Pharos Traveler 137 Smartphone (Unlocked)

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Robert S. Anthony, PC World
PC World
Thursday, September 10, 2009; 12:19 AM

The Traveler 137 from Pharos Science & Applications is an excellent touchscreen smartphone with impressive connectivity features, including compatibility with the 3G data networks of both AT&T and T-Mobile. If you're not a Windows Mobile veteran, however, you may find its menu structure daunting, and slow to use. Fortunately, the Traveler 137 supports the Windows Mobile 6.5 update, so the menu situation may change when the update launches this fall. For now, the Pharos Traveler 137 performs better as a business companion than as an entertainment device or social networking gadget.

The quad-band GSM phone is compatible with three types of 3G data networks (UMTS, HSDPA, and HSUPA) on the 1700-, 1900-, and 2100MHz bands, and can thus maintain data connections worldwide. It supports Wi-Fi and stereo Bluetooth 2.1, offers a GPS receiver, and supports laptop tethering--a handy option when other Internet connections aren't available. The included navigation software continues to work even if you lose your cellular-network connection.

The 4.9-ounce, 4.6-by-2.4-inch candy-bar phone has a solid feel and is almost identical in size to the iPhone 3GS. The 800-by-400-pixel, 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen (the iPhone 3GS has a 480-by-320-pixel, 3.5-inch multitouch display) is sharp and easy to read, but the Windows Mobile 6.1 interface has many small icons and radio buttons that are easier to activate with the Traveler 137's pop-out, telescoping stylus than with a fingertip. The phone is in a good position, however, to take advantage of Windows Mobile 6.5, which promises a much better interface for fingertip navigation as well as snazzier graphics and a raft of new apps when it launches October 6.

Providing some relief from the generic Windows Mobile 6.1 interface is the Traveler's graphics shell, which presents larger icons than Window Mobile does and allows you to switch menus by sweeping your finger across the screen.

Of course, Windows Mobile 6.1 is adept at synchronizing contact, calendar, and task data with a Windows PC. The Traveler 137 also comes loaded with mobile versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint, all of which allow on-device editing.

Smart Navigator GPS software comes with the phone, preloaded on a microSD card. In addition to detailed street maps of the United States and Canada, plus voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, it also offers free traffic and weather updates and local movie times, gas prices, and TV listings. The software supports map downloads on demand and single-finger map zooming, too: Simply sweep your finger from the upper left of the screen to the lower right to zoom in, or from the lower left to the upper right to zoom out.

Whether you rotate the phone 90 or 270 degrees, or even hold it upside-down, the Traveler 137's screen reorients itself. And until you press a button, the illuminated icons on the four front-panel buttons disappear into the unit's polished black faceplate, giving the Traveler 137 a slick and deceptively simple look. Two slim volume buttons and a camera button sit on the right side of the phone, while the left offers only a mini-USB socket.

Though the roller mouse is accurate, navigating complex menus takes practice. The performance of the on-screen QWERTY keypad is adequate, especially when haptic-feedback vibrations are enabled, but users with large fingers might need practice to improve typing accuracy.

The unit has a 0.3-megapixel camera for videoconferencing on the front, as well as a 3-megapixel digital camera on the back. Also included is an FM tuner that uses the wires of a USB headset as antennas. Near the battery, which offers up to 7 hours of talk time, is a slot for microSD memory cards.

The key feature lacking in the Pharos Traveler 137 is a relationship with a carrier. The unit is sold unlocked, thus resulting in its $600 price tag (as of 9/8/09; a $250 discount is available if you sign up for a two year T-Mobile plan through Pharos). You'll also have to install your own ring tones if you want something beyond the generic and bland Windows Mobile offerings.

With solid Windows Mobile applications for business and a wide array of connectivity options, the Pharos Traveler 137 is a capable--albeit pricey--work companion, and it may gain quite bit of flash once you upgrade it to Windows Mobile 6.5.


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