Ever since the design success that is the RAZR, Motorola has turned and headed full speed into the world of fashion phones – phones that emphasise their shape, looks and colours more so than technological achievements. Now, after its announcement a year ago (amazingly), the well-rounded Motorola PEBL U6 handset has arrived on Australian shores. It’s everything that the RAZR isn’t – a well rounded clamshell with more bulk and a smooth plastic exterior. Forget the phone’s specifications as they are from yester-year – this phone yearns to be looked at, felt and loved. It also happens to take pictures and make phone calls. Read on for the review.
As you’ve likely deduced from its name, the Motorola PEBL is well-rounded, smooth and sits comfortably in your hand like a small pebble would. It’s compact and reasonably light, although there are lighter handsets out in the market. It might be a clamshell and you can open it like any other one, but Motorola has put in an opening mechanism that lets you open the phone with one hand. Gripping it firmly, pushing down on the top part of the flip with your thumb causes it to slide down and release, springing open with a bit of force. It can be enough to catapult the phone out of your hand if you’re not holding it properly, and it doesn’t always work (read the Problems section), but once you’re used to it you can open the phone quite quickly using this method.
Technical specifications are not the PEBL’s ball park – VGA camera, 24 tone polyphonics and small internal memory are of a level equal to the V600 released two years ago. But people after a killer phone with killer technology won’t be after the PEBL, nor will the PEBL be attempting to satisfy that crowd.
The PEBL is a traditional clamshell in true Motorola fashion – it swings open no matter which position the flip is in, and when closed will lock in. The PEBL also uses a one-hand opening mechanism that works by pushing down slightly on the top part of the flip to release the holding mechanism, allowing the phone to spring open. The antenna is internal; there is no protrusion sticking out from the handset. The PEBL is finished in a rubbery black-coloured plastic that does hold fingermarks, although they aren’t very obvious unless you look closely at them.
The phone is right in the middle when it comes to size – it weighs 110 grams and measures 87x49x20 millimetres.
Looking around the phone you won’t find many things to take note of. There’s the sub screen on the front, an indicator light and the VGA camera, as well as Motorola’s hallmark M logo. On the left and right are some cleverly concealed buttons to control volume, adjust the current profile and activate a customised function such as voice dialling. On the top, in the middle of the chrome hinge is the miniUSB interface for recharging and connecting the phone to a PC. This is the only connector in the phone. On the back is yet another M logo as well as the polyphonic speaker. Pushing the button above the M logo allows you to slide away the cover to reveal the battery compartment, and beneath that is the traditional hiding spot for the SIM card.
Opening up the phone reveals a phone keypad in a silvery chrome colour, in contrast to the rest of the phone’s black look. It’s a keypad that resembles the RAZR’s one, but it’s actually made out of plastic (rather than metal) and matches the phone’s theme of smooth-flowing lines and well-roundedness. There are no separate buttons, but rather the keypad is one flat surface where it can be easy to push the wrong button if you’re in too much of a hurry. The keys themselves are self-explanatory enough – Two soft keys, Motorola’s menu key in the top-centre, a five-way arrow pad, dedicated mail and browser keys and the dial and end call keys, followed by the 12-button number pad.
User Interface & display
On the top half of the flip is the 1.8 inch main screen, with another Motorola M and the company’s name written above. The screen is the same as the one used in the Motorola V620, having a resolution of 176x220 pixels and able to display 262,144 colours. You can adjust its brightness between one of seven steps, and the highest setting is very bright, making the screen clearly visible in broad daylight. Backlight and screen timeouts can also be set. Depending on the skin set and the menu you’re in, the screen will display between five to eight lines of text. Speaking of skins, there are three preset ones that can be used to customise all menus’ look and background, while less customisable ‘themes’, which customise the background, screen saver and ringtone, can be downloaded from Motorola’s website and added to the phone.
The user interface remains the same as many other Motorolas in the past and is generally unchanged since the V600, except for minor improvements here and there. It’s fairly responsive and in most situations button presses are reflected in milliseconds, but in some places such as text editing, the phone can get bogged down with commands and takes a little time to catch up. I’m not a fan of the way Motorola organises many of the different features in its menus. For example, the Settings menu contains sub-menus that take some time to get used to. For example, many display-related settings are contained in ‘Initial Setup’, rather than a dedicated ‘Display Settings’ menu. Also, despite having a menu option for call settings called ‘In-call Setup’, call-forwarding and diverts gets its own menu in the Settings window. These kinds of inconsistencies should be addressed by Motorola so that menu navigation becomes easier.
The main menu is customisable – you can reorder the icons in any way you choose, and you can choose to display the menu as a 3x3 grid of nine icons, or as a simple list. What you can’t do is add and delete icons from the menu. The menu options are Phonebook, Recent Calls, Messages, Tools, Games & Apps, WebAccess, Multimedia, Bluetooth Link, Settings. Number shortcuts aren’t supported at all in the PEBL, meaning you only have the arrow pad to move between menus and options.
Making and receiving calls
The PEBL had very good call quality through its internal speaker and microphone. Unlike many phones I have tested recently, the PEBL’s call speaker had good bass reproduction, reducing the tinny sound effect that calls are renowned for. My voice could be clearly heard on the other end as well. The PEBL has a loudspeaker function for speakerphone voice calls, although the technology here seems to be from previous Motorola phones and isn’t very advanced – I had trouble holding a conversation with my test caller when setting the PEBL to speakerphone mode. Calls can also be made through a Bluetooth headset. I had my trusty HS801 test headset, also made by Motorola, and it worked a treat with the PEBL.
Reception was tested using the 900/1800 bands, and I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. The PEBL worked well in most places and only had trouble in a shopping centre that is known for its lack of coverage, with the PEBL unable to hold a call inside.
The phone book can store up to 1000 contacts with multiple sets of details, such as address, birthday and picture ID. You can add more numbers or email addresses, but these will fill another contact space for each number or email address you add. Searching through the phonebook can be slow as it will only look for the first letter of each contact, rather than as many as you type like in other phones. Contacts can be sent to other phones via MMS.
There are 35 sound files included in the PEBL, many of them well-known Motorola mainstays such as the Hello Moto tune, Luna and Moonlit Haze. Despite the 24-tone synthesiser, these ringtones still sound great and they’re very loud too. You can set all of them to play when the phone receives a voice call, message, or when an alarm goes off, among other things.
The PEBL has support for a huge amount of messaging standards: SMS, EMS, MMS, email and instant messaging (not used in Australia). Motorola’s iTap predictive text system is available for quick text input, but if you’re coming from any other phone in the market with T9, it will take some getting used to before you can start typing messages quickly. The iTap system has some good ideas behind it such as complete word prediction, but there are other, basic areas where it needs improvement. For example, in the T9 system typing the buttons 1 and 7 will create an apostrophe with an ‘s’ afterwards, but in iTap, depending on what you input earlier, it could display a full stop or apostrophe no matter what you entered. It’s obvious there’s a memorisation function working in the background, remembering what characters you entered and selecting them first when you press its corresponding key, but things like “ ‘s “ ought to be automatically recognised by the system. I hope Motorola will continue to improve the iTap system as it has great potential.
You can compose SMS messages 450 characters long, meaning three linked SMS will be used in that case. Thanks to EMS support, you can attach small pictures, animations and sounds. Messages are composed using the wizard system – you type in the body of the message and then select where it gets sent to. Text input speed is average – it won’t slow down in triple-tap mode but if you’re using iTap, it will slow down if you attempt to type one massive string of characters. Considering that not many people need to do such a thing, this isn’t much of a problem at all.
For even more diverse multimedia content, you can send MMS instead. MMS allows you to send big pictures, sound, videos and phonebook contact data, up to a maximum size of 100 kilobytes. There is slide support too. MMS can be sent to phone numbers or email addresses, but if you want to get mail off a computer-based email address, there’s also the email client feature. With this one you can download email from POP3 and IMAP4 servers and view them on the phone. I was unable to test this feature due to Vodafone Australia restrictions unfortunately.
The PEBL is a quad-band GSM device. The main advantage of quad-band support is complete coverage in all American countries, so you will have no trouble connecting to any GSM network in the world, provided your operator has roaming agreements in place. The PEBL supports the 850, 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz bands, and has GPRS support for simple internet access at up to 48kbps.
For local connections, there is the choice of USB or Bluetooth. The phone uses a miniUSB connector for local connectivity so you can buy a cheap miniUSB to USB cable for connection to a PC. To transfer files between the PC and phone, you would need Motorola’s mobile PhoneTools software (made by BVRP) to do so. However, neither the cable nor the software was included in my test package, so I was unable to test either of those features. The software wasn’t available for download from the internet either, so I ultimately couldn’t test any of the data synchronisation features at all.
I was able to test the included Bluetooth’s ability to make phone calls with a wireless headset and transfer data between phones (with a Sharp 903 as the other phone), and in this area I didn’t have any problems. Bluetooth can also be used to send a picture or document to a Bluetooth-enabled printer for printing, although I was unable to test this feature.
Build quality is good, with the PEBL’s weight adding to its durable feeling. Everything fits into place and is firmly fastened, and the flip’s valve holds it in position as well. As it stands, the PEBL feels like it will weather the weight of the world for years to come.
I’ve read reports of the PEBL having a 740mAh battery and even 840mAh battery, but in the case of my test handset it was equipped with a 710mAh battery, and that’s obviously what I judged my tests on. Official battery life figures are 250 hours standby and six hours 40 minutes talk time. In practice the phone lasted for two and a half days with mixed usage: 30 minutes of talk time and small amounts of messaging, camera usage and web browsing each day. The phone takes just under two hours to recharge.