There are probably more touchscreen phones than there is plankton in the sea, but most of them don’t come cheap. If you’ve baulked at paying over £300 on pay-as-you-go for an iPhone, Orange’s new Vegas could be an option. At £48.50 it’s the cheapest touchscreen yet – half the price of LG’s Cookie, even.
The Vegas is no iPhone-beater, and it’s not trying to be. Still, if you think Apple’s phone is too big, the Vegas is a pleasant antidote. It’s light (84g) and tiny, slipping into a pocket or handbag easily.
And Orange is certainly keen for it to slip into handbags, as it’s made a version in a defiantly feminine pastel pink. If that’s a little too patronising, there’s also a more neutral black version available.
So far, so good, but the key to any touchscreen is how easy it is to operate. The interface here is Orange’s own and it’s cumbersome. ‘Why tap the screen once when you can tap it twice?’ seems to be the logic at its heart.
The system is further slowed down by extra messages. When you swipe the screen to unlock it, Apple-stylee, a big tick message telling you’ve unlocked it successfully hangs around on screen way too long.
The screen itself – a decent size at 2.4 inches – is responsive enough and there are neat shortcuts. You swipe the screen vertically to launch the menu screen: a good start.
But beneath the screen are four buttons and a five-way navigation device (four directions and a confirm button at the centre). These duplicate a lot of the touch functions and suggest the Vegas makers didn’t quite trust the touchscreen.
Stylus over substance
Then there’s the stylus. Unlike the iPhone or Android phones, you can use a stylus with this kind of touch-sensitive screen. But the tiny, telescopic stick that slides out of the base is hard to hold.
You’ll need it, though, if you want to use the handwriting recognition mode to write text messages. Scribble on the screen and it’s quite good at knowing what letter you’re after, but it’s slow and there’s a wait before you can write the next letter.
You’re better off tapping the virtual keypad instead. This isn’t huge, either, as part of the screen shows you the message you’re typing but the number-only pad that appears for dialling is much simpler, at least.
We know the iPhone has a poor camera but the Vegas manages an even more basic one – 1.3 megapixels – and no flash. And although the 2.4in screen is big enough for internet surfing, its sluggishness will soon have you shaking it in frustration. We can stomach the lack of 3G, but there’s no EDGE either, even though Orange’s EDGE network is well-developed.
And Orange has aimed it at internet users, focusing on the pay-as-you-go Dolphin tariff that includes free access to Bebo, Facebook and MySpace and 300 free texts with each £10 top-up.
Still, at least the phone includes Bluetooth and there’s an MP3 player and FM radio to while away bus journeys. Overall, although this is a cheap way into the touchscreen market, it’s not an easy journey.