Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Motorola Rokr E8 Music Phone

The Rokr E8 excels at music playback, but usability issues plague it in other areas.

The Motorola Rokr E8 looks vaguely like an iPod: glassy, slim, and dark, except for a thin circular metal strip in its middle. The resemblance is probably not coincidental, given that the device is a cell phone intended for music lovers. The 0.4-inch-thick candy bar phone boasts good looks--and isn't half-bad as an MP3 player--but its usability shortcomings in other areas disappoint.

The E8's sexiest attribute is its touch-sensitive surface's ability to change interfaces depending on what you use it for. When you power it on by sliding a silvery hardware button on its right edge, a virtual phone keypad lights up below the metal circle; when you switch to music player mode (by pressing the musical notes above the green dial control), a few simple MP3 controls replace the virtual keypad.

Regardless of which way you use the phone, a two-inch LCD occupies the upper half of the unit. Tiny raised glass dots and haptics feedback (vibrations) help confirm your fingertip touches, and the silvery metal strip acts as a touch-sensitive navigation wheel for scrolling and clicking through menu options using your thumb.

Unfortunately, I found the wheel difficult to control. All too often I overshot or undershot my target as I scrolled through the rather long main menu, or even through a short list of contacts. And the menu structure itself, especially for adjusting settings, wasn't intuitive: I waded through several levels of options before giving up on finding the evaluation unit's phone number. In addition, the glass-covered touch controls required fairly firm touching-with no way to adjust touch sensitivity.

Voice quality on my T-Mobile test unit was fine. We haven't lab-tested the phone's talk-time battery life yet. Check back for test results--and the PCW Rating--for the Rokr E8 once we do.

The phone defeated all my efforts to use the carrier's Web-based contact manager to import my Outlook contacts in order to sync them onto the E8. (The alternative is to spend $35 on Motorola's Phone Tools 5.0, a desktop app that includes contact syncing.)

Though the Rokr E8 provides predictive text entry support, using its touch keypad would be even more annoying than using a mechanical phone keypad to compose a lot of text. And the small screen is not optimal for Web browsing, which in my shipping unit proceeded rather slowly on T-Mobile's EDGE network.

T-Mobile sells the Rokr E8 for $150 (with a two-year contract). The phone makes most sense for customers seeking a stylish handset that excels at music, and not much interested messaging or Web applications.

1 comment:

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