Anyone who's used Windows Mobile knows it's not the prettiest smartphone operating system around. A few manufacturers have attempted to make the OS more intuitive by adding deeper levels of personalization, but the results can be hit or miss. Fortunately, Motorola's new Surf A3100 accomplishes its goal.
Though the Surf uses Windows Mobile 6.1 it offers a series of customizable menu pages that sit on top of the OS. Not only are the pages convenient, but also they're easy on the eyes. You can cycle through them by swiping your finger across the bottom of the screen. Alternatively, you can use the stylus or the included trackball (more on that later). The 2.8-inch display is bright and vibrant.
The first page features nine icons in a grid design. Indeed, we liked it immediately when Moto gave us a quick walkthrough. The icons give one-touch access to nine user-programmable features, allowing you to bypass the standard Windows Mobile start menu. That's in its usual place if you need it, but we liked jumping straight to our chosen feature by selecting its respective icon.
Another menu page is reserved for your favorite contacts from your phone book. But rather than showing just a list of names, the page features photos of your friends in a grid design. Naturally, you'd populate the photo boxes with shots taken with the Surf's camera. A third page shows upcoming appointments, your e-mails and messages, an icon for the phone dialer and a shortcut to your voice mail.
The aforementioned process for cycling between pages was intuitive, whether we were using our finger or the stylus. The trackball was roomy and tactile. The interface was a tad slow, but it wasn't too bothersome.
Talk and End buttons sit on either side of the trackball. They're smaller than we'd prefer and too flush. You'll also find a volume rocker and a camera shutter. The memory card slot is stashed inconveniently behind the battery cover but we're grateful Moto put a 3.5mm headset jack on top of the phone.
The virtual QWERTY keyboard is a tad cramped so we advise using the stylus. You can type in both landscape and portrait modes, but the Surf doesn't use an accelerometer. Instead, you must press the End button to switch between them. You also can use the stylus in a graffiti mode.
On the whole the Surf has a comfortable, solid feel in the hand. We like the appealing curved edges and the chrome detailing that's offset by the basic black on the front face. At 4.3 inches by 2.4 inches by 0.5 inch and 4.2 ounces, the Surf is relatively compact for a smartphone.
Features are relatively plentiful on the quad-band GSM device. You'll find 3G support, integrated Wi-Fi, a 3-megapixel camera with a secondary VGA shooter, Google Maps, Bluetooth, messaging and e-mail, a media player, and video conferencing.