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Motorola Tundra VA76r (AT&T) review: Motorola Tundra VA76r (AT&T)

Motorola Tundra VA76r (AT&T)

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
6 min read


Motorola Tundra VA76r (AT&T)

The Good

The Motorola Tundra VA76r offers a sturdy design, easy-to-use controls, and a brilliant display. Call quality is fantastic.

The Bad

The Motorola Tundra VA76r suffers from poor photo quality and variable streaming video.

The Bottom Line

The durable Motorola Tundra VA76r succeeds admirably at making calls, but its multimedia experience doesn't measure up.

Though it added the Samsung Rugby to its lineup last fall, AT&T hasn't carried a huge selection of rugged phones. That's why we were glad to see the Motorola Tundra VA76r make its debut at CES 2009. In many ways the Tundra is a Nextel phone wrapped up in an AT&T package. It has a durable design with a rubber sidings, similar exterior controls, and support for push-to-talk (PTT) services. Call quality was satisfying, and the Tundra offers the benefits of 3G and multimedia features. You can get it for $199 with service, but it is $399 if you pay full price.

The Tundra is relatively bulky as flip phones go (3.85 inches by 2.10 inches by 0.96 inch; 4.94 ounces), but that extra girth is because of the durable design. The front and rear faces are plastic but the edges and external controls are covered in rubber. As a result, the Tundra has a sturdy, comfortable feel, and it is certified to military specifications for rain, shock, vibration, and the like. We guess that it could survive a trip through the tundra as well. Though external antennas are a rarity on GSM handsets these days, the VA76r sports one. It's not extendable, which is another thing that the Tundra has in common with Nextel phones.

The Tundra's external display is smaller than we'd like (1-inch diagonally) but it shows all the information you'll need including the date, time, battery life, and signal strength. Also, because it is full color, it supports photo caller ID and it works as a viewfinder for the camera. The camera's lens sits just above the display, but it doesn't offer a flash.

Next to the antenna you'll find a speakerphone key and a button for selecting the ringer setting through the external display. The two buttons are close to what you would find on a Nextel phone. A volume rocker and the PTT button sit on the left spine, and a camera shutter sits on the right spine. All controls are spacious and are covered in a tactile rubber surface. On the bottom of the Tundra there's a mini-USB slot for a USB cable and the charger.

The internal display measures 2.2 inches (320x240 pixels) and supports 262,000 colors. We like the bright colors, sharp graphics, and easy-to-use menus. You can change the brightness and the backlighting time, but the font size, which can be tiny in some internal menus, is not adjustable.

The Tundra's keypad and navigation array are excellent. Both are spacious and conformable with tactile keys that are firm to the touch. The navigation array has a circular toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a Web browser control, a shortcut to AT&T's Cellular Video service, Talk and End/power controls, and a Back button. By all accounts, the array is intuitive and easy to use, and you can set the toggle to act as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. The keypad is equally well-designed with large buttons, sizeable text, and bright backlighting. We could dial and text quickly without making errors.

The size of the Tundra's phone book is dependent on the 100MB of shared internal memory, but you can store an additional 250 contacts on the SIM card. Each contact holds five phone numbers, an e-mail address, three mailing addresses, a birthday, an assistant's name, a manager's name, a Web address, spouse and children names, a company name, and title. You can save callers to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 25 polyphonic ringtones.

Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, calendar, download and file managers, an alarm clock, a world clock, a calculator, a voice recorder, a notepad, and a task list. You'll also find stereo Bluetooth, PC syncing, voice dialing, USB mass storage, support for AT&T's PTT network, assisted-GPS for the carrier's AT&T Navigator service, instant messaging, and Web-based POP3 e-mail.

As a 3G (UMTS/HSDPA) phone, the Tundra offers the full set of AT&T's wireless broadband multimedia services. You'll find Cellular Video (streaming-video content) and AT&T Mobile Music (wireless song downloads through partners). The experience with the two applications is similar to that on other AT&T phones; both are minimalist in their designs, but the music player supports a wide variety of file formats (MP3, AAC, eAAC+, and WMA) and it offers useful features, such as album art, playlists, shuffle and repeat modes, and an airplane mode. The Tundra also has a solid selection of music-related features, such as support for XM Radio Mobile, a Music ID application, a Billboard Mobile channel, music videos, and a community section with access to fan sites and downloads.

The Tundra's camera doesn't have a flash.

The 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions (from 1,600x1,200 down to 320x240) and three quality settings. Other options include a 4x zoom, a night mode, an adjustable exposure, four lighting conditions, a multishot option, six color tones, and six shutter sounds (plus a silent option). You can tag photos as well and use the self-timer. Meanwhile, the camcorder shoots clips with sound in two resolutions (176x144 and 128x96) and three quality settings. Editing options are similar to the still camera. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 24 seconds but you can shoot for much longer in the normal mode.

We weren't impressed with the Tundra's image quality.

Though the camera offers you quite a few options, we have a few gripes with the photo quality. When the lighting mode was set to "automatic," the photo quality was overexposed with way too much light. When set to "manual," the lighting was improved but even then the colors were dull and our images were fuzzy with too much noise. Video quality wasn't any better, unfortunately. The Tundra would not be our choice for a camera phone.

Besides the generous 100MB of internal memory, the Tundra also offers a microSD card slot that can accommodate cards up to 8GB. It's stashed behind the battery cover; although it's not the most ideal location, it's not surprising on a rugged phone.

You can personalize the Tundra with a variety of wallpaper, clock styles, themes, and alert tones. You can download more options from AT&T's Media Net service with the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. The Tundra comes with demo versions of five games: Tetris, Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man, Brain Challenge, Jewel Quest 2, and Midnight Pool 3D. You can buy the full versions and additional titles from AT&T. And for even more fun, the Tundra has trial apps for YellowPages.com, Mobile Banking, MobiTV, and My-Cast 5 Weather.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Motorola Tundra world phone in San Francisco and Las Vegas using AT&T service. The Tundra is one of the first Moto phones to feature the manufacturer's CrystalTalk Plus, which adds a second microphone on the phone's rear side. Along with the primary microphone, it cancels out background noise to enable you to hear your caller, even in a noisy environment.

When we tested the feature at CES in a special noise booth, we could hear callers quite plainly. Likewise, we also enjoyed fantastic call quality in San Francisco. Voices sounded natural, the audio was loud and clear, and we had no static or interference. Indeed, the Tundra's call quality is the highlight. It does exactly what a phone should do, and does it well. It is compatible with M3 and T3 hearing aids.

The Tundra's HSDPA connection remained pretty strong for downloads and Web browsing. Cellular Videos loaded in about 10 seconds on average, and the quality was better than many AT&T phones with little pixelation or distortion. The sound also matched the video most of the time. On a few instances, though, videos did pause to rebuffer with a noticeable lag between audio and video.

The Tundra has a rated battery life of 5 hours talk time and 14 days standby time. We had a tested talk time of 4 hours and 16 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Tundra has an ="http: reviews.cnet.com="" 4520-6602_7-6258775-4.html"="">SAR rating of 1.36 watts per kilogram.


Motorola Tundra VA76r (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7