Motorola's Lilliputian mobile, the A630, doesn't try to be all things to all people--and that's exactly what it does right. Ideal for users who crave a device that garners its fair share of cell phone envy, the handset's hidden QWERTY keyboard will also satisfy the needs of text-messaging and IM addicts. The A630's main competition is the larger Nokia 6820; both are acquired tastes, so your final selection will come down to your preferences in keyboards and menu interfaces. This mobile, which is offered by T-Mobile for $299, should be cheaper with service. You also should give it a thumb-led test-drive before purchasing.
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. The Motorola A630 could be mistaken for a distant relative of one of the company's earlier QWERTY keypad-based mobiles, the Accompli 009. But the A630's design is leaps and bounds ahead of that predecessor's. For starters, it's smaller (3.7 by 1.9 by 0.9 inches; 3.9 ounces), and when the phone is shut, it's close in size to the Siemens SL56. The A630 also sports a numeric keypad on its exterior, so you can make calls without ever opening the cover. But underneath the flip, you'll find a QWERTY keyboard and a 65,000-color display.
Although the phone might not be much too look at initially, it holds some surprises. The keypad buttons are well laid out and quite responsive. Also, a four-way toggle serves as Talk and End keys, which let you scroll through the menu options. They take some acclimation, but they're easy to use once you get the hang of them. The camera lens is well placed, sitting just to the right of the three-line, blue-backlit external monochrome display. We particularly appreciate the volume-control buttons and the dedicated camera key on the spine of the phone.
As noted, flip open the phone, and you'll see where the real action resides. Inside the A630 is a bright display viewable in most lighting conditions, though it looks slightly washed out in direct sunlight. The menu interface resembles that of most newer Motorola mobiles such as the V600, but its additional navigation options (a five-way key; two soft keys; a spacebar; Menu, Backspace, power, Shift, and Send keys) make it a bit more difficult to maneuver through the phone's extensive feature list. That said, we particularly appreciate the QWERTY keyboard and find the keys to be well spaced. Users with bigger digits, however, should sample this feature before buying. The Motorola A630 has all the features you'd expect in a mobile and more. The handset's internal phone book holds 1,000 names, and you can store at least an additional 250 entries on the SIM card. Also onboard is caller ID (when available), voicemail, voice-activated dialing, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calculator, a to-do list, and wireless Web access via Cingular Wireless's high-speed GPRS data network. The A630 comes with 21 (24-chord) polyphonic ring tones, MP3 tones, a vibrate mode, and Java (J2ME) games, and you can download more. You can also record short voice memos or send IMs from the handset.
The A630 can be personalized with your choice of wallpaper, colors, screensavers, or menu styles. There's also a duplex speakerphone that you can automatically turn on simply by opening the phone when you're already on a call. This is a great feature if you want to check the calendar for an appointment while you're in conversation. Just be sure to manually hang up when you're finished to ensure the speakerphone is off.
As noted, the phone has a built-in VGA digital camera. You can take pictures in MMS (160x120), Medium (320x240), or High (640x480) mode and save as many images as the phone's 5MB of shared memory will accommodate. The better the resolution, the more memory an image will require. Conversely, if you download a lot of games, you won't be able to store as many pictures. It's easy to keep tabs on storage capacity, as the Photo Viewfinder displays the percentage of memory used when you're in camera mode. You can take pictures when the handset is closed, à la James Bond, but there's no mirror for self-portraits or an outer viewfinder, so the whole process is a bit quirky. You'll also find a self-timer and lighting settings, and you can save photos as wallpaper or screensavers, then attach them to names in your phone book for picture caller ID. However, you can see a photo only when you open up the flip. While the mobile supports video playback, you can't record any footage.
The A630 has a serious side too. With its Bluetooth connectivity and its ability to view and send POP3, SMTP, and IMAP4 e-mail, the handset is a workhorse. Currently, the phone can support only one e-mail account, but a software patch to provide support for up to five different accounts will be available later. Additionally, you can purchase Motorola's Mobile Tools software ($80 with Bluetooth adapter), which allows you to sync Outlook contacts and calendars on your handset. When we tried this feature, syncing seemed easy, but we noticed the handset's calendar didn't support all the fields (such as Notes and Location) we used in our version of Outlook. We remedied this by combining location details in the subject area in Outlook on our computer, then syncing, but this isn't an ideal solution. We tested the triband (GSM 900/1800/1900) Motorola A630 world phone with Cingular service in San Francisco and Idaho and found reception to be good overall. Occasionally, the sound had a slightly tinny tone, and some might find the volume a little low in noisy environments. The speakerphone worked well in our tests; we were able to carry on conversations with a minimum of cross talk.
Battery life was good; we hit the rated talk time of three hours. For standby time, we reached a week, barely short of the promised time of a little more than eight days--pretty respectable.