In the SMS/EMS window you are presented with an email-style application to organize, send and read your messages. This application is not integrated with the IM or email application but it works well on its own. Configuring it was easy, even though it has many settings and it allows for a lot of customization. On the same application you can also configure your Voicemail number, which the phone does not always pick up automatically from the network (the voicemail number is different for each region).
In the "Call" window the user is presented with a virtual keypad to make calls. The buttons are big enough to be used well with just fingers or the stylus. During a call you can enable the external speakerphone or use it as a normal flip-phone where the speaker is situated on the inside of the flip-part. The sound coming out of the headset is crispy and clear. The only wish I have during a call is to not completely turn off the screen but reduce the backlight to just 10%, because when you want to end a call you might click the wrong button by mistake because the screen is all black by that time (there is no hardware hung-up button when in a PDA mode and the screen turns off after 30 seconds to save battery).
Opera, Real Player, Picsel Viewer
The three major applications on the phone that were developed by third parties are Opera, Real Player and Picsel Viewer (if anyone is interested in the VPN client email me with some guest-login information on your server and I will gladly test it for you).
Opera rendered all of the pages we threw at it with extreme ease and we were happy with its speed and capabilities. It has a fullscreen mode and support for the rocker scroller button that makes page-up/down very easy. The only small problem is that it renders the "Arial Size=2" as bold while when going at 90% zoom it renders it as was supposed to. The italics at the same size/font doesn't have this problem. We also tried Opera Mini on the phone; it works wonderfully!
Real Player supports streaming through the internet but not for .pls playlists (e.g. it can't playback the radio stations from www.di.fm). It is also extremely slow when playing video (e.g. on this video), even if they are .rm files, which is in its native format. I have to give the blame to the Real engineers who ported the application to mobile phones and not to Motorola though, because in Nokia's 9500i Symbian phones Real Player is even slower! For those who want to view video on the A780 I suggest they encode their videos to very low resolution (e.g. 128x96) and at low kbps so the application manages them without hiccups. Music playback works really nice as it supports playlists.
As for the Picsel Viewer, it can display Microsoft Word/Excel/PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat PDF files, which could prove very handy to many businesspeople. You can't edit these files and you can't view very complex/macro-enabled Word documents, but it makes for a good-enough solution. Picsel is using its own font-engine in the application which allows for smaller fonts (and so they fit more information per screen).
Snapshot Camera and Video Capturing
The camera is a 1.3MP and it's pretty capable. It has a full-screen mode (so widgets are not shown around the live image and you can snap a picture using the dedicated button), it supports 8x Zoom and it has brightness and Light-Condition control. There is also a delay timer (10 seconds) and a night mode. You can snap 1024x1280, VGA or QVGA pictures and apply filters to them (e.g. black and white, sepia, negative etc). The video capturing system supports 176x144 (sample) and 128x96 video capturing without time limit. Only wish I have here is for a camera protection cap and a flash.
The A780 has its own share of small problems. I mentioned some of them above, but here are a few more:
- its IM client does not work with Yamigo (which is the only Wireless Village server that supports Y!, MSN, ICQ and AOL all at once). The client logs you in to these services correctly, but you are unable to view any of your contacts or receive messages.
- There are no softkeys on the PDA mode and so you can't play fullscreen java games that require anything more than the joystick. Also, many Java apps/games don't support touchscreens so that makes the problem even more severe if they are fullscreen apps (windowed java apps show buttons).
- The service bar is buggy. Some times it allows you to turn the Antenna Off, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it lets you turn on/off the Bluetooth from there, sometimes it doesn't. This problem does not exist on my E680i which runs an older firmware.
- You can't have the phone vibrate and ring at the same time. This was a long-standing Motorola decision which is now changing on their newer phones.
- The UI is slow sometimes. It depends on the application and/or action taken.
- There is no settings panel to change the Volume in the system. The manual refers to a Settings panel called "Sound", which does not exist in my firmware.
- The phone is not 100% compatible with Macs and Cingular when used as a modem. I have written a guide how to go around the problem here.
- The biggest problem is the rocker button. It is so sensitive that on the smallest touch it turns on the screen immediately. And then takes about 10 seconds for the screen to turn off, but if you do that 10-15 times a day, it already has taken away from you quite a bit of battery life! Here is a mockup of mine on how the button layout should have been without the need of a rocker button and still accomplish the same functionality.
The Motorola EZX-based phones already have a large community of users and developers. Just head here for the latest tips and tricks, hacked firmware upgrades, new keymaps and more. It is a shame that Motorola doesn't take the steps necessary to enrich that community and create a real platform around its Linux products by simply, giving the SDK to third party developers freely. So much has been said about this issue already. Personally, I will not consider the EZX phones to be true smartphones until this step has been taken by Motorola. Native applications are a must in a smartphone environment in order to ensure "platform build-up".
I very much like the A780. As an owner of the E680i, I must say that it is quite an upgrade in terms of usability and application functionality. If you are either a business user who can't afford expensive smartphones, or don't want to carry both a phone and a PDA at all times, or you simply love Linux, this is the phone for you! This phone comes at almost half the price of the Motorola Ming A1200, and yet it retains most of the functionality the A1200 has. A true bargain.
Product Rating: 8/10