You thought you’d seen it all, but no. Here’s the MTV phone: the Motorola e398 (“as seen on MTV” says the sticker on the box). This is a GSM music and video playback phone that was originally targetted at the T-Mobile lineup in Europe but is now sold in the US through Geeks.com. We take a quick look of what to expect of this good-looking device. The phone features a 2.2″ 176×220 65k color TFT screen; it’s tri-band; it has a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, removable memory (transflash), Bluetooth connectivity, integrated VGA camera with 4x zoom, MIDP-2.0 games, stereo headset jack, 3D stereo sound and more.
The box includes a stereo handsfree headset, an SD adapter for the included 64 MB transflash card, a billingual manual, two CDs (drivers and an mp3-maker application), USB cable and the power adapter (European-to-US socket adapter is included).
The phone feels very good in the hand; it is what I would call a “small” phone when taking into consideration its screen’s high resolution and size. The display can fit up to 9 lines of text – text that is very readable. The first time you boot the phone it will ask you to “personalize it”. In this menu you will find options for changing the screensaver, the wallpaper, the greeting, the rhythm lights (the light of the keyboard flashes depending on the mp3 song or ringing style currently playing). On the settings menus you will also find preferences for the ringing style itself, the USB or Bluetooth connectivity (for security reasons the phone will make the Bluetooth discoverable for only 60 seconds), car settings and more.
The battery promises up to 590 minutes of talk time and 210 hours of standby time and it delivers this. I successfully used the “voice dialing” feature, it seemed to work very well. The phone also features the iTap predictive text input method that tries to “guess” what word or what syllable you are trying to type. iTap seems to work for the most part, but it proved faster for me to write messages using the traditional way of text input.
One odd UI choice is the usage of the… Screensaver. The phone’s LCD backlight turns off after 5-6 seconds, but the screensaver comes on after 30 seconds and lights back on the LCD. I mean, I don’t get that. What is the point (other than the ‘cool’ effect) of having a screensaver (for an LCD that won’t burn-in like CRTs do) that turns the backlight on when the timer has already turned it off? Why waste battery life for nothing? And so I disabled that odd screensaver feature soon after…
Regarding applications, the phone comes with support for email, MMS, SMS, EMS, calendaring, the Motorola in-house web browser (renders the OSNews.com site really nicely with both the cHTML and WAP versions) and a slew of pre-installed applications: a really funky looking mp3 player, a pinball game and more. I also installed some MIDP-2.0 games and they worked really well (I downloaded them via my Mac and then used my Mac’s Bluetooth to send the games over and install them – worked like a charm). My Mac also supports the e398 out of the box with iSync and so I synced all my contacts from the Powerbook to the Phone very easily, via Bluetooth.
However, where this phone really shines is in multimedia: It can play mp3 songs (the transflash memory can be mounted on the desktop as a USB storage device, all you have to do is drag-and-drop your songs if you don’t want to bother with the included Windows application) and it can playback h.263 video too. In fact, multimedia is the secondary function of the phone, being the “MTV phone” and all. It played mp3s very well (I did not spot any incompatibilities) and some mpeg4 videos I downloaded off the web and tested it with. The phone also comes with the Motomixer software that allows you to “mix” your own ringtones based on available sounds on your storage card.
The camera is a plain VGA one, with a mirror and a small flash. In low-light conditions the pictures were equally bad with or without the flash, but I don’t expect much from a VGA camera.
And now the really geeky part: there is hacked software for this phone! The phone is upgradable to the “i398” version, which is a hack of the alleged “iTunes phone” that Motorola is supposed to unveil soon. A hacker by the name of Shoey has managed to create a version of the iTunes ROM that is compatible with the e398 device (actually, the new iTunes phone is very similar to the e398 under the hood – it’s pretty much the same phone). So, whoever has the guts to flash his phone (and potentially destroy it if he’s not very careful) will be able to get a few new features, like video recording (that’s mysteriously missing from the e398), airplane-safe mode (the phone doesn’t try to acquire a signal so it doesn’t interfere with the plane’s instruments), and of course, iTunes sync support!
In conclusion, I must say there is not much wrong with this phone. I believe it’s the best phone I ever have used, even if it has a bit of a confusing UI and no video recording capabilities. It does all the rest really well though and so I can personally forgive these oddities.
Pros: Light, powerful, extensible, funky, Bluetooth, does the job as expected.
Cons: No video recording application, no IrDA, mini headphone jack, UI could be better.
What about the reception? How is call quality? What is the actual battery life? These are the most important questions to answer about a cell phone.