Moto ROKR E8 Sony Ericsson
Jan 6, 2008, 9:24 PM by Eric Lin, Eric M. Zeman and Rich Brome
updated Jan 10, 2008, 6:32 PM
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The ROKR E8 is Motorola's new concept for a music phone.
To hear Motorola tell it, their goal was a device that looked and worked like a phone in phone mode, but also looked and worked 100% like a dedicated music player in music mode. We've heard lines like this from a lot of companies in the past year, but it usually amounts to just a few extra side keys or a few software gimmicks. With the ROKR E8, however, Motorola has really put some new ideas and technology into this concept of a "no compromise" converged device.
(Note that parts of the keypad that appear red in the above photos are actually white in normal lighting. Our camera flash made them appear red for some reason.)
The first key innovation of the E8 is the unique "morphing" keypad that changes depending on the mode the phone is in. The basic idea is not new. The Samsung Heat and LG Venus, for example, both have contextual keys in the d-pad area that only become visible in the relevant modes.
However the E8 takes this concept to the next level by extending it to the entire keypad area. The result is a device that really could be mistaken for a standalone music player in music mode, because all of the phone keys completely disappear from surface. A special set of dedicated keys appears only for camera mode, as well.
The front of the phone is just one flat surface of glossy hard plastic. A few tactile elements have been added to help your fingers find their way, such as a small grid of bumps over the lower half, and a textured d-pad area. But otherwise the front is flatter and smoother than any other phone I can think of.
The second key innovation is the incredible haptic feedback system integrated into the keypad surface. To put it simply, it's the first true touch keypad that feels like real buttons.
All current phones on the market with touch keys and "haptic feedback" actually just vibrate the whole phone a little bit to let you know your touch registered. On the E8, however, the haptic feedback is localized so you only feel it under your finger, not the whole phone. What's more impressive is that it doesn't just vibrate a little; it actually has separate "press down" and "release" types of feedback that actually simulate the feel of pressing a physical button.
This new type of haptics really works, and quite well. The effect is best described as "spooky". It works so well that if Motorola had told us it had real keys under the surface - and wasn't a touch keypad at all - we would have believed them and never doubted it. In fact , if you treat it like a touch keypad, you'll have trouble with it. That's because it's designed to be treated like a "real" keypad; key presses only register if you press as hard as you would with physical buttons. A light touch like you might use with other touch phones won't cut it on the E8.
Another unique part of the E8 is the silver, semi-circular scroll control that surrounds the d-pad. At first you might assume it works like an iPod scroll wheel. However, in the PowerPoint presentation on this feature, they explained that it's supposed to be more like a scroll speed control, where putting your finger on the right half always scrolls forward, while the left half scrolls back, and the further from the top, the faster it scrolls.
Either of those two options might have been fine, but in fact Motorola's own presentation was wrong, because the way it actually works - as explained by the actual product managers and seen during our own hands-on time - is an extremely awkward combination of the two methods. I found it very un-intuitive and difficult to use, even with one of the engineers who worked on the project coaching me.
As the "ROKR" branding implies, the focus of this phone is definitely music. In addition to the unique keypad, you'll find a 3.5mm jack topside for use with standard music headphones, plus stereo Bluetooth for the cord-averse. There's also a generous 2 GB of built-in memory which can be expanded via the microSD slot supporting cards up to 4 GB, for up to 6 GB total for your tunes.
As for the rest of the phone, it feels small and light, but well-built. It has a great feel to it. The screen is crisp thanks to it being QVGA resolution, but it's awfully small, which is due to the puzzling landscape orientation.
Here is a video preview of the Motorola ROKR E8, where you can see the three keypad modes in action, plus a little scroll wheel action:
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Motorola's latest ROKR phone faces the music in Phone Scoop's review. It may have great haptics, but does it have what it takes to impress audiophiles in the crowd?
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