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Motorola C290 (Sprint) review: Motorola C290 (Sprint)



Motorola C290 (Sprint)

The Good

The Motorola C290 offers quality performance, a speakerphone, and analog roaming.

The Bad

The Motorola C290 has irregularly shaped keypad buttons and limited messaging options; it also lacks an external display.

The Bottom Line

Though it lacks an external display, the functional Motorola C290 is a quality Sprint phone for making calls.
Motorola C290
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.

With a solidly utilitarian design, the Motorola C290 lacks an external display.

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.

The C290's feature set is all about the basics. You get a 500-contact address book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, and a birth date. You can organize contacts into caller groups and, for caller-ID purposes, pair them with any of 21 polyphonic ring tones. You can also assign contacts with a picture, but since the C290 has neither multimedia messaging nor a camera, your photo options are limited. Other features include a vibrate mode, text messaging, a 60-second voice recorder, a calendar, an alarm clock, a calculator, a world clock, and a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. The speakerphone is a welcome addition to such a basic phone, but you must first make a call before turning it on. The phone comes with an airplane mode, but beyond using it for playing games, we can't imagine why Motorola chose to include it.

You can personalize the C290 with a variety of screensavers, clock types, menu styles, and sounds, with more options available from Sprint. You can also get more ring tones or mix your own with the Tone Maker DJ application, but you must use wireless Web airtime to do so. There's a tiny red LED on the upper-left hinge that blinks for incoming calls, though you can also turn it off. As for Java (J2ME) games, you get demo versions of Tetris, Ms. Pac-Man, BlockBreaker Deluxe, 2Fast 2Furious, and World Poker Tour. You'll need to buy the full versions for extended play.

We tested the dual-band, trimode (CDMA 800/1900; AMPS 800) Motorola C290 in San Francisco using Sprint's service and had no trouble getting a signal. Call quality was decent, with admirable clarity and superior volume. We had no trouble understanding our callers, and they could hear us plainly. At times, voices on our end sounded a bit robotic, and callers could tell we were using a cell phone, but overall, we were pleased with the performance. Speakerphone quality was somewhat diminished, but a drop in call quality is not unexpected. Fortunately, the speakerphone was sufficiently loud even when the phone sat on a table with the speaker facing down. Web browsing was poky but not atypical of a handset supporting 1xRTT data speeds.

The Motorola C290 has a rated talk time of 2.8 hours and a promised standby time of 8.5 days. In our tests, we got 2 hours, 40 minutes of talk time and an impressive 11.5 days of standby time. Please note that the C290 does not use the mini-USB charger jack becoming standard in newer Motorola phones. According to FCC radiation tests, the C290 has a digital SAR rating of 1.53 watts per kilogram.