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Review: Panasonic GD88 Tri-Band Camera Phone

Being a Canadian gear freak at Christmas time can get frustrating. Seeing all the latest portable gear from around the world, and much of it, if not all is either not available to us yet, or may never be. I plan to take a look at the latest cutting edge phones that Rogers has to offer this holiday season. The Panasonic GD88 was unveiled in Japan back in April 2002, finally it is here. Also known as the GU87 from AT&T in USA, and as the GD87e from Orange in Europe.

The 97.5 mm x 49 mm x 23 mm 103g Panasonic GD88 was the very first Rogers phone with an integrated camera and I have been dieing for one of these for about 2 years. Why us Rogers users had to wait so long I will never know. When camera phones started to turning up everywhere in the USA early this year I was jumping for joy. Remember the ads? Remember the picture of Siegfried and Roy at the corner store? The idea to just snap a shot anywhere and send it to someone instantly was just amazing to me. Now that I have it, is it really that cool?

The GD88 in a nutshell: Polyphonic downloadable ring tones, built in camera, dual LCD, IR, 1MB file storage, voice memo, 64K brilliant colour screen, speakerphone, calculator, date book & phonebook SMS, MMS, and WAP browser.

What’s it like to use the GD88? I’ve been using this phone for about a week and although I have my caveats, it’s definitely a new dimension in personal communications. First up, I had to get it running. Unfortunately, it’s not ready to send pictures and e-mail right out of the box. Rogers includes a flyer telling you as much and asking you to call in. So I did, then spent about 20 minutes with tech support going through my settings. After an initial test shot to make sure it was functioning, I was good to go.

Tell me, what do you do with a 132 x 176 pixel camera everywhere you go? Well, you snap pictures of just about everything. Gift ideas, broken car parts, hi-honey-please-tell-me-which-one-these-10-bags-of-flour-is “the one”, you get the idea. The phone only requires 2 clicks to get to picture mode but remember to keep a steady hand if you want to avoid blur. The unit held 28 photos in JPEG fine (best) mode so don’t go hog wild. Although the screen doubles as a view finder in camera mode, you can also take self portraits with the flip closed but using the small mirror placed below the lens to orient yourself. With the flip open, you also get to enjoy the kick butt colour screen and use the pictures you’ve taken as wallpaper.

Are the photos print worthy? Definitely not. This shot adds up to a mere 26K. But that makes them excellent to send by e-mail which of course, is one of the phone’s primary functions. On that note, keep in mind that while the hype may portray the concept of an instant send, the truth is there is some waiting to do. On average it took about a full minute to connect to the network and e-mail a photo attachment. Not unbearable, but definitely not the “been me up Scotty” experience. Then there’s the cost to keep in mind. Unless you’re on an unlimited data plan, Rogers charges 5 cents per KB. That’s a whopping $1.30 for sending that 26KB pic. So if you’re gonna be using it more than twice, Rogers has a 250KB for $3.00. That’s about 11 of those photos. Here are some other examples using various picture settings to give you an idea of the camera quality.

An unaltered shot of my son Ben, taken with the camera in bright lighting and sent by e-mail.
Indoor lighting only – Images taken without bright lighting tend to be “whited out”.
Normal & 2X Digital Zoom – As you can see, the zoom feature just pixelates the shot.
Some of the effects settings – Sepia – Monochrome – Negative
One of many decorative frames

The Good

1. The fist calculator on a cell phone menu I have ever found to be actually functional.
2. It’s got Tetris built in.
3. The colour screen is one of the brightest and clearest I have used.
4. GSM 900, 1800, 1900Mhz Tri-band World phone
5. Solid battery life. The unit took about an hour and half to charge. Despite my heavy data usage and the bright screen, I only had to charge it every other day. I can live with that.
6. Navigating the animated menu system with the 5 way rocker key was a breeze. Although the file system could use some work. You can see some screen shots here.
7. You can personalize the external LCD colours depending on call type, message type etc.
8. Reliable OS – Despite my best efforts, the phone never crashed.
9. You can use your pictures as wallpaper or caller ID. If you like, you can also download shots from here.
10. Solid build quality.
11. You can set the phone to turn off and on at specific times.

The Bad
1. No active flip. In other words, it’s a clamshell phone you can’t answer and terminate calls just by opening and closing.
2. The camera makes a loud “shutter” sound every time you take a photo and can’t be turned off. (This will soon be required on all camera phones)
3. There are only 2 games: Tetris and Sheep Herding. Yes I love Tetris but Sheep Herding is graphically nice but dull to play. You can’t seem to keep a pause on your game if you want to make a call.
4. No Bluetooth
5. The picture menu system is frustrating. You have to click through multiple options to see each photo. I would have been much happier to just click left and right to go from photo to photo and delete or mail them at the touch of a single button.
6. Cost. This phone is only $99 in the USA but $399.00 in Canada on a plan, not to mention the extra data rate fees (aren’t we lucky to be Canadian).

Overall, the phone was great. By no means perfect, the things I found imperfect did not take away from my overall positive impression of the phone. I found myself switching my wall paper daily and sending funny pictures to anyone foolish enough to give me thier e-mail address.

About Dave Conabree

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