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Review: Motorola E815

Article  

Oct 11, 2005, 7:00 PM   by Eric Lin

In-depth review of Motorola's first EV-DO phone for North America, the E815 for Verizon.

Form

Is It Your Type 

Do you remember the term "moblogger?" When cameraphones were still new and no one had heard of Textamerica or Flickr, moblogging was the term given to taking pictures with your phone and sending them to a website or weblog. The e815 is a moblogger's dream. The camera is pretty good and even though EV-DO isn't any faster at sending than 1xRTT, photos still fly off at blazing speeds. Unfortunately not all the phone's online capabilities are as speedy. While the e815 is pretty quick at browsing, forget trying to use any of the neat VCAST features while you're waiting in line at the grocery store. You will have paid for your groceries and loaded them into your car before the menus have even loaded.

The e815 does have good battery life, a nice screen and other features that make it a solid choice for both long-winded talkers and casual users in addition to mobloggers.

Body 

Body

Nearly every 3G (EV-DO, UMTS and otherwise) clamshell is about the same size, which is to say large but not huge. It still is small enough to fit in your hand easily and slide into your pocket with little effort. The sides are curved and sloped so that the phone just sinks into your palm, which is a rather nice feeling, especially when combined with the well-balanced weight. In the same way the phone being large but not huge, it is also weighty but not heavy.

What stands out as especially large is the barrel for the extendable antenna, which sticks out a full inch from the top of the phone. The e815 may slide into a pocket comfortably but keeping it there as you go about your day is not nearly as comfortable.

The battery door is attached so solidly, it is a good thing there is no reason to ever remove it, because it is quite an effort to get off. The rest of the phone, including small objects like the TransFlash slot cover, is equally solid except for the hinge. Oddly the largest moving part of the e815 is the least confidence inspiring. When closed, there is a great deal of play in the hinge and it does not open with a confident snap. It just sort of stops when it cant go any further. The phone does shut, however, with a confident thud.

Keypad

Thanks to the e815's size, each key on the keypad is large enough to accommodate even the meatiest of hands. Though the keys are placed next to each other with no space in between, each key is slightly convex. The hump of each key allows your thumb to confidently move from one key to the next. Although the keypad keys are excellent, the side keys are tiny and not easy to use, especially the camera and voice dial keys on the right which are both tiny and very hard to press. The volume rocker and select on the left are a bit easier to use. Motorola already includes a dedicated camera key on the internal keypad, so we would have preferred they drop it from the right hand side and use the extra space to enlarge the voice dial key.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Three S's 

Screen

The e815 has a 176 x 220 screen similar to the one found in all their high-end models. However the screen on this model performs better in bright sunlight than past Motorolas we've tested. Other than improved performance in sunlight, the screen is of quality equal to other recent Motorola handsets that have the same resolution. The screen has excellent color and clarity for reviewing photos and is responsive when being used as a viewfinder.

Signal

It's no surprise the e815 displays excellent signal strength in almost any location, considering its large external antenna. However even the large antenna was not enough to overcome one of San Francisco's most notorious dead spots. Other than network weaknesses, which no one can blame Motorola for, it was rare for the phone to show less than 3 or 4 bars of signal. Unfortunately signal strength seems to bear no relation to call quality. There were many places where we got a full 4 bars of signal and the calls were not nearly as good as in the bank vault where we barely had 1 bar.

Sound

The e815 was plenty loud, and the speaker was rather clear. During conversations, it was rare that we ever needed to turn up the volume beyond half of what the phone was capable of. The shape and size of the e815 as well as the speaker placement allow you to firmly place the phone against your ear and block out most external noise instead of having to continually boost the volume.

The speakerphone and ringer volume are not quite as impressive. We needed to keep the volume up pretty high (6 out of 7) in order to hear the phone ring in noisy environments. The high volume is necessary because for some reason this phone does not feature the "vibrate and ring" style found on most Motorolas, only a "vibrate then ring." If you do not feel the phone vibrate during the first few seconds, you'll need a loud ringer to get your attention. The speakerphone is just loud enough to use outdoors without being annoying or deafening.

Battery

The e815 battery lasts an impressive four days... as long as you have solid EV-DO coverage or Verizon has not launched VCAST in your area yet. There is a bug that causes the e815 to chew through the battery in about 1 day if the PRL says that the phone should have EV-DO coverage but the phone can only find 1xRTT. So if EV-DO coverage is spotty in your area or Verizon is in the process of rolling it out, expect no more than 1 1/2 days of battery life. Motorola is evaluating solutions to fix this problem. However even if they come up with a fix, Motorola says it will take some time to test the upgrade against the current software before it can be approved for release.

Function - Basics

Menus 

The e815 still features Motorola's classic interface, found on most their phones since 2001. We say "still" because Verizon is requiring all manufacturers to use the same Verizon-designed menus on all their EV-DO phones, and the e815 will probably be one of the last models launched that uses the manufacturer's interface instead. The LG VX8100, launched at the same time as the e815, adopted the new Verizon menus.

The classic menu system offers Motorola users a great deal of familiarity. It shares the same home screen and navigation as other models. From the home screen, pressing the dedicated menu button will launch the main menu and one can assign shortcuts to the four directions on the D-pad as well as the two softkeys. With so many shortcuts and two buttons dedicated to the camera, it is rare that you even need to use menus to reach often used functions or applications.

Once inside the applications, most follow Motorola's standard where the left softkey is back or exit, the right is select or next and the menu button launches a list of options. However there are cases, such as addressing a text message, where the e815 breaks this standard.

 

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The native Motorola applications are very fast, even the camera - which launches in under 2 seconds. There is no delay when navigating inside these applications either. However for all the speed of the native applications, BREW runs exasperatingly slow. Not only does this affect BREW applications, but it also affects the VCAST streaming videos - not the playback of the videos themselves, which is smooth, but the loading time for the menus to select a video.

Verizon uses a separate BREW application to list and playback VCAST video clips. Data for this application is not stored on the phone, and must be downloaded every time the application is launched, even if it was previously launched a few minutes before. Despite the speed of the EV-DO network, launching the VCAST application and downloading the data takes quite a while. Finding a video to play and streaming it once VCAST is launched is fairly straightforward except the application lacks a back button. You must use the clear button located below the right softkey.

 

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Calls / Contacts 

Calls

You can open and close the flip or use the send and end keys to answer and end calls, exactly as you would expect. Answering calls by flipping the phone open starts the call faster than on other Motorola flip phones.

The in-call menu is completely different from other Motorolas. The mute button is located on the right softkey (it is normally the left, since left is normally the negative button). The right softkey opens the contacts list to start a call waiting or conference
call. The menu key brings up a list of in-call options, none of which includes speakerphone. The speakerphone is activated by holding the left sidekey (select, not the volume toggle).

Although most calling features are normal, not everything works as expected. For instance the e815 displays a voicemail icon on the 1 key, however holding down on the 1 dials the contact that has been assigned speed dial #1 instead of voicemail. We could find no way to change this.

There are also 2 recent call lists. Pressing the send key from the home screen brings up a call list with incoming, missed and outgoing calls combined. The last outgoing number is always first but all other numbers are in reverse chronological order (exactly as on Sony Ericssons). However using the recent softkey on the home screen brings up the more traditional Motorola call list where each call type is given its own tab.

Contacts

Contacts can store multiple phone numbers and email addresses for each person. Each entry can also be assigned a photo for caller ID and a custom ringtone. There are not a separate fields for first and last name, so contacts can only be sorted by the first letter of the name as it is entered. Oddly, they can also be sorted by email address.

The picture view on the e815 is the same as on other Motorola models, however the list view seems a bit more clean than on other Motos we've tested.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Messaging 

The messaging client includes a create message dialog which lists a number of options including SMS (TXT), MMS (PIX) and a special option to post a picture directly to Verizon's moblog (PixPlace).

Once an option has been selected, you are first asked to address the message before composing it. Addressing a message is not as simple as it could be. In order to proceed, you have to alternate between the left and right softkey, instead of continually tapping the right softkey after each step to continue. It feels as though Motorola ignored their own menu rules for this procedure.

Once at the composition screen, everything feels normal. Text prediction works quickly and accurately and one press of the right softkey sends the message on its way.

There is no email access in the messaging application. You must use Verizon's WAP site to access your email.

 

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Function - Extras

Camera 

As stated earlier, there are not one, but two keys dedicated to activating the camera. The side button requires a longer press than the button on the keypad before it launches the application. Thus it feels like the keypad button launches into the viewfinder quicker. Once the key is pressed, the application takes just under two seconds to launch.

The camera lens is very close to the hinge, but because of the size and shape of the phone, your hand rarely blocks the lens. The phone is balanced well enough to take pictures one-handed, and doesn't require you to change your normal grip on the phone to do so. The sensor and viewfinder are oriented in landscape format. Capturing a portrait format picture is best done two-handed.

The automatic brightness and contrast adjustment built into the phone shows improvement over previous Motorolas we've tested. It still handles low-light situations with ease (especially with the addition of a very bright LED flash), but now captures bright daylight scenes better. Unfortunately colors and detail still bleed out under extremely bright conditions.

Although the e815 forces the user through Motorola's 3 step process to save a picture and then return to the viewfinder, it at least saves the image in less than two seconds, speeding up this arduous process. Once a picture is captured, which takes a little over a second, you need to confirm you want to store the picture and then choose what to do with the stored picture. This is when the 2 second save occurs. Exiting the application or doing anything else other than continuing with this process before being the picture is saved deletes the picture.

The e815 has a surprisingly smooth video recorder. We were able to take impressive clips of a bicycle race cruising through San Francisco at a rather quick pace. The video record application is fairly simple to use. It has 3 record lengths: 10 seconds, 30 seconds, and the maximum time that can be recorded in free memory. There are no options to adjust size or quality.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The gallery application still devotes about a third of the screen to a large menu and status bar. There is no option to view a picture full screen. Nor is there an option to zoom in on a picture beyond a size that fits in the screen. This would be especially useful for checking sharpness and detail of pictures, which in our experience was sub-par for a 1.3 Megapixel cameraphone. The "original size" option - which normally displays photos at full resolution on Motorola phones - strangely works the same as "fit to screen" on the e815.

Pictures can be sent by MMS, uploaded to PixPlace or even transferred to and from the TransFlash card. They cannot be transferred to another device over Bluetooth.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Pictures and Videos 

As long as the light is not too bright, the E815 has good vision and good detail. When subjects are further waway, the E815 quickly loses detail. Shots from only 15-20 feets away are much more pixelated, even at the highest resolution. Like the smaller sensor in other Motorolas, the new 1.3 MP sensor bleeds out in bright light, losing all detail. The E815 tends to be heavy on the greens and yellows, which over saturates those colors, while darkening and dulling other colors.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

The video recording is rather smooth. Even though it becomes pixellated at times, at least there aren't complete pauses like with some other phones. The sound is also excellent, better than most phones we've tested.

(bike)
3GPP2 / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 123 KB

Browse / Customize 

Browser

As expected for a phone with high speed data, browsing is fairly speedy experience. Pages, including ones with many graphics, download quickly. Scrolling is fairly smooth, and the included Openwave browser can even be set to scroll automatically. Unfortunately the browser is not nearly as flexible for text display. Text is set in a tiny condensed font which is nearly impossible to read from any distance, even for those of us lucky enough to have good eyesight. Sub-pixel rendering of letters like W, A, B and S turn each of those into blurry blocks instead of smooth letters. There is no way to turn the sub-pixel rendering off or adjust the font size to alleviate the situation. Bold headline text, though larger, is no clearer.

Customization

Although the e815 is capable of playing mp3 ringtones, it does not come with any, nor can you load any onto the phone via memory card or file transfer. You must purchase high fidelity ringtones from Verizon's Get It Now store. The phone comes with a variety of midi ringtones that try to satisfy a wide gamut of musical tastes, but all come up short - especially for a high end phone.

The display can be customized with skins, which completely change the look of menus and dialog boxes as well as wallpapers. Any photos on stored on the phone, including ones taken by the user, can be used as a wallpaper. Motorola skins need to be made by professionals and then downloaded to phones, however Verizon does not offer any additional skins for download. There are three stock skins on the phone.

File Management

Pictures and Videos are each managed in their own gallery applications. Both galleries have options to move, rename, email and delete the files. All other files (ringtones, games and other applications) are managed using the Get It Now application which can only move or delete the files. The Get It Now application is very simple BREW application that does not match the menus of the rest of the phone nor use the assigned skin.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Other 

Watch

When closed, the external screen on the e815 always displays the time. If the screen is activated (by pressing a button or opening and closing the flip) the time is shown in large black numbers over a brightly backlight scene. It is very easy to read. Even when the external screen is dimmed and just shows a greyish time on a black background, it is still easy to read in most lighting conditions.

Bluetooth

The e815 has both the Headset and Hands Free profile for use with Bluetooth headsets as well as car kits. Although it is not publicized, the e815 also has a Dial Up Networking profile and it is easy to find instructions for using the e815 as a laptop modem on the internet. The phone does not support OBEX or serial profiles, however using iSync 2.1 it is possible to sync the phone with a Mac using Bluetooth.

Extras

In the Office Tools menu, There is a simple calculator which uses the D-Pad to select a function. There is also an alarm clock with multiple daily alarms. Alarms will sound even if the phone has been turned off.

Wrap-up 

Because it's still relatively new here, most people think of EV-DO handsets as high end. They still expect every one to be a flagship model. The e815 is a solid performer that brings EV-DO to mid-range phone buyers. It has a few desirable features like fast data and Bluetooth, but doesn't pack every imaginable feature or acronym. Other than the slowness of the VCAST video application on this phone, it will do an excellent job bringing EV-DO to a broader market.

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