Review: Cingular 2125 smartphone

After spending two weeks with the Cingular 2125 smartphone, I feel like an overbearing father — the sweaty, balding little-league pop with a beer-belly screaming "Hustle!" or "Dammit, keep your eye on the ball!" I can't help but see the 2125 not for what it is, but for what it's not.

Designed by Taiwanese maker HTC for Cingular, the 2125 is the service giant's first company-branded phone and claims to be "the first Smartphone-class handset to feature the new Microsoft Windows 5.0 Smartphone Edition operating platform." Cingular would have you believe that's the cell-phone equivalent of splitting the atom, but the 2125 is just the first phone with Microsoft's new smartphone operating system, not the first smartphone with WinMo 5.0. The Treo's already tread that water.

With that said, at first glance, the 2125's a beauty. Weighing about 4 ounces, its compact, candy-bar style and metallic grey/blue body give it immediate sex appeal. It has a simple button layout with a key on the left spine that controls Bluetooth, Microsoft's synchronization program ActiveSync, and the speakerphone and voice recorder. But the star of the phone's facade is clearly the big, bright 2.2-inch-diagonal display — a particular pleasure when surfing the Web or using the impressively crisp 1.3-megapixel camera (both video and photo capable).

I could thank the heavens for the 2125, a phone not without obvious joys, but then I try to turn the damn thing on or off, and I'm ready to throw it under the D train. To find the strength to push and hold down the stiff, rigid power button, you may have to spend a few hours working yourself into shape with Tae Bo legend Billy Blanks. In contrast to the unyielding power button is the oversensitive navigation "joystick." Using it is like trying to control a cracked-out kitten. Countless times, I found myself inadvertently clicking on site links as I tried to scroll up or down.

Windows Mobile 5.0 Smartphone Edition endows the 2125 with many abilities. You don't get the full Mobile Office suite available with the Pocket PC Edition found on the Treo, but you can still view Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF files. You can access your corporate and personal e-mail accounts, and an optional upgrade allows direct-push e-mail, which automatically delivers your e-mail messages to your handheld. Plus MSN Messenger is preloaded to the handset. It all sounds great until you try to dash off a two-sentence email. When you find yourself still typing away 15 minutes later, you'll regret not getting a phone with a full QWERTY keyboard.

The phone has 64 MB of SDRAM (which you can use to store photos, music, and whatnot) and can play MP3, WAV, WMA, and AAC audio as well as MPEG-4 video, satisfying many of your entertainment needs. Yet the phone lacks Wi-Fi — available on some of the 2125's main competitors, like T-Mobile's soon-to-be-released SDA — limiting your on-the-go downloading abilities. In the end, for every positive the phone offers, there's something to make you stop and wonder, "didn't they try to use this before releasing it?" For $199 with a two-year contract, I'd be hard-pressed to accept its faults, so it's off to the orphanage with Cingular's 2125.