Only a few days ago I raised some unanswered questions about the Dell Mini 5, an upcoming 5” Android super phone. My concerns focus on the Mini 5’s usability as phone; I’m not too worried about it as a MID.
Engadget’s Dell Mini 5 prototype impressions of a prototype review unit answers some questions … and raises others.
“Understandably, most people are concerned about whether this 5-inch tablet would fit inside their pocket. We’re happy to tell you that it snuggled nicely in our jeans’ pockets, which is most likely to do with the device’s sensible thickness and our lack of tight pants. Apart from the slight exposure (as pictured below) and the occasional struggle when walking up stairs, we’ve had no other issues with pocketing our Mini 5.”
In case that’s too subjective, let’s compare the Mini 5 to the 4.8” Archos 5 IT (Internet Tablet) which I own and have written much about.
|Mini 5||Archos 5 IT*|
|Height||78mm / 3.1”||79 mm / 3.1”|
|Width||152mm / 6”||143 mm/5.6”|
|Thickness||10mm / .4”||10mm / .4”|
|Weight||226.8 gm / 8 oz||182 gm / 6.4 oz|
*Specs from UMPC Portal Product Database
The two devices share almost the same form factor for pocketabilty. The critical measurements are the height, which is the width in your pocket, and the thickness, which is, well, the thickness in your pocket. Both are essentially identical.
The Mini 5 does have a greater width, which translates to the height in your pocket. As the picture shows, this greater height may cause the device to peak slightly above the top of your pocket. Not a big deal. Nor is the weight difference.
Since the Archos 5 IT is pocketable even with a Noreve leather case, I’d expect the Mini 5 to be similarly pocketable if you don’t wear your jeans too tight (not in my case as it would be a bad visual).
Pocketablity may be a guy thing. Women often carry their phones in purses. But I suspect the majority of the Mini 5’s buyers will be male. Especially because of “holdability” discussed below. Also, even if as a guy you don’t believe in a "man purse", you could keep the phone in a belt holster, or a jacket pocket (assuming you’re wearing a jacket). Still, I think pocketablity is important.
Before leaving the subject of pocketability, some historical perspective. The Mini 5 is hardly the first 5” phone. That honor may go to my HTC Advantage, which I’ve had for some years. Here’s a comparison:
|Mini 5||HTC Advantage*|
|Height||78 mm / 3.1”||98 mm / 3.86”|
|Width||152 mm / 6”||133.5 mm / 5.25”|
|Thickness||10 mm / .4”||16 mm / .63”|
|Weight||226.8 gm / 8 oz||359 gm / 12.66 oz.|
*Specs from HTC Advantage website
The HTC Advantage is a beast in a size comparison with the Mini 5. For this 5” form factor, we’ve come a long way.
Holding as a phone
Engadget: “A more popular concern would be whether you’d look like a dork when holding the monstrous phone right next to your face. To be honest, it’s not too bad, except the user would most likely be more conscious about the size, simply because you’d have to stretch your fingers a bit to accommodate the unusually large footprint and weight.”
Presumably you’ll hold your phone next to your ear in portrait mode. In that mode, the Mini 5” extra width is height, not too much of a factor, unless, like the Engadget reviewer, you’re worried about looking like a dork. Since I look like a dork even without a phone, no worries.
Instead, your hand would be wrapping around the phone’s height. I checked out my Archos 5 IT since its height is almost identical to the Mini 5’s. The Archos 5 IT is more comfortable to hold as a phone with its Noreve leather case than without, even though the case adds some extra bulk, perhaps because the leather is much easier to grip than the slippery metal of the device. With the case, which is almost always on except when the unit is in its battery charger, the Archos 5 IT is OK to hold as a phone (which it isn’t).
My hands are not the size of a basketball player’s. They’re average, or even slightly less, than average … for a man. Women, of course, on average have smaller hands. So they may have more of a problem holding the Mini 5 as a phone. Indeed, the Mini 5 may become more of a “man phone”, like how the Motorola Droid was advertised. Engadget observes: “so far most blokes who’ve seen and touched our Mini 5 have said they want one, so this phone is already quite the masculine symbol. And yes, the phone makes a great tool for chatting up the ladies, too (although they’ve all said it’s too big and heavy after playing with it; perhaps the Mini 3 will strike their fancy?).”
Let’s also compare the Mini 5 with the HTC HD2, whose 4.3” screen is the next size down:
|Mini 5||HTC HD2*|
|Height||78 mm / 3.1”||67mm / 2.6”|
|Width||152 mm / 6”||120 mm / 4.7”|
|Thickness||10 mm / .4”||11 mm / .4”|
|Weight||226.8 gm / 8 oz||157 gm / 5.5 oz|
*Specs from UMPC Portal Product Database
There’s a substantial difference in width while holding as a phone. This should make the HD2 easier to hold as a phone. Of course, the price is less screen real estate, 4.3” vs. 5”. Different people with different needs (and eyesight and hand sizes) may evaluate this trade-off differently.
Usability talking on the phone?
The video in the Engadget impressions (just above the heading Multimedia experience) shows both a microphone and a speaker on the front of the device, both on the bezel. Holding the Mini 5 as a phone in portrait mode, the microphone is on the left bezel near the bottom, and the speaker on the top bezel towards the middle. The video also shows that you can turn the speaker on and off with the onscreen phone GUI.
However, the Mini 5 does not have an earpiece. This means that without a Bluetooth or wired headset, those around you will hear both ends of your conversation through the speaker. Maybe it’s the attorney in me, but I think phone conversations should be private.
My HTC Advantage similarly did not have an earpiece. If you walk around like a Borg with a Bluetooth headset implant, this isn’t a problem. But while I’m OK looking like a dork, I draw the line at emulating a Borg. (Though saying "you will be assimilated" or "there is no place for you in the new order" while your ear is blinking blue light has its attractions).
The lack of an earpiece has limited for me the Advantage’s usability as a phone. I’m concerned I may have the same issue with the Mini 5.
Battery life is “almost a day for normal usage on 3G.” Almost? Normal? I don’t mind charging every night. But a charging pit stop or two during the day isn’t desirable.
“Connection to your computer relies on a proprietary port — similar but slightly larger than the iPod’s — to USB cable.” Another proprietary cable? Ugh. Apparently no micro or mini USB port.
“Memory-wise there’s 405MB RAM and 1.63GB of internal storage — a slight let-down for the latter, so let’s hope the retail unit will be given a more generous dose of silicon.” Let’s hope so.
The Dell Mini 5 is a very interesting device and I’m giving it a lot of thought. But the lack of an earpiece is a negative for me, though it may not be for others. It’s also on the outer edge of being pocketable and holdable. A 5” screen is nice, but a 4.3” screen should be fine. For these reasons, I may go for the HTC HD2, either through T-Mobile USA or on AT&T network by an unlocked unit from Australia — or perhaps the HD2’s Android sibling, the rumored Supersonic. But still, this reviewed Mini 5 unit is a prototype, so much could change. Bottom line: I need to
dither ponder more.