Motorola, a longtime maker of mobile devices, most popularly known for its RAZR and SLVR lines, pulled something new out of its hat. In August 2008, Motorola released the latest in its line of music phones, the ROKR E8. The ROKR line was first introduced to the public as an iTunes phone. It was the pre-emptive ‘iPhone’ so to speak. It was billed mostly as a music device, along with all follow on phones that carried the ROKR moniker. The E8 was designed to move the ROKR line in a whole new direction. Sporting a Linux based platform along with mode shift technology, this phone paves the way for a new mobile music experience. Motorola has been in the mobile business since 1983 with its first car phone called the DynaTAC 8000X, and today offering phones with music and PDA functionality. Look and Feel Packaging
Branded as a T-Mobile USA phone, it comes in the standard T-Mobile white box. It was surprising that both companies didn’t come up with better packaging for this device, similar to the Shadow’s packaging. Standard box contents are the stereo headset, phone, wall charger, Battery, USB cable and the software CD. Even though the phone can use transflash, none is included in the box because of the 2GB of internal memory the phone carries.
Quality Boasting a cleaner slicker design, the ROKR E8 looks well built. Sporting full face glass screen, beveled edges and new technology called Mode-Shift, the ROKR E8 lets you carry this phone in style. The back of the phone is made from a rubberized plastic material which appears to be scratch resistant, and can protect the phone from falls and extreme shock to the casing. Currently the ROKR E8 comes in black, with no other colors planned in the near future, this may have been done to provide a classy yet fun look for this model.
This is where the gem of this phone comes in, a new technology known as Mode-Shift technology. What this translates into, is your mobile device only allowing you to see and have access to the buttons you need to perform certain functions. This comes into play when using the following ‘modes’;
Camera Mode: Zoom +/- Picture review Video Camera Mode Music buttons to switch to music mode Shuffle Phone Answer/ Phone End
Music Mode: FF/REW Play/Pause Shuffle and repeat Phone Answer/ Phone End
And finally Phone/Messaging: Numeric dial pad Standard Phone Keypad including: Phone Answer/ Phone End Music Shortcut key
Switching between these modes in instantaneous. Upon pressing the shortcut buttons both the screen and the Mode-Shift technology kicks in at the same time. When in this mode, all non illuminated buttons are disabled. An additional feature of the keyboard is the haptic feedback. Haptic feedback is best described as any response when pushing a button or touching an object. On phones with physical keyboards, when a key is pressed you feel the button movement. On the E8, having a flat glass surface with no discernable keys, the only way to know you have successfully pressed a key is providing a haptic feedback response. This response on the E8 is by no way strong, you get a slight vibration from the device when pressed.
Buttons The ROKR E8 has a total of three device buttons. A volume rocker and phone quick-start button on the left, and a power/phone lock slider on the right. Aside from these three buttons, the E8 has the USB jack for charging and syncing, and a standard headphone jack at the top of the device. Unlike other phones in the Motorola line-up, the inclusion of a ‘regular’ headphone jack is a bonus. This allows the consumer to use any headphone/headset desired.
Navigation Wheel For a while now scroll-type wheels have been the rage. Whether it be on a music device, mobile computer or even a camera, everyone has been trained in one handed maneuvering on mobile devices. The MOTOROKR E8 goes one step further. Creating its own unique ‘wheel’ two thirds complete, it provides less strain on the users thumb without taking away functionality. In the center of the navigation wheel is a four way directional pad with raised buttons to determine direction. This can be used in place of the navigation wheel in any and all applications.
Menu Structure There are three options for viewing the menu on the E8. Grid, a 5×2 interface, List, a text listing of all menu items, and Spinner a rotating menu interface that uses the navigation wheel.
Accessories Included in the box are the standard headphones and a phone sleeve case. The inclusion of the sleeve adds a nice touch since the phone’s face is made of glass and there are no cases available as of today for the device. I am not a fan of the standard headphones that are shipped with most devices, because I have small ears and the hard plastic earphones can be uncomfortable. (Neither of these were included in the review model I received).
Phone When it comes to specialty phones, less attention is paid to the actual phone functions. A music phone per se, must have a great speaker, easy user interface, and most of all great sound. The ROKR E8 doesn’t ever forget that it is a phone first, and music player second.
Call Quality Incoming and outgoing calls are standard for Motorola. Incoming calls are displayed with a thumbnail image of the contact (if available), as well as outgoing calls. Missed calls are displayed on the main screen in text format with the name or number of the missed call. The speakerphone is loud and clear and offers full duplex mode. Using the Crystal Talk ™ technology calls are clear and there isn’t a lot of background noise when having conversations. Making a call is standard as any other phone, you start dialing the numbers, and the trick with the E8 is that is searches for a corresponding number. What this means is if you start dialing an area code or any digits it finds matching results. A hidden feature of this phone is the ability to spell a name and it will pull up their number. Spelling S-Y-D-N-E-Y brings up my information and from there you can hit the green talk button or hit the option button to do various functions with the contact. The E8 has four main profile settings. These should be familiar to anyone who may have used a Motorola product in the past. The options are Ring Only, Vibrate Only, Silent, and Vibrate then Ring. This is easily accessible via the rocker on the left side of the phone for quick profile switching.
Contacts Contacts on the E8 are now being handled by T-Mobiles new contact sync manager. What this does is allows you to sync and update your contacts online. Syncing can be done at startup, once a day or weekly. This makes sure that your contact information is always backed up and available. This came in handy when first using the phone because there was no way to send my old contact info from my normal phone to the E8, due to my regular phone missing the OBEX profile. The one thing missing is the ability to sync contact images, but that is a t-mobile issue. Having your data sync everyday gives you that extra assurance. Looking at the T-mobile sync website you can also sync calendars and media based on your phone model.
Entering information for contacts brings you to a newly designed tabbed interface. Each tab offers a multitude of information you can enter. The E8 allows you to sync with Microsoft Outlook, which explains why there are so many bits of information that can be entered.
E-mail and Calendar As a music device email and calendaring are considered a background features. Setting up an email account is pretty simple. You are greeted with AOL e-mail, Yahoo! Mail, or the option to set up your own. The first two asks only for your login information then everything else is set up accordingly. The latter asks for more email specific information. To find the calendar you have to select the Fun and Apps menu, and then select Organizer. There are several functions there, including Alarm Clock, Calculator, Calendar, World Time, File Manager , notes, Synchronization and a Task List. The calendar isn’t designed to be a PDA-type calendar so it has the basic appointment/date function. One of the neat features of the calendar on the E8, is the tabbed panels when entering information. It makes it easier on the small screen, and it mimics the same setup for contacts. On a small screen the E8 rocks in this area.
Messaging One of the benefits of having a multimedia phone is the ability to send picture messages. Many people have talked about the death of picture messaging, but with the instant access and ease of use, it is here for a long time. Everything is preconfigured for the user. There are two options when sending a message, either sending via email or to a phone number. SMS’s come thru the normal way, standard alert on the main screen and option to dismiss or read. Pictures and videos are resized as appropriate based on the sender. Sending a message is tricky if you aren’t used to the phone keypad, but after a while expert texters will find it a breeze.
Internet T-Zones, the T-Mobile USA, low cost WAP internet option, has its own functional button on the menu screen. Utilizing a carousel menu (an option also available on the main menu for the E8, you can select any of the features T-Zones has to offer. The E8 has a full html browser which is navigated using the direction pad.
FM Radio Hidden in the Fun and Apps menu is the FM Radio. As of this software revision, RDS data is not available. There are three different FM bands to select from and a total of nine presets that can be saved.
Music Player The Music player is the guts of this device. Boasting 2GB of internal memory, it is more than enough for the average user. Similar to most music players, you can search for your stored music by song, artist, album, genre or composers. Music on the E8 is remarkable. If available a thumbnail of the album art along with all song information is displayed while the song is playing, all except the album art is transferred to the home screen. Unlike other music phones, phone tasks can still be performed while the music player is active, the same goes for the radio.
Music can be delivered one of three ways; via Bluetooth transfer, flash card or thru Windows Media Player (10 and higher). Motorola recommends using the Windows Media Player for transferring music and photos. Windows media player converts music into the appropriate format and uploads it to the ROKR E8. The transfer isn’t as immediate as we would like it to be, but it is effective. Once music has been transferred to the ROKR, it is placed into folders by artist and subfolders by album. All tagged information available in the file is carried over to the ROKR. Playlists, favorites are all included if set up correctly in the Sync module for Windows Media Player.
The ROKR E8 has A2DP Bluetooth profile. So not only can you transfer your music to a Bluetooth device, you can also control it (if available). The Bluetooth audio transfer is available as an option menu on the music screen. If a call comes in while playing music the song is automatically paused and resumed once the call is complete.
SongID A neat add-on for the E8 is the MusicID feature. This service is provided by Shazam Entertainment Ltd and uses audio frequency identification to narrow down the song being identified. So far it was 100% successful in identifying the music over the radio.
Camera Most mobile phones in the US have a standard 2MP camera. Along with digital zoom, standard image manipulation; Sepia, negative etc, the E8’s camera has a night mode which takes brighter images in dark environments. Once an image is captured, you have the option of sending it to your online photo album, sending it out thru email or MMS or posting it to a blog. The images produce a file size around 150KB which falls under the 300KB limit most cell phone carriers limit MMS. The E8 also captures video at 15 fps. These videos can be sent to any phone capable of receiving video clips.
Battery Battery life on the MOTOROKR E8 is pegged at 360 minutes on continuous usage time. This can vary on several things, Bluetooth connected devices, music or radio playing and any kind of email or background process running. Because this is a Linux based phone, programs especially java based ones can run in the background while the phone does other functions.
Overall The MOTOROKR E8 does fulfill its main objective. It allows me to carry music with me anywhere I want to, at a reasonable price, while not giving up the phone functionality. I currently carry a mobile music device and from time to time I have had issues with the phone part of the device. The ROKR E8 delivers above and beyond in this arena. From having a loud enough speaker, FM radio, MusicID service, great phone call quality, an extraordinary camera, and most of all simple yet effective menus, it surpasses other music phones I have used in the past. Geared towards the urban mobile market, it is currently available from T-Mobile for $199.99 with contract or $349.99 without. More information can be found at www.t-mobile.com or www.motorola.com/rokre8