UMPCs. In particular, think Sony's VAIO UX, the OQO devices and the elusive xpPhone. Alas, those Windows devices were -- and probably still are -- well ahead of their time no thanks to their battery life, bulkiness and sometimes cost; though for some bizarre reason, Fujitsu begs to differ. In fact, said company took one step further and released a hybrid device in Japan: the LOOX F-07C, a QWERTY slider phone that can switch between Symbian and Windows 7 at a click of a button. Interesting combination, right? Read on to find out how this weird device fares in real life.
To accommodate the full-featured Windows 7 OS, it is no surprise that the F-07C ended up being a fairly chunky device -- we're looking at a 125 x 61 x 19.8mm body weighing 218 grams (7.69 ounces), a far cry from many smartphones these days, especially those crazy thin ones that keep popping up in Japan. This is mostly to do with the Intel Atom Z600 inside the phone, but while this chip is capable of delivering 1.2GHz of number crunching power, it's actually limited to just half that clock speed on the F-07C for the sake of better battery life and less heat emission. That said, this is still technically one of the world's smallest Windows machines, let alone one that can handle phone calls, but more on that later.
By now you would've figured out that the F-07C sports a landscape QWERTY slide-out keyboard -- it slides up easily thanks to the spring-assisted mechanism (though it can still be slicker), though we noticed that the gap between the two halves of the phone is pretty wide as well. The keyboard has four rows of keys, garnished by a little black trackball on the right that can be tapped for toggling left-click, though its sunken-in nature means you might prefer using the dedicated left-click flat button at the top left of the keyboard. As for the layout, along with the usual alphabets and Fn1 symbols there's also a set of yellow Fn2 keys, which are just F5 to F12 keys, while there are dedicated keys near the trackball for F1 to F4.
Like many Japanese phones, the key travel is short thus easy to press with thumbs, but since we have a full keyboard here (even Ctrl, Alt, Tab and Windows keys are included), people with bigger hands will have to make do with the relatively small keys within the cramped space. Hey, at least you can still do the good old Ctrl+Alt+Delete combo --good thing they kept the backspace button further away from the delete button.
There isn't much going on around the screen except for the few buttons and LEDs. You may think that there are three buttons at the bottom, but in fact, the dent below the Windows logo is merely a microphone sandwiched between two hidden blue LEDs; whereas on the left you have a Clear button, and on the right there's a phone button that also acts as a power button.
On the right hand side of the phone there are three keys, one of them being the single-stage (as in no half way point for focusing) camera button, while the remaining two further up appear to be volume keys. The top one is actually a "multi-tasking" button -- in Symbian it's for quickly toggling between tasks, and a long press triggers a user-customizable function like torch or fake incoming call; whereas in Windows it toggles a finger-friendly launcher. The lower key is merely for locking the screen, though a long press sets the phone to silent mode. Alas, there are no volume keys to be found on the phone.
Along with the phone itself there's also an optional charging dock by the name of F01, which adds four USB ports plus an HDMI-out port -- this is why the dock interfaces with the phone via the proprietary port instead of micro-USB. Most interestingly, however, is that said dock also has a built-in fan that blows gently on the phone's back, which is a necessity in Windows mode.
Actually, calling it Symbian would be misleading here; like many other Japanese phones, the F-07C runs a heavily customized Symbian (presumably to make it harder for unlocking, at least), so we might as well just say it has its own proprietary OS. It's also worth mentioning that when booting up, the phone always enter Symbian mode first, and then you can switch to Windows 7 by hitting the Windows key on the right literally at any time -- you know, for the occasional urgent cravings for Windows.
Going back to the Symbian phone side of things, here you only get the basic features like phone calls, SMS, multimedia and other simple tools. More advanced functions such as browsing are, much like other Japanese non-Android phones, nowhere to be found (even WiFi is missing!). Still, there are some bits and bobs that are worth pointing out here, like the aforementioned torch and fake incoming call tools, along with handwriting input for Chinese and Japanese users. Also, with the QWERTY keyboard open, you can hit the number keys directly to prepare a call; or you can hit any number up to 60, and then scroll the trackball upwards to start a countdown by minutes.
Earlier we pointed out the lack of a volume rocker on the F-07C, so how do we go about adjusting the volume? Well, it's actually pretty easy: just go to menu, then "Settings & NW services," then "Alerts & Sounds," then "Adjust Volume," and then finally "Alert/Call volume." See? Super easy. If you want to change the volume in the middle of a call, just hit the volume button on the screen -- obviously this would be more or less a trial and error unless you're using a hands-free. Given that this is the most basic setting for a phone, such complicated procedure is pretty unacceptable.
Multimedia in Symbian
Compared to most other Japanese phones, the F-07C's multimedia features definitely don't stand out. While said phone's 4-inch LCD manages to cram in a resolution of 1,024 x 600 (make that a high 297ppi density; iPhone 4 has 326ppi), it only has a five megapixel camera on the back, and video recording only goes up to a disappointing 640 x 480. We guess this is something to do with manufacturing costs. That said, the camera itself can capture pretty good images, though if you choose to save images to microSD, it may take up to five seconds to do so even on a Class 6 card.
Here's another image-related caveat: while browsing the captured shots, you can't make use of the phone's multitouch feature for pinch-to-zoom; and if you tilt the screen slightly, you can already see the backlight on the edge, which can be distracting. Things aren't any better with music playback: you can probably tolerate the fact that you must drag your music into a specific folder, but you must also get used to the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack -- there's a micro-USB to 3.5mm jack adapter in the box for this, which means you can't charge up your phone while privately enjoying some tunes, nor can you plug the adapter in while the phone's docked as the dock blocks the USB port. How thoughtful.
Windows 7 mode
Finally, the star of the show. As with most Windows machines these days, the F-07C required a one-off preparation to get its Windows 7 system ready upon the first boot up out of the box. We had leave the phone untouched for about an hour for that, only to realize that it's all in Japanese; thankfully, we managed to find a hack to throw in an English language pack. Afterwards, each bootup takes about two minutes; if you switch to Symbian mode, the Windows side would enter hibernation mode; and going from Symbian back to Windows 7 takes about 30 seconds.
By default, F-07C's Windows mode starts up with a custom-made finger-friendly launcher for opening Office applications (you get a two-year license for Office 2010) and controlling wireless features. As mentioned earlier, the launcher can also be toggled using the top button on the right of the phone, and you can switch off the auto start-up option in settings. The Windows lives on a 32GB eMMC inside the phone, but you can also access your microSD using an application, though for some strange reason, there's a three-minute time limit for this.
In addition to the keyboard and trackball, you can of course use the multitouch screen to interact with Windows 7 here, but of course, given the pixel density, it's not easy to hit the tiny buttons and links -- or even pick the right cards in Solitaire -- using your fat fingers. It's best to stick to the trackball for more precise control.
Performance (Windows 7)
We've already warned you guys: in Windows 7 mode, the F-07C is powered by a CPU underclocked to 600MHz (supported by 1GB of RAM), so naturally we have a sluggish system. Still, our handset got pretty hot while downloading some files, so just imagine what would happen to our hands if the CPU was running at its native 1.2GHz clock speed. We tried to run a couple of benchmark programs, but 3DMark06 stopped half way through the test with a Direct3D error message, and PCMark Vantage took almost an hour to return a disappointing score of around 700 (for the sake of comparison, the Intel Pine Trail netbooks were hitting scores above 1,200).
We didn't get around to trying some games on the F-07C, but put it this way: we couldn't even get Flash videos on YouTube and Viddler to play smoothly at 480p, though they were OK at 360p. Still, Facebook games won't be any better.
Battery life in Windows 7 mode
According to the spec sheet, the F-07C can manage about two hours in Windows 7 mode, though we'd say it's closer to just over an hour, and obviously you get even less when using 3G data connection. So really, the Windows mode is only suitable for urgent document tweaks or for some bedtime browsing; just don't expect this device to let you play Doom while on the move. Even the power management tool struggled to monitor battery level, as it kept jumping between 30 percent and 100 percent when it's low on juice. Luckily, when the battery level is critically low, the phone forces itself back to Symbian mode, thus letting it last much longer as a simple phone.
Connectivity in Windows 7 mode
The F-07C's Windows mode can make use of the 3G connection using the DoCoMo Connection Manager, though good luck to that if you're not fluent in Japanese -- the Windows language pack can only fix so much. Also, turning on 3G automatically kills the WiFi, and you'd have to manually start WiFi again once you close the 3G connection; likewise with 3G if your connection drops, as it's not smart enough to attempt reconnection on its own. As for making phone calls in Windows mode, well, we didn't have much luck with that, but we've been able to pick up incoming calls.
From our week-long experience with the F-07C, it's safe to say that this device is just full of flaws, ranging from the lack of volume rocker, 3.5mm headphone jack and multitouch in Symbian mode, not to mention the stupidly short battery life and shocking performance in Windows 7 mode. But hey, Fujitsu did say that this is more of a proof-of-concept device, and given this unique form factor plus technical limitations, Fujitsu's done a pretty good job on this fun device. Phone collectors would most certainly want to get hold of an F-07C, anyway.