HP’s Glisten: A Solid, Unremarkable Windows Mobile Smartphone

Glisten is such a fabulous name for a smartphone, we’re surprised no one snapped up before. It’s a play on the word listen, of course, but it also conjures images of sparkling things — like your phone conversations, perhaps. Bravo to the folks at HP (NYSE: HPQ) for giving the iPAQ Glisten smartphone for small businesses and consumers a stylish name and look.

HP Glisted Windows mobile smartphone
The HP iPAQ Glisten smartphone.
(Click for larger image)

The Glisten ($180 from AT&T with a new one-year contract) is a 3G/Wi-Fi/GPS quad-band world phone with some nice attributes. Though the phone doesn’t always sparkle, it’s a reasonably sensible choice if you’re wedded to Windows Mobile and AT&T.

The Mobile Smartphone Features that Shine

Let’s start with the good stuff.

We like the Glisten’s physical look and feel. Yes, it resembles a BlackBerry to a certain extent. But the phone feels solid — not too big, not too heavy. And we appreciate the back cover’s soft-touch finish exterior, which is less slippery than, say, an iPhone’s hind side.

The full QWERTY keypad’s raised keys make typing as easy as it can be on a smartphone. There are convenient buttons to launch the calendar, messaging and the smartphone GPS apps, too. If you hold the OK button down for a few seconds, up pops the phone’s camera/video recorder app. A dedicated button to turn Wi-Fi networking on and off is located conveniently up top, not far from the power button.

The Glisten gives you a variety of navigation choices. The 2.5-inch display is touch-sensitive and you can use either your finger or the included stylus to tap and select, scroll and dig through menus.

This being a Windows Mobile phone, you can count on some menu digging. However, the Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional OS (operating system), which the Glisten uses, offers interface improvements over earlier versions that make navigation a bit easier. For instance, the Today screen contains your most important stuff — such as email, text messages, voicemail and appointments — in an easily scrollable list.  

Aside from the touch screen, there’s a center select button surrounded by a navigation ring, providing yet another way to scroll and select.

Navigation choice is good — especially since the Glisten’s screen is on the small side. The screen size makes it a bit too easy to inadvertently select and launch an application when all you wanted to do is scroll through the apps with your finger or stylus.

The Glisten’s built-in speaker provides better-than-average sound. When playing it sounded louder than the speaker on our iPhone 3GS. Calls made over the speakerphone to others, and to our own voicemail, sounded a tiny bit louder than calls made while speaking directly into the microphone.  

Less-Than-Shiny Smartphone Features

Volume aside, we found Glisten’s call quality to be about average, both with and without the speakerphone. Voices often sounded slightly muffled. But hey, this is a smartphone, not a landline phone, so we can’t ding the Glisten too much in this department.

The 3.1 megapixel camera takes fairly middling smartphone-quality pictures and videos, meaning they’re a bit fuzzy and colors aren’t terribly sharp. We do like both the variety of image capture options — such as Timer, Burst and Panorama modes — and the choice of image resolutions and effects.

Glisten smartphones use what’s called an AMOLED (active matrix organic light-emitting diode) displays, which are designed to be brighter and crisper than traditional LCDs. While the Glisten’s screen is an attractive feature, its small size and resolution (240 x 320) wipes away any kind of “wow” factor.

Mobile Features that Need Improvement

We appreciate the features and tools you get with a Windows Mobile smartphone and the accompanying mobile versions of Office apps, such as being able to get a word count in a Word file. Despite its improvements over the years, though, Windows Mobile OS is the least satisfying of all the mobile operating systems. At its core, it still feels like a miniaturized, stripped-down version of Windows on a computer, rather than an OS designed from the ground up for a smartphone.

Viewing Web pages not optimized for a mobile browser was painful at times. Pages, especially those with lots of images and links, were often slow to load and difficult to navigate without accidentally clicking a link you didn’t want to select.

Viewing Web pages not optimized for a mobile browser can be a painful experience on some smartphones, and unfortunately, the Glisten is no exception. For example, loading the home page of The Huffington Post — a big, busy page with lots of images — routinely took about three times as long on the Glisten as it did on our iPhone 3GS.

Other, less complicated pages loaded a bit faster on the Glisten. But if you’re looking for a smartphone with the most consistently zippy Web browsing experience, the Glisten isn’t for you.   

And finally, the Glisten is slow to start up after it’s been powered off — just like most PCs we’ve owned, come to think of it. Best to just let the phone go to sleep, though that sips battery juice over time.

About the Apps

The Glisten comes loaded with features aimed at increasing the mobile professional’s productivity, such as real-time synchronization of e-mail, contacts, calendar and tasks over a Microsoft Exchange Server.

You’ll get apps for fun, too, such as a Facebook app. You can download additional apps from the Windows Marketplace. And there’s the AT&T Navigator app, which works with the phone’s built-in GPS for a $10 monthly or $3 per day charge.

The Bottom Line

As with any smartphone — or any mobile device for that matter — the Glisten comes with trade-offs. It’s an attractive phone with good call quality, a better than average speaker, and a comfortable keypad (by smartphone standards).

But the dated feel of the Windows Mobile OS, the small screen (and sometimes awkward touch navigation) and sluggish Web browsing diminish the phone’s potential.

James A. Martin has covered mobile technology since the mid 1990s. He writes an SEO and social media blog and is a co-author of Getting Organized in the Google Era (Broadway Books).

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