Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Layperson's Review Of The TNT! Cell Phone By Kyocera (And Virgin Mobile)!

The Good: Inexpensive, Easy to use, works.
The Bad: Not stylish, Advanced features are a pain to use, Potential screen issues
The Basics: Intuitive to use, the TNT! is a good, very basic cell phone with a small display that makes using the internet on it annoying.

Those who know me know I am pretty much the last person in the world who would get a cellular telephone (as is evident by the fact that I still refer to them as cellular telephones, as opposed to "cell phones"). My wife, however, is of a younger, hipper generation and for the first few months of our marriage, she was feeling out of touch because she did not have a cell phone. But, as we are living on a budget now, when she got the means to get one, she got a very basic model, the TNT! by Kyocera.

The TNT! cell phone is manufactured by Kyocera, but sold in the United States through an exclusive relationship with Virgin Mobile, so when my wife picked up this very basic cell phone at target, it was part of a package deal which compelled her to buy virgin mobile phone cards. The cell phone is intended to provide users with a very basic pay as you go cell phone option and unlike many cell phones, this is not intended as a status symbol, though it does a little more than just work as a telephone.

The TNT! is a "clamshell" style cell phone, meaning that it folds up much like a communicator on the classic Star Trek. Folded up, it is a convenient 3" long by 1 5/8" wide and only about 1/2" thick. The TNT! comes in one color (that we could find) which is a dull navy blue with a black screen on the outside. The small outer screen lights up when there are incoming calls or incoming text messages. On the outer screen, all it will say is "1 NEW TEXT" or "INCOMING CALL." This screen lights up for about ten seconds before going dark again.

Flipped open, the TNT! has two parts, the screen and the keypad. The screen is about 1 3/4 high by 1 3/8" wide and it is a small, LCD screen. It has the ability to render colors in a very muted way - we used it to surf the web once - and those who need something basic for checking up on something on the internet while on the go, this would work, though I would never choose it over my iPod Touch. The resolution is mediocre at best and the TNT!, being an inexpensive phone option, is not trying to win prizes for clarity on the display. For the most part, the LCD screen is used by us to type and read text messages, which is something my wife is big into.

The bottom half is the keypad. The keypad is a basic cell phone nineteen button keypad (the numbers 1 - 0, #, *, plus cell phone specific command keys like - left, right, volume, enter, green (answer), red (end), and okay) and the characters are just large enough to read. Unfortunately, the keypad is not lit, so when driving at night while texting, my wife has to turn an overhead light on, which is irksome as I drive. The fact that the screen is not bright enough to make the dark keys easily visible in low light also may be problematic for some and it is clear the TNT! is not intended for discreet use.

In addition to the cell phone itself, the TNT! comes with the battery and a charger. To get started, one needs to plug the TNT! into a wall socket with the battery for about three hours to fully charge it. It is important to note that the TNT! does not come with any Virgin Mobile prepaid calling cards or any sort of pre-installed plan. It does, however, come with an instruction manual which is very thorough on how to set up and install everything one needs on their TNT! My wife has used two different plans over the past few months and our reason for cutting back to the basic $20/month plan was because she simply did not receive enough telephone calls nor use the internet enough to justify the $50/month unlimited package Virgin Mobile tried to get her on.

Set up, regardless, means going on-line to the Virgin Mobile website and establishing an account and choosing a plan there. For $20/month, my wife and I two hundred minutes of calling to anywhere in the United States and 500 text messages (incoming as well as outgoing). I thought that was a lot, but having seen the way she knocks off text messages, there has been at least one month where she had to stop receiving messages before the 30 day billing month ended, lest she get charged more. The 200 minutes counts for calls made, calls received and checking voicemail messages. As a result, neither my wife nor I are particularly hospitable while talking on the cell phone. We tend to have this for emergency use (though she texts on it quite a bit) and "call me, please" type calls to others who call us on our landline.

The other big reason we left the more expensive plan was that in addition to including unlimited texts and 1000 minutes which we did not truly need, it had unlimited internet use. The thing is, navigating the internet with the TNT! was such a pain in the butt that we stopped using it for that within days. First, web pages take forever to load up, even the non-graphic-intensive ones. Similarly, the TNT! loads pages in an awkward way, so pages that have columns load right column, center, left column where one has to scroll all the way down the right column to get to the next column over. This is just an annoying way to browse the web and, truth-be-told, I did not actually get used to it as a result.

Part of the reason I recommend this very unflashy cell phone is that for basic functions it is exceptionally easy to use. I had never used a cell phone before the TNT! and the menus on this are very easy to navigate. My wife sent me out in search of the new Family Guy movie Something Something Something Dark Side and we were price comparing (as well as bonus feature comparing) via text messages with her on a friend's phone and me on the TNT! Without ever having used a cell phone and with no schooling from her, I was able to open new text messages, reply to her text messages (I quickly learned that letters I wanted that were not the first one associated with a number I would get by pressing that number multiple times!), review prior text messages and delete messages both sent and received. A well-designed electronics device, like a cell phone works best when the controls and menus are intuitive and easy to use and I found that to be the case with the TNT!

Since that first outing, I've used the cell phone several times and while I have not downloaded any ringtones to the phone, I have discovered how to switch the ringtones that are on the phone, as well as turn the ringer off and set it for vibrate. The TNT! advertises a battery life of a little over three hours and with pretty constant texting, we've pushed the battery to three hours before it conked out. On the plus side, it seems to recharge about as fast, so this is an easy-to-use device with a fair battery life.

In months of use, the screen has only failed once, but after recharging, it seemed to come right back.

As for phone calls, Virgin Mobile, which provides the telephone service for the TNT! has clear reception on the TNT! We've never had to deal with dropped calls, though I have noticed some sound loss on things like ringtones which have a more grainy auditory quality to them. This cell phone makes the user feel like they are on a telephone, not standing in the same room as the person they are calling, which is fine so long as the user knows to expect that.

I'm very basic when it comes to cell phones; I want to only use one for emergencies because I still don't trust that the technology isn't going to mess with my brain (electrical impulses interacting near something that runs on electrical impulses still doesn't seem entirely safe to me). The TNT! is a good, affordable cell phone for exactly that purpose. For use as an emergency cell phone, it would work just fine (we've not taken it farther from our house than 200 miles, but we've never had reception problems, not even in the backwoods of New York State) so long as one is sure to have it registered with a prepaid card and charged before one actually needs it.

For other "layperson" reviews of cool electronics, please check out my reviews of:
iPad 64 GB
ATP Breast Cancer Awareness Flash Drive
Dyson Air Multiplier fan


For other electronics reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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