Dialed In: Whiz-Bang Cell Phones
Like most cell phone users, I'm a fan of compact phones. Two devices that recently caught my eye are Motorola's A630 and Razr V3. Not only are they pocket-sized and lightweight, they're also innovative, good-looking, and versatile.
Motorola A630: Easy Keyboarding
The compact A630 packs a small but usable QWERTY keyboard into a clamshell design about the size of a typical bar of soap (1.9 inches wide, 3.7 inches high, and 0.93 inches thick). On the front of the phone is a monochrome screen, an up/down navigation key, a dial pad, and a small camera lens. On the side, there's a volume control that doubles as a ringer control with Silent, Vibrate, and Ring Style options. Next to the volume control is a button that powers on the embedded 640-by-480 camera and functions as the shutter button as well.
Open the A630 as you would a notebook and it reveals a 1.9-inch color LCD and a small keyboard. To use the four-row keyboard, you turn the phone horizontally to landscape orientation. The design is reminiscent of the $100 Ogo, which is available from AT&T Wireless.
The A630's keys are positioned in a slight frowning curve, making it easier to type on than with a conventional rectangular layout. The first three rows of the keyboard consist of alphabet keys that are combined with a number or symbol; you enter a number or symbol by pressing the Alt key before the desired digit. The software automatically capitalizes the first letter of a message or a new sentence.
The fourth row consists of customizable shortcut keys and navigation controls, including a large up/down/left/right arrow button (each arrow can be set up to trigger a menu shortcut); a menu button; and a small spacebar that's inconveniently located too far to the left. Fortunately, you can tap the right arrow to enter a space--an option I preferred to using the spacebar.
The integrated keyboard makes entering new contacts in your phone book, sending instant messages, and typing e-mail relatively painless. (You can set up the A630 to download POP3- or IMAP4-based e-mail.)
The device can also capture photos and play back downloaded videos. To access the camera, you flip open the phone so you can frame shots using the LCD inside. The monochrome screen on the outside won't work for framing shots because that screen shows only text and simple graphics.
As a phone handset, the GSM tri-band A630 (850/1800/1900 or 900/1800/1900, depending on the carrier) worked relatively well despite a few minor quirks. I found the keys on the external dial pad too soft and slow to respond. The phone volume could be louder, too. In some of my conversations, I had a hard time hearing the person on the other end and vice versa. The device has a speaker phone (though the sound was muffled) and a Bluetooth interface for headsets.
Like the Nokia 6800 series, Motorola's A630 is compatible with GSM networks, making it available only to GSM carriers, which in the U.S. include AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless, and T-Mobile. Customers of CDMA networks such as Sprint PCS and Verizon are out of luck. At this writing, Motorola said Cingular Wireless and T-Mobile plan to offer the A630 soon for less than $300.
Motorola Razr V3: Flat-Out Fabulous
Motorola's other new model is the impressively slim and ultra-sexy Razr V3. It measures 3.9 inches tall, 2.1 inches wide, and 0.54 inch thick. Despite its skinny size, it's comfortable to use.
The clamshell-style V3 sports a brushed aluminum casing, a color screen on the outside, and a strikingly bright 2.2-inch color LCD on the inside. The colorful display makes viewing photos and video clips easy on the eyes.
The phone's dial pad is surrounded with blue backlit lines that help you see the keys in the dark. There are dedicated keys for Web access and retrieving voice and text messages. A joystick-like navigation button has up/down/left/right pressure points that can be customized to initiate menu options.
Like most Motorola phones, the V3 has a volume/ringer control and a phone-book button on the side. The unit is compatible with Bluetooth headsets for untethered calls. And like most recent cell phones, the V3 includes a 640-by-480 resolution camera with a 4X digital zoom. You switch to picture-taking mode by pressing the camera button on the side.
The V3 is a GSM quad-band phone (850/900/1800/1900), so it should work in other countries--provided that you have a calling plan with international roaming. Motorola has yet to announce the carrier and price for this model.