The Motorola E6 is the first handset released in Australia to use Motorola’s new Linux- and Java-based operating system, which has been used in many large Asian countries for some time. The previous operating system used in Motorola handsets had been around for many years, and it’s fair to say it was having trouble keeping up with the latest in mobile technology.
The E6 is a PDA smartphone with multimedia functionality thrown into the mix, all contained in a sleek L6/RAZR-like package. The handset is operated almost entirely via the large 262,144 colour touch-screen LCD display.
For me, the first feature of the E6 that stands out is the new operating system. For some time now I’ve been complaining about the old Motorola operating system and the many problems it has, and seeing the end of that operating system is no big shame whatsoever.
The E6’s operating system is based on the Linux and Java platforms, and does have its differences from the main system – the main difference being the lag! Unfortunately, the UI is not without its problems – there is still some lag present and some areas are confusing to use. I’ll go into more detail about the user interface in the appropriate section later in the review.
A 2mpx digital camera is located on the back of the E6. The camera supports video and still image capture, and is also capable of acting as a webcam with a compatible PC. A little switch next to the lens switches between macro and regular focus, and the viewfinder application offers a range of additional features including 8x digital zoom.
The touch-screen TFT LCD has a 240 x 320 pixel resolution and can display up to 262,144 colours. The metal stylus slides into the bottom right hand side of the handset and is retractable for a comfortable grip in any hand.
A range of pre-installed applications on the E6 offer PIM and PDA functionality, including document viewing and organizer features. The E6 supports USB and Bluetooth for local connectivity and has GRPS Class 10 for packet data connections over 2G networks.
The E6 looks like a wider version of the SLVR L6, but is also quite similar to the RAZR range of devices from Motorola. The main difference (other than size) is the lack of numerical keyboard on the E6 – only the functionality keys are necessary thanks to the touch-screen LCD display.
The E6 measures 111 x 51.5 x 14.5mm and weighs 121 grams, so it’s not necessarily a large device. The E6 only comes in one colour: black. The casing is made of soft touch metal and it feels great in hand. My only concern is that it would be very easy to scratch the back and sides of the handset if you leave it in your pocket with your keys. The front of the handset is completely covered in a hard glass-like material that isn’t overly prone to fingerprints.
Unlike most PDA touch-screen devices the E6 has a completely flat face. Most similar devices have a ridge around the LCD which is the perfect place for hide, but Motorola have done away with this and the front of the handset looks much sleeker. Below the LCD is the 5-way navigational pad, pick-up and hang-up keys, the dedicated web browser button, and the user-programmable multi-function key. The keys have a blue LED backlight that is only activated when the keys themselves are used.
The bottom of the E6 houses the miniUSB port, battery cover release and the stylus. At the top of the handset you will find the standard 3.5mm headset jack and wrist strap insert. On the left hand side the volume up/down keys can be found, along with the SD card slot and media keys (skip back, skip forward, and play/pause). The phone lock and dedicated camera key can be found on the right hand side.
The back of the handset has the 2mpx camera lens, chrome window, macro mode switch and a little Motorola logo. The speakerphone wraps around the camera lens.
I quite like the design of the E6, and unlike some other PDA smartphones it’s not at all bulky or heavy.
User interface & display
The ROKR E6 runs Motorola’s new Linux- and Java-based operating system – MontaVista Linux - and is operated by way of the large 262k colour touch-screen LCD display. The handset is powered by an Intel XScale PXA270 series processor. Although Motorola have been using the MontaVista operating system since 2003 in some Asian countries, the ROKR E6 is the first device available in Australia to include this system.
The E6’s home screen displays all the important information about the handset, a row of quick-launch icons, and a row of customisable shortcut icons. The home screen works hand-in-hand with the organizer application and will display any upcoming meetings or appointments. The usual icons indicate battery life, reception quality, memory card status, and the time. The date and carrier name is shown in larger text towards the bottom of the screen.
The main menu is launched by pressing the four squares in the top left hand corner of the display. The entire menu system is mostly icons, but there are text buttons as you get deeper. Most of the icons and text labels are large enough to be pushed by your finger but it does take some time to get used to the responsiveness of the screen. For things like messaging you must use the stylus – the on-screen keys are tiny.
While the operating system is quite fast, it does get slow when too many applications are opened or when performing ‘intensive’ tasks. The operating system is designed in a linear fashion and each application/menu is opened on top of another. In the bottom right hand corner of most applications is a close button, which when pressed will go back to menu or application beneath the one you just closed.
The E6’s display is a 2.4” 240 x 320 pixel TFT LCD, capable of displaying up to 262,144 colours. I was quite happy with the display, and it’s quite a pleasant change from the usual 65,536 colour displays thrown in most touch-screen devices. That said, in bright sunlight it can be a little hard to read text on the display, which is unfortunate.
Overall, I was quite happy with the MontaVista operating system. It’s not that different to the other PDA operating system, and is a very welcome change from Motorola’s older operating system that was way beyond its best before date. Installing additional applications (non-Java) is a bit of a hassle and there are some bugs, but no doubt they will be ironed out in subsequent handset releases.
Making and receiving calls
The ROKR E6 is a 2G-compatible handset and only supports regular audio calling. The sales package comes with a stereo headset, and there is an integrated loudspeaker for conference calls, as well as the standard ear piece speaker. The handset supports the GSM 900, 1800, and 1900MHz network bands.
The dedicated pick-up and hang-up keys can be used when a call comes through, or you can push the on-screen buttons. There is several seconds lag after you push a button before the call is actually picked up which is very annoying. Before I discovered the lag I was left saying “Hello? Hello” at the phone, and by the time I took it away from my ear to check the screen the call had picked up and the other caller had no idea what was going on!
A quick launch button to the contacts is found at the top of the display, which can be accessed at any time from any (non full screen) application. The contact list will display SIM and internally stored contacts. You can browse up and down with the scrollbar to find your contact or press the little magnifying glass, which opens up a large on-screen keyboard. Start typing the name of the contact you’re after and any matches will be displayed at the top of the screen.
If you simply want to enter a number, just tap the very right hand button in the top quick-launch row and tap in the number. The buttons are large enough to be pushed with your finger and there is a dedicated button to open the call logs if you need to find a recently called number.
Volume can be adjusted at any time by pressing the dedicated volume up/down keys on the left hand side of the handset. At maximum level I found the volume in the earpiece way too loud and most of the time had it 2-3 bars below maximum. Speakerphone volume was sufficient. The earpiece included in the sales package connects to the E6 via the 2.5mm standard headphone port located at the top of the handset.
Seven ringer styles are offered: ring loud, vibe and ring loud, vibe then ring loud, ring soft, vibe then ring soft, ring soft, silent, and vibrate. All the profiles can be customized as you wish. MP3 format ring tones are supported, along with a range of other formats including polyphonic MIDI.
SMS/EMS, MMS, and e-mail messaging protocols are supported on the E6. Due to the touch-screen nature of the handset, all text input is via an on-screen keyboard or handwriting recognition software.
SMS and MMS messages are composed in the same window. When the ‘Compose’ button is pressed a window opens with a small ‘To…’ box, and a larger box for the message body. A row of buttons below the message body allow you to add images, video, sounds, and other attachments. If you do not add any of these attachments the message will be sent as an SMS message. You can manually change to and from MMS and SMS messages by selecting the message type in the drop-down box at the top of the composition window.
The top right hand corner of the composition window shows the character/message count, and if in MMS mode, the slide number and message size (in kilobytes). A contact can be extracted from the phonebook by pressing the ‘To…’ button, or you can manually type in a number using the on-screen keypad.
Tapping the message body box will open the on-screen keyboard or handwriting recognition window. On the ROKR E6 device that I received for trial, there were five different input methods for messaging.
The first, and default, is an on-screen English keyboard. The keyboard is similar to your standard QWERTY keyboard but has a button that brings up a new keyboard with punctuation and other symbol characters. The buttons could be a little larger – they’re very small.
The next option is a numeric keypad that can only be used to input numbers and some punctuation characters. The handwriting option can recognise one letter at a time, and has two separate boxes – one for alphabetical characters, and another for punctuation and symbols. English and Chinese handwriting recognition was supported by the E6 that I received. This may change in other regional areas and versions of the device.
The last two input options are the Pinyin board and the Zhuyin board. These options display a keyboard with characters, much like the English keyboard.
SMS and MMS messages share the Inbox, Drafts, Outbox, Sent Items, and Trash folders. A separate folder named “SIM Card” is for messages stored on the SIM card rather than the E6’s internal memory.
E-mail messages are handled by a separate application that can be found in the main menu. On first launch of the application you are prompted to enter the details of your mail server. IMAP4 and POP3 mailboxes are supported. As the E6 is only a 2G device, messages will be downloaded over a GPRS or EDGE connection.
The tri-band E6 supports the GSM 900, 1800, and 1900MHz networks for compatibility in Europe, North and South America, and the Asia-Pacific regions. The handset includes GPRS and EDGE packet data support and has a pre-installed Opera browser for browsing the web.
USB and Bluetooth are supported for local connectivity. The E6 is compatible with the USB 2.0 specification for high-speed data transfer. Before connecting the handset to a compatible computer you must select the transfer mode: modem, mass storage, or webcam. The modem option is for use with the Phone Tools software and if you wish to use the handset as a dial-up modem.
The mass storage option utilises the Mass Storage Device profile of the USB specification for easy drag & drop connectivity with the E6’s memory card. When connected to a PC in this mode some phone functions are temporarily disabled. This mode is compatible with a range of operating systems including Mac OS X, and when connected the battery will be charged.
Webcam mode allows you to use the E6 as a dedicated webcam. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this feature on a mobile phone and it could be quite useful for video conferencing purposes. The sales package includes all the drivers you need. The webcam functionality only works with Windows machines.
The Bluetooth radio on the ROKR E6 is version 2.0 compliant and includes the A2DP profile for stereo streaming audio. Bluetooth settings can easily be accessed via the shortcut menu on the bottom of the home screen, where a list of paired Bluetooth devices is shown. The options button allows you to activate the radio and scan for new devices, or make the E6 discoverable.
When my Macbook was connected to the E6 I wasn’t able to browse the contents of the memory but was able to send and receive files to & from the handset with no problems. Audio headsets can be connected to the E6 for wireless phone calls.
The E6 could have really done with 3G network support – but more on that in the problems and issues section.
These are just above average when compared to similarly features devices and users should have no problems running Java applications on the E6 – including 3D applications.
The E6’s marketing campaign includes a lot of emphasis on the multimedia functionality of the handset on top of its PDA functionality. After all, the ROKR range is all about multimedia!
Motorola have dropped the failed iTunes player on the E6, instead opting for RealPlayer. The pre-installed mobile version of RealPlayer can play back common audio and video formats including MP3 and MPEG4. Upon opening the application it will prompt you to refresh the library and scan for new files, which only takes a few seconds. The quality of the audio from the loudspeaker is way up there, there is no clear distortion even in bassy clips.
The player can read ID3 tags from MP3 files and has repeat and shuffle modes. There are five equalizer modes: bass boost, rock, treble boost, vocal booster and vocal reducer. Unprotected clips can be shared via message, e-mail, or Bluetooth. The options menu provides a quick shortcut if you wish to route the audio to a Bluetooth device rather than the loudspeaker.
Audio files can be played in the background while you complete other tasks the handset – just be sure not to close the RealPlayer application. When moving between tracks there is some lag and higher bitrate audio files will also cause the handset to lag a little.
Full screen video playback is supported by RealPlayer. When I tried to play an 8.1MB MPEG4 video clip (320 x 240 pixels) the player gave me an error: “Media parameter exceeds allowed limit.” Smaller sized videos at the same resolution also caused errors. 3GPP clips captured by the 2mpx digital camera opened without error.
Java applications can be installed on the E6 by transferring the files to the memory card or internal memory and tapping the file in the file browser. When installed a new icon will be located on the menu selected when installing. I installed the JBenchmark testing applications onto the E6 and achieved the following results:
||HQ: 221; LQ: 234
The E6 also supports .pkg format applications, but these must be installed with a special application that can be found online. Most applications of this type are for accessing advanced functions of the handset.
Pre-loaded on the ROKR E6 are a range of applications that can make your life just that little bit easier.
The calendar application integrates with the home screen to display any upcoming appointments or meetings without even opening the calendar. The contact book can store multiple fields under a contact – as long as the contact has been stored on the phone memory and not on the SIM card. The handset can be synchronized using the Motorola Phone Tools software when connected to a PC via Bluetooth or USB.
The E6 also offers a world clock, note taker, multiple alarm clock, voice recorder, task manager, and calculator. A pre-installed application called BCR – Business Card Reader – uses the 2mpx digital camera to take a photo of a business card and extract important information, then insert it straight into a new contact. I scanned a few business cards to test out the functionality and it actually does quite a good job as long as there is enough light around the business card and you have switched the macro mode switch on the camera.
The E6 feels solid in hand, thanks mainly to the slim-line design of the handset. The front of the handset is completely flat and covered by glass that protects the display from any damage. The back of the handset is metal, and the only removable parts are the back battery cover and the stylus.
The SD slot on the right hand side of the handset has a hard plastic flap that protects the slot from any foreign particles. The flap itself is quite easy to open and close, but inserting SD cards is another story. Because the flap doesn’t come away from the handset it leaves very little space for your finger to push the SD card is completely to lock it in, or to push it in to unlock the card. I couldn’t manoeuvre my fingers to get the SD card in/out and instead just used the stylus tip to push the top of the card until I could grab it.
Most PDA’s these days carry a battery with a 1000mAh or higher capacity. The ROKR E6 uses a lithium-ion 1000mAh battery pack, and the estimations from Motorola on the battery life are up to 235 hours standby time and up to 7 hours talk time.
I found myself charging the E6 every three or four days. I would take many small calls and several longer calls in a day, as well as quite a lot of messaging (both SMS and MMS messaging). I didn’t use RealPlayer all that much, which would have affected the battery life to some extent.
When the E6 runs out of battery it will warn you for a few hours that the battery is running low, and then eventually turn itself off safely. You will not be able to turn it on unless you have plugged the wall charger in.
As a side note, the battery can be charged via the USB cable when connected to a PC – so you won’t need to lug around the charger if you’re worried about the battery dying but have a computer near. That said, when the E6 ran out completely I was unable to start it when it was connected to a PC and could only get it back to life by connecting it to the wall charger.