Binatone Android home phone and £99 tablet review: first looks
Binatone is a name usually associated with landline phones but, with that market dwindling, the firm has decided Android is the way forward.
Of three new Android products shown off at a launch event, the most intriguing is its iHomePhone 2 – an Android device that, as the name suggests, replaces your landline handset. It’s an unusual idea, but one Binatone is confident can work, with the £99 inc VAT gadget ambitiously aimed at both techies and novices.
The glossy handset sits in a circular cradle and certainly looks the part but we soon found problems. The 2.8in resistive screen is grainy, pallid and comes with its own stylus, and the inclusion of Android 2.1 means it’s already behind the curve.
It’s clear the hardware isn’t up to task. Even an empty notification bar took too long to judder towards the bottom of the screen and when we pressed the “Home” button, the desktop took several seconds to load – a lifetime on a phone.
Still, Binatone is excited about the product, enthusing that it’s more of a “living room ” device than a mere phone. To that end, the firm’s PR demonstrated Android’s stock eBook-reader app and FM Radio software, although both of these came with two obvious caveats: we don’t know anyone who’ll want to squint at a 2.8in screen and, with no Wi-Fi syncing, the handset will have to be docked to play audio through the speakers.
There’s no access to Android’s Market either – instead, the iHomePhone uses Giga Store. Binatone claims thousands of apps are available but, the ubiquitous Angry Birds aside, we couldn’t see much we recognised.
Binatone also announced a tablet device. The HomeSurf 705 is a 7in Android tablet and, like the iHomePhone, it comes with an eye-catching price of just £99 inc VAT.
It also shares many of the same faults: no access to the Android Market, with the Giga Store making another appearance, and a reliance on Android 2.1, with no plans for the device to be upgraded in its lifetime.
Binatone wasn’t able to confirm the HomeSurf’s internals but our hands-on time didn’t exactly fill us with enthusiasm. While basic navigation, simpler apps and web surfing were all reasonably responsive, anything requiring more processing power seemed beyond its modest abilities. Whether it’s any better than the Storage Options Scroll is a question that must wait for our full review.
Still, at least the basics are present and correct: an 800 x 480 native resolution across the screen, 2GB of internal memory, and a microSD card slot. We’re not hopeful but, at £99 inc VAT, it could at least prove to be a tempting bargain.
Binatone’s third new product is the ReadMe Mobile eBook reader. Again, it’s running Android 2.1 and again it comes with several quirks: its 7in, 800 x 480 TFT panel is not touch-enabled and it’s horizontally orientated by default – although it’s possible to switch to portrait mode once its weak processor has stirred into life.
However, doing so renders its Qwerty keyboard somewhat obsolete – a feature Binatone claims many of its customers have wanted for a long time. Beside the keyboard sits a touchpoint, similar to the BlackBerry Bold, and four cursor keys. They’re used for navigating the interface, but working our way through proved tortuous and the buttons themselves felt weak.
With a TFT rather than E Ink screen, there’s the issue of battery life, too: Binatone’s spokesperson answered the question “will it let you read Lord of the Rings” with an enthusiastic “absolutely not!”, and confirmed an estimated lifespan of two and a half hours.
Combine this with the £129 inc VAT price and, well, we’re not sure why you’d buy this over the tablet, which includes the same Android eBook app. Still, we’ll reserve final judgement until our review.
In the mean time, do you want an Android home phone, a £99 tablet, or an eBook reader running Google’s OS? Let us know in the comments.