In this ever changing world, there's a rare breed of people who think that phones should behave like, well, phones: that definition excludes MP3 players, Internet browsers, billion-pixel cameras, fitness trainers, Starbucks locators and creepy remedies to loneliness. For those feeling nostalgic about the good ol’ Nokia 3310, the Chuck Norris of cell phones, I have good news: not all hope is lost. The Philips Xenium X523 is here.
Any adventure lover as well as tech geek will likely know that Land Rover released a phone: the Sonim Land Rover S1, an extraordinarily tough platform with over two months (1,500 hours) of stand-by time and a skin impervious to water, dirt, mud and anything in between. The problem, however, is that it is bulky enough to be mistaken for a jack-stand, or to be rendered obsolete by a newer –and more useful– satellite phone. While many globetrotters would opt for the latter, most phone purists crave a device that combines restrained styling, an intuitive layout, long battery life and dimensions within reasonable pocket size. If to our traditional user profile we add a wandering lifestyle, we might also want the device to operate on all four worldwide GSM frequencies (a “quadband” phone) and a dual SIM card slot to call home and call locally without straining our budget.
After many months of research, I concluded that the perfect phone for the traveler does exist, but not in America. The Philips X-series, following the pattern of many overly good gadgets, was never officially imported or distributed in the US, so I had to resort to online shopping to get hold of one. Two weeks after my order, I received a small box from Hong Kong that I opened eagerly, to reveal a brand spanking new Philips Xenium X523.
The first thing you'll notice is its sleek, unpretentious design: twelve number keys, with a big center button and both call options at the sides, all black and perfectly aligned with the screen. The rest is a minimalist matte cover that has a comfortable rubberized feel and solid grip. The entire device is 15mm thick, but, despite not being the most agile handset to date, it can fit well into tight jeans without compromising one’s mobility or flat-out scaring by-passers. Why so big? Oh, let me tell you…
The single best feature of this phone, hands down, is its battery life. Yes, it can make calls, it can send text messages, it is quadband, it has room for two SIM cards and it has an unnecessarily powerful LED flashlight that I sometimes use as a reading lamp, but its main selling point is the fact that it has 50 days (1,200 hours) of stand-by time from the factory, almost as good as the Land Rover Phone, with a styling decent enough for a business setting. After thorough long-term testing, the phone’s battery has lasted for a full month with normal use… not bad compared to today’s twelve-hour smartphones, eh?
During my ownership the phone has had relatively low wear: year and a half of pocketfuls of car/house keys, oily fingers and spilled liquids have stripped part of red paint strip at the top and put a small scratch on the screen. All keys still work perfectly and the software has never frozen on me. I rate its build quality and reliability with a solid 9 out of 10; this phone is a true rock like the Nokia 3310 was in its time –and guess who made some components for the invincible 3310: Philips.
Despite the excellent durability and battery life, the Philips X523 is not free of criticism, especially on two main areas. On the one hand, the menus are clunky and not too intuitive –understand this as a phone you will need to familiarize yourself with–; on the other, call clarity is far from the standards of a late-model Samsung. However, for such a seamless compromise of old school philosophy and modern technology, this is one of the absolute best phones I have ever owned, and a perfect companion for the long-distance road lover. In the 4,000 kilometers and twenty days I traveled from Wichita (Kansas) to Oaxaca (Mexico), I did not have to charge it even once; and should I ever need to, I can always do it via my laptop, my GPS car charger or anything with a mini USB outlet.
For those unwilling to renounce to the Internet connectivity and GPS features of a smartphone, Philips released the Android-based W632 model in May 2012, still retaining dual SIM slot design, quadband capabilities, and a battery lasting 850 hours on stand-by.
You can search for the full specs of any Philips model at the GSM Arena and shop from distributors in China via eBay. Prices at the time of this publishing range between $50 to $350 for brand-new models.