The Panasonic VS7 comes across as rather large at first sight. Oddly enough, the top and the bottom part of this clamshell are not the same size, with the bottom part slightly narrower than the top. That aside, the most obvious feature on the front of the phone is probably the large bezel surrounding the camera which not only looks quite nice (in my opinion), but also serves to protect the lens from scratches.
Of note as well is the indicator light, which is situated just south of the camera. Meanwhile, the rectangular external screen is placed in the middle.
Quite unfortunately, the external cover, or the “X-Changeable Cover” as Panasonic terms it, is very prone to fingerprints and smudges, and after just a short period of use the entire surface was dirty.
The number keys are recessed into the phone, making them somewhat hard to depress. The two selection keys and the two call keys are similarly recessed, but their larger size makes up for this somewhat.
The 4 directional keys and the middle selection key reside in the middle. We found that the directional keys were a little too small compared to the center key, and those with larger fingers may find themselves pressing the center key accidentally.
Three keys are located along the right side of the phone – the volume up, volume down and a multi-function key whose primary purpose appears to be activating the camera. They are rather small and require reasonable force to activate.
The infrared port is located on the right side as well. This seems to be a rather inconvenient location as infrared requires line-of-sight to function, but we doubt many people would use infrared since Bluetooth is quickly becoming the usual method for phone-to-phone transfers.
The only thing located on the left edge is the proprietary connectivity port into which the charger, earphones and USB data cable fit. It is protected by a rubber flap that opens towards the bottom as in the picture. I felt that the flap should have been made to open the other way, as it may rub against the user’s hand when something is plugged in and the user is using his left hand, which can be somewhat irritating.
The One-Push-Auto-Open, as Panasonic terms it, can also be found here. This basically flips open the phone upon depressing the button. The button is large and fairly easy to press, and the flip is powerful enough to open the phone fully.
Flipping the phone open does look rather cool, and our only gripe is that the location of the button on the left side makes it slightly inconvenient for users who tend to operate the phone one-handed with the right hand. It would of course be nice if Panasonic could incorporate a One-Push-Auto-Close function too, but that would probably meet with some mechanical constraints.
The connectors for the charger, earphones and USB cable are almost identical. The only difference is that the earphones do not require the user to depress the sides to unplug the cable, unlike the one shown here.
Turning the phone over, we find a nondescript rear cover. The upper part, shown here, contains the loudspeaker and what appears to be an extension of the built-in antenna. There are also two little feet that keep the phone slightly raised, thus preventing scratches to the rear.
To remove the back cover, all you have to do is use some force to slide out the cover horizontally before lifting it off. Fortunately, this does not mean that the cover is loose. Instead, it remained securely in place throughout testing.
As with most other phones, the SIM card must be inserted before the battery. The SIM card is easy to insert but slightly harder to remove, as you have to manually slide it out with your finger.
We decided to take a closer look at the external screen. It is a 96×65 4096-colour (12-bit) passive matrix screen, and not surprisingly the colour looked quite washed out and the response time was very slow.
In standby mode, the screen shows the time (this can be changed to both date and time as shown), and the signal and battery meters. Pressing the multi-function key on the side changes it to show only the meters, then only the wallpaper, then back to the original. After a period of inactivity, the external screen powers off and a side key has to be pressed to reactivate it.
The external screen also has various uses. Besides just showing the caller, it has a slew of other uses, allowing you to read messages, shwoing the song being played, serving as a viewfinder in self-portrait mode, and perhaps others that we did not discover.