This Excalibur 3G Android Phone is the first higher-end, unbranded Android phone we’ve managed to get our greasy little paws on. It’s fully-featured too with a 3.2″ resistive touchscreen, GPS, camera, rotatable screen, trackball, stereo bluetooth and a pair of batteries so it should keep you out of trouble. Turns out it’s a pretty darn good phone at a good price too. If you like just jump to the end and check out the hands-on video and conclusion.
Out of the Box
The Excalibur case is plastic, with a black battery cover and silver trim. The back is shiny and collects fingerprints easily but it’s easy to hold and feels secure when picked up. At no time did I feel it would slip out of my hands. It’s a smidge narrower than an iPhone but about the same length.
The case is thin and squeaks slightly when pressed, and the back cover is quite thin and flexes very easily. There is a deep ridge around the camera and flash which prevents fingers from smearing the lens which is a nice touch.
It has the two usual physical call buttons, a physical trackball that feels and works exactly like the previous generation Apple Mouse and the four 4 Android keys (menu, home, search and back). These four keys aren’t physical, they seem to respond to pressure or touch, but they don’t move. Scattered around the edge is a power button, camera shutter button, volume control and a 3.5mm headphone socket on the top.
Straight out of the box, the phone comes with a 3.5mm stereo headset, a pair of 1100mAh batteries, microUSB wire for charging and a mains adapter. The phone is running Android 1.6 firmware with a different skin but everything is where it should be, it’s just a little more colourful. To access the SIM and the included 2GB microSD card you have to pop off the battery cover.
The 3.2″ touchscreen runs at 480 x 320 and is very bright, and tack-sharp. I happily left it at around 50% brightness all the time. In full sun, I dialled it up to about 75%. Colour rendition seemed ok, but there was quite a bit of banding in the blacks, and they weren’t as inky as on an iPhone. The touchscreen is resistive, but still quite usable (see hands on at the end). Clicking on links in the web browser was fine, with just the odd mis-click. For fine-detailed web-work switching to the trackball helped. Sure it’s not as accurate as a capacitive screen, but the frustration factor was small. There are the usual five home screens and as a nice touch, there are also pips along the bottom, ala the iPhone, to show you which screen you’re on. Everything looks fantastic and crisp, especially the music player.
One odd thing was typing in portrait mode seemed to be more accurate than typing in landscape mode even though the onscreen keys were bigger. Letters Q, A and Z near the edges of the screen were sometimes problematic in either orientation. Having the Android predictive text option switched on by default also helped greatly.
There are a few apps already built-in, but incredibly there is no access to Android Marketplace. The retailer tells me that this is an oversight by the manufacturer and it’s coming, along with firmware updates to Android v2.1. I’ll keep you posted on this. Instead I downloaded a few apps from the AndAppStore and everything seemed to work perfectly.
Onboard is b/g wifi, 3.5G HSDPA and Bluetooth 2.1. Wifi sensitivity is very good. I could surf sitting in a car 30 metres from our router, through the brick walls of the house. The phone happily switched from 3G to wifi whenever a hotspot was available and downloads speeds on wifi were fast. I pulled down 56MB of maps for an app in less than 3 minutes. No complaints at all.
The Bluetooth had an interesting quirk. The stereo A2DP worked very well, and even responded to media controls from my Blueant X5 and Plantronics 590 headsets, however when I used it at work, surrounded by people who leave the Bluetooth on their PCs/PDAs and phones discoverable, the Bluetooth playback started to stutter. About every 30 to 60 seconds the sound would drop for a split second. Using the A2DP away from other Bluetooth devices seemed to fix the problem. It paired with anything I threw at it, including stereo headsets, car handsfree units and earpieces.
The camera can shoot video or stills. The still camera is 2 megapixel, but if you wish the software can interpolate it up to 5Mp. It also has a single LED flash. The dedicated camera button on the phone is quite stiff, but you can use the onscreen button in the camera app. The phone will also geotag your photos if you wish. Here are some example photos taken at 2Mp and 5Mp (interpolated), as well as the scene as my Nikon saw it. Click on any of these to enlarge them.
The colours are very saturated, but nothing that can’t be fixed quite easily. For taking stills, the stiff shutter button meant I ended up with a few blurry photos. Using the on-screen button fixed it though. The flash is terrible, but the camera seems to know this and didn’t use it. I had to switch it on manually most of the time but without it, it seemed to handle low-light scenes quite well producing accurate colours and lowish noise, if you could hold it still enough. There is another cool function, when you’re taking a photo you can use the trackball to adjust the exposure compensation and tweak your pics before you take them, which is really quite handy. The photos on the end were taken under CFL lights, the middle photo with the flash. Click on any of these to enlarge them.
The video can record from 176×144 up to 640×480, creating 3gp files using either the H.263 or mp4 codecs. The video is quite grainy even at low resolution and switching codecs didn’t seem to do much picture-wise. A lot of the artifacts disappear in low light videos.