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Review: Meet The Facebook Phone, INQ Cloud Touch

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There has been a lot of speculation about a Facebook phone, but we still don’t know what it quite looks like. However, a new device from INQ, a London-based phone maker, dubbed INQ Cloud Touch, shows the possibilities of a Facebook phone, something I wrote about last year.

For the past week, I have been using the phone, which takes its inspiration from the first version of the iPhone. It is hard to tell that this handsome featherweight smartphone is based on Google’s Android operating system. Your first, and most of the important, interactions on the phone are with Facebook services, though there is nothing preventing you from using the Android applications.

Google, Android & Facebook: Oh My!

The phone, which is GSM/WCDMA, is able to work across the planet and I tested it on the T-Mobile USA network. There were hardly any dropped calls and the call quality was pretty solid – I am guessing that it is thanks to both the radio engineering and the network. Given how slow the 3G networks are in the US, I decided to use Wi-Fi as my primary Internet connection on this device, which was perfect when using some of my favorite Android OS apps such as Amazon (s AMZN) Kindle, Nimbuzz, Evernote and Dropbox. You can access the Google (s GOOG) Apps’ marketplace just as quickly as you can sign-in to your Google account, and you can access various Google services including Google Voice like you would on any normal Android device. However, this phone is for Facebook lovers.

So, let’s talk about the Facebook experience. After booting up the phone, you come to the welcome screen and all you need to do is enter your Facebook login. The phone populates your address book (you do need to select what kind of syncing you want to do) and logs you into Facebook’s messaging and other services.

Single Sign-On Rocks

The single sign-on removes the need for you to individually sign-in for every Android app – and there is a ton of those — that uses Facebook Connect. As an end customer, this single sign-on is going to make the phone inherently useful. You can check-in to places from the home screen, you can send messages from the home screen, and you can use your calendar from the home screen. One click access to the camera allows you to upload photos directly to Facebook photos.

They are all shown as separate apps, leveraging the recent consumer behavior of using dedicated apps for specific functions. I would argue that if you are a Facebook addict, then you pretty much don’t have to leave the home screen.

It seems INQ got access to an extended/new Facebook Mobile API, which allows it to do some amazing things with the Facebook data. INQ’s phone has borrowed a visual feed metaphor from apps like Flipboard and now allows you to directly see elements such as YouTube videos and photos right on the home screen. After using the Facebook visual feed for six days, I find the web-version of Facebook downright dowdy, slow and well, not fun.

Facebook + Spotify + Android = Fun

As someone who has trial access to Spotify, I have thoroughly enjoyed the integration of Spotify, Facebook and this phone. So if Shak (Spotify’s super evangelist) shares a song with me on Facebook, I can now click on the link and it plays in the Spotify app, which incidentally is fully integrated into the INQ phone. What does that mean for you? Fewer clicks and your home screen becomes the launch pad for your Facebook life as most apps are now cross-linked with each other.

However, here’s the app that is going to blow your mind: the People App. Think of your friends as featured on always updating baseball card. INQ says they got Facebook to extend their social graph API and then are using behind-the-scenes wizardry to suggest top 5/10/20 friends you interact most with.

This is a perfect way for one to manage the friend circle and get rid of some of the noise in your social graph. I am addicted and I want this feature on a desktop app.

The company spokesperson explained that all the Facebook services are based off APIs and Facebook for Android App, because when FB updates their app, the company can take advantage of it right away.

What do I think?

There is a lot to like about INQ Cloud Touch – from the packaging to all the accessories and even set-up handbook are top notch, colorful, and are bursting with energy. The phone itself is light and the touch screen is very responsive.

However, the device at times felt underpowered and sluggish, mostly because it was doing too many things at the same time on a puny processor (Qualcomm 7227 chipset, 600MHz) limited onboard memory (4 MB).

I found it ran out of power after a few hours – between 3 and 4 – when I turned on Wi-Fi and was using the Spotify service in tandem with other mobile apps.  The Facebook app kept crashing on the test device, which at times soured me on the experience.

The toughest challenge for me personally was that I found the home screen a tad too busy. There are just too many calls to action, which are kind of contrary to the experience you get on an iPhone. I bet folks who are half my age are going to have no such problems and probably would appreciate busyness.

That said, it stands out in a sea of Android phones that are hard to distinguish and if you love Facebook and want to live inside the social network, this is the smart phone for you.


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