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Motorola ROKR E8 review: Motorola ROKR E8

The ROKR E8 looks to be Motorola's stab at the iPhone killer, with a morphing touchscreen display and media focused features.

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Joseph Hanlon
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Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.

4 min read

Let's be honest, Motorola has been milking the RAZR design for a tad too long. Not that you can blame them when you consider its success for being everyone's favourite flip phone. For every upgrade in hardware and firmware, we've seen a half dozen changes in colour or celebrity associations, but to kick-start Moto's flagging market performance, the company's line-up has been in need of a redesign.

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7.5

Motorola ROKR E8

The Good

Slim and sexy design. ModeShift keypad works a treat. 2GB of internal memory. 3.5mm headphone port.

The Bad

Super sluggish menu. No 3G or Wi-Fi.

The Bottom Line

If you have little interest in the Web on your mobile then the E8 is for you. It looks great and features a decent music player and camera. For the RRP of AU$450 including a bundled speaker kit, the E8 is a very sexy bargain.

Design
It may not technically be a touchscreen, but we can guarantee the Moto ROKR E8 will attract eager glances and cooing/drooling from friends and passers-by. We know, we've experienced these reactions from the beginning of our testing. Every time we've slipped the E8 out of our pocket, someone's eyes have locked onto the phone.

When the E8's not turned on, its glossy black finish and stainless steel highlights look like space-age technology. Without power, it's also much easier to see the raised dimples on the keypad which help differentiate the otherwise flat keypad. Again, technically speaking, keypad is the wrong term, and it's this feature — which Motorola calls ModeShift — that is most interesting about the E8.

Broadly speaking ModeShift is an adaptive touch panel. In standard call mode the panel displays a numeric keypad. Enter the music player and ModeShift morphs this numberpad into dedicated music controls. Likewise in camera mode, the only keys you'll find is for zoom and to enter the gallery. This feature looks great and works extremely well. It also keeps the 10.5mm thick E8 streamlined without the need for any bulky sliding components.

On the top of the E8 is a 3.5mm headphone jack — an absolute must-have for any serious music-focused mobile. One other interesting touch is the keypad lock switch on the side of the handset, which replaces standard keypad locking software on phones. The switch moves in two directions — up locks the keypad, and holding it down turns the phone on and off. In truth, it took us a few days to get used to locking and unlocking the phone this way, but this is a minor annoyance for a short period only.

Features
So we've established that this phone looks amazing, but does this mean it's all looks and no substance, like a vacuous Hollywood party-goer, or is it packed with features? The answer is a bit of both. The E8 has a few nice features, but isn't exactly a hardware powerhouse.

The first notable absence is 3G data speeds. The E8 has quad-band GSM with EDGE network capabilities, but considering that EDGE networks are almost non-existent in Australia, you can expect dial-up internet speeds when surfing the Web with this handset. Without 3G, it's hardly a surprise to discover the E8 also lacks Wi-Fi or GPS, though the E8 does support A2DP stereo Bluetooth connections.

The music player runs on Windows Media Player 11 and supports most popular audio file types, excluding DRM-protected music. The media player also plays video files including MPEG4 and 3GP, though it certainly doesn't extend to DivX or XviD files, so you'll want to fire up your video converter before transferring some of your media to the E8.

On a related note, Motorola's bundled Moto Tools PC software has to be one of the best proprietary PC syncing applications in the consumer market. The set-up is a breeze, and the functionality extends past basic calendar syncing and media transfers to include remote use of the phone for sending and reading received SMS and MMS, and internet sharing. Most competing phones feature similar software, but none are as easy to use and offer the same functionality in a single-screen app.

Performance
For standard calling and messaging there's no doubt the ROKR E8 is a solid mobile phone. Since beginning our tests all calls have been uniformly excellent, with a loud internal speaker and great reception. Messaging is likewise excellent, with fast keystroke recognition.

Another stand-out feature is the E8's 2-megapixel (MP) camera. Ordinarily, 2MP cameras don't attract a lot of attention — the megapixel myth often leads people to assume the worst about lower res images — but without a flash or auto-focus we've managed some impressively sharp pics with this little shooter. The colour is a tad dull, and forget shooting in low-light, but for MMS pics we'd be more than content to be using the E8's camera.

Less-than-ideal is the speed of the menu and applications. Entering the main menu and scrolling from one option to the next attracts some significant lag. This menu looks fantastic, but the graphical elements take an obvious toll on the E8's performance. The scrolling jog-wheel is excellent in long lists of songs and artists, but in the main menu it scans the options way too quickly, making it impractical to use.

Overall
If you're in the market for a music playing phone and have little to no interest in browsing the Web on your mobile then we gladly recommend the E8. It looks superb, the music player coupled with the internal storage is great, and the camera is more than adequate for most regular situations.

When you think about music and phone together you might be inspired to compare the E8 with the iPhone. In our opinion it comes down to that old adage "you get what you pay for". While the iPhone offers better connectivity (minus the stereo Bluetooth), higher internal capacity and a slew of other features, it is also nearly twice as expensive to buy. For the RRP of AU$450, including a bonus Motorola EQ3 speaker kit, the E8 is a very sexy-looking bargain.

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