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NEC 338 3G mobile phone

3G without the glitz?

NEC 338 3G phoneWhile the exterior isn't exciting, opening up the phone reveals a decent looking layout. But I wasn't keen on the navigation system, which uses a four-way circular pad with a button at its centre. This is surrounded by two soft keys, an option key above, a menu button on one side and a button for direct access to 3's services on the other. The menu button brings up options with the usual animated icons. However, I expected the menu button to be in the middle rather than on the left. In fact pressing the middle button causes the cursor to jump to one of the icons on the display. These are shortcuts to the frequently used folders, which you move between using the rocker switch. This is essentially a Windows desktop metaphor, but it never feels natural to me on a phone. After a while I got used to it but it just doesn't possess the intuitiveness of a Sony Ericsson or Nokia interface.

So what can you do with this phone? Having never really seen what 3G content was like, I was eager to get a taster, and generally speaking I was impressed. There was a good range of content, such as news, football, and music videos and everything downloaded rapidly giving you the option to stream the content or download to the phone so you can watch it again without paying. Most items are 50p, though full length pop videos are £1.50. I felt that the content was fairly expensive but everything was clearly priced, so you know what you're spending.

The 2in, 220 x 176, 65,000-colour display isn't the best available on a 3G phone but I was nevertheless impressed by the quality of video playback. I would have liked to have clips play full-screen, but unfortunately this isn't possible. To test image quality we compared it with the Sony Ericsson V800. The display on the latter offers more colours and is slightly bigger and you could tell this clearly with a side-by-side comparison. However, judged on its own, the playback on the 338 was still very respectable. There was also plenty of volume from the speaker. For regular voice calls, audio quality was fine and the keypad has a good feel to it. And after a long time using a candy-bar style phone, the clamshell felt good to hold.

There was more of a difference with video calls, however. When I called the V800 my image on that phone was quite grainy, indicating that the integrated camera in the 338 isn't that great. Looking at the specs this was true - the camera on the V800 offers 1.3m pixels, while the 338 has only 100,000 - with a maximum still image resolution of 352 x 288. The same camera is used for both still and video images and it can be rotated round with the thumb so you can point the camera at something while still viewing the image of the person you're speaking with. There's also a 2x digital zoom. Still, picture quality is adequate on the phone itself but they're not really good enough to keep.

There are a decent number of options to play with, such as three different types of vibration alerts and a selection of polyphonic ringtones of the usual distinctly naff variety. Particularly unimpressive was the animated dancing man that the screen displays as it plays music. The less said about that the better.

The handset is available on ThreePay Pay-As-You-Go for £85 but you have to spend £35 on a contract to get it for nothing. However, after a quick hunt around we found it for free at half-price line rental of only £12.50 for 12 months, at Dial-a-Phone, which isn't bad going.


The NEC 338 only has one stand-out feature: its size. It offers all the major 3G functions, such as video calling and downloads, in a package that isn't too bulky and with reasonable, if unspectacular, battery life. Assuming the lack of Bluetooth and the presence of an aerial aren't deal breakers, those looking for a 3G phone that's inexpensive to run but still does the business, may well be tempted.

NEC 338
Rating 60%
Price £85, depending on contract
More info The 3 site
The NEC site

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