Review: INQ1 Facebook Phone

The INQ1 phone is acting just like a Palm Pre. Well, sort of.

When the Pre was announced earlier this month, pundits, analysts and other blowhards were quick to praise Palm for integrating so many web-based applications in its savior device. What they failed to mention is that web-based apps on mobile devices already exist on other devices. Devices that are available. That you can buy. Right now.

One such device, made by INQ (a London-Hong Kong handset maker) is out right now. Called the INQ1, it’s a mobile phone with a web-based operating system that revolves around Facebook. That’s right, just Facebook.

Yes I know what you’re thinking: Facebook is so completely over. It’s yesterday’s news. It’s irrelevant. It’s expired. Maybe so, but it still has a lot of users. (Although still not as many as MySpace.)

The handset (which arrives in some of the most gorgeous packaging I’ve ever seen a consumer electronic encased in) is almost laughably banal in its actual construction. A silver slider with wide-spaced keys, it possesses a passing resemblance to the Nokia 5200, albeit with a larger (2.2-inch) screen. But, once you switch it on and start using it, things begin to get interesting.

As we said before, the operating system orbits around Facebook synchronization. Basically you take the phone online, pair it with your Facebook account, and all of your various Facebook applications become active on the mobile. Your Facebook address book syncs up with the phone’s address book. Events from your Facebook calendar become part of the phone’s calendar. Take a picture with the 3.2-megapixel camera, and you can automatically upload those shots to a Facebook album. You get the idea. This is a device that’s perfect for those who would readily set themselves on fire rather than go five minutes without updating their “What are you doing right now?” field.

Other goodies integrated into the phone include Last FM, Windows Live Messenger and Skype. While Skype works nicely as an alternative to making calls on a spotty T-Mobile network, Windows Live Messenger was only occasionally available for chat. But really, who beyond a few button-up business types use WLM?

As a phone the INQ1 works well: Voice quality is clear but not quite sparkling. Texting is relatively comfortable on the slider keyboard — which is spaced out evenly and doesn’t seem terribly cramped. And while the phone is still available only in Europe, the unlocked version INQ sent us operated fairly error-free on T-Mobile’s network, despite a couple of snafus when we first set up the device.

But as capable as it is, the INQ1 it will not be available stateside for a long while. Blame it on the carriers, blame it on the economy, blame it on any number of factors. Just don’t blame it on the phone itself. The hardware is sound, and the operating system is rather remarkable — for Facebook junkies at least. But for those of us who treat Facebook with a passing fondness, it’s really not that intriguing. And besides, Facebook is kinda lame already. Other devices will soon be emerging that do a lot of the same things. You know, like the Pre. So what’s next up for INQ? How about a Twitter phone, guys?

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