Review of the Motorola V220


The V220 is the baby of the V-series GSM flip phones, and as such it is priced lower and has fewer features than the other models in this group. That doesnít mean it lacks the stellar RF and audio qualities that most Motorola phones possess. In fact, the V220 is just as capable as the V300 that I tested a while ago, but the price difference doesnít quite justify the loss of features, as I will explain in this review.

Last Updated: 16-Oct-2004

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

Because of the great functional similarities to the V300 I will borrow some of my text for this review directly from the V300 review where the two phones are identical.

General

The shell of the V220 isnít quite as round-looking as the V300, nor does it share that phoneís soft rubbery shell. The hinge on the V220 that I tested didnít seem to have quite the same solidity as the V300 I tried in March, but there was very little difference otherwise. The external display of the V220 is standard black-on-white LCD rather than the inverted white-on-black scheme of the V300. Contrast and backlighting for the external display are rather disappointing, especially compared with the V300.

My other gripe with the display was its abbreviated width (though it shares this failing with the V300). When displaying just a phone number it has to squish all of the digits into the available space using a very small font and no spaces to differentiate the area code and exchange. For example, if you received a call from 905-555-5123 the display would show +19055555123, which isnít easy to read. However, it was a slight improvement over the V300ís external display, in that the icon appearing next to a name (when the number matches an entry in your phonebook) isnít quite so large, and therefore most of the name is visible. On the V300, only about 5 characters of a name was visible.

The internal color display is big disappointment over the V300 as well. Even though the phones share the same form factor, the V220 has a small 128 x 128 pixel Super-Twist LCD display. This compares poorly to the 176 x 220 pixel TFT display on the V300. I found that the colors on the internal display looked washed-out and they were difficult to see clearly. The display is almost impossible to see in bright sunlight. Even the 130 x 130 pixel display on my Motorola i730 looked markedly better, though it has a TFT display, which might explain why the colors are more vibrant on that phone.

The above notwithstanding, the font is handsome and extremely well-formed. Sadly Motorola forgot about their multiple-font-size feature that has appeared (for better or for worse) on most of their phones since the new menu scheme first appeared. Fortunately the standard font size is well-chosen, and while it only gives you 4 lines of text (after all of the Windows-like elements take up their space), it neither too big nor too small. However, the ability to use a smaller font when necessary would have been nice.

The keypad was generally quite nice, with traditional keys arranged in a slightly bowed rectangular arrangement. I wasnít too pleased with the top keys however. The 4-way cursor pad was difficult to use accurately, and the keys surrounding that were all flush with another and it was impossible to feel which key you were on. While numbers could be dialed by feel alone, using any other functionality required that looked at the phone. Even then you couldnít always know if you werenít going to press a nearby key by accident.

The operating system is pure Motorola, and it differs little from the menu system originally seen on such phones as the P280 and the V66. However, there have been some useful improvements, especially in the phonebook. The GSM guys at Motorola picked up a few ideas from their colleagues in the iDEN department and have created a more cohesive multi-number system. Itís still light years behind other manufacturers, but it is at least a vast improvement over the poor phonebook of the P280 days.

Text entry is via Motorolaís iTAP technology, but before you get too disgusted by that news let me tell you that implementation in the V220 is greatly improved over earlier attempts, though itís hardly the model of perfection. For starters they now support a user dictionary, and that dictionary will accept words containing numbers, so long as one of those numbers isnít a zero. I could enter words containing zeros (like V220) into the dictionary, but I couldnít figure out how to retrieve them.

The dictionary does not memorize the upper and lowercase status of each letter, and I was rather frustrated by the fact that a period is not the default character for the 1 key (an apostrophe is). At least Nokia phones are smart enough to accept the 1 key as a period if the next character is a space or an apostrophe otherwise. The V220 always treats it as an apostrophe, thus forcing you to press the cursor right key to select the period.

Like many phones these days the V220 includes a speakerphone feature. While I didnít have a V300 to compare with directly it seemed as though the V220 wasnít quite as loud. I re-read my comments concerning the V300, and there was no way I could describe the V220 as being that loud. The feature works well enough, but only in quiet environments. Microphone sensitivity is boosted when the speakerphone feature is activated, and the feature works just as well with the clamshell closed as it does with it open.

The phone supports Profiles, but they havenít improved in any way over those originally offered in the P280. Compared to many other phones on the market, and especially compared to Motorolaís own i730 and i830, the Profiles are fairly pitiful. They set the ring tone styles and ring tone volumes, but thatís about it.

Also like many phones these days the V220 includes a 640 x 480 camera. I took a sample photograph looking out my window, and another of the same scene with my Nikon Coolpix 990 in 640 x 480 mode. Unfortunately weíve been unable to get the image out of the phone, as Rogers MMS doesnít seem to work right. That picture is still in the V220, so if the owner ever manages to get something bigger than a 262 x 202 rendition of the image out of the phone, Iíll update this review and post the comparison (as I did for the V300).

The V220 sports Motorolaís slightly-improved Datebook functionality. It includes a terrific month-view, but aside from that it doesnít really offer very much added functionality over earlier efforts. There is only one type of Datebook entry, and while you can set alarms for them, the selection of times at which the alarm can be set for is rather limited by the way Motorola approaches the concept. Rather than letting you select an actual date and time for the alarm, you must tell the phone how many minutes, or hours, or days, or weeks in advance of the event that you wish to be reminded.

When it came to battery life, I was actually rather impressed. The phone uses a slim (low-capacity) battery, yet even after a full day of playing with the phone and making one to two hours of on-air tests I had only managed to drop the battery meter by 1 bar. I never actually ran the battery all the way down to find out how much longer it would have lasted, but the important point was I couldnít run the battery down in a single day. Unless you donít have access to a means of charging the phone on a nightly basis, the battery life the V220 should be fine.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

When it came to RF performance the V220 behaved almost the same as the V300. When tested at 850 MHz it performed extremely well, and it even bested my Siemens A56 by a small but noticeable margin. At 1900 MHz however, the performance of the phone was rather below that of my 1900-MHz-only Nokia 6310i. On Rogers this will usually not be an issue, since the Rogers network is setup to pass you over to 850 MHz once the signal gets below a certain threshold anyway.

Youíd normally never be in a situation where you had to rely on the phoneís ability to pick up a really weak 1900 MHz signal. There are exceptions to this however, including a number of indoor locations (such as Square One) that are primarily covered by 1900-MHz-only indoor repeaters. In parts of the mall where signals from outdoor 850 MHz sites are not present, the V220 will perform more poorly than a phone like the Nokia 6310i. If you unlock the phone to use on Fido youíll definitely notice the poorer performance of the 1900 MHz receiver of the V220, as thatís the only frequency that Fido works on.

Perhaps the greatest feature of the phone is its over-the-road performance. This is a measure of the receiverís ability to deal with on-the-move problems such frame errors, handoffs, multipath, etc. Like many other Motorola GSM models, including the V300 and the P280, the V220 is probably among the best there is. If any phone can make the Rogers network sound stable, this phone is it (though note that itís not better than the aforementioned V300 and P280).

Incoming audio quality is exceptional, which is something Iíve come to expect from most Motorola GSM phones. Not only is the sound quality out of the built-in earpiece quite nice, but so is the audio pumped out of the 2.5 mm headset jack. Youíd be surprised how many phones sound terrible when connected to headsets.

Like the V300, the V220 includes a Nokia-like audio-boost feature that increases the volume of the earpiece (even when set at maximum) if the background noise becomes a problem. With the boost feature engaged the V220 is almost as loud as my Nokia 6310i with its boost feature engaged.

Outgoing sound quality is quite nice, but really just mid-pack when compared to other GSM phones on the market. The outgoing quality with the speakerphone activated is surprisingly good, and itís possible to clearly hear voices over moderate background noise.

So, despite how great the V220 seems to be, my problem with it has more to do with its sister models than anything else. The no-contract price difference between the V220 and V300 is very small (about $50) and for that little difference Iíd rather have a bigger TFT screen with better color and ability to work in sunlight, Iíd rather have the wonderful rubberized shell, and Iíd rather have the voice recorder (among other missing features on the V220). In other words, given the choice Iíd prefer the V300.

However, the price difference does widen when you look at the available contract prices offered by Rogers. Despite that, Iíd caution you to look carefully at the V300 as an alternative to the V220. I just think the V220 has been stripped of too many of the V300ís features (without offering anything unique) to warrant getting it over the V300.

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