Sep 29, 2005|
Back in May, Microsoft tycoon and uber tech-head Bill Gates declared: “If you were to ask me which mobile device will take top place for listening to music, I’d bet on the mobile phone.” Sure enough, in September Apple CEO Steve Jobs released the revolutionary Motorola Rokr E1 mobile phone, pre-programmed with iTunes, the world’s most popular MP3 system. Basically, it’s an MP3 player and full-featured phone wrapped up in one little package. It immediately went head-to-head with an earlier model, the Sony Ericsson W800i Walkman, which has its own MP3 software. But which is best?
Design: With a joint design heritage that includes Motorola’s super-slim Razr V3, and Apple’s world-beating sexy iPod, one would expect this iTunes mutant to be far better looking than it is. Sure it’s practical, but compared with most of Apple’s sleekly simple products this silver-white phone is uninspiring. It looks like it slipped out of the side door while Jobs’ attention was elsewhere. And the decision to launch the Rokr E1 alongside the ultra-cool iPod Nano in September seems simply suicidal. Still, it fits easily into the hand and it gains points for being so lightweight.
Memory: For anyone who enjoys dipping into the thousands of songs afforded by a 4GB or 6GB memory, the Rokr E1’s supplied 128MB TransFlash media card is frankly disappointing. It allows you to store no more than 50 tunes, which means endless deleting and uploading of new songs if you want more variety. You have the option to upgrade to a 512MB card (standard in the US), but that’s the upper limit the phone can support. (Most entry-level MP3 players come with a significantly larger 1GB memory.) What’s more, unlike most music phones which have a special slot for easy access, changing the card is complicated by having to first remove the battery and then the SIM card.
Music playback: Equipped with iTunes, ease of music browsing and playback is guaranteed, and iPod users will have no problem adjusting to the Rokr E1. It has a one-touch key for instant music access, and when music is being played, the phone automatically switches to standby mode, meaning you receive calls seamlessly. Enhanced with a special surround-sound effect, the audio quality is as good if not better than that of an iPod. And there is a special extension allowing you to connect your favorite headphones with a 3.5mm jack.
Other features: Battery life is impressive, with about nine hours of “talk time,” 15 hours of music-only playback and a standby time of nine days. The phone function has Bluetooth connectivity, but you cannot listen to music on the wireless headset. It has a camera, but it only supports VGA quality, not meeting today’s one-megapixel benchmark.
Suggested retail price: $1,980
Pros: Lightweight, iTunes-ready, superb sound quality, instant music-to-phone-call conversion, above average battery life, reasonably priced.
Cons: Small memory capability, unimpressive design, no Bluetooth playback support, mediocre camera performance.
Verdict: Motorola Rokr E1 is a good attempt at a music phone, but with its limited memory capability it’s not much of a threat to the mighty iPod. No doubt a more powerful, sexier model is in the pipeline.
Design: Based on the design of the Sony K750i - the first two-megapixel camera phone on the market - the W800i has echoes of Sony’s iconic product, the Walkman. It feels plastic, but it has a vibrant white and orange color scheme and we like the large, high-resolution LCD screen with its good graphic display. The classic Sony Ericsson joystick feels delicate and, for people with big thumbs (most men), difficult to manipulate. The buttons are logically placed, with the camera shutter and zoom controls on one side, and instant music playback on the other.
Memory: W800i uses Sony’s mini Memory Stick Duo, which encompasses a wide range of memory sizes from 32MB to an amazing 2GB, or about 500 songs. The Sony memory stick is a bit pricey, but SanDisk offers a compatible alternative at about 30 percent cheaper. Changing the memory card is easy, via a conveniently placed slot. The phone has an internal memory of 34MB, with numerous videos and themes pre-installed.
Music Playback: Like the Rokr E1, the W800i has an instant music playback key that enables you to continue using the other applications, such as the camera, when you’re playing music. On the top of the button panel is a “Walkman” key, which opens Sony’s iTunes-equivalent for music playback and lets you manage MP3 files, sorting by playlists and artists. A special extension is available to connect to your favorite headphones and there’s a polyphonic speaker.
Other features: The two-megapixel camera remains unsurpassed among mobile phones. Bluetooth phone transmission is easy to configure, but, as with the Rokr E1, the wireless headphones cannot be used to listen to music. There is a radio function available that uses the headphone cord as an antenna.
Pros: excellent compact design, big memory support, crystal clear two-megapixel camera with a protective slide cover.
Cons: Interface is not intuitive for new users, very expensive memory cards, phone body does not feel robust.
Verdict: W800i is a very promising music phone, and if you’re willing to shell out $3,880 for a 2GB Memory Stick Pro Duo, almost good enough to replace your iPod - which is just as well given that the 60GB iPod Photo is cheaper than the memory stick alone.