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The little Cricket TXTM8 ($140 with a pay-as-you go plan with Cricket Wireless; as of 9/26/09) is ideal as a tween's first cell phone or for somebody looking for an inexpensive messaging phone. The sturdy slider phone has a handful of multimedia features and a decent camera, but the user interface is a little clunky.
The TXTM8 has a sturdy, compact design that looks a bit like a make-up compact: somewhat chunky (measuring 3.8 inches long by 2.6 inches wide by 0.7 inches thick), but still completely pocketable. The face of the phone is divided between a 2.2-inch display and an array of navigational buttons. A circular four-way directional pad sits in the middle with an OK button in its center. People with large fingers may have difficulty using the d-pad, however, as it is fairly small. Surrounding the d-pad are two soft keys, a dedicated speakerphone key, a Clear key (for deleting text you type), and the Talk and End/Power key.
Sliding the phone up vertically reveals a full QWERTY keyboard. For its smallish size, the TXTM8's keyboard has a number of extra keys, including a shortcut key for messaging, a key to toggle between numbers and letters, a caps key, and a symbol key. Although the keys are small, they're easy to press and I could type pretty comfortably. One strange design choice: The raised, slim bar that runs down the middle of the keyboard. I don't really know what purpose it serves and although it didn't affect my messaging, I could see it bothering other users.
The homescreen displays your wallpaper (which can be customized) and a handful of widgets running along the side of it. When you select a widget, a box pops up in the main area of the screen displaying its content. For example, if you select the news widget, it will show the top headlines of the day along with a small, related image. The TXTM8 includes widgets for weather, the Cricket store, daily horoscope, sports scores, and a shortcut to your Cricket account. You have room for up to ten widgets, and you can rotate them by adding different widgets from Cricket's catalog.
The live widget-based interface gives the TXTM8 the sophisticated feeling of a smartphone, and the ability to customize your widgets is a nice touch. The 2.2-inch display is adequate for viewing text messages, but the low resolution (220-by-176 pixels) and dull icons are an eyesore. The blocky text is also a bit difficult to read. The icons on the Menu screen are a little better, as they are sharper and bigger.
The music player was adequate, but definitely won't hold as your main device for music. You get the standard playback controls (play/pause, skip) and can set your music to repeat, shuffle, and mute modes. The player doesn't support album art, but a pretty visualization shows up when you play music. No data cable is included, so you can load music only via a microSD card (the TXTM8 supports just 4GB). Unfortunately, the TXTM8 has a 2.5-mm headphone jack, not the standard 3.5-mm, so you probably won't be able to use your own headphones. The TXTM8 does not support video playback.
Snapshots taken with the TXTM8's 1.3-megapixel camera looked better than expected; though the images were a bit blurry, colors were accurate, and I didn't detect any graininess. You get a few advanced features, too: You can choose from four resolutions, three quality settings, and five white-balance settings, and you can use controls for brightness and a self-timer.
The Cricket also comes with voice command, support for e-mail, assisted GPS, and stereo Bluetooth. Its mobile browser is a bit slow, but okay for limited use.
The Cricket TXTM8 might not have much in the way of multimedia features, but for those looking for an inexpensive, prepaid messaging phone, it is a good choice. If you're looking for something a little more advanced on the Cricket network, you might want to check out the Motorola Evoke Q4A, a slick touchscreen device with a bevy of multimedia features.
The compact Cricket TXTM8 may be light on features, but as a messaging phone, it gets the job done.
- Good QWERTY keyboard
- Pocketable, compact shape
- No video playback
- Low-res display
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