At first glance, we thought it unlikely that the Motorola V557 would warrant much attention, given its design similarity to its predecessor, the Motorola V551. Sorry, Moto, we were wrong. Unlike the snazzy Razr, the V557 is noteworthy not because of its flashy design but instead of a technological breakthrough that improves the functionality and the connectivity of the Internet. We won't go so far to say the new Motorola exclusive Screen3 technology perfects the Web-browsing experience on a cell phone, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. And the even better news is that the innovative functionality comes at a reasonable $99 with service. The Motorola V557 is barely distinguishable from its predecessor, the V551. With the same exact dimensions and weight (1.9 by 1 by 3.5 inches; 4.23 ounces), the V557, like the V551, is a little on the large side, although it does not feel as clunky as the dimensions may lead one to believe. It fits just fine in a pocket, even with the protruding external antenna.
Sporting a two-tone black and chrome finish--as opposed to the blue and chrome color of the V551--the Motorola V557 still has the same slightly gripping, rubbery texture that Motorola calls soft touch to help it stay in place on slippery surfaces. The construction is solid, and the flip opens and closes easily. Overall, the design of the phone won't win any awards, but it should appeal to a wide audience anyway.
The Motorola V557's rectangular external display, while brighter and easier to read than on the Motorola V551, remains small and a disappointing monochrome blue. On this caliber of handset, and with a lot of unused room under the display, we think Motorola should have doubled its size and increased the resolution to allow for picture ID. The screen shows the time, battery life, message icon, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). Note, however, that you can't adjust the backlight time.
The Motorola V557's camera lens is well located on the top corner of the front flip next to a self-portrait mirror, but there's no flash for dim conditions. The handset jack is on the top of the phone next to the stubby external antenna, while the left spine features a volume rocker that changes the ring style and a bottom button that activates the backlight on the sub-LCD. That said, we have a complaint with the design of the volume rocker, as it is easy to accidentally press when in a purse or a pocket, inadvertently turning the ring tone to Soft, Silent, or Loud. Motorola still offers no way to lock this feature. On the right spine is a button for activating voice dialing, but there's no dedicated camera key on the exterior of the phone.
The interior of the Motorola V557 is also identical to the V551's. Here again, we were impressed with the quality of the 1.75-inch-diagonal interior display, which support 256,000 colors. The clarity is better than that of the majority phones on the market, and you can adjust the brightness, the contrast, and the font size.
The Motorola V557 has a four-way navigational button with a center select button, two soft keys, and a dedicated menu button. Other shortcuts include the Cingular Media Net button and a camera button. We can't stress how much we love that the navigational buttons and the soft keys are programmable to any menu item. The buttons are raised, backlit, and easy to use. The keypad buttons are also backlit. They are large, far enough apart, and adequately raised.The Motorola V557 has a phone book that holds 1,000 entries. Each contact stores a work, home, main, mobile, fax, and pager number, as well as a home address, a birthday, and an e-mail address. Contacts can be arranged in groups or paired with one of just 10 polyphonic ring tones. Memory is an insignificant 5MB, and there is no expandable memory card--not ideal, considering the advanced features of the handset.
The aforementioned Screen3 technology is certainly the attention-getting feature of the Motorola V557, and it stands to change how we surf the Web from a cell phone. Although data networks continue to get faster, the need to browse through multiple menus just to get basic information is the Achilles' heel of mobile Web browsing. Surfing the Web on a cell phone not only takes a lot of time but is also expensive for all the time it takes. Screen3, however, makes some significant changes to the experience. In short, it allows always-on connectivity to customizable content, including sports scores, entertainment headlines, news stories, and weather reports. The first thing you'll notice is that the V557 has a constantly scrolling ticker at the bottom of the internal screen--similar to those used on CNN--that shows the latest headlines. When you see something you like, you click the navigational toggle, and it gives you a longer headline. If you click again, it takes you to the full story, with very little noticeable connection delay. We love the interface, which was easy to use and allowed us enough of each story, including a headline and a picture, to know whether or not the full story was worth reading. The best part is the headline and the short version of the story are free, which makes us feel like we are getting some added value, a nice feeling in this high-cost pay-per-click world of cell phone Internet browsing. We are just disappointed that we can't add this service to our older Motorola phones. The connection works best with an EDGE network, but it also is GPRS compatible. The pricing is still a little confusing and will create an adoption curve, but for the easy option, you can get unlimited access to data transfer for $19.99 a month.
While the Screen3 technology is certainly the showcase feature of the Motorola V557, plenty of other features abound, including a vibrate mode, Bluetooth, PC syncing, text and multimedia messaging, e-mail support (POP3, SMTP, and IMAP4), instant messaging (AIM, ICQ, and Yahoo), a speakerphone, an alarm clock, a calculator, a datebook, and a voice-memo recorder.
The Motorola V557 has an integrated VGA-quality digital camera. We were hoping to see a megapixel camera on this handset, but this will suffice. You can take pictures in three resolutions (640x480, 320x240, and 160x120), use the 4X zoom, and adjust the image brightness. Once you're done with your shots, you can send your pictures in a multimedia message, apply them as wallpaper or a screensaver, or save them to a phone-book entry. The handset also has adequate video capabilities, with a record time of 45 seconds a clip. Unfortunately, all applications share a paltry 5MB of memory.
Personalization settings on the Motorola V557 are plentiful. They include tweaking the animation speed and layout of the display; the font size; the order of the menu icons, which can also be displayed as a list; three skin settings; a greeting; the layout of the wallpaper; and the delay on the screensaver. The customization on the Media Net Live Ticker is the most interesting personalization feature on the V557. You can also download games (only two demo titles are included), polyphonic ring tones, and wallpaper at Cingular's Web site.We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) Motorola V557 world phone on the Cingular network in San Francisco. Audio quality was spotty at times, which is typical with the Cingular network in San Francisco. We had several dropped calls, as well as calls that went in and out. When working correctly, the handset itself has solid sound quality, but callers did know we were on a cell phone. Compared with other phones we have tested, it was harder to hear on a busy street. The speakerphone quality is very good, but be advised that the speaker faces the rear of the phone. Also, while the phone doesn't heat up after extended use, we did get interference near computer and car speakers.
One glitch we came across had to do with the external LCD, which would turn on every few minutes when the Motorola V557 was on standby. We had to turn the phone off overnight, as the bright light kept us awake.
The Motorola V557 has a promised talk time of 3.75 hours and a rated standby time of 10.6 days. In our tests, we got a respectable 5 hours of talk time and 12 days of standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the V557 has a digital SAR rating of 1.4 watts per kilogram.