|Review of the Audiovox CDM-8300|
Iím a little late reviewing the Audiovox CDM-8300, since until recently no one had lent me one. Fortunately Telus is still selling this model, and so the review is relevant to those who might be in the market for a phone such as this.
Last Updated: 31-Mar-2003
Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.
The 8300 is a relatively small and light candy bar style phone with a fairly generous screen that boasts 126 x 96 pixels in 4 shades of gray. It also boasts a number of high-end features such as a built-in speakerphone, voice recorder, a scheduler, voice dialing, polyphonic ringtones, and much more.
My testing of the phone revealed a model that was both desirable and repulsive at the same time. This was the result of mixing truly excellent performance and features with bad implementation and a cheap earpiece. The 8300 had the potential of being the best phone in the Telus lineup, but it blew it. Letís begin by looking at the features that were done right:
First up is the speakerphone. While it canít hold a candle to the Motorola i85 for sheer volume and clarity, the implementation on the 8300 is far above what Iíve been seeing on other phones. It provides enough volume to be useable in all but the noisiest environments, and the microphone does a very credible job of picking up voices from up to 2 meters or more away from the phone. It also does this with reasonable sound quality.
The screen is large and easy to read, though sadly it does have a rather dim backlight for use at night. That aside though, Audiovox makes good use of the 4 shades of gray offered by the display, and provides such features as animated wallpaper, and excellent icons. The screen real estate is also high enough to provide quite a bit of information on the screen at one time.
The phone provides an array of polyphonic ringtones, some of which sound like standard ringtones. Iím delighted to report that most of the tones are fairly loud, and I had no trouble hearing the phone ring, even in moderately noisy environments. It is also possible to upload new ringtones to the phone.
The phonebook, while a little difficult to navigate at times, provides lots useful functionality, and it almost rivals the one offered on the recent Nokia models. Each phonebook entry can contain up to 5 phone numbers, an e-mail address, a web address, and a generic text note. The only thing that prevents this implementation from being hailed as excellent is that you canít duplicate types of entries. That means you canít, for example, have two phone numbers designated as ďcell phoneĒ, or two text fields defined as ďtext notesĒ. You must have one of each type, and that limits the flexibility.
To its credit, the 8300 phonebook does provide a method of searching that Iíve not personally seen since I tested the Samsung 8580. You can enter a portion of a phone number, and the phone will display all entries in which that string of digits is found. Say for example I remembered that a phone number in my phonebook ended in 1123, but I couldnít remember the beginning. All Iíd have to do is enter 1123 and have the phone search for any entries containing those 4 digits (in that order) any place in the phone number.
The keypad is well organized, but I couldnít give it truly high praise because it was rather mushy feeling. I also wasnít too pleased with the 4-way joystick, since pressing it directly down didnít always perform the select function that it was supposed to. Otherwise, the joystick worked reasonably well when navigating the menus.
The Scheduler is very similar to Nokiaís Calendar, and it provides most of the same functionality. Unfortunately, this is one of the poorly designed aspects of the phone, and navigating your way through the confusing menu and entry system for the scheduler makes it a bit of a pain to use.
The phone also includes an insanely large number of security options. You can lock out all sorts of different features of the phone so that the user has to know a password to get at them. This seems like overkill, since I canít image why you would want to, for example, selectively lock out the incoming calls log, the outgoing calls log, and/or the missed calls log. Still, feature overkill never hurt anyone, and the locks are there, if you need them.
Not including any comments concerning RF performance or audio quality (which I cover separately later in the review) that completes the list of the really good features. Next are the features that could have been great if they hadnít been handled poorly:
The menu response speed is hideously slow. Until now I considered the original Nokia 6185 and 6188 to have the slowest menus around. The 8300 takes the award away from Nokia with plenty of room to spare. In short, I was flabbergasted at just how slow the menu response was. Depending upon your sensibilities, it has the potential to be one of the most annoying features of the phone, bar none.
The phone includes a voice recorder, but sadly it doesnít allow you to record a phone conversation. Iíve noticed this on virtually all of the CDMA phones Iíve tested, which makes me believe that the capabilities of the voice recorders have been crippled deliberately by the providers in fear of being sued. However, I find that built-in recorders are truly useful for recording your caller when you arenít in a position to write down important information. Too bad you canít do that with this phone.
To make matters worse, the recorder doesnít allow you to play back voice notes using the otherwise excellent built-in speaker. The speaker canít be activated while playing a recording, nor does it play through the speaker if you activate the speakerphone before playing a recording.
Finally, you canít erase voice notes individually. You must erase all of them or none at all. This all makes its utility rather questionable, and so what could have been a terrific feature is nothing more than a good-sounding item for the advertisers to include in the feature list.
Another feature (that relates to the voice recorder) is what Audiovox refers to as Call Answer. It is essentially an answering machine, and I canít for the life of me figure out why youíd want one. Not only do all providers have voicemail services on their networks, but in order to use the Call Answer feature, your phone must have service. Whatís the point of such a feature if you canít record messages in the situations you most often need it (when out of the coverage area, or while you phone is turned off)? I will admit that it does offer one feature that voicemail can't: you can screen calls before deciding if you want to answer them. If this sounds like something you'd want from a phone, then perhaps it is a good feature.
The phone supports T9 predictive text input, but it does not provide a user dictionary. That means any word that isnít in the primary dictionary must be hand-entered each and every time you need it. Like an assortment of Motorola phones that Iíve reviewed, the 8300 is one of the few models not to allow user-defined words in T9. Because of this, it makes the T9 feature of dubious value.
The phone does not support Profiles, which is a concept originally deployed by Nokia about 6 years ago. Without it, youíll have considerable trouble changing the ring volumes and styles to suit different environments. To its credit though, the 8300 does offer a one-key method to quickly switch between standard and vibrate modes. And speaking of that, the vibrator on the 8300 is fairly feeble.
RF Performance and Audio Quality
RF performance of the 8300 is excellent, and it virtually rivals the Ericsson T206 for sensitivity and its ability to provide rock-solid connections until the RF drops off the map. It even works well at 1900 MHz with the retractable antenna in the down the position. During on-road testing, the phone provided resistance to audio disturbances that rivaled my ST-7868W. So in terms of RF, the 8300 is among the best phones Iíve tested on the Telus network.
In situations where the RF became weak, the phone was very quick to search for an alternative network, thus removing the risk that youíd be stranded in never-neverland while on the fringes of coverage. Even once the phone had switched to analog, it would easily switch back to digital if a signal was present.
Audio quality was a bit of a mixed bag. When using the phone through its native earpiece, the sound was tinny, shallow, and often peaky. In other words, it sounded awful. However, when connected to an earbud or headset the phone sounded surprisingly good. Iíve never before encountered a phone that sounded much better on an attached audio device than it did on the native earpiece, at least not to this extent. Once again, this demonstrates the love-hate relationship I quickly established with this phone.
The outgoing audio wasnít anything to get excited about, but overall I found that it provided marginally better quality than virtually all of the other 1X phones Iíve thus far tested. It even sounded acceptable when using an earbud in a moving car. However, the audio volume was rather low, which might be why it gets around some of the nasty noise cancellation problem inherent in the CODEC.
So in the end, I canít decide if I should recommend the phone, or tell you steer clear of it. The 8300 is a perplexing mix of excellence and outrageously poor quality all in one package. Youíll have to look at which of the phoneís features are important to you, and hope that those coincide with the things the phone does well. If they do, then the 8300 could be a perfect phone for you. If they donít, I would suggest you look elsewhere.