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Motorola VE538 review: Motorola VE538

The VE538 makes a great phone for someone who doesn't expect the extras. Motorola keeps the price of the VE538 low, but leaves out important accessories to do so.

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.
Joseph Hanlon
4 min read


On the front of Motorola VE538's tiny box, under a picture of the phone, it reads "Phone not actual size". Funnily though, this statement is only barely true. The VE538 is tiny and lightweight, though it still feels sturdy to hold. Its rounded corners nestle comfortably in your palm and a textured, dimpled battery cover helps you grip the phone so you don't drop it during a furious texting session.


Motorola VE538

The Good

Great all-round design. Price is right for a 3G pre-paid. Good basic phone functionality.

The Bad

No headphones, USB or memory card sold with phone. "Blogging phone" doesn't have Facebook or Twitter.

The Bottom Line

The VE538 makes a great phone for someone who doesn't expect the extras. Motorola keeps the price of the VE538 low but leaves out important accessories to do so.

Speaking of texting, we love the VE538's raised keypad. Each key rises to a plump peak in the middle, and altogether the keypad feels like three rows of wave-like swells. The pad is small, so it really may only appeal to teenagers and those with freakishly small digits (like yours truly) but we like it anyway, it adds to the aesthetic appeal more than most keypads do these days.

We also like the phone's bright 2-inch QVGA display. On paper this may sound underwhelming, but in person the screen performs well. The colour reproduction tends towards deep, strong colours and good contrast, and is excellent for browsing websites.

The edges of the phone are almost completely unadorned by switches, buttons or input ports. There's a single socket for charging and USB connections, but that's it. "No headphone socket?" you might ask. Well, the USB port doubles (or triples is it?) as a headphone socket, but Motorola doesn't provide the headset; these must be bought separately. Alternatively, the VE538 supports stereo Bluetooth connections so you can use a wireless headset, but be aware that wireless headphones will cost as much as the phone, if not more.


On the back of the VE538 you find a 2-megapixel camera lens, placed within a funky looking metalic disc. Of course, this disc won't help you take photos and is a poor substitute for a flash of some sort, but it does look pretty sexy all the same. Taking pictures is as easy as selecting the "Camera" option from the main menu of the phone, though the VE538 lacks the dedicated camera key you tend to see on the sides of phones.

At the time of writing, the VE538 is "_blank"="" rel="noopener nofollow" class="c-regularLink" target="_blank">available on the 3 Mobile network and, as such, is compatible with its 3G network. This is good news for prepaid handset customers who want to enjoy the speed of a 3G network without paying a premium for the extra features the VE538 doesn't have. The VE538 is being positioned as a "blogging" handset, a good use for 3G network speeds, though the lack of access to the big sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, dulls this claim somewhat. Instead, a dedicated "social networking" button on the face of the phone links to Google services and ShoZu. Those looking for a prepaid phone and Facebook will need to look to 3 Mobile's own INQ1.

If social networking is a bit 2009 for you, more traditional electronic messaging is, of course, available. The VE538 is capable of accessing POP3 and IMAP email accounts, though don't expect it to help you set these up. If you want to send and receive from your Gmail or Yahoo account you'll have to find out your mail account server information and punch these details in manually.

The VE538 includes a multimedia player and if you're prepared to fork out for headphones you'll be glad to know the phone supports MP3 and WMA audio files, plus MP4 and WMV video files. As you might expect, the VE538 includes almost no internal storage for holding media files, but is compatible with microSD cards, which is yet another extra cost to bear.


If you're in the market for a basic phone for calls and text messaging, the VE538 will hold its own against the competition. Voice calling was fine, though not outstanding in any respect. Text messaging is good if your fingers navigate the keypad accurately; the characters appear on-screen as soon as a key is pressed, with no annoying lag to speak of.

Even though we don't see how this phone would satisfy one's inner blogger with the options available, we think the browser is one of the best at this price point. It is a mobile browser through and through, so don't expect desktop-like internet, but it renders mobile sites like CNET Mobile briskly and continues to render smoothly as you scroll down a page. Viewing full-sized sites freaks the poor browser out though; the mobile browser displays links and images on full-sized pages in a muddled mess.


Motorola's VE538 is a classic less-is-more handset. It does the basics fine, but in regards to extra functionality like multimedia, the VE538 teases without actually delivering — the lack of headphones in the box with the phone is the best example. Motorola says the VE538 "makes blogging easy", but its limited access to the popular social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, means very few people will actually use this phone for blogging to their favourite social networking sites. It's a shame too, the younger market who buys prepaid phones would almost certainly make the most of true social networking and the phone's 3G network capabilities. Its asking price of AU$129 is spot on, but be aware that you'll end up spending the same again to get the most of the VE538.