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Motorola ES400S (Sprint) review: Motorola ES400S (Sprint)

Motorola ES400S (Sprint)

Nicole Lee Former Editor
Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.
Nicole Lee
7 min read


Motorola ES400S (Sprint)

The Good

The Motorola ES400S is a business-centric phone with a rugged exterior, a biometric fingerprint sensor, a 3.2-megapixel camera, a bar code scanner function, and plenty of enterprise-level applications.

The Bad

The Motorola ES400S still runs on Windows Mobile 6.5.3 and its resistive touch screen sometimes requires a stylus for more precision.

The Bottom Line

The Motorola ES400S is definitely too big and clunky for an average consumer, but mobile task workers might find this a very useful tool for the job.

The first thing to note is that the Motorola ES400S is not a phone for consumers. Indeed, Sprint and Motorola are pitching it as a mobile Enterprise Digital Assistant (EDA) for industry workers in field sales and service, retail, and health care. You can't even buy the phone if you're not purchasing it via a business account. So if you're looking for the latest multimedia wonder, you should look elsewhere--the ES400S is all business and proud of it.

This focus on business might also explain why the ES400S has Windows Mobile 6.5 instead of the latest Windows Phone 7. Most of the corporate world is still entrenched in older versions of Windows and Exchange, so an older version of Windows Mobile would be more compatible with enterprise applications and most IT departments. We're of course disappointed by this--just because it's a business phone doesn't mean it needs to lag behind everything else. The use of a stylus is also incredibly old-school.

Aside from that, the ES400S does appear to be a decent smartphone. It's built to be rugged, and the security features are heightened by the presence of a biometric fingerprint scanner. While we wouldn't recommend this as a consumer smartphone, it seems to be a good choice for mobile task workers who need a robust and durable handheld. Pricing starts at $499.99 for qualifying businesses or $549.99 with a new two-year agreement on a Sprint Business account.

The Motorola ES400S is quite massive by today's phone standards. It measures 5.08 inches long by 2.38 inches wide by 0.67 inch thick, and weighs around 5.5 ounces. But its size is due to its thick rubberized padding, which makes the phone military-certified to withstand the elements. It can survive a 4-foot drop, a 3-foot drop to vinyl-covered concrete, 150 1.65-foot tumbles, and vibrations, and will work from 32 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Motorola ES400S is built to be tough, with an exterior that is resistant to drops, vibration, water, and more.

Most of that space is also taken up by a large 3-inch touch-screen display. It has 262,000 color support and a WVGA 640x480 pixel resolution. Motorola also says it has a Super Bright 750+ NITS screen, which means it's extremely bright and luminous. The screen is certainly vivid enough for our needs, and we like the vibrant graphics and crisp text. You can adjust the screen orientation and the font size too. There's a built-in accelerometer so the screen orientation can change as you rotate the phone.

However, the ES400S is saddled with an analog resistive touch display, which requires a little bit more precision and pressure than capacitive displays. This is the reason Motorola has included a stylus with the ES400S. We managed to use our fingers most of the time for swiping around, but when it came to selecting tiny little buttons, we did have to use the stylus for increased accuracy.

At the core of it, the Motorola ES400S has the Windows Mobile 6.5.3 Professional Edition as its operating system. It has the honeycomb-style main menu and the customizable home screens, and you can tap the information bar at the top to tab through open applications. However, the professional edition has a few extra functions above and beyond the consumer model. The primary home screen consists of several "PenTiles" that act as shortcuts to frequently used functions like messages, e-mails, calendar, and contacts. There are also customizable shortcuts along the bottom of each home screen. And while the consumer version of Windows Mobile 6.5 has a somewhat Zune-like look and feel, the design of the professional version harkens back to Windows Mobile 6.1.

Underneath the display is the navigation array, which consists of the Talk and End keys, with a bar code scanner key, OK key, and optical touch pad in the middle. Much like the touch pad on the BlackBerry Bold, you can use the touch pad in place of the stylus. This is helpful particularly if you find yourself having to use the phone one-handed. The bar code scanner key, which essentially allows you to use the camera as a bar code scanner, will only work if you already have a scanner application open.

Below that is a full QWERTY keyboard. Even though it's rather compact, the keys themselves are domed and sufficiently raised above the surface. We like the dedicated keys for messaging and the Start menu. It was pretty easy to type quickly as well.

On the left side of the phone are the headset and charger jacks and a programmable button that can act as the push-to-talk key. The headset and charger jacks are covered up in a rubber flap to protect the phone from water damage. On the right side are the volume rocker and the camera key. On the top is the power button, and on the back are the camera lens and LED flash.

On the back of the ES400S is a biometric fingerprint scanner above the camera.

Also on the back of the phone is a biometric fingerprint scanner. To activate it, you have to go through a locking wizard in the settings menu that asks you for a password. Then it'll ask you to swipe at the sensor about five times. After it's locked in, you can now unlock the phone by either entering the password or swiping your finger on the biometric sensor. This worked flawlessly in our tests.

Behind the battery cover are the microSD card slot and a SIM card so you can use the phone overseas.

The strength of the ES400S lies in its enterprise-friendly features. You can access all of your company's back-end systems like inventory tracking and placing orders for new equipment, depending on what sort of apps your company uses. You can scan bar codes, as we mentioned above, and you can also get signatures for orders by having your customer sign directly on the phone.

Of course, the ES400S also has all of the usual Windows Mobile features. That includes Internet Explorer Mobile, Microsoft's My Phone backup service, MSN Messenger, Windows Live, MSN Weather, MSN Money, Bing, and the full Microsoft Office Mobile suite. It supports Microsoft's Direct Push technology for e-mail, tasks, calendar, and contacts via your company's Exchange server. You can also use your own POP3 and IMAP e-mail addresses if you wish. Other preinstalled apps include Remote Desktop Mobile, SMS Staging, MSP Agent, Rapid Deployment Client, Airbeam Client, and Sprint Navigation, Sprint's turn-by-turn directions app and service. You can get more apps via the Windows Marketplace.

Aside from that, the ES400S has all the normal PIM functions like a calendar, an address book, a calculator, a speakerphone, conference calling, voice command support, a notebook, and text and multimedia messaging. The ES400S is also a dual-mode phone that can connect to both GSM and CDMA networks as long as you have a SIM card inserted in the back. This dual 3.5G broadband connection lets you toggle between Sprint's 3G EV-DO network here and a GSM UMTS/HSDPA network abroad. The ES400S also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP streaming.

Even though it's a business-centric phone, the ES400S still has Windows Media Player. You can load MP3, AAC, AAC+, WMA, MIDI, MPEG4, WMV, H.263, and H.264 file formats to the phone via either USB mass storage or a microSD card. The phone takes cards of up to 32GB.

The Motorola ES400S takes only average pictures, but you can add notations to them.

The Motorola ES400S has a 3.2-megapixel autofocus camera that can take pictures in three resolutions and three quality settings. You can capture panoramic images by stitching photos together, and there's a shutter timer option too. For notation purposes, you can geotag your photos, and add comments to them. There's a video camera as well.

Photo quality was average on the whole. Images seemed slightly fuzzy, and colors looked dull and dark.

We tested the Motorola ES400S in San Francisco using Sprint Nextel. Call quality was fantastic. There was very little hiss or static from either end. We heard our callers very clearly, and their voices sounded as if they were in the next room.

Similarly, callers praised our audio quality highly. They did say our voice quality was a bit harsh at times, but it wasn't a huge distraction. They said we had great volume, so that they had no trouble hearing us even when we were walking on a busy city sidewalk in the rain. Speakerphone quality was impressive as well, though callers did detect a tiny bit of an echo at times.

The phone has a 600MHz ARM 11 processor, and while that may sound underpowered, we experienced no hiccups or delays when launching multiple apps. Some apps did take longer to load, however--the GPS app took a few more seconds than we expected, as did the browser.

Surfing the Web was a pleasant experience for the most part. The EV-DO speeds served us well, and we loaded the CNET home page in around 18 seconds. We weren't able to test the GSM 3G speeds.

The Motorola ES400S has a rated battery life of 6 hours of talk time and 10 days of standby time. It has a tested talk time of 6 hours and 32 minutes. You can also purchase a battery that will extend the talk time to 12 hours and the standby time to 12 days.


Motorola ES400S (Sprint)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 8