Unlocked goes Retail

It is not uncommon to read media reports which criticize domestic cell phone carriers who lock cell phones, preventing them from being used on other networks. While unlocked cellphones are not new, what I find interesting is that Sharper Image is trying to be the company to bring you unocked phones.

The Sharper Image 101TSI

There may be an opportunity for the company as currently if you want to buy an unlocked phone you have to search the Internet. Sharper Image could be come the "unlocked phone store" if they play their cards right.

The company offers a variety of phones and I haven’t had a chance to try any of them yet. If successful, one wonders if other companies such as Brookstone will get into the act. Interestingly I imagine that companies like Costco, Best Buy, Circuit City and Radio Shack will not get into the "unlocked" game as they all have relationships with wireless carriers who would likely frown upon  such a new business idea.

  • bhop
    August 11, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Sharper Image Windows Mobile 6 Unlocked Pocket PC Phone
    Editor’s rating (1-5):
    Discuss this product
    Review posted Feb. 25, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief
    We all make mistakes, and Sharper Image’s mistake was to sell a triband 900/1800/1900MHz unlocked Windows Mobile phone in the US, stating that it’s compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile in the US. Here’s the quote from their web site:
    “For subscribers to T-Mobile, AT&T/Cingular and other service providers that use a removable SIM card with all your phone data. Your SIM card will work perfectly in any Sharper ImageĀ® “Unlocked” Phone.”
    Here in the US T-Mobile does use the 1900MHz band, while the 900 and 1800MHz bands are used in Europe and Asia. AT&T in the US primarily uses the 850MHz band, which the Sharper Image 101TSI lacks. Ouch. That’s 70 million potential customers lost. We tested the phone with an AT&T SIM in the Dallas Metroplex and go a “no service” message, which means no calls other than 911 and no data. In California, AT&T is curtailing T-Mobile roaming and moving toward an all 850MHz network, and many other regions are 850. Moral of the story: if you’re an AT&T customer, the Sharper Image phone isn’t for you. T-Mobile customers, go for it if you like– voice and data will work fine.
    The Sharper Image 101TSI is a relatively compact and light (4.3 ounces) Windows Mobile 6 Professional Pocket PC phone with a QVGA touch screen. Once you get over the lack of 850MHz, 3G and WiFi, it looks pretty good on paper with Bluetooth 2.0, a 2 megapixel camera with auto-focus lens, 400MHz Samsung processor and a GPS. It sells for $499, which is a might high given that you buy the powerhouse AT&T Tilt or T-Mobile Wing without contract extension for a similar price. The phone is actually the AMOI N810, and AMOI is a large Chinese manufacturer of cell phones that are sold primarily in China.
    In the Box
    Sharper Image gives you quite a bit: 2 batteries, a charging cradle for the spare battery, a compact charger, a small Bluetooth headset, slip case (very basic and thin leather), a printed manual (with very poor English), software CD with ActiveSync and a card with a link to get GPS maps and navigation from (www.purehitech.com) for $129.99 on a 2 gig microSD card. That web site states that they’re a licensee of Sharper Image brand products (mostly phones, Bluetooth headsets and related accessories).
    Design and Ergonomics
    The Sharper Image Pocket PC Phone has a retro kind of design, with large front facing buttons, no QWERTY keyboard and a plasticy look. Though it doesn’t look like a piece of luxury technology, it does feel solid. The front is silver plastic with a gloss coating and the back and sides are black with a thin chrome trim ring along the sides. The replaceable battery lives under the door on the back, as does the SIM card slot. Unfortunately, the microSD card slot is also in the battery compartment and you must remove the battery to access the slot.
    The battery compartment with SIM card slot at the lower right and the microSD card slot, upper left.
    The bottom half of the two large front facing buttons handle call send and end. The upper halves of each button function as the Windows Mobile softkeys. It might seem dangerous to share functions with call send and end but the buttons are large enough with a beveled dip toward the middle that we never had problems. The d-pad feels a bit small and slippery and we’d call it adequate but not great.
    Volume up and down buttons live on the upper right side of the PDA phone and these handle system and call volume. There are two side buttons, the camera on the right and the GPS button on the left. We had to press and hold the side buttons for camera and GPS quite a long time to launch the application. Actually the GPS button did nothing no matter how long we held it (yes, we checked to make sure the button assignment was correct). We assume you need to purchase that afore mentioned GPS software from PureHiTech.com for this to work. Fortunately, button re-assignment is a standard feature of Windows Mobile Pro, so you can assign another app to the button.
    The combined USB sync/charge/headset port is on the bottom, and the stylus lives in a silo on the upper right corner. The metal telescoping stylus has 3 segments and extends to nearly 4″ long, and it’s fairly thin. The speaker, camera lens and LED flash live on the back of the Sharper Image TSI101. The recessed power button is on the upper left side and it’s safe from accidental button presses.
    The QVGA 240 x 320 color display isn’t terribly bright but it is clear and easy to read. The surface is mirrored which makes it difficult to view outdoors. It supports the usual 65k colors and works in both portrait and landscape modes.
    Phone Features and Reception
    As we’ve already covered, the Sharper Image TSI101 is a triband GSM unlocked phone that works on the 900/1800/1900MHz bands. It will work in Europe and Asia where GSM service is available and on T-Mobile in the US. AT&T uses and T-Mobile users who need to roam onto AT&T’s 850MHz network should not choose this phone. The TSI101 has EDGE for data (sorry no 3G, but currently only AT&T offers 3G in the US anyway). Since it’s unlocked, you can use any carrier’s SIM in the phone.
    The phone settings have band selection options for auto, 900/1800 (Eurasia) and (US) 1900MHz. Only 3 ringtones are pre-installed, which is lower than the usual Windows Mobile fare, but it’s not hard to add your own (use File Explorer or ActiveSync on the desktop to put WAV ringtones in the windows/rings folder on the device. There’s no voice dialing, but you do get the usual Windows Mobile speed dial, smart dialing and photo caller ID support. Voice quality and volume are decent, speakerphone volume is average (not quiet but not superbly loud either) and reception is average as well, not living up to Nokia and the best Moto standards but faring better than the old T-Mobile MDA.
    The phone comes with the standard Windows Mobile IE and Messaging which handles POP3, IMAP and Exchange email. Messaging also handles SMS and MMS messages. Since it’s WinMo 6, it supports MS Direct Push email with Exchange Server 2003 SP2 or 2007.
    Horsepower, Performance and Software
    The Sharper Image Pocket PC phone runs Windows Mobile 6 Professional (the touch screen version of the Windows Mobile OS) on a Samsung S3C2442B 400MHz processor. That’s a good CPU, and we’ve seen it and variants of it used in E-TEN Glofiish Windows Mobile Pro phones. The phone feels relatively fast by Windows Mobile standards with little lag opening Windows and launching applications. Though there’s only 64 megs of RAM, there’s no 3rd party or carrier custom software pre-installed so there’s 31 megs of RAM free at boot which is enough to keep the PDA phone running smoothly. However, you’ll need to reboot it weekly or more often to clear up memory since Windows Mobile minimizes rather than closes applications that you’re used. The TSI101 has 128 megs of RAM with 65.5 megs free for your use. The microSD card slot supports cards up to 2 gigs capacity (sorry no SDHC support), should you wish to expand storage capacity.
    The included Sharper Image mini Bluetooth headset.
    This is a bare bones unit with no 3rd party or value added software other than an application to wipe out the device, an unbranded Java VM and a phone profiles application. You get the Windows Mobile Pro standard applications such as Internet Explorer Mobile, Outlook Mobile (Messaging, contacts, calendar, tasks and notes), Office Mobile (Word, Excel and PowerPoint), Microsoft Pictures & Videos, MSN Messenger, Windows Live, calculator, solitaire and Bubble Breaker.
    Video playback was passable but not impressive– the Glofiish models with the same CPU are top performers in the video playback department, and they easily best the Sharper Image PDA phone. We threw our usual test file at it: “The Chosen” (a neat BMW flick with Clive Owen) which is a 4:26 minute long, 10 meg MPEG1 file recorded at 320 x 240, 308 kb/s. We tested the TSI101 using TCPMP, an extremely fast open source free video player that supports MPEG1, DivX, ASF, WMV and AVI files. TCPMP played back “The Chosen” at an average speed of 347%, while the best performers manage 500 to 650%. For videos encoded at 450kbps or less, the TSI101 is fine– just don’t go much higher.
    The phone uses Microsoft’s Pictures & Videos (a standard app bundled with Pocket PC phones) as the camera application. We were pleasantly surprised by the camera which takes very good photos by camera phone standards with natural colors, good light balance and contrast management. Sharper Image doesn’t mention this, but the 2 megapixel camera has an autofocus lens for sharper pictures. Autofocus is usually slow on camera phones but the TSI101’s is fairly fast. Most camera phones have a wide angle lens and the TSI101’s is fairly narrow.
    The TSI101 can save images directly to a card, and there’s an LED flash which helps little. The indoor shot below was taken without the flash and there’s less noise and better colors than we usually see with a camera phone. Maximum still photo resolution is 1600 x 1200 and there are 3 lesser resolutions including one suitable for photo caller ID. The camera has 4x digital zoom for photos but no zoom for video. Video resolutions are 176 x 144 and 240 x 180 (an odd size). Video quality is average by camera phone standards– there’s ghosting with movement but when the camera is held still, the subject is sharp. Recorded audio is too quiet however.
    The Sharper Image PPC phone handled this backlit subject well with correct contrast.
    The Sharper Image phone has an internal GPS that requires no data connection to operate. Maps and navigation software are not included, so you’ll need to use/purchase your own software. We tested the GPS with CoPilot Live 7 which had no problems finding and using the GPS. Location information was accurate and the GPS functioned correctly though it has a very slow cold start time of 2 minutes. Unlike other recent Windows Mobile phones with GPS, the TSI100 couldn’t get a satellite fix indoors next to a window. We had to stand outdoors with a clear view of the sky to get a fix. While the GPS found 6 to 7 satellites on a partly cloudy day, only 2 were strong enough to get a fix and thus we managed a 2D but not 3D fix. On a perfectly clear and sunny day we were able to get a 3D fix outdoors, but satellite strength was just barely adequate to get that fix according to CoPilot’s visual indicator.
    Battery Life
    Battery life is one of the TSI101’s strong points. The phone comes with two 1500mAh Lithium Ion Polymer batteries, and that’s a healthy capacity by WinMo standards. Since the phone lacks 3G, a big power drain, talk times are relatively long. The claimed talk time is 7 hours and that’s a tad optimistic but we did get over 5.5 hours in a mix with 30 minutes of GPS use,
    While we love seeing a readily available unlocked GSM Windows Mobile PDA phone on the market (as easy to find as a visit to the mall), we’re baffled that it’s missing one US GSM band. If you’re a T-Mobile customer, the TSI101 is viable, as long as you don’t see a switch to AT&T in the not-too-distant future. Beyond that glaring omission, the Sharper Image phone is a decent Windows Mobile 6 Pocket PC phone, that’s a little basic (other than the inclusion of GPS) and plasticy for the money. Unlocked Pocket PC phones from HTC and E-TEN have higher quality materials, quad band GSM radios and GPS and are in the same price range. We like that it’s small and light, but long for WiFi since the phone lacks 3G. And we do applaud the inclusion of 2 ample capacity batteries and a Bluetooth headset, though the slip case will probably never leave the box.
    Pro: Compact, light weight and relatively responsive. Comes with lots of goodies in the box including a Bluetooth headset, 2 batteries, charging cradle for the spare battery and a slipcase you’ll probably chuck. It’s unlocked so you don’t need to deal with contracts; but you will need to have a working SIM– generally speaking, a T-Mobile one. Very good camera. Has GPS. Easy to buy one and see it in person given the large number of Sharper Image stores in malls (184). Though that number may decrease with Sharper Image’s recent bankruptcy filing (they will continue to do business and aren’t closing shop completely).
    Con: This triband phone is missing one US band, and we can’t figure out why a US company would carry a line of unlocked phones that’s missing a US band. The phone is not viable for AT&T customers, so you’re pretty much locked into T-Mobile with this phone. GPS is slow to acquire a fix and doesn’t get as strong a GPS signal as other competing Windows Mobile Pro phones. The price isn’t terribly competitive given the TSI101’s somewhat basic features. Unlike most Sharper Image products which have a 60 day return policy and no restocking fee, the TSI101 has a 14 day return policy and a 10% restocking fee if the box is opened and the product isn’t defective.
    Price: $499
    Web site: http://www.sharperimage.com
    Warranty: 1 year Sharper Image warranty.

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