posted by Eugenia Loli on Tue 11th Oct 2005 17:36 UTC
IconAs smartphone prices decline, they have become more popular every day. Symbian, PalmOS, Windows Mobile and Linux seem to be the big names in this high-end market of phones, all showcasing PDA-like features, native toolkits and fast processors. Today we are looking at one of the most popular Linux smartphones (especially in Asia), the Motorola E680i, which was released around May 2005 and was graciously provided by for this article.

size comparison This... chubby phone (133 grams) uses Montavista's Linux kernel 2.4.20 and tools. On top of it is a custom UI (not the traditional Qtopia UI) based on Qt/Embedded 2.3.6 (Some claim that it uses MobileSoft's toolkit but there is no official information on this). The phone sports a 312 Mhz ARM CPU, a replaceable 760 mAh battery, 64 MB of ROM (50 MB available to the user), 32 MB RAM, a VGA camera, 3D stereo speakers, Bluetooth, a 3D graphics chip, an FM radio, a 1/10" headphone plug, a hold/lock button, an SD/MMC slot, USB communications and extra hardware buttons for games. The E680i also comes with a 2.5" QVGA 240x320 TFT touch-screen and a stylus. In the box that came with it you will find a second stylus and a second battery, along with the power supply, USB cable, CDs and manuals. You will also find a pair of headphones/headset that acts as an antenna for the FM radio. The phone works at GSM 900/ GSM 1800/ GSM 1900 bands and supports GPRS class 10. It also supports Java applications using MIDP-2 with .jar sizes up to 700 KBs, which is pretty impressive.

OSNews on Opera This phone is the next generation of the original E680 which was released in 2004. The differences are mostly in software than in hardware (the E680 can be flashed with E680i's ROM). The phone features an excellent build quality and it feels well in the hand despite its extra size. The stylus has an ideal thickness and size and makes the touchscreen-based usage a nice experience. The quality of the QVGA LCD is good and the fact that its settings window allows for... 50 brightness levels is a great tinkering feature (I use it on just 16%, which is enough when inside buildings).

The main software feature of the phone is the inclusion of Real Player and FM radio. They are both very easy to use and a useful addition to the rest of the software stack. Real can play .rm, .mp3, .mp4, .3gp and .amr but it's a bit picky about the exact format of the mp4 codec. Playing small video and mp3 music was sweat-free (although there was some sound-chop when changing tasks), however here I must note that while for a phone the video performance is good enough, comparing it to an equally equipped PocketPC 312Mhz it doesn't stand a chance (my HP PDA can playback QVGA .mp4/divx video without dropping a single frame). The 3D stereo speakers included do an excellent job and I think they are better than the e398/iTunes phone. The only downside was that Real Player doesn't support internet radio streaming, which requires a direct internet file to be used (e.g. the music feeds don't work). The phone comes with a 1/10" headphone jack and quality is very-very good for music-listening (the Chinese E680i comes with Bluetooth headphones instead).

screenshot I am a huge fan of SD card usage on phones and so I am happy to see SD support as I know that Motorola prefers transflash (in fact, all new Linux phones from Motorola now use Transflash that go only up to 512 MBs). I tried a Kingston 512 MB SD card; the phone supports them up to 2 GBs. The SD works at acceptable speeds and I encountered no problems with it. The overall software seems rock solid, I had no OS or application crashes whatsoever.

The user interface is not stellar in terms of responsiveness but it's very easy to follow and understand. It is a custom UI on top of Qt/Embedded (Others say that it's 100% java from MobileSoft, my contact at Trolltech could not confirm either way) and the manufacturer has included all most-needed applications on a PDA-phone: a calendar with recurring events/alarm support, world time with 3 different timezones support, a file manager, a syncML-compatbile sync application that can also sync via GPRS, a Task application, a notes application (to be used with the included virtual keyboard or handwriting recognition applet), a drawing app, a calculator, an .amr voice recorder and 3 java 3D games.

In addition to Opera 7.50 (which renders beautifully) there is the Picsel Viewer which can display .ppt, .doc and .xls among other popular office formats (but can't edit). The messaging client is one of the most critically-acclaimed parts of the software. It supports MMS & SMS with support for sub-folders but for pop3 and IMAP support you must use another client included on the phone (they are not integrated). A minor problem with the user interface is that there is no way to switch tasks with a press of a button (currently it requires 4 clicks to go to the Task Manager while the "hang" button only switches between the last two open applications). Also, scrolling and menu navigation is a bit clunky at times; double-buffering seems to be missing.

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