5-inch QVGA touch screen takes up half of the phone's real estate and a full QWERTY keyboard resides below it. Four hardware buttons (Talk, a Windows Start key, End/Home, and OK) sit between the screen and the keyboard, along with a handy trackball.

The right spine of the phone has three buttons, two of which are unmarked: One launches the Ostia Smart Navigation software, which comes preloaded on the phone, while the other acts as an OK/Close key. The camera button, which is marked, has two functions: Press it once to launch Microsoft Live Search, and hold it to launch the camera. On the left spine sits a volume rocker and a video record button. A 2-megapixel camera resides on the back cover, while a low-resolution 0.3-megapixel camera is located on the front for video conferencing.

I found the combination of trackball, touch screen, and keyboard navigation to be incredibly useful for getting around the Pharos's tricky interface. In my hands-on tests, the touch screen was responsive; I also liked the addition of a stylus, since the display packs so much on screen that it's a bit cramped. The keyboard is spacious and comfortable to use, but the keys weren't very clicky or responsive to the touch, and it they felt cheap and wobbly as I typed. The handset also has a nonscreen touch keyboard (most usable with the stylus, not your fingers) and a numeric keypad.

The Today screen is the first screen you see when you turn on the device. Similar to the Samsung Omnia's widget-based Today screen, it displays a summary of relevant information, like the time, a calendar, messages, weather, and so on. You can customize what appears on the screen, but that requires going through a couple of different menus. Basically, it isn't nearly as simple as it should be--a common issue with Windows Mobile.

From the main Today screen, you can go to the MobileMenu, a screen that lists your apps as well as folders containing multimedia features, your contacts, and settings. The symbols are large, bright, and relatively easy to decipher even though they aren't labeled. But it definitely took some practice getting around inside the Windows Mobile operating system and remembering what features are located where.

The headline feature of the Pharos Traveler 127, of course, is its GPS capabilities and its preloaded Smart Navigator software. When I turned on GPS over AT&T's 3G network, Smart Navigator took a few minutes find my location on a map of San Francisco. From there, I could find routes based on certain specifications like fastest, shortest, or tailored for pedestrians--a very helpful feature. For example, I wanted to find a quick route from my apartment to a friend's, and since I was on my bike, I wanted to avoid the highway. Smart Navigator suggested a pretty good route, though it wasn't as direct as the route I would normally go.

Like all Windows Mobile devices, the Traveler 127 comes with Internet Explorer as well as the Microsoft Mobile Office suite. Using an AT&T Cingular SIM card, I found Internet browsing over both Wi-Fi and the 3G network to be speedy, and sites looked great on the phone's crisp 2.5-inch screen. The handset also comes with Windows Media Player, which has a customizable equalizer, the ability to create and edit playlists, and repeat and shuffle modes. Unfortunately, the phone lacks a standard 3.5mm headphone jack--which makes it kludgy to use the Pharos as media player.

The Traveler 127's call quality was decent. Voices sounded hollow, but always loud enough and clear. On a few calls, I heard a persistent hiss in the background. A few of my contacts said they could also hear a hiss, but they said it wasn't distracting. My contacts reported very little background noise, even when I was calling from a busy street corner.

Normally, I'd recommend spending some time with the user manual to fully get accustomed to a phone with so many features and functions. The Pharos Traveler 127's manual, however, is not very helpful. Many of the screenshots they use as examples don't match the actual user interface of the phone. In addition, my review unit lacked any documentation for the Smart Navigation software. I find this completely baffling, considering that GPS and the preloaded software are the headline features of this handset.

With so many GPS-enabled phones on the market, it is difficult to say whether it is worth dropping $530 on the Pharos Traveler 127. In its favor: The Pharos's Smart Navigator software is good and fairly accurate. But its interface is confusing, and the phone can be frustrating to use at times. I can only hope that the Pharos Traveler 137, a sleeker, more full-featured model coming later this year, will correct some of the Traveler 127's shortcomings.

--Ginny Mies

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The feature-packed Pharos Traveler 127 delivers solid GPS features, but has a counterintuitive user interface.

    Pros

    • Solid GPS capabilities
    • Responsive, crisp touch screen

    Cons

    • Confusing user interface
    • Handset’s build feels cheap
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