When it comes to Sprint PCS, cell phones from Samsung and Sanyo tend to dominate the carrier's lineup. We may see the occasional Nokia or LG handset as well, but Motorola phones are rare. Yet two weeks ago at CTIA, Sprint introduced the Motorola C290. Simple and functional in both features and design, the C290 is a phone for Sprint customers who just want to make calls. Though the lack of an external display is a disappointment--even on such a basic handset--the Motorola C290 performs its primary function well. It's a tad expensive if you pay full price ($179), but service rebates knock it down to a more reasonable $29.
There's not much to say about the C290's exterior design. Measuring 3.4 by 1.9 by 0.9 inches and weighing 3.6 ounces, it's neither big nor small. The stubby antenna is extendable, but like most antennas of this type, it suffers from flimsy construction. As mentioned earlier, the C290 doesn't have an external display, which means you must open the phone to see your caller's identity. Also, the large Sprint and Motorola logos on the front flap add up to a dull effect. On the upside, however, we like the black coloring and the rubberized covering on the edges of the front flap. The material continues to the back of the mobile, where you'll find a small speakerphone. On the left spine, there's a shortcut key to the speakerphone and a rocker control for changing the call/ring volume and scrolling thorough the menus.
Inside the C290 is a serviceable but low-resolution display. With support for 65,000 colors, the 1.75-inch-diagonal screen is quite a step down from displays with 262,000 colors, but it's fine for scrolling through the menus. Gamers, however, will be disappointed by the washed-out effect and the rudimentary graphics. You can set the backlighting time, but there are no brightness or contrast controls, and you can't change the font size.
Below this display are the spacious, user-friendly navigation controls. Unlike most Motorola phones, the C290 doesn't have a dedicated menu key marked by the familiar three lines. Instead, you access the menu via the OK button in the middle of the four-way navigation toggle. When in standby mode, the toggle provides one-touch access to four user-defined features, while the two soft keys open the phone book and the messaging menu. Above the toggle is a dedicated Web browser button; below it are a Back key and the dedicated Talk and End/power buttons. Though the controls are set flat with the surface of the phone, their large size--they take up almost half of the phone--make them easy to use.
In contrast, however, the keypad buttons are somewhat tricky. Since the navigation keys are so large, the dial-pad buttons suffer as a result. Not only are they small and flat, they're also irregularly shaped. Granted, it's not a huge problem, but we had a few misdials in our first hour with the phone. They're backlit in bright orange when the phone is active.