Velocity Mobile is a new manufacturer specializing in Windows Mobile devices. There have been a few of these small companies - the Windows Mobile platform seems to attract them - but we were impressed with Velocity's devices and strategy compared to some other smartphone upstarts we've seen in recent years.
Velocity itself is a small company. They have an executive team, of course, plus device designers and software engineers. The actual hardware engineering is done by Inventec Corporation. Inventec is a familiar name in the smartphone space, but Velocity was careful to point out that their devices are made by Inventec Corporation, which is almost a separate company from Inventec Appliances, which makes the Windows Mobile devices for companies like HP, etc.
Velocity's focus is on simple, clean, stylish hardware designs. For example, eliminate key clutter and simplify the design, they've opted to eliminate physical soft keys and rely on pressing the bottom edge of the touch-screen instead, just as HTC did with the Touch.
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The first two devices are the 103 and 111. Both have attractive hardware that looks and feels great. Neither is super-thin, but they both come in at a respectable thickness (thinner than the Sharper Image smartphone, for example). Glossy fronts and soft-touch sides and backs exude a high-quality feel. The phones are a bit on the heavy side, but that contributes to the feeling of quality in a way.
The phones run a relatively generic version of Windows Mobile 6.1. They do have a custom home screen that follows Velocity's theme of simplicity. It has a requisite weather display, plus a row of icons that they say are designed to look like Vista, but look more like Mac OS's Dock to us. Like the Dock on a Mac, you can add shortcuts to whatever applications you want, and a little icon shows which ones are running, and lets you easily quit apps to free memory. It's an elegant solution.
Both devices have similar specs: tri-band HSDPA for both Europe and the US, quad-band GSM, 2 megapixel camera, Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, TV output, Windows Mobile Professional (meaning a touch screen) and a trackball "marble" for navigation, like a BlackBerry. They also have standard connectors: miniUSB for data and 2.5mm headset jacks.
The 111 is a typical QWERTY slab device, with a landscape QVGA display. The QWERTY keyboard on the prototype we tried was above-average. The keys were a little hard and didn't have much travel, but these were annoyances more than problems; typing accurately on it was no problem at all.
The 103 is keyboard-less slab. As is common these days, removing the keyboard makes room for a lovely VGA-resolution display. It also felt pretty good, although there was less to test out.
Velocity is working on carrier deployments this year in Eastern Europe, India, and South America. They will also be available worldwide through the usual channels for unlocked phones (mostly online.) Both of these two models should be shipping by mid-year.
Velocity is currently hiring a ton of new software engineers, and plans to offer free over-the-air updates with new software features in the coming year.
The company also showed s a sneak peek of some models planned for later in the year. They wouldn't allow photos (and they were dummy mock-ups anyway) but we can tell you that we liked what they saw. Future models will be all be thinner. One model - the 83 - will be a cheaper 2G model that's only 12mm thick. They're hoping to have that out in September. The other - the 301 - is a higher-end model with a massive wide-VGA screen. It will also sport an accelerometer and a compass. Media and navigation should be the big selling points on this device, and it seems to be the model most squarely targeted at the iPhone crowd.
They also showed us a model with an even more massive wide-VGA screen, MediaFLO, and a slick slide-out QWERTY keyboard. That one was really cool, but it was mostly an Inventec design, and they seemed less certain about when or if that one would come out as a Velocity phone.
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