Can the Dell Mini 5 phone be used as a … phone?

image 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.

Pocketing

image “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

imageEngadget: “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.

Other concerns

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.

Conclusion

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.

18 Responses to “Can the Dell Mini 5 phone be used as a … phone?”


  • Portability:
    Dealing first with the HTC Advantage (an example of which I have before me right now): There are three weights to consider with the Advantage because there are three ways of carrying it.
    With k’brd and in carrying case (16oz)
    Just phone and k’brd (13oz)
    Just the phone (10oz), also pocketable as such.

    I wouldn’t dream of carrying anything other than a simple, cheap clam-style phone in an open pocket, let along a gadget costing several hundred $$
    If it were down to toting the Dell Mini5, I would carry it in a brief case or in a suitable belt-type pouch.

    Taking Calls:
    There are three ways of achieving this (currently)
    1. Fully private conversation: – like taking a call in a private location
    2. Semi-private conversation: – like taking a phone call in a restaurant
    3. Public conversation: – like taking a speakerphone in public – or speaking on the Dell in public.

    There seems to be some social hangup about having a full, two-way call in public, yet no one thinks twice about people nearby overhearing one side of any call. If a semi-private conversation becomes private/intimate, then a person will generally leave for a more quiet location (like they should anyway!) Don’t you just hate someone in the next booth shouting away at themselves on the cell phone?

    What is the difference between hearing a two-sided conversation between two (or more) people in a restaurant booth and hearing a two-way telephone conversation?
    I would argue that there is no real difference. It is all in the head of the listener.
    It is just one small step to hearing both sides of a private telephone call, and remember that even now with one-sided calls, anyone near you will only hear your side of the conversation BUT someone the other end is, undoubtedly, overhearing the other end of the conversation.

    What I am getting at is that this hangup about people hearing both sides of a phone call is, really, all in one’s head. It is a social hangup and not a privacy thing – if it were a privacy matter, then people would not speak on a phone in any conditions whereby they may be overheard; like taking a phone call by walking outside a meeting, for example.

    Perhaps we need to examine the origins of public telephone conversations.
    Might I suggest that it is with the incorporation of mobile phones into our lives that calls started to become public and not private, and I believe that this is mostly due to our innate extrovert character and the human propensity for a display of ego. I believe most of us can remember the emergence of the ‘mobile phone phenomenon’. Suddenly, the accepted privacy of telephone calls was brought out into the public realm. I remember when I started to see people ‘openly talking’ on the mobile phones; “Bloody show-offs” I recall myself thinking.

    Two-way conversations will soon become socially acceptable and let us not forget, there are those who seem to want to heard talking to someone else on the phone, as though to say: “Look at me, I have people who can’t live without talking to me. I must be important!”
    Personally, I don”t receive many calls but if I did, I would prefer to take private calls, privately.

    Two-way, open conversations: – Etiquette.
    Making the caller aware of a two way conversation.

    When driving my work vehicle I have to operate my cell phone ‘hands free’ and frequently have a speaker phone active (Bluetooth ear-pieces don’t suit me very well). Whenever I have a passenger I always announce to the caller that they are on speaker phone and that (name) is with me. That way the caller doesn’t say something embarrassing!

    So, finally, would I buy and use something like the Dell Mini5?
    Yes. I used to use my Nokia N800 the same way with Skype and got on very well by keeping private stuff private. It’s quite easy, really!
    With the Dell, especially seeing that it CAN be used as a regular phone, I would just answer it as normal and, if private, I would ‘take it outside’ and possibly then switch to speaker phone mode.

    PS. I am sure we are aware that there is current work taking place on ‘silent conversation’? I read in a few places that the military are perfecting a system whereby one thinks and mouths the words without actually uttering them and this piece of tech picks up what you wish to say and transmits it to your caller.

    PPS: I have frequently thought about Australia as a tech source. Are there any obvious pitfalls with this, Bruce?

    • Steve, fascinating comments, particularly on the privacy issue, I think I will write another article. Too much to say in a comment. Perhaps you should write an article on this on NanOsNotes, and I’ll comment. Turnabout is fair play!

      Re pocketability, belt clips and holsters and pouches scare me due to the risk of failure, whereas my pocket seems safe. Probably just a matter of preference.

      The only pitfall with the Aussie HTC Telstra HD2 is that is supports only one of the two AT&T 3G bands, 850, not 1900. I’m not sure how prevalent is AT&T’s use of the latter 3G band. In the linked PocketNow article, the 3rd comment indicates NY is 1900. If I’m going to spend those kind of $s, I want the device to work 100%.

  • “However, the Mini 5 does not have an earpiece.”

    Actually, it does — by “phone speaker” I meant the earpiece. The louder speaker is the one on the back of the phone.

    Great analysis, by the way.

    • Thanks Richard.

      For my readers, first, Richard is the author of the Engadget article. Second, I’ve emailed Richard to get some further information on this important issue, after which I will clarify this issue, perhaps in another post. Third, I noticed the links in this article that were supposed to point to the Engadget article instead pointed to a prior article in this blog. I’ve corrected this.

  • The majority of people will be buying this device to use primarily as a tablet, so the phone component will be of secondary importance. Web browsing is great on the Mini 5, as is virtually everything else related to the computer side of the device.

  • The ultimate review I have been looking for: I own a HTC Advantage too – love its screen and hate its bulk, and have been looking for a replacement for the last 3 years. The HD2, Mini 5 and Archos have been on my shortlist (together with LG GW990 and Toshiba K01 – really hope u could make compare them all soon). In your review, you have taken care of every aspect I wanted to know so badly. Thanks!

    • Not sure any of those other phones will be in the cards for me …

      HD2 – Likely no Windows 7 Phone upgrade.
      Archos – Apparently their phone isn’t happening.
      K01 – I don’t think it supports US 3G.
      LG – Not until end of year, weird elongated shape.

      Odds are the Mini 5 will be my mini-me in a few months.

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  • Couldn’t wait anymore…bought an ARCHOS 5 IT ANDROID 500GB yesterday: great screen, great sound, sluggish response, disappointing interface… 500GB is bulky (i knew, but need the space)

    • I like my Archos 5 IT. The SSD instead of the HDD does make a difference. Not just in performance, but also in thickness. But yes, the SSD is only 32GB, so even with the microSD card, nowhere near 500GB is that’s what you need.

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  • The Dell mini 5 is agreeably a nice piece of kit, but wait till the hp slate comes out and see how they compare.

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