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Motorola Rokr E8 - (T-Mobile) review: Motorola Rokr E8 - (T-Mobile)

Motorola Rokr E8 - (T-Mobile)

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
9 min read


Motorola Rokr E8 - (T-Mobile)

The Good

The Motorola Rokr E8 has an attractive design with a brilliant display and an innovative keypad. Its music player is top-notch and it offers satisfying call quality and battery life.

The Bad

The Motorola Rokr E8's navigation controls take acclimation and the phone is rather sluggish. It also lacks 3G, full e-mail, and wireless music downloads.

The Bottom Line

The Motorola Rokr E8 is a top choice for a T-Mobile music phone, if you can master the phone's novel, though slightly quirky, controls.

We're always pleased when a cell phone for which we've waited a long time to see finally goes on sale. When Motorola introduced its Rokr E8 at CES 2008, we only had a few minutes to play with it, but we were so impressed that we gave it CNET's Best of CES Award in the cell phone category. You were impressed as well, as the phone also won the CES People's Voice Award at the same time. Beyond those brief glimpses, we've had to wait five months to confirm our initial impressions, but now that the Rokr E8 is landing at T-Mobile, we can report that it remains a solid choice as a music phone. The ModeShift keypad that caught our attention in Las Vegas remains a draw, while the loaded music player should please multimedia fans. Not all was perfect--the navigation toggle involves a learning curve, and it lacks 3G--but the Rokr E8 certainly makes T-Mobile's phone lineup more interesting. You can get it for $199 with a two-year contract.

The Rokr E8's sleek candy-bar design is reminiscent of earlier Motorola phones such as the Slvr L7. However, unlike the Slvr, the E8 doesn't look like a flattened Razr V3. Instead, it has its own style that is attractive without being ostentatious. Its dark blue color scheme is so dark that it almost looks black, and the "glasslike surface" makes the phone sparkle. This is one handset we wouldn't mind showing off. At 4.52 inches tall by 2.09 inches wide by 0.42 inch thick, the E8 is rather tall, but its slim profile makes up for the extra bulk. It weighs 3.5 ounces, so it's not excessively heavy, but a metal battery cover gives it a solid and study feel in the hand.

The 2-inch screen is top-notch. Though its color support tops out at 262,000 hues, it has a rich 320x240-pixel resolution display that makes everything from text to photos to graphics look fantastic. You can adjust the brightness and the backlighting time. We also approve of the E8's menu design, which gives a badly needed face-lift to Moto's outdated interface. Instead of the standard grid design, the E8 features small gray icons set in a row along the bottom of the display on top of a black background. As you cycle through the choices with the scroll wheel, the selected icon will appear in color in the center of the display. It's both attractive and intuitive, and we like how the icons flash by as you move your finger around the wheel. Our only gripe is that the menus are organized in the traditional Motorola method. That means some options are located in disparate places. For example, the color themes have their own menu, while screensavers and wallpaper are stashed in different places.

We have to say, however, that the scroll wheel tested our patience. It is touch sensitive so there's no tactile definition beyond a very slight silver crescent. Also, we had a hard time getting a feel for just how sensitive it was. As we moved our finger around the wheel, we often went much faster than we were intending and in doing so passed our desired menu selection. Moreover, when we tried to move backward through the menu, we tended to pass our choice yet again. Unfortunately, the wheel's sensitivity level isn't so changeable, so we really had to pay attention to our movement. According to Moto, the wheel was designed to help you scroll quickly through long lists (such as your music files). While it is very good for that, it's not so great for moving just a couple of spaces. Of course, usability opinions will vary by reader, so we recommend you give the E8 a test drive before buying.

When in phone mode, the Rokr E8's 'ModeShift' keypad displays only the calling controls.

It's also worth noting the scrolling toggle doesn't go in a full circle, so you can't move your finger in a full loop. If you tried to trace your digit on the missing portion of the circle at the toggle's bottom, the cursor on the screen would stop and then resume when you got to the other side. Also, if you stop and hold your finger at either end of the wheel, the list will keep scrolling through to its end. The gap didn't make any difference to us, but this is another point with which you might disagree.

In music mode, only the applicable controls are backlit.

The Rokr E8's showpiece is, of course, its new "ModeShift" keypad. The premise is simple, but it is different enough to hold our attention. As you move between different phone functions, the keypad's bright backlighting will change to illuminate only the relevant controls. For example, when you're in phone mode, the backlighting shows the standard alphanumeric keypad for calling and texting. However, when you press the music shortcut, the keypad disappears and is replaced by play/pause, rewind, skip, shuffle, and repeat controls. Likewise, when you're in camera mode, only the appropriate controls for that feature remain illuminated. In either camera or music player mode, the calling controls stay lit so you can answer calls and return to phone mode.

And in camera mode, only the camera controls are visible.

We also weren't crazy about the navigation toggle that sits inside the wheel. Except for a small bump in its center, the circular gray toggle is flush with the surface of the phone. Though the toggle gives off a very slight vibrating feedback, we had a hard time knowing when we actually pressed something. What's more, the slow response time didn't help the situation. Each of the four directions can be programmed as a user-defined shortcut; the center control opens your MyFaves menu in standby mode and changes to an OK control when inside a menu.

Other navigation controls include two soft keys, a music player shortcut, a clear/back control, and the Talk and End controls. Though these controls enjoy a spacious arrangement, they don't offer vibrating feedback. That's a miss on Moto's part.

Though it can take a few seconds to shift the keypad backlighting, the experience was intuitive and easy to use. Since only the appropriate keys were lit, we weren't pecking around to find the control we wanted. In a way, the E8 actually "becomes" a music player and camera. If not for the calling buttons and the obvious cell phone shape, you'd hardly know the E8 makes calls. It's always a challenge for phone manufacturers to successfully integrate multiple functions into one device, but the E8 does just that, particularly on the music front.

On the downside, the touch controls are rather slippery and the phone's glassy surface attracts fingerprints. Be careful if your hands sweat, as the E8 ends up being covered in unsightly streaks. Dialing by feel also is difficult. The numeric controls are covered by tiny bumps and they offer the same vibrating feedback as the toggle, but even with those features we had to pay attention when texting or dialing.

The E8's power control is unique. Instead of a dedicated button, you push down a switch on the phone's right spine. Pushing up the switch will lock the phone's controls--that's a useful feature if you're carrying the E8 in a bag. Above the toggle is a micro USB/charger port, while a volume rocker and a camera shutter sit on the left spine. The Rokr's headset jack sits on the phone's top end covered by a rubber flap. We commend Motorola for installing a 3.5mm jack as that lets us use our own headset. The Rokr E8 also has a microSD card slot, but it's located inconveniently behind the battery and the battery cover. The camera lens sits at the top of the phone's rear face; it's well placed for taking photos but the lens doesn't come with a self-portrait mirror or a flash. The phone's speaker sits at the bottom of the rear face,

The Rokr E8's phone book is limited by the 2GB of shared memory. Each contact holds multiple phone numbers and e-mail addresses, plus a nickname, a street address, and notes. You can save callers to groups or assign a photo or one of 35 ringtones (the E8 also supports MP3 ringtones). Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a voice recorder, an alarm clock, a calculator, a world clock, a task list, and a notepad.

Though the E8 has a multimedia focus, it includes a few productivity features as well. You'll find full Bluetooth with a stereo profile, a file manager, a download manager, PC syncing, instant messaging, a full duplex speakerphone, speaker independent voice dialing, and USB mass storage. The E8 offers POP3 e-mail support but, according to Moto, unlike some E8 versions available in Asia, T-Mobile chose not to include Microsoft exchange server support. Though we get that the phone is not meant for a business audience, we still think that's a bad call.

The E8 offers a Talking Phone feature that will read out contacts, menu choices, dialed numbers, e-mails, and text messages. The feature is quite effective, as the robotic voice is audible. Just make sure you really want to use it since it can get annoying after a while.

As a Rokr phone, the E8 is all about its music player. And on that front, it does a good job. The interface supports album art and colorful wallpaper. Features are plentiful and include shuffle and repeat modes, an airplane mode, an equalizer with 11 settings, bass boost, 3D stereo, and playlists. We also were pleased with the many ways to get music on the phone. You can send files in a multimedia message or you can transfer tracks via Bluetooth, a memory card, or a USB cable from a computer. When using the latter method, the E8 works with Windows Media Player 11 to transfer files with ease. The E8 supports a variety of file types and the included software will convert nonprotected AAC files to MP3 format, which can be used as ringtones. Though the 2GB of internal memory is more than respectable, we suggest investing in a microSD card (though your handset might come with a card in the box). The E8 will accommodate cards up to 4GB.

The phone also includes a SongID application for identifying mystery tracks heard on the radio. When you hear an unknown song and you start the application, it will use the phone's browser to analyze the music via a third-party provider. The application was accurate during our testing and our results came back in about 30 seconds. Unfortunately, you can't then purchase identified songs--that's another option that's available in overseas models. Alternatively, you also can send your friends an audio postcard with your favorite tunes. And for even more music fun, the E8 offers an FM radio.

The Rokr E8's camera lacks a flash and self-portrait mirror.

The 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions and three quality settings. Other editing features include six color tones, a self-timer, a night mode, a multishot mode, a brightness setting, a digital zoom, and three shutter sounds plus a silent option. You also can take photos with a caption. Photo quality was decent. Colors were bright and there was an acceptable amount of light but most images had a lot of noise. The E8 is not a phone you buy for its camera.

The Rokr E8 has decent photo quality.

The camcorder takes clips with sound in two resolutions. Editing options are similar to the still camera if a bit more limited. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 10 seconds; otherwise, you can shoot for as long as the available memory permits. Videos were average; the sound was rather quiet and it couldn't handle quick movements. That's hardly unique for a cell phone, though.

The handset offers a full HTML Web browser of sorts, but the pages are formatted to fit the small display. The result isn't very effective, we had to squint to see small text and the zooming method is clunky. Also, given the tricky scroll wheel, it wasn't very easy to move around pages.

You can personalize the Rokr E8 with a variety of screensavers, wallpaper, color themes, and alert tones. More options are available from T-Mobile's t-zones service using the wireless Web browser. Four demo games are included--Diner Dash 2, Millionaire Music, Midnight Pool 3D, and The Sims Bowling--you'll have to download the full versions for extended play.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Motorola Rokr E8 world phone in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was pretty good, voice sounded natural, and the audio was clear. The signal was strong as well and we rarely encountered static or interference. We detected a slight background hiss at times but it wasn't distracting.

The E8 has Moto's CrystalTalk technology, which we first saw in the "="" rel="follow" target="_self">Razr2 V9. CrystalTalk automatically adjusts the phone's volume audio level based on surrounding ambient noise. It works quite well overall. As we passed from a building outside onto a noisy street, we could hear the phone adjusting the volume level. The phone's overall volume level gets moderately loud, and we rarely had to ask our friends to repeat themselves. It was only in very noisy places that we couldn't really hear, but that's typical for a cell phone.

On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could hear us well on almost all occasions and they reported good voice clarity on their end. In fact, some callers didn't even know we were using a cell phone. Speakerphone calls were satisfying as well. The volume was quite loud, and we could understand our callers plainly. The audio crackled a few times, but overall we had a good experience. On their end, callers could hear us most of the time, though we had to speak no more than few feet from the phone if we wanted our callers to hear us.

It's disappointing that the Rokr E8 lacks support for 3G networks (EDGE speeds is the fastest it will go). Now that T-Mobile has 3G, the gate is wide open for phones that support the service. Also, on a phone like the E8, which offers a full Web browser and such extensive multimedia features, 3G would be a natural fit. When we were using the Web browser, the slow loading speeds were burdensome, so much so that it made us not want to use it.

As mentioned previously, the E8's controls took some acclimation. And on a related note, we noticed that phone's menus tended to be a bit sluggish. Particularly when we were selecting items in secondary menus, we noticed a lag of a second or two. When coupled with the tricky scroll wheel and navigation toggle, the experience was a bit plodding and confusing.

The Rokr E8's music quality was quite good and it befits the phone's music-centric image. We were pleased with both the clarity of the sound and the volume output. As with most music phones, bass was lacking and it won't replace a standalone MP3 player, but the Rokr's audio had a lot of warmth. Certainly, it's one of the better music phones we've tested. According to Motorola, the phone offers a simulated surround sound.

The Rokr E8 has a rated battery life of 7.5 hours talk time and 12.5 days standby time. In our tests we beat the promised talk time by almost 3 hours for a full 10.63 hours. We tested the music playback time at 16.44 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the Rokr E8 has a SAR of 1.02 watts per kilogram.


Motorola Rokr E8 - (T-Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 8