Motorola is certainly no stranger to the messaging phone, but the company seems to be focusing more on smartphones lately, with recent Android newcomers like the Charm and the Droid 2 taking center stage. Still, that doesn't mean it's leaving the humble text-centric handheld behind. It recently partnered with U.S. Cellular to launch the Motorola Grasp, a simple square handset with a straightforward QWERTY keyboard and an optical trackpad. We had slight misgivings about the design, and it doesn't have the best multimedia features, but it does have EV-DO, and its eco-friendly shell helps to alleviate some consumer guilt. The Grasp is also very affordable at only $39.95 after a two-year contract and a $50 mail-in rebate.
You would be forgiven if you thought the Motorola Grasp was a BlackBerry at first glance. It has that same candy bar style with curved corners, a full QWERTY keyboard, and even an optical trackpad. Upon closer inspection, however, it's actually very different. At 3.7 inches long by 2.4 inches wide by 0.51 inch thick, the Grasp is shorter and thicker than most BlackBerrys, and its plastic shell feels a bit cheap as well.
We also thought it had a rather odd design tweak; the display and keyboard are offset a tiny bit to the right. It doesn't really affect usability, but we do think it makes the phone look a little askew. That said, we do commend Motorola for making the Grasp with pollutant-free materials; the company even claims that the whole phone is 100 percent recyclable once you're done with it.
Another design disappointment comes in the form of the 2.2-inch display. With a rather low 220x176-pixel QCIF resolution and only 65,000 colors, it left a lot to be desired. Graphics look lackluster, and text doesn't look as smooth as we would like. You can adjust the backlight, the brightness, the clock format, the main menu layout, and the menu font size.
Underneath the display are two skinny soft keys, an optical trackpad, the Send key, a messaging key, the Back key, and the End/Power key. The optical trackpad is similar to the one found on BlackBerrys like the Curve 3G. We found it to be nice and responsive, though using it can feel a little crowded because of how close it is to the other buttons. Beneath that is the full QWERTY keyboard, which also includes a dedicated camera key. All of the keys are sufficiently raised above the surface, each with a curved domed shape that is similar to the keys on the Motorola Charm. We found it easy to type out texts without too much error, but the keys are a little stiff to press, which slowed us down a bit.
On the left are the volume rocker and speakerphone key; the voice command key is on the right spine. On the top are a 3.5mm headset jack and a keyguard lock, and the camera lens sits on the back. You have to remove the battery cover to access the microSD card slot.
The Motorola Grasp has a 1,000-entry phone book with room in each entry for five numbers, two e-mail addresses, a birth date, an anniversary date, a URL, notes, and a street address. As usual, you can sort your entries into groups, and you can assign each contact a photo for caller ID and a custom ringtone or message tone; you have up to 17 to choose from.
The key feature of the Grasp is, of course, text and multimedia messaging. It even has threaded text messaging, which lets you view back-and-forth messages as a conversation. Interestingly, Google SMS is also built into the phone. With Google SMS, you can quickly look up information like sports scores, weather, directions, and other information by sending out a text to a number that Motorola has already pre-entered into the phone.
Other features of the phone include a speakerphone, a vibrate mode, a calculator, an alarm clock, a datebook, a world clock, a basic calculator, a tip calculator, a notepad, and a stopwatch. There's also voice command and stereo Bluetooth. You don't get e-mail or Web browser applications as a default on the phone, but you can download them from U.S. Cellular's Easyedge store. We wish it would come included, however.
The multimedia features on the Grasp are fairly basic. You get a rudimentary music player, which plays MP3, AAC, AAC+, AAC+ Enhanced, MIDI, and WMA file formats. You also need to insert a microSD card to activate the music player. The phone accepts up to 8GB cards.
The 1.3-megapixel camera on the Grasp can take pictures in only four resolutions (1,280x1,024 pixels, 640x480 pixels, 320x240 pixels, and Picture ID). Other settings include a self-timer, picture frames, brightness, white balance, color effects, shutter tones, and GPS geotagging. Picture quality was not terrible, but not great, either. Images were too grainy for our liking and colors looked overcast as well. Overall, the quality is not unexpected for a 1.3-megapixel camera in a basic phone like this. The Grasp also has a built-in video recorder that can record short clips for storage or for MMS purposes.
The Motorola Grasp comes with Pac-Man, City ID, and access to Tone Room Deluxe, U.S. Cellular's ringtone store. You can get more games and applications like these from the Easyedge store.
We tested the Motorola Grasp in San Francisco on U.S. Cellular's roaming service. Call quality was average for the most part. On our end, we heard our callers quite clearly with good volume. However, we did encounter quite a bit of static and crackle at times. It didn't deter our conversation, but it was very clearly a mediocre-quality call.
On their end, callers reported the same thing. They said our voice sounded harsh and machinelike. They heard quite a bit of hiss and static as well. There were also moments when they said our voice was too soft, and we had to speak up. Speakerphone calls were very similar, except that our voice was much louder.
We also tested the EV-DO speeds on the Grasp. We downloaded the Web browser in around 20 seconds, and from there, we surfed over to the CNET mobile site and loaded it in around 25 seconds. It's not a full HTML browser, however, so the 3G speeds don't seem so significant.
The Motorola Grasp has a battery life of 5.3 hours talk time and 17.9 days standby time. Our tests revealed a talk time of 5 hours and 33 minutes. According to the FCC, the Motorola Grasp has a digital SAR of 1.52 watts per kilogram.