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Motorola Renew W233 (T-Mobile) review: Motorola Renew W233 (T-Mobile)

Motorola Renew W233 (T-Mobile)

Kent German

Kent German

Senior Managing Editor / Features

Kent is a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and has 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).

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5 min read


Motorola Renew W233 (T-Mobile)

The Good

The Motorola Renew W233 offers satisfying call quality in a simple, eco-friendly design.

The Bad

The Motorola Renew W233 has a low-resolution display and it offers few features. Also, it lacks a side-mounted volume rocker.

The Bottom Line

The Motorola Renew W233 is more than just a green device; it's also a decent phone.

The story of T-Mobile's Motorola Renew W233 lies not in what it offers--its features are quite minimal--but rather in what it is. Billed as the world's first carbon neutral cell phone, the Renew is made entirely of recycled water bottles (at least the plastic parts) and it comes in packaging made from 100 percent recycled material. As such, the Renew goes far beyond the Nokia 3110, which is made from just 50 percent recycled plastic. Moto is also promising that with an estimated talk time of nine hours, the Renew will use less energy.

Though the idea of a green gadget may send some eyes rolling, other users might find comfort in the idea. In any case, the Renew isn't a bad phone. Even with its minimal features and low-resolution display, it offers good call quality thanks to Moto's CrystalTalk feature. It's also a bargain, at just $9.99 with service.

The Renew has a unique color scheme that fits perfectly with its Earth-friendly image. A lime green trim on three sides of the handset contrasts nicely with the cream keypad and black rear cover. Green highlights also surround the navigation array. The Renew is compact (4.4 inches tall by 1.8 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick) and lightweight, so it's easy to carry around in a pocket or bag. Though its shell is entirely plastic, it feels somewhat solid in the hand. Still, this is not a phone for the danger-prone.

The Renew's display is about what you'd expect from a basic handset--it's small (1.44 inches, 128x128 pixels) and has a low resolution. With support for just 65,000-colors, graphics aren't terribly sharp and most hues are muted. On the upside, the display is bright with readable text, but the brightness and font size can't be changed. You can alter the backlight timer and choose from list and icon menu designs. Both interfaces follow Moto's standard organizational system, which remains dated and a bit convoluted.

The navigation array consists of a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, and the Talk and End/power buttons. The left soft key doubles as a music player shortcut and you can set the toggle to give one-touch-access to four user-defined features. Though the navigation controls are plastic, they don't feel too flimsy and the arrangement is relatively spacious. Also, we like that the toggle is raised above the surface of the phone. We'd prefer a dedicated clear button and a speakerphone control, but that's a minor point.

The keypad does well with its relatively cramped space. Though they're flush, the individual buttons are clearly separated form each other and there's a bright backlighting. Dialing by feel was a bit difficult at first, but we were able to text quickly after a short learning period.

The remaining controls are few; in fact, they're a little too few. A 2.5mm headset jack and a Mini-USB/charger port sit conveniently on opposite sides of the phone, but the Renew doesn't offer a dedicated volume rocker. That means you have to remove the phone from your face during a conversation so you can adjust the volume with the toggle. That's not the most convenient arrangement. What's more, the microSD card slot is stashed behind the battery.

The Renew's box is made from recycled paper and the ink on the manual is soy-based.

You can tell instantly that the Renew's brown packaging is made from recycled materials. It's smaller than your average cell phone box (22 percent smaller, according to Moto) and it is devoid of any fancy graphics. It's nothing more than a "feel-good" measure, but it's a nice touch just the same. Just remember to go full circle and recycle your box.

The Renew has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for six phone numbers and an e-mail address (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups and pair them with one of 35 polyphonic ringtones. The Renew doesn't offer photo caller ID, but we're not going to raise a stink since the handset doesn't have a camera. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a speakerphone, a calculator, an alarm clock, USB syncing, a stopwatch, and support for T-Mobile's My Faves service.

The Renew also offers a basic music player, which is a curious addition on a phone that doesn't even have Bluetooth (indeed, we'd prefer the latter). The player's staunchly minimalist interface, mediocre performance, and zero features make it not really worth the effort, but it's there if you want it. Your best bet to transfer music is via the memory card slot, which supports cards up to 2GB.

You can personalize the Renew with a variety of screensavers, wallpaper, colors, and a greeting. You can download more options from T-Mobile's t-zones service using the WAP 2.0 Web browser. The handset comes with two games: Tetris and Sudoku. You can buy more titles if you wish. Just be aware that gameplay is a bit tedious thanks to the phone's slow processor.

We tested the dual-band (GSM 850/1900) Motorola W233 Renew in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Since it lacks support for European GSM bands, the W233 will not work outside of North America. Also, data support is limited to GPRS.

Thanks to Moto's CrystalTalk feature, which blocks out surrounding noise, the Renew offers better call quality than you might expect. We enjoyed a strong signal with clear audio and loud volume. Callers sounded natural, and we could hear them in noisy environments. Our only complaint was that we detected a slight hiss during some conversations, but it was a rare occurrence.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They also could hear and understand us in a variety of environments and they didn't report any problems with static or interference. Automated calling systems could understand us most of the time, but it was best if we were in a quiet room. The speakerphone is good, but not great. It was loud enough, but voices had an echo on our side.

The Renew has a rated talk battery life of nine hours, which is quite high. Indeed, our tests showed a talk time of 9 hours and 54 minutes. The promised standby battery life is 18 days. According to FCC radiation tests, the Renew has a digital SARof 1.26 watts per kilogram.


Motorola Renew W233 (T-Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 8
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