By May 11, 2006

Motorola E815 Review

Near the turn of the year I was able to get a new phone through Verizon Wireless at new customer prices via their “new every two” program. I had always envied the phones available on Cingular with bluetooth and (by now, common) speaker phone, voice activate dialing, etc. Verizon has a very good network where I live, but the phones are a bit behind the technology curve.

I had really wanted the LG VX-9800 but after seeing it I discarded it from my list. The phone is very, very large by today’s standards. Putting it in my pocket was out of the question, as I wasn’t about to field questions about “is that your VX-9800, or are you just happy to see me?” The quest continued for a phone that had the features I was looking for.

The short list of features, in no particular order:

  • MP3 ringtones
  • Bluetooth
  • Clamshell/flip design
  • Good text messaging capabilities
  • Mobile Web access
  • Ability to show pictures/play movies
  • Less than $100 with my New Every Two promotion
  • I’d rather have good transmission over features

As with anything these days, it’s hard to find a phone with just what I wanted. Out of the phones that Verizon carries, Motorola and Nokia are considered the best (in general) for phone reception. That knocked LG immediately off the list. Lady Jaye had an LG phone, and it would frequently drop calls where I could consistently make them from my then-carried Samsung. Speaking of Samsung, they were culled from my list because they didn’t have any bluetooth phones through Verizon that also played MP3s.

The phone
I did a search on good old Ars Technica and was able to narrow down my candidates even further: without going to a Treo-type device, my best bet was the Motorola E815.


Shots of my E815, next to a quarter for size comparison.

The E815 had everything I wanted, including some features I could care less about, like a camera/videocam. The phone is a bit larger than my Samsung, and I wound up deciding to wear the phone on a leather belt holster instead of jamming it into my pocket. I didn’t want the external display to get scratched up anyway.

The E815 has two very bright displays, and the internal (larger) display is quite vibrant. As you can see here, the E815 allows you to set your own desktop wallpaper. This is a function common on many of the current-gen phones out there, but even this was impossible on my 18-month old Samsung phone.


I took a picture of the Pets.com stuffed animal I have in my office and set it to be my desktop wallpaper.

The hardware features
The E815 is a damn awesome phone. Text messaging is a total breeze thanks to its iTAP predictive fingerboarding system. For example, if I want to text the word “test,” I would start by tapping the 8 key for the letter “t.” I then tap the 3 key for the letter “e,” and then the 7 key for the letter “s.” By now, the bottom of my text composition application displays my choices: “Tes,” “Ver,” “Ter,” and “Ves.” I also have the option of using the up arrow key to autocomplete to “Test.” I’m not sure what determines what is offered as an autocomplete. I find myself autocompleting “tomorrow” quite frequently after just spelling out “tomo.”

iTAP learns words that you enter through the old “one key, may keypresses” text entry method, or by expanding upon suggested words. For example, I play a game called EVE with Bond. One of the ships I fly is called a caracal. iTAP didn’t have the word “caracal” in its predictive dictionary, but after typing it out longhand in one message the phone added it for the next message. It makes me grin to see the off-color words and terms my buddies use come up in the text messaging window.

The phone’s address book is OK, although I wish that Motorola followed a page out of Samsung’s book. My Samsung book would have one entry per person, with different categories for home, mobile, office, fax, pager, etc. The Motorola address book has one entry per person’s contact type. Instead of one entry for Lady Jaye with child entries for mobile and office, I have two entries for her on my Motorola: Lady Jaye with a cell phone next to it, and Lady Jaye with an office building next to it. This is particularly annoying for contacts like my boss, whom I have two mobile phone entries, an office entry, and a home entry for. He’s in my address book four times. It makes quick-keying for other like-named contacts a pain in the ass. Sorry Captain, nothing personal ;)

The one thing I really dislike about the phone, and this is a HUGE dislike, is that there are four multifunction keys on the sides of the phone, two per side. The two on the left side of the phone control the ringer volume and the ringer style. For some reason, the phone goes from my preferred “vibrate then ring” to “silent” against my wishes. I think it’s when I sit down in a car or a chair with arms on it, and the buttons are being depressed through my leather case. It’s fucking annoying, and has happened with enough regularity that I am now compulsively checking my phone to see if the ringer has been changed to “silent.” The only option is to lock the handset, but that also disables bluetooth headset functionality, like answering and voice dialing.

The phone on the E815 is serviceable, I guess. I don’t expect much from a camera phone, so I’m not pissed off when the pictures look like they were taken by a midget slathered in vasoline. The videocam function is a joke. I think you can film 15 seconds of horribly blurry video. The E815 has a 4x digital zoom, but since the actual lens can’t focus a zoom of any kind is worthless. Two thumbs down, but that’s okay, as I wasn’t too concerned about taking pictures with my camera.

The speaker phone is pretty loud and clear. The one thing I don’t like about it is that the E815 will keep speaker phone mode enabled until you turn it off again. Not a big deal, but it did take some getting used to.

The network service
My new phone is EVDO/VCAST capable. EVDO is Verizon’s broadband wireless data transmission network. VCAST is Verizon’s wireless broadband content service. I received a free month of VCAST when I activated my phone. You can download music and other stuff via VCAST. It was pretty cool being able to watch ESPN clips or news shows on my phone while I was waiting somewhere, but I knew that once my free month was over I was going to cancel the service.

I really liked the idea of putting my own MP3s, ringtones, pictures, and movies onto my phone. The E815 has a transflash media slot, and I bought a 512MB transflash solid state media card from Newegg.com about two weeks after buying my phone. You can email ringtones to yourself as text messages, but that’s a bit of a hassle. I prefer transferring media directly from the memory card. In order to transfer videos from your desktop to your phone (or someone else’s) you would otherwise have to use Verizon’s VZWpix.com and pay $0.25 per message.

The EVDO service itself is a bit flaky, at least in my area. I have sent pix and videos to Lady Jaye and pix to my friend Bond a few times, and any time there is bad weather the file transfers are pretty iffy. The phone is supposed to default to the standard speed, “1X” service if EVDO isn’t available, but I think when it comes to sending messages the phone just takes a dump instead of downstreaming to the 1X network. I wish the transfer protocol was more like MODEM handshaking, where the sender and receiver negotiated the highest quality of service upon each transfer.

I have dropped very, very few calls with my E815. I am not entirely sure if the ones I did drop were my fault or because of the other party. I know that of the 5 or 6 dropped calls I’ve had at least two were while the other caller was in their car. I can place and receive calls in all sorts of stairwells, elevators, and deep sea diving bells. Well, at least the first two places. The reception and voice quality is at least as good as my Samsung, of which I was very pleased. Since I bought Lady Jaye an E815 off of eBay she hasn’t dropped any calls to my knowledge. I used to hear her screaming at her old LG phone when she was talking with her family. Whew.

Bluetooth
I’m saving some of this for my bluetooth headset review, but setting up the bluetooth on my phone was a snap. The phone enters a discovery mode and searches for any bluetooth devices within a small area. I set my headset to broadcast mode, and a few seconds later I had an easily paired headset and handset. I leave my phone on with bluetooth enabled, and it doesn’t seem to cut down on battery life too much. I could disable bluetooth functionality, but that would mean I would have to re-pair the headset and handset whenever I traveled.

Holy shit this is a long and disjointed review
Okay, on to the infamous bullets:
Celltacular!

  • Reliable, clear reception and call transmission.
  • Fast, easy text messaging: I sent and received over 300 messages last month.
  • Customizable interface through skins, 3 of which are included on the phone, the rest are for-pay or for-free depending on where you find them. You can also change/enable/disable the four shortcut applications on the main menu.
  • Pretty decent battery life; I get about three or four days of light calling and heavy texting out of a charge. I found that enabling the global GPS option drained my battery life fairly quickly.
  • Colorful, bright screens. Almost too bright, one night Lady Jaye and I woke up with the motherfucking bat signal on in our bedroom. Turns out our two phones were recharging face-up and were lighting up the bedroom almost enough to read by ;)

Craptacular!

  • Those four fucking side-mounted buttons have to go.
  • The phone is a bit thick. I think mine came with an extended life battery. Lady Jaye’s E815 is a bit thinner.
  • The Verizon web browser doesn’t use iTAP, which sucks. I can understand why (phone neutrality), but it makes emailing people from my phone a pain in the ass. Oh well, at least I can still read my Gmail and any Word attachments.

Bottom line: If you are in the market for a new Verizon phone, this is the non-smartphone to get.

Motorola E815, I iTAP out
Four and a half out of five STFU mugs!

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