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Vario II vitals

   Vario II
   Contract dependant
Available at

   25 November 2006
   Lawrence Latif

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Handheld broadband
T-Mobile's Vario II is a handset which packs huge functionality into an extremely handy form factor but best of all it gives you broadband on the go.

A few months ago I waxed my lyrical about my own handset, the original Vario. T-Mobile had a great handset in their lineup of that there was no doubt but it was a little rough around the edges. Many of these compliants have been addressed with the second incarnation, the Vario II.

Based on the extremely popular and well received HTC Hermes, the Vario II packs a 400MHz processor; double that of the Vario. A 2 megapixel camera with manual focus along with a camera mounted on the front tells you this is a 3G centric handset.

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The overall design is quite handy but I found the call and hang-up buttons a bit too small, especially when set between two other hard buttons. A very handy scrollwheel allows you to flick through messages with ease. Styling is discrete, with dark greys to match the business orientation of this handset.

When the keyboard is slid out, the device is easy to hold, certainly if you have long fingers. While the power button being located on the right side, for no apparent reason was a slight annoyance, you soon get used to it. Ergonomically, the Vario II has no major issues.

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When lined up against the Vario, the Vario II looks more substantial and less plasticy thanks mostly to a darker colour scheme. They weigh about the same in your palm although technically the Vario II is 16 grams heavier. Width and height wise it's almost identical to the Vario but importantly it is slightly thinner, so it looks better in your pockets.

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You still get a dinky little stylus but quite frankly the superb keyboard meant I found myself rarely taking it out of it's holster. As with the Vario, it's placed on the bottom of the device for no apparent reason. The keyboard features large keys with slightly domed tops. Simply put, it's the best input device I've tried on a mobile device. Better than my Vario, the Nokia E61 I reviewed last month and every Blackberry including the Pearl.

Although internal storage is stuck at just under 55 megabytes it can be added to through the microSD slot. I found it rather annoying that while most devices get away with standard size SD slots or at the very least miniSD (like my Vario) I would have to go out and purchase a completely new card for this device alone. It's hard to see why miniaturization is needed when the external dimensions have barely changed from the Vario.

The 200MHz processor found in the Vario is fine but sometimes it gets bogged down, especially when you have more than 150 emails sat in your phone's inbox. Also noticeable is the lag between sliding the screen out and the orientation transfer from portrait to landscape. The 400MHz processor in the Vario II has no such problems. The whole experience is smoother and generally more enjoyable.

As you would expect the Vario II is fully loaded when it comes to wireless connectivity options. Supporting WiFi, Bluetooth and infra-red (IrDA) all bases are covered. Probably the most useful feature is the ability to use your Vario II as a modem through USB, IrDA or Bluetooth. When coupled to T-Mobile's HSDPA service, you really are getting mobile broadband.

While 3G connectivity may sound good, HSDPA is what this phone is all about. This uber fast Internet capability is only present on T-Mobile’s version of this phone. In reality what you end up with is up to 1.8Mbit/sec download speeds - that's close to the typical broadband connection found in homes.

HSDPA access isn't available everywhere and chances are if you aren't in a city like London, you won't be able to get it. What generally happens is the Vario II shifts down to 3G mode. If 3G service isn't available then it's back down to plain old GPRS.

In reality what you notice is extremely fast downloads of Web sites and large email attachments. If you use IMAP email and only download headers then it isn't going to mark a sea change in performance. What it is great for is loading up Multimap in the middle of the street and finding out which turn you need to make.

As with most mobile phone cameras, when in well lit locations everything is fine. Text in pictures generally are readable, the manual focus works well and the camera interface isn't bad either. In darker conditions pictures are hopeless, regardless of whether you turn on the built in flash.

The price of all this functionality is battery life. Especially when using the excellent HSDPA but also with WiFi or Bluetooth, you'll be lucky to go more than a day without needing a charge. It's clear that while the Vario II gives a lot, it certainly takes a similar amount from the battery.

So after spending a month with the Vario II I'm absolutely blown away by how much technology can be present on the palm of your hand. HSDPA functionality sits in the Vario II like a jet fighter would in your drive way. The ability to download files at speeds in excess of 1mbit/sec on your phone is just superb. Surely it'll herald the dawn of true mobile content such as music and video.

The Vario II does have faults, chief among which is battery life. However if you want a no compromise handset that has everything and more, look no further.