Review: INQ Mini Twitter Phone

INQ is a relatively new company dedicated to making inexpensive feature phones that have smartphone-like levels of integration with stuff you actually care about, like your social life.

We tested the company’s first phone, the Facebook-centric INQ1, last year and found it wanting, especially in terms of its looks. Now INQ is back, with a sleeker, smaller, sexier INQ Mini that revolves around Twitter instead of Facebook.

The INQ Mini is definitely a hardware improvement over the INQ1. It’s small, cut and easily pocketable, with a handsome noir-ish face and an interchangeable back plate. The physical keyboard does feel like a retro throwback but in an era of half-baked unresponsive touchscreens, a tangible keypad is rather refreshing.

The proprietary OS is gorgeous. The layout is clean, colorful and easy to navigate. Applications live in a dock at the bottom of the screen, a look reminiscent of OS X. There’s no futzing through endless menu systems (like on a Symbian phone) in order to find the app you want: Programs are easy to find and readily accessible.

Feature holdovers from the INQ1 include free Skype-to-Skype calling and Windows Live Messenger for text chats. The camera, however, has been downgraded from 3.1 to 2.0 megapixels and snaps images that are grainy and poor-looking. We thought progress was supposed to move things forward.

But how does the INQ fare when it comes to posting to everyone’s favorite microblogging site, Twitter? The truth is, it’s kind of stunted. Sure, it’s dead simple to login to your twitter account, post 140 character musings and check the tweets of people you follow. But that’s it. There is no way to aggregate tweets by user, check for trending topics, sort direct messages or categorize favorites.

On a smartphone like the iPhone, however, you can load an app like Tweetie and get all of those features, although you’ll have to shell out several hundred bucks for the phone along with a rate plan that clocks in around $70 to $100 per month. INQ reports that the INQ Mini will be just $100 unlocked but will be available for free with a $25 per month plan on Britain’s 3 network. Oh yeah, that’s another bummer — just like the INQ1, the Mini is only slated to be released in Europe.

INQ left us with an early version of the device, so we couldn’t benchmark battery life, evaluate call quality, or even measure download speeds effectively. The OS ran slowly, but we’re pretty sure that’s due to this being an unfinished model. But based on our hands-on testing, the Mini seems like a great device for a precocious high schooler who desperately wants a smartphone but doesn’t have the cash or the responsibility to handle one. That is, assuming said teenager lives in London.

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