Saturday, February 2, 2008

Motorola RAZR2 V8

Tired of mediocre call quality on T-Mobile? You could have had a V8. No, not the tomato juice–based beverage—I'm talking about the Motorola RAZR2 V8, T-Mobile's highest-end feature phone with the carrier's best call quality by far. Sure, the huge gap in price between it and other T-Mobile feature phones is hard to justify. Also, the handset's features, such as support for third-party software and Internet connection, could stand some improvement. But there's no denying that this phone takes voice calls on T-Mobile to a whole new level. That's why I'm awarding it our Editors' Choice.

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The V8 is shaped and styled just like other RAZR2s on other carriers, the V9 and V9m. It's a massive slab of metal and glass. Though thinnish, at 0.5 inches, the device takes up some serious pocket real estate, measuring 4.1 inches long by 2.1 inches wide. It weighs in at 4.2 ounces, average for a feature phone. The front is dominated by the best external screen ever to grace a flip model, a 2-inch display that's 320 by 240 and has 262 thousand colors. A tiny, 2-megapixel camera sits above that screen. Side buttons toggle through the handset's "profiles" rather than directly controlling volume, activating voice dialing, or launching the music player. Also, there's no dedicated camera button, nor is there removable memory —but I'll get to that later. Below the side buttons is a MicroUSB port for charging, PC connectivity, and headsets.

Like the V9, the V8 has CrystalTalk, Motorola's technology designed to dampen ambient din), which produces the best sound quality I've ever heard on a GSM phone. It also sounds just as good as the V9 for AT&T, which operates on UTMS, not GSM. Rather than being loud, the V8 is just clear. The volume and sound characteristics of calls automatically adjust to background noise, so you can hear your calls over, say, a nearby idling truck engine or the buzz of a busy street. CrystalTalk even seems to work some wonders with the speakerphone—which is, once more, far more intelligible than its volume level alone initially might suggest. Alas, the speakerphone doesn't work with the flip closed.

The phone's microphone doesn't entirely block out all environmental noise, but voices come out clearly on top of any background sounds. Voice dialing, which requires no training, worked well in my testing. Battery life was excellent for voice calls, and vibrating alerts felt strong. I found reception to be impeccable. This handset is quad-band, so it will operate on GSM and EDGE networks all over the world. (Frequent travelers should be aware that there's an unlocked version of this phone available as well, direct from Motorola.) Frankly, this is the best T-Mobile voice phone ever.

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There's something unique under the hood of the V8, too: a new, Linux-based operating system. This, combined with the device's 500-MHz processor, could have made the V8 more than just a great voice phone. It could also have been a handheld PC powerhouse. Motorola and T-Mobile completely dropped the ball there.

The V8 scored very well on JBenchmark Java tests, especially in gaming. But when I tried to load Opera Mini or the JBenchmark Net speed tester, I found that third-party Java applications were prevented from accessing the Internet, even with the super-duper-everything service plan my handset came with. This is a pernicious, stupid T-Mobile policy I've seen before, and it lowers the value of a very expensive phone.

Motorola can share the blame, because my V8 suffered also from some Internet access bugs. While the built-in AIM/ICQ/Yahoo!/MSN IM client and Opera full Web browser worked fine, the POP3 e-mail client refused to connect to any services.

The V8's 2MP, flashless camera is not a selling point. Indoor pictures were relatively sharp and well balanced, but outdoor pictures were severely underexposed and a bit blurry. The V8 takes unexceptional 176-by-144 resolution videos as well.

The V8 has a pretty basic but flexible music player that can handle unprotected MP3, AAC, and WMA tracks (including Amazon MP3 and iTunes Plus) without a problem, letting you search and sort by the usual artist and album criteria. You load music using USB or Bluetooth (at a snappy 70 kilobits per second) into the phone's 2GB of "storage" memory, essentially a soldered-in, nonremovable memory card. The phone also plays 3GPP-format videos at 15 frames per second in full-screen mode.

The music player is one of the few features that take advantage of the underused huge external screen. When you play music and close the flip, basic track information pops up on the outside display, and some way-too-easily-pressed music control buttons appear. The external screen can also be used for picture caller ID, as a photo viewfinder, and to see the beginnings of text messages. Still, I had hoped for something moreperhaps the ability to play video that Sprint's model, the V9m, has.

I noticed some annoying compression artifacts when listening to music over a Motorola HT820 Bluetooth headset, but things really improved when I used the cheap wired earbuds that come with the phone. The V8's micro-USB jack seriously limits the available wired headphones you can use. While the phone comes with a mini USB adapter, it doesn't ship with one for 2.5mm or 3.5mm music headphones.

Some minor features round out the V8's offerings. You can print directly to printers using a USB cable, and you can use the phone as a Bluetooth dial-up modem—though since T-Mobile's EDGE network is relatively slow, there's little reason to do so.

At $199 with contract, the V8 costs $129 more than any other non-smartphone device on T-Mobile's network. Since you can't load a full range of apps onto the phone, the real appeal here is the unparalleled voice quality. How much are you willing to pay to have your calls sound beautifully clear? If you're looking for more features and mere decent voice performance at a lower price, turn your eyes to the Blackberry Pearl instead.,2817,2159329,00.asp

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