Review of the Motorola PEBL


The Motorola PEBL is a stylish, if a tad impractical, phone offered by Fido. It is the first phone from Motorola that Iíve tested since the days of the P280/V60 that possesses Motorolaís excellent audio and RF qualities.

The Motorola PEBL is available on Fido.

Last Updated: 17-Oct-2006

It seemed that since the P280 Motorolaís GSM division had become a bit lost. While the Vxxx series of phones were good for the most part, their RF/audio quality was all over the map. Some were okay, while others were horrible. None sounded quite as rich and solid as the P280 and V60G, though they certainly had more features.

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: The PEBL holds it own against various Nokia models and has RF sensitivity thatís about as good as it gets. However, I did note that the RF sensitivity of an older Nokia 6340i was actually a tad better, but the difference was relatively slight. The PEBL was tested for RF at the same time as the Nokia 6061, and it was slightly better that phone (though once again, only by a slim margin).

Over-the-road Performance: One of the great things about Motorolaís GSM phones is the way they deal with handoffs. Sadly one of the major drawbacks of GSM is how OBVIOUS handoffs can be. Iíve often criticized Nokia phones for handling this poorly, but Motorola has always managed to do it better. Handoffs on the PEBL sound like nothing more than a momentary loss of audio, with no detectably damage or modification to the audio. Using the PEBL in a moving vehicle produces results that are about as good as youíll ever hear in a GSM phone.

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: Absolutely gorgeous. My first response to the overall tonal quality of the PEBL was similar to my original reaction to the P280. The phone sounds like it is light years better than anything else out there, though on some voices it can prove to be a just a tad bassy. Sure, the source material has to be of good quality to really get the most of out this phone, but on many of the calls I made with the PEBL, the quality was just beyond reproach.

Sound Reproduction: Also like the P280, the PEBL seems like it can magically erase distortion and other maladies that afflict many calls (from the source, or from network-introduced distortion). I donít believe that phone is actually capable of doing that, but what it does seem to do is wring every ounce of goodness out a call and it reproduces each and ever nuance of speech with amazing accuracy.

There is also NO HISS at all in the background, which can sometimes make you believe that youíre call has disconnected while your caller isnít speaking. In a quiet environment this is really quite a joy to hear. However, during a number of calls I made using this phone I noticed that it seemed to be trying to cut out the audio during silent periods and it sometimes lobbed off the beginnings or the endings of words. That was rather annoying and the only blotch on the otherwise pristine audio

Earpiece Volume: The volume of the earpiece is fine, but it could do with being a bit louder. If you have access to the right software, you can modify the gain tables in the PEBL and greatly increase the overall volume. However, even in its native configuration the earpiece is plenty loud enough (it just doesnít have the overhead to deal with quiet callers when youíre in a noisy environment).

Outgoing Audio: The outgoing audio sounds good, but compared to the incoming audio it falls a little short. The phone deals well with loud background noise like the cars on a busy street, but it doesnít cope quite so well with the din at a crowded shopping mall. The plethora of voices in the background seems to distort the outgoing audio a little, though it isnít overly objectionable.

Speakerphone: The speakerphone is a mixed bag. It produces reasonable volume levels, which makes it loud enough to use in even moderately noisy environments. However, like Motorola iDEN models prior to last year, it has a nasty habit of cutting out when noises in the background are deemed to be speech by the phone. This can make your conversations difficult, as you sometimes have to ask your callers to repeat themselves. Overall tonal quality isnít exactly stellar either, but itís adequate.

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: The little speaker used for the speakerphone is also used for the ringer, which like virtually all phones on the market these days can play MP3 files. There arenít a lot of loud ringtones available on the phone, but some are at least loud enough to suffice. Fortunately the vibrator is quite strong and if you set the phone to ring and vibrate simultaneously, you can at least feel the phone, even if you canít hear it.

Keypad Design: Ugh! The keypad on the PEBL (like the similar one found on the RAZR) is an excellent example of functionality taking a backseat to looks. The design is arguable no worse than a standard flush design, and so long as you are careful where you place your fingers you shouldnít have too much trouble. However, like flush keypad designs it suffers from being nearly impossible to use without paying careful attention to it. In addition, because the digits arenít horizontally aligned, shifting your thumb over from any of the middle keys (2, 5, or 8) will put it right in the middle of two of the outer keys.

The 4-way cursor pad is a more traditional design, but itís really tiny and itís difficult to feel where your thumb is at any given time. While it isnít the worst 4-way pad Iíve ever tried, it certainly comes close.

Display: The inner display is 176 x 220 pixels with 18-bit color depth (65,000 colors). The colors look good, but unfortunately the backlight isnít very bright and itís rather difficult to see outdoors (much less in direct sunlight). Indoors however, the display is of good quality and pleasant to look at.

The external display is reverse monochrome (white characters on a dark blue background). The slender display is mounted up-and-down rather than across the phone as you find in most models. When a call comes in the Caller ID is displayed lengthwise on the display and you can choose which way around the letters are presented. This unique approach means that you look at the external display with the phone turned sideways, much like an alpha-numeric pager. For the most part it seems to work well.

Icing on the Cake

Camera: The camera is only a 640x480 VGA type and the picture quality is relatively poor. You can transfer pictures from the phone using Bluetooth, but there is no external memory card, which severely limits the number of pictures you can store anyway. Clearly the camera in this model is intended solely for taking pictures to use as wallpaper or picture ID, or for sending to other phones via MMS.

Conclusions

Iíve often said that if a phone had solid core functionality that Iíd love it no matter how poorly it did everything else. The PEBL is just such a phone. It has excellent RF and audio qualities while offering very little extra and a horrific keypad. The PEBL is clearly designed to be a fashion phone, but with good core functionality in there too, itís certainly a great fashion phone.

The problem is how Fido prices this model. If bought outright the price of $350 is just way too much for what you get. On the other hand, Fido really discounts the price if you are willing to sign with a 2 or 3 year contract. On a 2 year contract the price drops dramatically to only $100, which actually makes it only $35 more than a bottom-end Nokia 6061. On a 3 year contract the price drops to $50. So, if you are willing to sign a contract, the price is not bad, but if you prefer month-to-month or pre-paid, the PEBL is a bit pricy.

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