When I say ‘Apple’, what do you think of? The fruit? iPod? iBook? iTunes? It’s most probably one of the latter terms in this day and age. Apple have become a household name thanks to the iPod MP3 player. The company is becoming larger and larger each day, even in Australia because of their brand new iTunes music store released earlier this month.
Now, when I say Motorola, what do you think of? Most probably, ‘mobile phone’ is what first pops into your head (especially if you’re reading this website!). You wouldn’t think iTunes now would you? Well, this mobile device is here to change all that, bringing together the iTunes software and the Motorola mobile phone to produce the E1 ROKR – the first ever handset with integrated iTunes media player for MP3 playback.
The Motorola E1 ROKR seems to have come very quickly into the market. It was only just being rumoured to even be an actual mobile phone, and the next thing I know it’s sitting at my door step ready for my review. Apple and Motorola definitely did quite well at keeping this little handset a secret… but did they rush the release of the E1?
The stand-out feature of the Motorola E1 ROKR is of course the iTunes software. Without that, the E1 would just be your regular handset on the market – it comes with a 65k colour display, TransFlash memory card support, messaging with all the extras, Bluetooth, VGA digital camera and USB connectivity. There are also those funky rhythm lights we first saw debut in the E398!
The iTunes software on the E1 can be accessed by the special iTunes button in the top row of soft keys. It’s not hard to miss, if you’ve ever used iTunes on a Mac or PC you will know what the icon looks like. The application is similar to that on a <4G iPod, with a list menu displaying Playlists, Artists, Albums, Songs, and a Shuffle Songs option. All of your audio files can be found behind these different categories. More on the iTunes application can be found in the Major Features section of this article.
TransFlash memory cards are some of the smallest in the business, and Motorola seem to be very fond of them, incorporating them in many of their handsets. The E1’s TransFlash memory card sits opposite the SIM card behind the battery; so there is no hot swappable functionality. With the size of the TransFlash card hot swapping would be unreasonable, you’d only lose it! The E1 comes with a 256MB TransFlash card, and SanDisk make the cards up to 512MB (128MB also available). The included card should store around 100 songs – but this all depends on the quality they were ripped at and the size/length of the file. I put 23 songs on the ROKR and only used 109.7MB, still leaving 131.5MB to fill up!
Bluetooth comes as standard on the E1 ROKR, allowing you to connect to a wireless headset, PC or laptop (if Bluetooth is supported) for file transfers, and much more. The Bluetooth functionality is very easy to use; you can find it under the “Settings” menu. USB is also supported and the E1 comes with a USB data-cable. There is no infrared port on the E1.
The rhythm lights on the E1 flash in sequence to music being played near the device. Although the E1 is a fully featured music playback device, the rhythm lights will not work with music being played from the handset. The manual clearly states: “Note: The rhythm lights react to sounds in your environment, not the music or sounds from your phone.” I couldn’t get the lights to work that well unless the music was reasonably loud. That said, if you turn them on and tap the right hand side of the handset on something hard they will light up!
The ROKR E1 has that familiar standard candy-bar Motorola look about it, very similar to the E398 handset. The E1 tries to follow the iPod theme with the main shell being white with silver sides – like an iPod with a silver back. The ROKR has large buttons on the front which are rounded at the top and very easy to use, especially when writing messages.
The E1 measures 108 x 46 x 20.5 mm and weighs in at 107grams. This is not large for a mobile phone and is barely noticeable in your pocket. The front of the E1 is mainly taken up by the 176 x 220 pixel display. Below this is a row of soft keys (including that iTunes key I mentioned earlier) and the menu key. Below this are the navigational stick and the hang-up/pick-up keys. Below is the normal numerical keypad. The print on the buttons is very large and easy to read.
The bottom of the E1 has the usual Motorola interface connector, which is used for charging and data-cables. This port is not usually used for wired audio headsets; the top of the E1 has a dedicated audio jack behind a rubber seal. Both sides of the E1 have a “grate”, behind which are the 3D Stereo speakers and rhythm lights. Above the left speaker is the volume up/down keys and on the right side is the dedicated camera key.
The back of the E1 ROKR is relatively plain except for the camera lens and small reflective self-portrait window.
User Interface & display
The E1 uses the same interface that Motorola have been using for years, so if you’ve had one of their handsets within the last two years you will be familiar with it. This is one of the major issues I have with Motorola phones, because their user interface leaves quite a bit to be desired when compared to other manufacturers. Although the interface does have themes these only really change the colour scheme and some images.
The display on the E1 is a 65,536 colour LCD measuring 176 x 220 pixels. It’s a wonder why they didn’t boost this up to a 262k colour display; time constraints to get the E1 out onto the market may have played a part. The display did perform quite well and even the camera is only VGA quality, so a 262k colour display isn’t really necessary, it just would have been an added advantage ;)
I did notice some weird behaviour with the E1’s display, though. When you locked the keypad, the backlight would time out and fade out, but every minute or so it would light back up and then fade out once again. I think I may have changed a setting but when I went back to see if I could turn this off I couldn’t find anything to fix it. This wasn’t particularly annoying except for the fact that it drained the battery a tad more than if it wasn’t occurring.
The Motorola interface is quite easy to use, the main menu can either be displayed as icons or a list and as you move deeper it mostly becomes text options. There are some tricky functions to find, like connectivity and even the file browser. The handset has two soft keys and a 5-way navigational stick for easy menu browsing. To quickly jump to the iTunes application there is the special iTunes key in the same row as the soft keys.
The user interface is quite slow, which is another downside of the E1. This wasn’t particularly noticeable with every-day functions like browsing the menu and changing a setting, but things such as messaging lagged extraordinarily. In my honest opinion, Motorola need to take a look at their user interface a little closer before releasing a new handset.
Making and receiving calls
The E1 ROKR has Bluetooth connectivity, a wired headset port, and a loudspeaker. There’s also the regular hold-to-ear method for taking and making calls. There are two external volume keys on the E1 to ensure you’ve always got control without having to put the phone down.
The Bluetooth functionality on the E1 is very easy to use and pair with a Bluetooth device. The headset port means you can plug in a headset without using the bottom interface, so you can keep that attached to a PC or a charger whilst taking a call!
The E1 supports MP3 and polyphonic MIDI tones, with 24 chords. The drag-and-drop USB functionality of the handset makes it easy to transfer over MIDI and MP3 files and make them your ring tone. You can also download both formats over GPRS using the integrated WAP browser. When the handset rings the rhythm lights also light up (if activated) brightly, so you will easily be able to find the handset in your bag or if you’ve lost it on a cluttered desk ;) (I know from experience!). The 3D surround speakers also ensure you’ll never miss a call or a message.
The volume from the earpiece was substantial. It’s easy to accept and deny calls with the buttons on the left and right side of the navigational stick, under the soft keys. The phone book on the E1 can be used to input both names, numbers, addresses, and other information including a picture of the caller, or whatever you wish to recognize that caller.
The E1 comes with all the standards in messaging of this day and age. This includes SMS, EMS, MMS, e-mail, and instant messaging; all with iTap™ predictive text, which is just like T9 predictive text you would have probably experienced on other handsets. iTap™ is just as easy to use as T9, but if you haven’t used a Motorola before you may have to take some time getting used to the different key arrangement as not all manufacturers use the same!
The messaging interface on the E1 is pretty easy to use and self explanatory, but there is one major problem – the lag! When typing messages you will experience major lag (the phone will take some time to catch up when you type, even if quite slow) and you will have to wait before going any further. This really annoyed me as I can type messages quite quickly and waiting for the handset to catch up before I can change a word is not something I want to spend my time doing, not when most handsets these days don’t have this problem!
The E1 has a main messaging menu which displays all the folders (inbox, sent, drafts, saved messages, etc) and also an option for e-mail messaging. E-mail messaging is easily set up if you know your login info (username and password), sever address and some other details. The client can communicate with IMAP4, POP3, and SMTP mail servers.
Bluetooth and USB 2.0 are available on the E1 ROKR as well as GPRS Class 10. There is no infrared support. The handset does however come with a USB 2.0 data-cable in the sales package and all the software you’ll need to get connected and transferring your data to and from the handset.
Bluetooth on the E1 enables you to connect to headsets, PCs and laptops, and several other devices. The Bluetooth functionality is pretty easy to enable and setup (the options are under the main Connectivity menu in Settings) and I didn’t experience any drop outs when connecting to other devices.
The USB 2.0 data-cable included with the E1 ROKR allows you to sync your music with iTunes and also use drag-and-drop functionality to transfer files to and from other parts of the memory not accessible by iTunes. Usually USB 2.0 is quite fast, but I found if iTunes had picked up the ROKR (which it does automatically when you plug it in) the explorer interface of the E1 (which shows up as removable media under My Computer in Windows) was very slow. You could still browse folders and download files but they took a little longer than usual to actually be accessed.
Other than that the transfer speed was quite fast, especially when using iTunes to transfer music files. I did find that the transfer of files with iTunes was quite tedious, because of the memory card (flash memory). I experienced the same when using an iPod shuffle, because the memory has to be “flashed” each time you transfer, which is a lot different to just sending data to a hard drive.
The battery life of the E1 was as expected, but my only issue (as explained in the Problems/Issues section) was the flashing of the display, which I believe drained a large amount of battery life that could have increased the overall usage time of the E1 ROKR.
Motorola expect about 160-230 hours of standby time and 260-560 minutes of talk time in optimal conditions with the standard battery. Other specifications from Motorola include up to 15 hours of music time with a wired headset and up to 6 hours using the surround sound speakers (loudspeaker). It is interesting to note that Motorola expect a 4MB song to take about 30 seconds to transfer with iTunes, which was very close to what I experienced in trial.