Motorola has a long history of creating durable cell phones, but with the occasional exception, they've ended up at Nextel. As we've long encouraged Moto to spread the rugged love, we were glad to see it launch the Motorola Barrage for Verizon Wireless. So named (or so we presume) because it can handle a barrage of elements, the Barrage offers a flip-phone design encased in tough plastic with rubber sidings. It's even supposed to take a full dunking in water. The feature set is functional, and call quality is good. You can buy it for $129 with a two-year contract and a $50 mail-in rebate. Otherwise, you can pay $179 and get it contract-free.
The Barrage isn't pretty, but it doesn't have to be. While other phones may break with one drop to the floor, the Barrage should handle more than its share of bumps. It's big (3.78 inches by 2.09 inches by 0.96 inch), a bit angular, and its hinge is oversized and sturdy. Rubber patches overlay the plastic skin on the sides and front and rear faces. Indeed, the phone has a solid and comfortable feel in the hand, and it opens and shuts with authority. The size shouldn't affect its portability, particularly since the Barrage isn't too heavy (4.2 ounces).
The external display measures 1.6 inches and supports 65,000 colors. It's sufficiently bright and vibrant, and you can adjust the wallpaper. It shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and photo caller ID. You also can access the Barrage's music player and scan through your tracks without opening the phone. Below the display are the dedicated music controls, which you can find by feel.
The camera lens sits just above the display. There's no flash, but you can use the external display to take self-portraits. On the left spine you'll find the volume rocker and the push-to-talk (PTT) button. Both are raised and easy to find when you're on a call, though we wish that the volume rocker was a little larger. The Micro-USB/charger port sits just below. On the right spine are the voice dialing control, the speakerphone/handset locking key, and the 2.5mm headset jack. Unfortunately, you don't get an exterior camera shutter. The antenna forms a small loop at the top of the phone.
To keep the Barrage waterproof, the battery cover uses a locking mechanism at its bottom end. Moto doesn't include a tool in the box, so you'll need a coin or a sharp fingernail to get it off, but it's an easy process. The microSD card slot is located behind the cover (you don't need to remove the battery, too). Normally we'd disapprove of such an arrangement, but we get the need for it on a phone that can go swimming. Indeed, we gave the Barrage a full bath and it kept on ticking.
The 2.2 inch display shows 65,000 colors (176x220 pixels). Though it pales in comparison with 262,000-hue screens, it gets the job done. You can change the backlighting time, the dial and menu font size, and the brightness. The menu interface is available in three designs, and each allows for a degree of customization.
The Barrage navigation array is spacious and comfortable. There's a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a clear button, a camera shortcut, and the Talk and End/power keys. All keys are tactile and you can designate shortcuts for the toggle. They keypad buttons are equally satisfying. We could dial and text quickly and we could use the keys by feel. The backlighting is bright and the numbers on the keys are large.
The Barrage has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, a street address and notes. You can save contacts to groups and assign them a photo and one of 12 polyphonic ringtones. PTT numbers are stored in a separate phone book; you can assign each contact an alert tone and organize them in groups.
Essential features include text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a notepad, and a world clock. You'll also find USB Mass storage, PC syncing, full Bluetooth with object transfer and stereo profiles, GPS with support for VZ Navigator, instant messaging, voice commands, a voice recorder, Web-based POP3 e-mail, and you can use the Barrage as a modem. And as mentioned, you can use Verizon's PTT network.