Think organic. Think of a bar of soap. Think, as Motorola clearly has, of pebbles on a beach. You are starting to think about the Pebl. Unusual handset designs are not exactly rare, but the Pebl is more unusual than most in that it's minimalist rather than flashy, curvy rather than angular, matte black rather than any-colour shiny.
You might also see this handset referred to as the V6, but in a world of meaningless letters and numbers we're sticking to its more descriptive name. The Pebl is available from free on O2 and Orange contracts starting at £20, or SIM-free online for about £230.
Motorola's Pebl affirms the company's interest in producing handsets with strong physical design. Unlike the Razr V3, which was all thinness and angularity, the Pebl is more about rounded edges, comfort and softness.
It's a very small handset, just 49 by 87 by 20 mm, and it doesn't weigh much either, at just 110g. It feels very comfortable in the hand because of these dimensions, its rounded edges and symmetrical appearance, and the material used to make its outer casing, which has a soft, almost rubbery feel.
In order to keep the outer shell design as sleek as possible, Motorola has included only one connector -- a mini-USB type for both charging and sharing data with a PC. The side buttons, of which there are three, have no markings to indicate their functions -- they'd detract from the look. So you're going to have to remember what they are for.
There is a tall, thin outer screen whose colouring has been kept strictly two-tone so that it does not shout out from the blackness surrounding it. It sits on a rounded -- of course -- strip of shinier material that also houses the lens for the built-in camera and a large Motorola icon.
This icon has an important function apart from pushing the company logo at you -- it's the perfect spot to place your thumb in order to gently pull the upper part of the clamshell towards you. Think of it as stroking. Do this correctly and the lid springs open of its own accord.
The mechanism is impressive when it works, but you may need to practice, not only with the stroking part, which we found took a while to get just right, but also with keeping hold of the handset. As the lid opens, the Pebl's centre of balance changes, and we found it falling out of our hands onto the floor until we learned how to anchor it. (Here's how: ensure your forefinger protrudes a little from the top edge of the casing, so it catches the lid as it opens fully, and use your little finger to exercise some grip.)
Inside the clamshell you are greeted with a Razr-like shiny number pad with a metal-look finish. It's lovely to behold, and hitting the keys, which are not raised but rather separated by curved bevels, was no problem. However, our fingers left smears on the super-shiny surface, which detracted from the overall look, and we found the navigation key and select button slightly on the small side.
The main screen is small too, but its 262k colours shout out bright and clear.
For a handset at the leading edge in design terms, the Pebl is rather behind the times in some respects.
On the plus side, the Pebl is quad-band, and there's plenty of built-in software, including a diary, a 1,000-entry phone book, multiple alarms, Web and WAP browser, email support and Java.
You can configure the functions of the two softkeys, the four points on the navigation button and the smart key (which sits on the left edge of the casing), so they start the applications or services that you want from the home screen, allowing you to customise your options quite extensively.
Both voice-command software and the built-in voice recorder are activated by the right edge button -- you press and hold for the latter, releasing the button when you want voice recording to finish. The voice-command software can launch applications as well as make calls, and it made the first 'digit dial' call (you say the numbers) we asked it to perfectly.
But there are a couple of areas in which the Pebl is wanting. There's no player for your digital music, which these days makes any handset feel out of touch -- though we freely admit not everyone wants this capability in their phone. In any case, with just 5MB of internal memory and no support for extending this with flash memory cards, you'd be hard-pressed to get any tunes on board, even if there were a music-playing application built in.
More interestingly, the camera is below par. With a maximum resolution of 640x480 pixels for images, and alternatives of 320x240 pixels and 160x120 pixels, you are going to be taking quick snaps for MMS and emailing to others rather than capturing photos to keep. VGA resolution cameras are starting to feel very outdated, and this may be Motorola's big mistake with this handset.
You can capture video with the Pebl, but again there are some limitations. There are two resolutions -- 176x144 pixels and 128x96 pixels -- which are best suited for quick playback or MMSing and then discarding.
More annoyingly, video and stills capture are controlled by separate applications and you have to choose which you want before starting to shoot, rather than when the main screen has turned into a viewfinder. Being unable to easily switch between modes means that when shooting something fun with your friends you might have to ask them to wait while you swap between capture modes.
For making and receiving calls, the Pebl performed very well. Maximum volume is not as loud as we might like, but calls themselves were clear enough and the voice-dialling system worked well enough that we'd consider using it.
The handset battery stood up well too. With no fancy extras like music playback to worry about it doesn't have to work as hard as some, and we were happy to go for a few days of average to low-level usage without needing to charge.
The general size and shape of the Pebl means it lodged well in the smallest of pockets, making it an ideal 'travelling light' handset. Just don't expect state-of-the-art features from it.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide