posted by Eugenia Loli on Thu 6th Apr 2006 18:04 UTC was very kind to send us in the Linux-based Motorola A780 cellphone for this review. This is the most affordable PDA-like phone in the market today, selling for less than $280 at Hi-Mobile's store. Although this phone was released over a year ago, it came pre-installed with the latest available English firmware released around November 2005 (R52_G_0D.74.A2R) which also contains a newer build of the Opera 7.50 browser. Check inside for our review and lots of screenshots.


The A780 comes in a lot of different flavors depending on which region of the world it is sold, but we got the version that has quadband GSM/EDGE and a VPN client (supporting Nortel, Cisco, Cisco Unity, Check Point, Intel and Netscreen). Another version comes with GPS and/or VoIP SIP support (through EDGE), while another version only supports normal GPRS without EDGE and has no extras.

There is a rocker scroller and a "voice recognition" button on the left of the device and a camera button at the right side. The phone comes with a 760 mAh battery, which is the exact same battery as the one used in the E680i model (reviewed here). The stylus is longer than in the E680i and results to a better grip. I came to love this stylus in a very short time of using it.

The phone supports Transflash cards which currently max out at 1 GB of space. According to the community, the phone easily supports these new 1 GB cards (we tested ours with a 256 MB Sandisk one -- FAT32 is not supported, only FAT16 is). There is also a 1.3 MP camera, 50 MBs of free internal storage and 32 MBs of RAM. The phone runs at a 312 Mhz ARM CPU.

The phone supports normal 2.5mm mini-audio jacks for music and handsfree operations and supports USB charging (the operating system must not be in sleep-mode for this to work). There is Bluetooth support for the handsfree/headset, obex and serial profiles, but there is no A2DP/AVRCP support even though that would have been as simple as a recompile for Motorola (the E680i which supports Stereo Bluetooth is pretty much the same phone in a different casing). There is also Java MIDP-2 support and the phone features a 3D processor for 3D java games (usually this results to just about 10-12 fps for all the EZX-supported 3D games we tried).

In the version of the phone we received we found in its box a USB cable, an Asian plug, an Asian-to-American plug convertor, handsfree stereo headphones, a spare plastic protector for the phone's connectors and of course, the manuals and CDs.

Battery life on the A780 is not the best compared to other cellphones, but it should be good enough for most users, with more than 3 hours talk time. Only problem with the battery is that its indicator has only 3 modes: 100%, 60% and 20%. Reception was excellent most of the time too.

The Candybar Phone Mode

The A780 is a unique cellphone in that it is both a candybar and a flip-phone. It has an external numeric keypad and when flipped a gorgeous 2.5" QVGA TFT touchscreen is unveiled. When used like a candybar it uses a portion of the main screen (a resolution of about 200x150) which is seen-through the protective glass. In that mode, the screen is capable of showing 3 lines of text and 1 service line (displaying the signaling, BT on/off, IM on/off, Edge/Gprs, and battery life). The joystick is located at the bottom of the device instead just under the screen as most phones do, because this way it can be used in the touchscreen mode too. The rocker scroller can scroll between menu items while it unveils the menu of the current loaded application when pressed inwards.

In the candybar mode you can use the phone as a "real" phone and nothing else. Only Contacts (shortcut dialing is available by pressing the number that corresponds to their name), Calling, SMS (with support for Motorola's iTap predictive text input), Play Music, Camera and Video Capture are available. So purists who want to use their cellphone as a cellphone and their PDA as a PDA should feel very happy about the dual nature of this phone, because they will only have to carry one device instead of two, and yet feel that these are separate devices, not interfering with each other. The only feature I miss in the candybar mode is a menu item to enable the Night mode in the camera. Other than that, it does everything one would need to do with "just a cellphone".

The PDA Mode

When you flip the phone open, you are presented with the PDA functionality. The A780 is built upon the 2.4.20 Linux kernel and then from the ground up using the Qt toolkit. Its closed-source graphical framework is called EZX. In the main display you get 4 big icons (application list, contact list, SMS/MMS client and a virtual numeric pad to make a call), a service line similar to the one described above, business meetings list and 4 shortcuts to apps (ring profiles, Opera, Real Player, Picsel Viewer and Bluetooth).

There are a number of PDA-like applications included in the phone by default, some of these include a file manager (which I like very much), tasks, notes (can read .txt files too), alarms, clock application monitoring up to 3 timezones, calendar that supports events, pop3/imap email (no support for Gmail though), a calculator, the Opera browser, Real Player (supports mp4, 3gp and rm videos), camera and video capture, a drawing application, a voice recorder (in AMR format), Wireless Village IM, SyncML, Call history, VPN client, an STK and modem utility, 3 java games, a Chinese-to-english dictionary and of course, the system's settings. In these settings you will find preference panels for customizing your ringtomes (you can set different ringtones for IM, phone calls, SMS etc), your wallpaper, the color theme, text size, language, voice command (no training required, but the feature didn't prove very reliable), screen backlighting, GPRS settings, power management, keylock settings, and input setup (choose between two Asian languages or English virtual keyboards, a numeric keypad, or handwriting). Both the handwriting and virtual keyboard has predictive text support which we found sufficient. There is no way that even a world champion in T9/iTap will be able to type faster than you could with the A780's virtual keyboard.

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