For some time now, wireless carriers in the United States have been bragging about the third-generation (3G) cell phones in their lineups. Despite their promises, the reality has yet to meet expectations. While the handsets have been capable of 3G data speeds, the service providers have not. AT&T Wireless is changing that, however, with its new Motorola A845. Running on the carrier's new third-generation UMTS network, this mobile promises data speeds far beyond the current norm (see ). What does this mean for you? Faster downloads and higher-quality streaming video and videoconferencing than Sprint's streaming-video phone, the , provides. Throw in Bluetooth, e-mail support, and a speakerphone, and you get a handset that's sure to wow on-the-go execs and cell phone addicts alike. At $369, all of these features come at a premium, but discounts will surely be available. One additional caveat: At press time, the UMTS network is available in only six U.S. markets (see ).
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. First and foremost, let's get one thing straight. At 5.3 by 2.1 by 1.0 inches, the Motorola A845 is not just big; it's a behemoth. In fact, the 5.6-ounce handset reminded us of the hefty mobile clunkers of the late 1990s--or a television remote control. That size means that the A845 will fit in few pockets and will definitely add some weight to a purse or a bag. You'll also want to avoid lengthy conversations, as holding the phone to your face for long periods can be tiring. On the plus side, we liked the rounded edges and the spacious and vivid color screen. Measuring 2.25 inches diagonally and supporting 64,000 colors, it was great for viewing photos and animated menus. Though you can adjust the contrast and the brightness, the screen is difficult to see in direct light and goes almost completely dark when the backlighting is off. The backlighting time-out can be changed, but the maximum length is just 20 seconds.
Motorola went to the trouble of providing two camera lenses: one in the handset's left corner and the other on the reverse side. While they make self-portraits a cinch, we weren't sure that dual lenses added any functionality. They are, however, well out of the way of your fingers when you're taking photos. Immediately below the rear lens is the speakerphone. While it is generously sized, its placement on the handset's rear face muffles the sound if the phone is flat on a surface. On top of the mobile is the infrared port; a 2.5mm headset jack and a dedicated camera button sit on the right spine. We usually like dedicated camera keys, but this one was tiny for the phone's size. Likewise, the volume rocker on the left spine is way too small and difficult to press.
We were also divided by the navigation controls and the keypad. The large, five-way joystick provides easy navigation through the user-friendly menus. It also acts as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. You get two soft keys and a dedicated button to the AT&T Wireless mMode service. In a helpful move, the left soft key also opens a Fast Menu of oft-used functions. We were puzzled, though, by a dedicated Recent Calls key. Since the same list is accessed through the Talk button, we would have preferred a camera shortcut key. The dimly backlit keypad buttons could be improved as well. Though well spaced, they were set flush with the surface of the phone and were not very tactile. As a result, we had to pay attention when we were dialing.Though its design didn't quite hit the mark, the Motorola A845 is all about features. On the basic end, you get a 500-name phone book with room in each entry for six phone numbers and an e-mail address. Ringers can be assigned to caller groups or paired with a picture or any of the 25 polyphonic or 10 monophonic ring tones. You also get a vibrate mode, a date book, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser, an infrared port, and full Bluetooth support for sending data or connecting to a headset. There's a speakerphone as well, but it can be activated only after you make a call.
On the upside, we were pleased with the extensive e-mail services--perfect for those with business on the brain. Through AT&T's mMode, you get access to a variety of POP3 e-mail, including AOL, MSN Hotmail, Yahoo, EarthLink, and Prodigy. Alternately, you can get mail from SMTP or IMAP4 accounts or access Yahoo, AOL, or MSN Instant Messenger. And if that's not enough, the SyncML program can sync not only your e-mail but also your contacts to your office or home PC. General mMode plans range from $2.99 to $24.99 per month, with data services offered at an additional $4.99 or $9.99 per month.
Multimedia offerings were also plentiful, though we were puzzled as to why the camera was only VGA, providing unremarkable picture quality. For such a full-featured phone, a megapixel camera would have been a nice touch. That said, you can take photos at five resolutions: 640x480, 320x240, 176x144, 160x120, and 80x60. You also can alter the lighting-condition setting or use the 3X zoom. There is no flash, self-timer, or brightness setting, but we like that you can adjust the exposure setting or take mirror images of a scene. Likewise, flipping between the front and rear lenses is easy. The video camera has a similar set of options, and you can shoot MPEG-4 clips from 10 seconds to three minutes in length (with sound). When finished, you can save shots and clips to the phone, set them as wallpaper or screensavers, and send them via multimedia messages. You get 64MB of flash memory for saving your work, and a convenient meter keeps track of how much space is left. Though 64MB will be plenty for most people, an expandable memory slot would have been useful.
Of course, you aren't going to buy the A845 for the camera. The real draw is the high-quality streaming video over AT&T's UMTS network; however, the network is currently available in only Phoenix, San Francisco, San Diego, Dallas, Detroit, and Seattle. Future markets will be available in the future, but at press time, no announcements had been made. Entertainment services are provided by RealTV and include channels such as ABC News, CBS MarketWatch, NPR News, Fox Sports, and the Weather Channel. You can also view movie previews, TV-show recaps, and music videos, as well as listen to such content as horoscopes, book reviews, and celebrity gossip. Unlimited data plans, which include mMode access, are $24.99 per month for individuals and $79.99 per month for businesses. For getting down to business, you can also use the phone for videoconferencing, but the other caller must have a UMTS-capable phone and be in one of the markets served. We were unable to test this option.