Up until just a couple of years ago, Motorola's reputation largely hinged on its famed StarTAC cell phone. As the handset that revolutionized the flip-phone form factor, the StarTAC made Motorola into a major cell phone player. Now, after a period of producing a string of quality but mostly unremarkable mobiles, Motorola is again on the forefront of cell phone design. Following on the heels of the ultrathin and is the ultrachic Motorola Pebl U6 for T-Mobile. Sporting a sophisticated and very soothing design, the Pebl is so striking that it deserves to be named as one of the most attractive cell phones ever made. Under the hood, it comes with a generous range of features, including Bluetooth, a speakerphone, and world phone support. We were hoping for a higher-resolution camera, and as with all of Motorola's designcentric phones, we weren't impressed with the controls, but the Pebl nonetheless is a looker and a solid performer. Be warned that it's expensive at $299, and T-Mobile currently isn't offering any service rebates. We're not exaggerating when we say the Motorola Pebl is one of the cutest phones around. Shaped like, well, a pebble, it's clad in basic black and is nicely set off by a shiny metal hinge. We especially liked the oval shape and the rounded edges, and we enjoyed the textured feel of the rubbery casing. Though it's relatively compact (3.4 by 1.9 by 0.8 inches; 3.8 ounces), it has a solid heft when held in the hand.
On the front of the mobile, you'll notice a unique vertical external display that shows the time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). Though it's monochrome and a bit small, the rectangular shape complements the phone's overall design. Still, we had a couple complaints. While you can change the orientation of the caller ID text from left to right, the font size is tiny and can't be altered. The display also doesn't support picture ID, and you can't change the backlighting time. Below the display is the camera lens, and while we normally bemoan the lack of a flash and self-portrait mirror, we're more understanding this time--the phone is just too pretty.
The Pebl's hinge mechanism is like nothing we've ever seen before on a cell phone. When you hold it in one hand, you can open the Pebl by sliding the front flap toward you (away from the hinge) with your thumb. The flap then flips open in one easy stroke. It's a bit gimmicky, but we still thought it was cool. One caveat is that you should keep a good hold on the phone when using this method. It opens so quickly and with such force that we felt as if the Pebl would fly out of our hand. Also, due to the quirky slide-and-open mechanism the phone flips open when accidentally dropped--even from a short distance on a carpeted floor. As a result, the Pebl may not be the best mobile for the klutz. Of course, you also can open the phone simply by lifting the flap as you would with any other flip phone. When closing, two tiny magnets on the front flap ensure it snaps shut with a satisfying click.
The Pebl's main display supports 262,000 colors, but it has a somewhat washed-out appearance. Similarly, while we recognize the 1.8-inch-diagonal, 176x220-pixel display couldn't be any bigger for the phone's size, it just looked a bit small. You can change the backlighting time and the brightness of the display but not the font size. That then brings us to the navigation controls and the keypad, which are a mixed bag. As was the case with both the Razr and Slvr, the Pebl's distinctive design comes at the expense of fully tactile buttons. All controls with the exception of the navigation toggle resemble a single flat touch pad, which may take some acclimation, depending on your dexterity. Also, since the keys rest on a shiny plastic surface, they're prone to finger smudges.
The navigation array consists of two soft keys, a dedicated menu button, dedicated messaging and Web browser buttons, and the traditional Talk and End keys. The controls are large enough, but they're slippery, so you'll need to watch what you're doing when navigating through menus. The five-way toggle is also too slick, and it's much too small to be entirely user-friendly. Still, it acts as a shortcut to four user-defined functions.
Since they are flat with the surface of the phone, the keypad buttons warrant a test-drive before buying. With the exception of small ridges that separate the horizontal rows, the keys lack texture, so it's difficult to dial by feel. What's more, the backlighting is rather dim, and depending on the angle at which you're holding your phone, the white text of the numbers can be hard to see. Though we recognize the controls are all part of the Pebl's slick design, we think Moto could have made a few tweaks to make them easier to use.
Controls on the outside of the phone consist of a voice-dialing key on the right spine, while the left spine holds a volume rocker and a "smart key" that changes the ringer mode when the flap is closed and starts the camera when it's open. On the rear face of the Pebl is the speaker.