Kit: Motorola V80 camera phone
Way back in the 1990s, Motorola launched the world’s first flip phones, culminating in the legendary StarTAC. Within a year or two, you couldn’t move for clamshell mobiles as rival manufacturers raced to catch up. Fast forward to 2002 and Motorola surprised the world again, this time with the revolutionary V70 rotating phone. Within a year or two, er, virtually no one had copied them. While the V70 has remained popular with international fashionistas, there’s no denying that its monochrome display and limited features list have long been showing their age.
This spring sees the launch of the V80, a tri-band successor that comes packed with the latest technology – and a few surprises of its own. The most obvious change is that the V80 is far more solid and respectable than the slinky, silver V70. The black and silver detailing is destined to appeal more to a BMW-driving businessman than a style-conscious clubber, and even the 1.8-inch screen is reminiscent of a baby PDA. But flip it open with a spring-loaded click, turn it on and the sober V80 suddenly whips off its specs and lets down its hair with a dazzling display of multi-coloured LEDs embedded within the silvered edge of the top section.
The joy of stick
Flipped open, the V80 is actually quite a long phone and there’s plenty of room here for a generous keypad and comfortable navigation controls. It’s disappointing, then, that Motorola opted instead for tiny, recessed number keys, a single joystick, and a vast expanse of unused black plastic. The joystick suffers from all the usual problems of a five-way, press-to-select navigation device, making it too easy to select an option instead of moving to the next icon, and vice versa. Getting used to the three small soft buttons around the joystick also takes some time, but at least the menus are responsive and logically laid out. You can customise the home page with wallpaper and your most commonly used icons.
It should be a nice touch that you can use the V80 in the closed position, reading texts and playing games using the joystick or even voice dialling with the dedicated side-mounted voice key (although you do have to open it to talk). But because the phone inverts the display to maintain the same top/bottom orientation, your joystick thumb obscures the screen when the phone’s closed. Another irritating feature is that you have to push a button to even tell whether the closed phone is turned on. Left-handed users should note that the clockwise rotation of the phone makes it difficult to use with one hand – and you might also accidentally terminate calls by bumping the phone closed with your ear. Basically, just tie your southpaw behind your back and learn to write like a normal person, eh?
The V80’s VGA-quality (640x480-pixel) camera isn’t the highest resolution snapper around but it does have one unique feature – the ability to take landscape format pictures. Simply rotate the V80 back through just 90-degrees, into an L-shape, and it automatically switches into camera mode for shooting. It may be our pre-production engineering sample, but the screen shows some jarring horizontal lines when used in this mode.
Camera options are fairly basic, with a choice of image sizes, a 4x digital zoom and exposure compensation to alter the brightness. You can also select different lighting conditions for better colour reproduction, although this was time-consuming and made little difference to the final images (except the useful Night mode). Photos are above average, with vibrant colours and more detail than some basic camera phones. As with most mobiles, interior shots are prone to grainy noise and dull tones, and there’s no flash or light to brighten things up. There’s a self-timer for delay shots, and you can zoom and pan around recorded images, but not edit them.
The V80 comes with three decent Java games: Skipping Stones (Solitaire), Supreme Snowboarding and Stuntman, and the ability to download more via its GPRS connection. The joystick makes playing a pleasure, even when the phone’s closed, although it would have been nice to have had one landscape format game to make the most of the wide 65,000-colour screen. That ‘button’ above the screen is actually just a design detail; there’s no N-Gage style action here.
As a high-end phone, the V80 has plenty of up to date technology, including POP3 e-mail, IM, Wap 2.0, MMS messaging and Bluetooth (though not for image transfer). It can play back (but not record) MPEG4 video clips and can utilise MP3 files as ringtones, although it’s not a fully-fledged player. The multi-coloured edge lights aren’t just funky frills, they can be set to show different colours for different events – blue for text messages, red for incoming calls and so on, making the V80 usable even in a deafening club. And if those tunes are flowing, why not activate the Rhythm Light function, which (supposedly) pulses the LEDs in time with the music? It doesn’t work very well but it will get everyone on the dance floor looking at you, which is probably the point. Additional applications include a calculator, alarm clock, voice recording, datebook, web browsing and chat.
As a phone, the V80 is excellent. Ringtones and vibrations are plenty strong enough and the Motorola has one of the clearest earpieces we’ve heard. Calls are generally hiss-free and reception from the internal antenna is excellent. Texting is painless thanks to learning predictive input (iTap), and MMS messaging is about as simple as possible. One drawback is that we did have some incoming texts go missing, although it’s always difficult to know whether to blame the hardware or network. It’s a shame that such a powerful phone (it has 6Mb of internal memory) will only store a miserly 10 text messages, so you’ll find yourself having to clear out the inbox almost daily. Battery life was good, with plenty of warning signals before the V80 conks out.
So will the V80 replicate the success of the V70? It’s hard to see it. The addition of a big screen and the latest technology has eroded the slinky cool of its predecessor, but without offering anything that can’t be found on cheaper or more usable rivals. The V80’s unique styling will ensure that it sells well to the in-crowd, but it’s far from a classic.
With its jet black styling and huge display, this is the only rotating phone that’ll turn heads. And when you get tired of looking at it, there’s plenty of modern tech, too.
The V80’s bizarre ergonomics and interface take a lot of getting used to. You can also get more accomplished Bluetooth camera phones for your money.
Motorola’s new rotator phone has been two years - and too many chefs – in the making. While it’s fun to play with and a great telephone, it can’t quite match the latest camera phones for power or ease of use.
- Rating 84%
- Rotating design with always visible screen
- Portrait or landscape format VGA digital camera
- Java gaming
size: 45 x 99 x 19 mm
display: 65,000 colours
resolution: 176 x 220 pixels
Bluetooth: yes (not image transfer)
memory slot: no
games: Skipping Stones, Stuntman, Supreme Snowboarding
email client: no
talktime: up to 210 mins
standby: up to 130 hrs
The Sony Ericsson Z200 is just as much fun but with half the price-tag and pretensions, or head for the megapixel Sharp GX30 camera phone for top quality pics