The INQ Cloud Touch was the first of the new class of Facebook-centric smartphones. Originally referred to in only whispered rumours under the moniker of Facebook Phone, the Cloud Touch is an affordable Android device aimed those who have busy social lifestyles but don’t wish to pay for a top-end device. So, how does it compare to the competition and does its Facebook-centric user interface (UI) hold up under the pressures of a heavy user?
Our first impression of the INQ Cloud Touch was positive. The box sports a brightly coloured graffiti-style motif and feels to be of superior design when compared to the packaging of even the higher-end of the competition. Our Cloud Touch handset was red, the only other current option being white, and as such definitely suited its colourful packaging. The device itself is aimed predominantly at a younger audience, something that is clearly apparent in the physical design of both the device itself and the packaging in which it comes.
The bright casing definitely offers something different from your usual smartphone experience and as such produces a slightly different feel than we were used to. Our phones have traditionally looked very stark and professional, so getting our hands on something this fun was a nice change of pace.
However, it’s still very clear, even from the outward appearance, that the INQ Cloud Touch is a low-end device. The glossy red case gives off a very plastic vibe and the light-weight of the device only adds to this perception. It’s not a huge negative, considering the cheap price of the Cloud Touch, but it’s still something to keep in mind.
Hardware of the INQ Cloud Touch
Hardware-wise the Cloud Touch is pretty similar to the iPhone 3GS. The 3.5 inch 320 x 480 display isn’t bad for a device in this range. Neither is the 600MHz CPU or 512MB of RAM. Internal memory is a disappointing 512MB but the handset does come with a 4GB MicroSD card, expandable up to 32GB of course.
The 5MP camera takes good shots during the day, but unfortunately falls a bit short in low light and doesn’t have a flash of any kind. Movie recording runs into a similar wall in the later hours of the day but is more than passable in good light.
Battery life is standard, easily lasting a day with medium to heavy use. Unfortunately for the Cloud Touch the very nature of its design requires a bit more 3G activity than usual, so the standard battery often had trouble keeping up with our greedy 3G Facebook browsing. We usually still got a whole day out of it, but it was often an extremely close call.
The buttons on the INQ Cloud Touch are varyingly useful. The 3 standard Android capacitive buttons below the screen (Menu, Home and Back) are present with the exception of the common Search button which is instead located on the Unlock Screen. The power button on top is well positioned but the right-side volume rocker does tend to be subject to unexpected pushes when kept in the pocket.
Button-wise, the two most interesting additions to the INQ Cloud Touch are the quick-access Info and Music keys. The Info key is located on the top left and brings up a simple infograph of data that is actually pretty useful at times: estimated battery remaining, available memory, WiFi status, alarms and Time & Date are all present. There’s also a few options you can toggle on & off like Silent, Vibrate, Airplane, Bluetooth and GPS. We actually really liked this button and found it a handy device for managing our phone’s day-to-day functions.
The Music key, however, had a more frustrating affect. While we love the idea of a dedicated music button the one on the Cloud Touch seemed to activate itself accidentally pretty often. Almost once a day we found our pockets to be suddenly merrily humming out a tune without any warning. This could be most annoying in a situation where silence is required such as a movie cinema, as Androids have separate volume settings for Media and Ringtone. Even if your phone is turned all the way down (or on silent) there’s still a chance you could find yourself in an embarrassing situation with that Natalie Imbruglia song you didn’t want people to know you liked blasting out for everyone to hear. Not that we ran in to any embarrassing situations like that, of course.
INQ's Social/Facebook UI
The interface of the INQ Cloud Touch was certainly a bold effort and we loved the layout of it. Unfortunately the final execution fell a bit short of the mark. Not because it was ungainly, unintuitive or ugly, but because the software didn’t seem to run too well with the hardware it had been given. Constantly the Cloud Touch would freeze or start performing inexplicably slowly, only to begin working again ten or twenty seconds later. At first this didn’t seem like too much of a problem, but after a week it had become so frustrating that we found we’d almost stopped using 3G on the handset all together.
The social UI of the Cloud Touch itself is well laid out. The Lock Screen has 3 options: Camera, Unlock and Search. We didn’t find ourselves using Search too much but the Camera unlock option is extremely handy if you want to take a quick picture. The Music button on the side even doubles as a shutter key here too, which makes snapping shots much easier. Never underestimate the positives of a top-side mechanical Camera button.
The graphics news feed takes up most of the main Home Screen’s real estate. It’s a pretty cool idea and we liked having a different centre-pic every time we unlocked our handset. Unfortunately the unreliability of the touchscreen often led to us clicking on the news feed itself when we were trying to scroll through previous updates on the Home Screen. This led to us being transported to the actual Facebook news feed, rather than just casually scrolling through one or two announcements on our home screen. Once again this became a bit frustrating after a while.
Above the news feed are 4 buttons; People, Events, Notifications and Places. People is a simple function where your top 5 Facebook friends are calculated and given a card each, which you can then scroll through at your leisure. Each card acts like a personal news feed for each person so you can easily keep up with their lives. Your top friends can be edited manually and a further 20 friends can be added on top of the initial 5.
Events is more of a diary list than a calendar. It grabs not only all of your Facebook events but also upcoming birthdays and appointments you add yourself and combines them in to one vertical stream. We really liked this feature as we only had to look in one place to see all of our upcoming responsibilities.
Notifications is very similar to the Notifications section of the official Facebook app we’ve all learned to love and Places simply shows recent check-ins by yourself and your friends so you can see if anyone is near you.
The actual notifications for your phone (SMS, calls, Facebook, emails etc) are all handled in the familiar Android drop-down menu from the top of the screen. However, when it comes to Facebook and Game notifications the INQ Cloud Touch seems to have difficulty realising that you have already attended to the updates if you don’t click directly on them. As a result it tends to fill up with Facebook notifications, even if you’ve already handled them all on a desktop or other device. We found ourselves hitting the “clear all” button more than once a day.
On top of all this the screen was often unresponsive or inaccurate. We often had to hold a finger down, rather than just lightly tap the screen, in order to get a response. Other times we would touch the screen and nothing would appear to happen, then the phone would suddenly launch in to action a few seconds later. By then we’d already tried a second time, thus activating another command and selecting whatever option was under our finger once the screen changed. We hate to say it, because the general layout of the Social UI is really great and the way it integrates Facebook is fantastic, but the clunkiness of it coupled with a laggy and inaccurate touch interface led us to distraction on more than one occasion.
Networks and 3G with the INQ Cloud Touch
Another issue is that of data network connectivity. There appears to be a small issue with 3G. We’re not sure how common this is but sometimes 3G simply doesn’t work at all. It’s an easy fix; just go in to applications, select Auto-setup (first on the list), click Continue and then Test. Immediately you should find the 3G working again. What we can’t figure out is why this is necessary at all but if you're having problems this should hopefully fix it.
We also found that 3G connectivity tended to vary a lot more than it has on other devices we’ve tested. On the same route to and from work and also in the office the Cloud Touch seems to have a few issues maintaining a steady 3G connection, where the HTC Desire Z, Desire HD, HD7 and Incredible S were all fine when we reviewed them, as are our own personal handsets
The WhistleOut Opinion
All in all the INQ Cloud Touch is definitely a budget device. Right now it is just $0 on a 24 month $29 plan, so it’s about as cheap as they come. If you don’t mind the idea of a temperamental phone then you might be willing to give it a go. Otherwise we sadly can’t recommend the Cloud Touch unless (and here’s hoping) an update is released that fixes most of the underlying issues with responsiveness.