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Motorola Renegade V950 (Sprint) review: Motorola Renegade V950 (Sprint)

Motorola Renegade V950 (Sprint)

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
7 min read


Motorola Renegade V950 (Sprint)

The Good

The Motorola V950 has a sturdy, intuitive design with a crisp display and ergonomic controls. Its feature set is admirable and it offers good call and music quality.

The Bad

The Motorola V950's streaming-video quality is poor and internal memory is small.

The Bottom Line

It's not a video handset, but the Motorola V950 is a great rugged cell phone for making calls.

The Motorola V950 is the fifth QChat phone that Sprint has released this year. We've seen the Sanyo Pro 200, the Sanyo Pro 700, the LG LX400, and the Samsung Z400, and now we come back to the company that pioneered push-to-talk in the first place . As a QChat phone, the V950 uses Sprint's CDMA network for regular voice calls, but it connects to Nextel's iDEN network through a gateway for Direct Connect PTT communication. The result is an ideal best-of-both-worlds device with a durable, intuitive design, decent call quality, and functional features. At $329, it's expensive if you pay full price, but you can get it for as low as $129 with service.

The Motorola V950, aka the "Renegade," looks a little like a Razr that has been outfitted with body armor. A somewhat sleek profile remains, but the rubber covering ensures that it should withstand a lot of blows. Indeed, the phone feels rock solid in the hand and the hinge snaps open and shut with authority. Naturally, the padding gives the V950 extra girth than a regular Razr--it measures 4.0 inches long by 2.1 inches across and 0.64 inch wide and weighs 4.9 ounces--but that's really the whole point of a rugged, durable phone. Like most other phones in its class, it meets military specifications for dust, moisture, shock, vibration, and so on.

The external display is a sizeable 1.5 inches and it supports 65,536 colors. It shows all the information you need including the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and photo caller ID. Oddly, it doesn't act as a view finder for the camera, which is disappointing on a 2-megapixel phone. The camera lens and flash sit just above the display. You can change the screensaver, the backlight time, and the clock type.

Below the display are controls for the music player. They're not touch sensitive, so they need a firm press, but they're convenient just the same. You can open the music player and shuffle through songs without opening the phone. The arrangement reminds us of the Moto V750 for Verizon Wireless. In the middle of the controls is a tiny speaker.

The V950's external music controls require a firm touch.

The exterior controls are limited to a rocker and a push-to-talk button on the left spine, and a speakerphone control and recent-calls button on the top of the phone' all are covered in the rubber material. On the left spine, you'll find the micro USB charger port and a 2.5mm headset jack; rubber flaps secure both ports. You need to remove the battery to access the microSD card slot. Normally, we'd complain about the inconvenience, but on a phone designed for extreme lifestyles we don't mind.

The internal screen measures 2 inches and displays 262,000 colors. It's big, bright, beautiful, and everything shows up well. The menus have the same easy-to-use design as Sprint's Razr VE20's. The home screen shows the six menu shortcuts in the "bubble" style, and you can click through to the main menu in a standard list or grid format. You can change the backlighting time and the messaging and browser font sizes.

The navigation controls are tactile, spacious, and intuitive. There's a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a camera shortcut, a back key, and the Talk and End/power controls. We had no issue with misdials. The keypad buttons also have a great design. The individual buttons are large and they're raised above the surface of the phone. The numbers on the keys are also big, and they have bright backlighting. We could text quickly, dial by feel, and use the phone in dim lighting without any problems.

The V950 has a 600-contact phone book with room in each entry for seven phone numbers (including a PTT number), an e-mail address, a Web address, a job title and company, a street address, and notes. You can save callers to groups and you can pair them to a photo or one of 34 polyphonic ringtones. Alternatively, you also can pair them with a video ringtone or a voice recording.

Essential features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calculator, a calendar, a notepad, a world clock, a voice memo recorder, unit and currency converters, a tip calculator, and a stopwatch. Besides Direct Connect, the V950 supports Group Connect, which lets you make PTT calls to up to 20 people simultaneously, and TeamDC, which lets you contact up to 35 people at one.

Outside of the basics, the phone also features USB mass storage, instant messaging and chat, a file manager, a speakerphone, stereo Bluetooth, phone-as-modem capability, voice dialing, and remote backup for your contacts. E-mail is also onboard for POP3 accounts such as Yahoo, Hotmail, and AOL, and you even can get work e-mail if your company uses Outlook Web Access. The e-mail user experience is pretty clunky, and your work access is limited only to your in-box, but it's usable in a pinch if you need it.

As an EV-DO phone, the V950 offers full support for Sprint's 3G services. You can connect to Sprint's Power Vision for Sprint TV, which includes live and on-demand programming from a wide variety of sports, entertainment, and new channels. You also can check out movie previews and stream more than 150 channels from Sprint Radio. We've said it before and we'll say it again: it's an exhaustive selection of programming with much of it exclusive to Sprint. And to top it off, the TV interface is intuitive.

The V950's music player is relatively similar to that on Sprint's other music phones. You can access the Sprint Music Store for simultaneous downloads both to your PC and wirelessly to your phone, or you can transfer music from a PC using a USB cable. The music-player interface is pretty plain, but you get album art and the controls are easy to use. We also like the multiple searching options in the online music store. Features are limited to playlists, repeat, and shuffle modes, and you can't use MP3s as ringtones. There is an airplane mode, however, and you can send the music player to the background while you're using other phone functions. When a call comes in, the music will pause automatically and will resume again after you hang up. Our only knock is that we'd prefer a 3.5mm headset jack.

With its GPS, you also can use the V950 as a directional tool with Sprint Navigation. Features include spoken-driving and visual turn-by-turn directions and integration with Microsoft Live Search (for searching for local businesses). The V950 also uses your location for Sprint's On Demand service, which offers a range of information that includes news headlines, sports scores, and weather updates personalized for your ZIP code.

The V950's camera has a flash.

The 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in five resolutions, from 1,200x1,600 down to 120x160. Other editing options are plentiful; they include seven color tones, nine fun frames, a self-timer, adjustable brightness and white balance, a multishot mode, three quality settings, and six shutter sounds (plus a silent option). Photo quality was quite good on the whole. Colors were bright and natural, and there was little distortion or image noise. When finished snapping shots, you can transfer them off the phone using Bluetooth or a multimedia message. You also can transfer them to a computer or a printer using a USB cable.

The V950 has admirable photo quality.

The camcorder shoots clips with sound in three resolutions. Editing options are similar to the still camera, but you also get a night mode and you can mute the sound. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at about 20 seconds; otherwise, you can shoot for as long as the available memory permits. On the downside, the V950 comes with a just 65MB of internal-shared memory. We recommend using a microSD card for more storage.

You can personalize the V950 with a variety of color themes, screensavers, and greetings. You can download more options and additional ringtones from Sprint using the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. The handset comes with demo versions of five games--Diner Dash 2, Midnight Pool, Pac-Man, Tetris and Tower Bloxx--you'll have to buy the full versions for extended play.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) Motorola V950 in San Francisco using Sprint service. Call quality was pretty good; voices sounded relatively natural and there was plenty of volume. What's more, the signal was relatively free of static. We noticed that some of our callers sounded a bit metallic at times. It wasn't a big deal, and it was very irregular, but it was noticeable.

On their end, callers reported few problems. They could hear us well under most conditions and they could understand us clearly. A few mentioned a slight background hiss but they didn't say it was overly distracting. Most could tell we were using a cell phone, but that's not unusual. On the whole, it is about average as far as Sprint cell phones go. Speakerphone calls were quite good, however. The volume is very loud and there were few issues on either end of the line.

Sadly, streaming-video quality was disappointing. The sound was loud, and it didn't match up with the speakers' mouths; the video was choppy and blurry. Visible pixels were common and it couldn't handle fast movements. On the upside, videos loaded quickly and we didn't have any hiccups in the stream, but this is not a phone we'd recommend for video lovers.

Music quality was much better, fortunately. The sound clarity was more than satisfactory and the phone's speaker has powerful output. The audio won't have the range of dedicated music devices, but it works fine for short periods. A headset will offer the best quality.

The Motorola V950 has a rated battery life of four hours talk time. The V950 has a tested talk time of 4 hours 34 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the V950 has a digital SAR rating of 0.66 watts per kilogram.


Motorola Renegade V950 (Sprint)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7