AT&T Tilt Does Little With A Lot

Review: AT&T's new Tilt smart phone layers on the features but adds bulk in the process.

AT&Ts new Tilt smart phone is billed as the Swiss Army knife of mobile devices, as it can do a little bit of everything. And, indeed, just like a Swiss Army knife, the Tilt performs myriad tasks adequately while at the same time feeling overly large and bulky in the pocket.

Based on Windows Mobile 6.0 Professional, the Tilt layers on the features, including 3G wireless data, Wi-Fi, integrated GPS, a better than average camera, stereo Bluetooth 2.0 support and a large adjustable screen.

Similar to its predecessors—the 8525 and 8125—the Tilt is based on an HTC reference design. While all three models have a slide-out keyboard, the Tilt adds the ability to tilt the screen upward about 45 degrees when the keyboard is opened, allowing the user to place the device on a desk and do some index-finger typing without hunching over the unit.

While slightly smaller and lighter than the AT&T 8525 (which will be discontinued by AT&T after the remaining inventory is sold off), the Tilt remains significantly heavier and thicker than other popular devices that came to market recently. Measuring in at 4.4 by 2.3 by 0.73 inches, the Tilt weighs 6 ounces. In comparison, Research In Motions BlackBerry 8820 is 0.55 inches thick and weighs 4.73 ounces.

The list price for the Tilt—which started shipping in October—is $549, but with rebates and a two-year contract, the price falls to $299.

The Tilt is incrementally more powerful that the 8525. Similar to the 8525, the Tilt includes a 400MHz processor (the Tilt uses a Qualcomm processor rather than the Samsung), but the new model has double the Flash ROM (256MB) and SRAM (128MB). The Tilt also supports MicroSD cards sized up to 32GB, although the densest card available on AT&Ts site at this time is only 2GB.

Not surprisingly, the Tilt has higher battery demands than the 8525. The Tilts 1350 mAhr battery is rated only for 4 hours talk time or eight days standby time, whereas the 1300 mAhr battery in the 8525 was rated for 5 hours talk time and 10 days standby.

Data connectivity should be a strength for the Tilt, as it includes a Tri-band (850/1900/2100) HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) WWAN (wireless WAN) data connection, along with Quad-band GSM/EDGE support (850/900/1800/1900 MHz bands). While the data connection at its best was certainly zippier than the EDGE-based iPhone or BlackBerry 8820, I found the signal strength indicator on the Tilt frequently did not match actual conditions. During tests, I often noted four bars of coverage while the data connection could not resolve addresses or connect to remote servers.

Meanwhile, the 802.11b/g radio leverages Windows Mobile 6.0s gains in Wi-Fi security, so I could use the device with WLANs protected with both the Enterprise and Personal flavors of both WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2 security.

Visually, the Tilts 2.8-inch screen (240 by 320 pixels) is bright and vibrant, good for photos and videos. The screen will automatically switch between portrait and landscape modes when the keyboard slides open. Likewise, the directional buttons on the front bezel will change orientation to support the different visual modes.

On the other hand, in my tests I found the Tilts touch screen to be slightly under-responsive, requiring a much firmer push on the screen than I felt comfortable doing. AT&T officials claim this problem was specific to beta units running preproduction code (my test unit was running ROM version, and that the problem was resolved for shipping units and would therefore not be seen by customers.

However, a few weeks after I started testing the Tilt, I managed to acquire a second, boxed unit that had the same preproduction ROM version and touchscreen issues. This indicates that some customers may indeed be subjected to the problem.

I also found voice quality to be less than ideal with the Tilt. Specifically, with every call I attempted, I could detect a slight echo of my voice in the earpiece, indicating some deficiencies the preproduction echo cancellation algorithms as well. Meanwhile, the people whom I called noticed no echo but did report that my voice sounded "fuzzy."

Similar to its predecessors, The Tilt has an integrated camera—3 megapixels with a 10X zoom—that can be used for both still photos and videos. However, the Tilt does not include the camera flash feature that came with the 8525.

Like the BlackBerry 8820, the Tilt uses Telenavs GPS software for point-to-point directions and maps. In tests, I found the GPS features worked as expected once the endpoints were located and mapped, but the resource lookup features often severely delayed my ability to input addresses and find destinations.

For instance, particularly around the Burbank and Pasadena, Calif., areas—but also occasionally in and around San Francisco—I found that the lookup functions for finding local businesses effectively hung, timing out without finding anything after several minutes of waiting. This made it impossible to input locations without knowing the specific address beforehand.

The Telenav GPS service costs $10 a month per month for unlimited routes or $5 per month for 10 routes.