|My Impressions of the Motorola Timeport and ST7867W|
Timeport is a dual-mode CDMA phone available from Clearnet PCS. The
ST7867W is the sister phone available from Bell Mobility
Disclaimer: The following review represents my personal opinion. No bench testing was performed on this or any phone reviewed on my web page. If you don't agree with something I say, you are certainly welcome to politely bring it to my attention (in public or private). However, any out-and-out insults or flames will be ignored.
The two phones are electronically identical, and they differ only in terms of their outer shells.
The phone sports the familiar StarTac form factor, which I personally find very comfortable. With the standard battery, the phone tips the scales at 4.5 ounces (127 grams). That’s a bit lighter than the Nokia 6185/6188, which tips the scales at 5.2 ounces (149 grams), or the Samsung 8580 at 4.8 ounces (135 grams). The unit can use most of the StarTac accessories, except (in the case of the Timeport) for those that rely heavily upon the exact dimensions of the phone.
The Timeport's styling differs from that of the StarTac in a number of key ways. First of all, instead of having vertical sides that end in a bulging hinge, the Timeport's sides taper outward at the top so that the hinge appears flush (even though it is the same width as on the StarTac). The Timeport has a slightly concave keypad surface instead of the dead-flat surface of the StarTac's keypad. The Timeport uses smooth silver plastic instead of the textured black plastic. Note that the plastic on the Timeport is silver through-and-through, so scratches will not reveal an ugly off-color interior.
One rather subtle difference between the two actually makes a huge difference in the overall perception of quality. The ST7867W continues to use that curious plastic insert over the earpiece. Like all the StarTac models I have tried over the years, the insert inevitably creaks a little when you press the phone against your ear. The Timeport's earpiece area is one solid molding, so it does not creak.
The display is a pixel matrix LCD design with separate icons for various features. It is quite easy to read, especially in the dark due to its blue luminescent backlighting. Even the keys are backlit in blue. The contrast and readability of the display is very good, but not quite as good as the Samsung 8580. Like the Samsung however, the Timeport uses rather wasteful non-proportional fonts that do not have true descenders. That means that letters like “g” look rather odd. Aside from that, the fonts look fairly handsome, and they are easy to read.
The display is not visible when the phone is closed, but Motorola does allow you to turn off the “answer when open” feature. This allows you to view the Caller ID information before you decide to answer the phone (by pressing the TALK button). Many people like the idea of a phone that answers when they unfold it, but that comes at a price. You can’t see who is calling prior to answering the phone under those circumstances.
The keypad looks very handsome, and it has good (thought not quite excellent) feel. However, I found that the Timeport had a better-looking keypad, with keys that pressed more easily. Unlike other StarTac models, the Timeport/ST7867W does not have a recessed keypad. The keys stick up enough to feel like keys, instead of holes in the faceplate. The only exceptions are the Power and End keys, which are recessed to prevent accidental pressing. The keys stick up more on the Timeport because of that concave keyboard I talked about earlier.
The keyboard layout is a bit odd however, as I found the TALK and END buttons extremely hard to reach. Although it is possible to dial this phone with one hard, it requires a fair amount of concentration. The flip is also difficult to open with just one hand, since the phone has no tabs sticking out of the side for your finger to catch on.
The phone comes with a belt clip “holder”. You clip the holder onto your belt or pocket, and then you lock the phone into the holder when you aren’t using it. I found the holder to be convenient, and it was consistently easy to use. I originally felt that the Timeport's holder was inferior to the holder provided with the ST7867W, but the more I used it, the more I liked it.
The phone includes a built-in vibrator alert, which unlike many other Motorola models is relatively weak. It is difficult to feel it through anything thicker than a T-shirt. The strength is slightly better than the anemic Nokia 6185 or Samsung 8580, but not by that much.
The ringers are better than the Samsung 8580, but that isn’t saying much. Although the Timeport has a louder ring than the 8580, it has at least as poor a selection. The hands-down winner for ring tone selection and volume is the Nokia 61xx series.
Battery life is excellent with the standard battery. Motorola claims 3.5 hours of talk time, and 110 hours of standby time. I never had a chance to perform detailed tests on that, but my seat-of-the-pants feeling was that the phone lives up to its claims.
The build quality of the phone did not seem up to the standards we have come to expect from the cell phone industry. It is sad that the once-mighty Motorola should be near the bottom of the pack when it comes to perceived construction quality. The phone feels flimsy, and even if it does hold up over time, one gets the impression that squeezing it too tightly would crush it. However, the phone is probably more durable than it looks, but only time will tell.
The menu system on this phone is typical Motorola. Although it seemed nice enough on the surface, it has a very odd logic to its design. I did get used to it, but I much prefer the logical layout of the Nokia phones, or even the Samsung 8580. There is no convenient method for stepping back one level in the menu hierarchy. In many instances, if you end up in the wrong place you must start from scratch. You also can’t use numeric shortcuts to menus as you can on the Nokia and Samsung phones. Note that the phone seems to have some numeric shortcuts, but they don't seem to make any sense.
You can redial the last number by pressing the TALK button, but not if you pressed any other keys during the last call. If you did enter keys during the last call, you have to remember to press the CLR key before you press TALK. This is one of the most frustrating features of most Motorola phones, and one that drives me completely up the wall. You can access the last 10 dialed numbers through the menu, but getting there requires at least 3 keystrokes.
The phone also stores the last 16 received calls, but it does not waste any space by duplicating entries. If a call comes in from a phone number that was already in the list, a new entry will not be created. Although the list doesn't look as though it makes distinction between received and missed calls, it actually does. It even tells you how many time the same person called while you were away from the phone.
The Phone Book will store up to 99 Names, with up to 4 numbers associated with each. That gives you a maximum of 396 phone numbers. The Timeport uses icons to represent the different number types (work, home, mobile, pager, fax, and other), rather than hard-to-read uppercase letters as is the case with the 8580. You may also have more than one number using the same icon if you want. This is probably the only area where the Timeport’s user interface is actually better than the 8580's.
Despite its small size, the phone also includes an industry-standard 2.5 mm headset jack. This jack can be found at the top of the phone, thus making it accessible when wearing the unit on a belt. Volume and clarity through the headset is also very good, though I did notice some interference from the luminescent display. This problem was quite minor, and it disappeared completely when the backlight went off. You can ensure the backlight is off by closing the clamshell (as this does not cause it to hang up if the headset is plugged in).
The volume controls for the phone are conveniently mounted on the side of the unit, and they are easy to reach. The phone also has an incredible ability to blot out background noise in the transmit audio, though this is generally a trait of most CDMA phones. After a 15 minute call to my wife from Highway 401, she expressed surprise to learn that I was in the car. She said she could not hear any background noise the entire time.
The microphone is placed in such a way that you actually get the best performance by holding the phone down below your mouth. This is much more comfortable than having it right in front of your mouth as you must do with the Samsung 8580. The Samsung’s microphone is simply not sensitive enough to work in any other position.
Sound Quality and RF Performance
What the phone lacks in build quality, it more than makes up for in electronic quality. The phone has perhaps the best CDMA performance of any model out there. The audio is loud, crisp, and clean. The RF performance is right up there with the best phones on the market, and its ability to provide faultless audio under varying conditions is virtually unmatched. It virtually never dropped calls. It is these attributes that most impress me. Since after all is said and done, a phone is a phone, and how it sounds and performs is what you are really paying for. Slick user interfaces are great when you're playing with the phone, but they don't make it work better when you're in the middle of an important call.
There has been some discussion in the Clearnet newsgroup concerning the sound quality of the Timeport. Everyone agrees that it sounds terrific, but there is some disagreement over how much better it is than the competition. Most of the discussion has centered on comparisons to the Samsung 8580. I tested an 8580 just before I got the Timeport, and my own personal opinion is that the Timeport sounds markedly better. The same can be said of the ST7867W.
The problem with 8580 is that it sounds muddy and peaky. Every single person I spoke with using the 8580 agreed that it sounded muddy, and they couldn’t always make out the nuances of my speech (such as the differences between an “f” sound and an “s” sound). Everyone also tells me that the Timeport sounds terrific, with clean crisp highs, and a strong resounding low end to back it up.
That same description applies to the receive audio, which is almost completely free of the annoying background hiss that accompanies every other Clearnet phone (except for the Qualcomm 1960/2760 "Thin Phone"). The Timeport does produce a faint background noise caused by the luminescent display, but that disappears completely once the backlight goes off. I don't think I've heard a phone so gloriously free of background noise as the Timeport. It is simply stunning.
Another excellent feature of the phone is its ability to provide almost faultless audio reproduction. In the early days of CDMA implementation, I was totally put off by the odd audio problems that seemed ever-present. The industry has mostly cured that problem by moving to the more robust EVRC CODEC. However, not all phones seem to implement this new CODEC equally. The 8580 does a very good job, but its audio never quite sounded as rock-steady as what I was accustomed to with Fido. For a complete discussion of the EVRC CODE, click here.
At the time of this writing, Clearnet automatically supports EVRC. If you are using the ST7867W on Bell Mobility, you'll have to turn that mode on for yourself. To do so, type 862633, FNC, FNC. Now select EVRC from the menu by repeatedly pressing the left or right arrow keys, and then press the STO button. The phone will remember this setting, even after being power-cycled.
The Timeport and the ST7867W must have the best-implemented EVRC in the industry. Not only do they sound cleaner and crisper than the Qualcomm or Nokia implementations, they also manage to provide what sounds like error-free audio reproduction. Note that even Motorola can’t circumvent the laws of physics, so when the Bit Error Rate goes up too high (as is inevitably the case during rush hour), it suffers just like the rest of the CDMA phones out there. However, on Clearnet and Bell Mobility's networks in the GTA, outside of rush hour, the audio is staggeringly good on these phones.
It is so good in fact that I would rank it as almost as good as what you normally get with Fido. However, EVRC just isn't up to the task when it comes to reproducing high-frequency voice components such as "s" sounds. Still, for most people this isn't all that big an issue, though I will say that I found it annoying. Since the problem is related to EVRC, and not the phone, you aren't going to find anything better in a different CDMA phone. Compared to the rest of the CDMA hardware out there, the Timeport and ST7867W are tops with it comes to sound quality.
In terms of RF performance, I found very little difference between the Timeport/ST7867W and the Samsung 8580. Both were excellent when it came to holding on to a signal during a call, and both switched between analog and digital equally well. Since Clearnet does not allow you to force analog, it is important that your phone makes the transition to analog quickly and cleanly while it is idling. Neither phone gets rid of the dreaded “dead zone” at the very fringes of digital coverage, but both do make the zone as small as possible.
However, the ability of the phone to receive calls in weak areas with its retractable antenna down was less than inspiring. The performance was no different that I found in the 8580, but it just couldn't touch the antenna-down performance of the original Sony phone (which I tested side-by-side in those weak areas). If you plan to use the phone in a very weak area, keep the antenna up.
So on Clearnet is the Timeport really worth more money than the Samsung 8580? On Bell Mobility, is the ST7867W really worth buying over all those other phones Bell offers? That depends upon your point-of-view. The Samsung (and many of the other choices available) clearly wins in the features, user-interface, and quality-of-construction categories. However, as I have already noted, I consider those things to be of secondary importance to sound quality. If you feel the same way, then you really owe it to yourself to try the Timeport or ST7867W. If you don’t really care that much about sound quality, or you feel that the competition sounds good enough, then I can’t really think of any compelling reasons why you would want to get a Timeport over say a Samsung 8580. For those who are picky about sound quality however, there simply is no other choice.
Other Reviews of the Motorola Timeport
by Steve Romaine