If you’re looking for a mobile phone with an integrated camera, Panasonic’s GD87 and GD88 (designations for Europe and Asia-Pacific markets respectively) will blow you away - a far cry when compared to other currently-available, camera-compatible phone models! It’s not just because it has a built-in camera - but also the list of improvements that are packaged with this handset that takes the cake. Read on to find out! :)
For avid Panasonic users, you would have already noticed a couple of differences and innovations introduced onto the GD87/88.
Starting off from the outside, the GD87/88 is Panasonic’s first GSM-based model to be encased in a clamshell footprint, with its size being slightly larger than some other folder-based models. A set of 5-way navigational keys has been adopted instead of the joystick, since it is a clamshell-based phone and where depth needs be maintained at a minimum. Also, the integrated camera and IR port are located on the phone’s top face along with the outer sub-LCD and shutter key (for the camera).
Feature-wise, the GD87/88 is also the first phone to be equipped with tri-band compatibility (GSM 900/1800/1900 MHz) which means it can be used in most countries that offer GSM networks - including North American ones! The TFT colour screen colour emits fabulous graphics at around 65,000 colours providing for a rich GUI (graphical user interface) and user experience as well!
One of the good things about the GD87/88 is that the dilemma on “size” has been addressed, given that it comes with an integrated camera. With the lens conveniently located at the top of the front cover, pictures can be taken either with the GD87/88 opened (with the colour LCD screen acting as the viewfinder) or closed (using the self-portrait mirror positioned below the camera lens, and pressing on the shutter button below the sub-LCD).
If you’re wondering what that black patch is below the shutter button, that’s actually the infrared (IR) port allowing communications with another mobile phone device or compatible PC device. A LED indicator is located below this, indicating certain phone statuses such as charging a battery (still red), incoming call/message (flashing green), and taking a picture (still green). The shutter button also has a blue light, which fades in and out slowly when a call is active.
Working our way into the phone, the colour LCD screen utilises the entire area of the top folder’s inside, while a very well spaced-out keypad provides good usability for people of any sized hands. As mentioned previously, the traditional 5-way joystick used on recent Panasonic models (GD68/75/95) has been replaced with a set of 5-way navigational keys instead. You may notice an additional key below the standard 12-button keypad, which is a quick access key for WAP services located just under the “star” (*) key.
With the GD87/88 being either opened for general use or closed to just hold in your hands, its overall sizing makes it all that pleasant to hold and use.
User Interface & display
An outstanding feature of the GD87/88 is its internal, rich colour display. With the ability to display up to 65,535 colours, the TFT LCD screen produces some of the most vivid images and will beat any current GSM model phone with a colour screen on brightness, clarity and sharpness. Information displayed on its screen came out good in most lighting situations - whether in a dark room or under the sun.
But a big issue with TFT-based screens is the inherent problem of energy consumption. When compared to other type of screens, TFT comes on top for being a good display but also good in quickly draining its power source. Fortunately, Panasonic has included a brightness control feature that provides three brightness settings (dim, normal, bright) for general use which can ultimately affect overall battery times. This is in addition to the backlight timeout feature, and the display ultimately turning off after a period of inactivity.
On the outside, the sub-LCD supports for up to two lines of information (top line used for signal, battery and charging indicators; bottom line for text info - such as caller ID, missed calls/waiting messages, etc). During standby, either the current date and time or status icons are displayed with the top line indicators. To swap between these two different displays, simply press the camera shutter button. Finally, the sub-LCD supports up to three different backlight colours (blue, green, orange), where different colours can be designated for different functions (for example - incoming calls, SMS and MMS messages, etc).
The GD87/88 adopts a similar user interface (UI) as its predecessor models, with the biggest difference being the high quality graphics used for the main menu and the ability to physically display a greater level and amount of information. This is all thanks to its high-resolution TFT colour display.
General navigation is all through the set of 5-way keys plus the two soft keys. While the standby screen is displayed, pressing the left soft key will bring up the phonebook feature; while the right key can have a specific function preset to it (this can be changed under the phone’s “Personalise” function). And holding down the centre button on the 5-way keys gives the option of code-locking the phone or activating the keyguard (which I doubt most people would need to use on a folder-based phone).
I found the responsiveness of the GD87/88 being somewhat improved compared to some of its predecessor models. This becomes less frustrating for those individuals who just skim through their phone menus.
Making and receiving calls
Three cheers for Panasonic in making their first folder-based GSM handset. But unfortunately, this was one of the areas that I had some concerns about.
Starting off with the GD87/88’s inability to answer and end calls by simply opening and closing the active folder respectively, this becomes an inconvenience for many that may have taken this feature for granted on virtually all other models that has this. I agree that some people don’t use this, but it would have been a good idea to include an on/off option for this.
To my surprise, because of this missing ability, a user would be able to automatically mute the caller when he/she closed the folder during a call, and can resume the phone conversation by simply opening up the phone where muting is disabled. With the speakerphone feature enabled, you can actually conduct the call either with the folder open or closed. For both these situations, the camera shutter button will emit a blue light that fades in and out, indicating a call is currently active while the clamshell is closed.
Moving along to the ergonomics of the GD87/88, I found it a bit difficult to properly position the phone against my ear for maximum audio comfort. Even when I worked out the best way to hold the phone, the earpiece audio did not provide sufficient volume in noisy environments - which required me to push the earpiece closer to my ear than I would like it. I also found the bulge of the phone’s active folder hinge to be slightly too big, causing possible discomfort during long telephone conversations.
Lastly, I found the performance of the speakerphone feature to be average only. Out of the calls that I conducted with this feature, a large proportion of those people commented on lack of volume on my end and poor clarity even in a quiet room.
As most may know, the GD87/88 supports the multimedia messaging standard (MMS) - another first for a Panasonic GSM phone. This makes the integrated camera that much more useful, where you can take those pictures and send them off straight away! Of course, you can spice up MMS messages by including sound objects, and also have the ability to change the colour of the text and background as well.
Not forgetting to mention that basic SMS text messaging and SMS Chat are supported on the GD87/88.
But a minor problem I did have with the GD87/88, and with some other Panasonic phones alike, is the lacking responsiveness of the T9 predictive text function. It does buffer keypresses when a person types faster than what is being fed out onto the display. But after a while, when you’ve reached the limit of that buffer, you will only know it when misspelt words become apparent. One suggestion to those fast T9 typists would probably be to slow down.
The GD87/88 overall build quality was solid - from the actual folder hinge right down to the joints between the different covers. With the clamshell closed, the phone sat nicely in the palm of my hands where its weight sort of contributed to its high levels of sturdiness.
I was quite happy with the performance of its 720 mAh lithium-ion battery given that it needed to power the TFT LCD screen. As it comes in a clamshell design, this meant that the display can be switched off when it was closed up or after a long period of inactivity - which provided the majority of the energy savings. On average use, I was able to obtain approximately 2-3 hours talking time and 2-3 days standby.