Review of the Motorola v300


The V300 is a compact GSM clamshell phone that supports 850 MHz and 1900 MHz for use in North America, and 900 MHz for use in most other parts of the world. Itís missing only support for 1800 MHz, which isnít as big a hindrance as you might think. Just about any country that has GSM1800 has GSM900, and many of the older and better-established networks are on 900 MHz anyway. Just the same, if you really must have a quad-band phone, you can wait for the release of the V600.

Last Updated: 28-Mar-2004

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

General

The first thing that really struck me about the V300 was its overall shape, size, and feel. Unlike any of the other V-series phones, the V300 comes with a soft rubber-like coating that makes it feel silky in your hand, and helps it to grip surfaces and avoid sliding around. When opened the phone has what feels like the perfect weight and proportions (for my hands at any rate), and it has excellent balance (which important in a clamshell design). The hinge is rock-solid, and it seemed more like the sturdy design of a Samsung than of a Motorola. If you arenít a big fan of clamshell designs (which Iím not) the V300 could change your mind.

Like virtually all clamshell designs these days it has an external display that shows you the time, battery condition, and signal level during idle, and the name or number of an incoming call. Motorola also uses a reverse LCD layout, not unlike many car radio designs. This means white-on-black instead of the traditional black-on-white lettering. Backlight is provided by deep blue LEDs.

My only gripe with the display was its abbreviated width. 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.

When displaying a name form the phone book it can display only the first 5 or 6 characters of the name, mainly because quite a bit of space is used up by the icon represent the category of the number (home, work, fax, etc), and another icon to indicate an incoming call (like you really need that for reinforcement). For example, when I called the phone Iíd see a little bouncing phone logo, a second logo telling which type of phone number it was, followed by an inordinately large amount blank space, followed finally by ďSteveÖĒ. Umm, Steve who? There are too many pointless logos and not enough real information for my liking.

The internal screen is a completely different matter. Itís easily the best color screen Iíve seen since the Sharp GX22. It doesnít quite have the resolution of the Sharp (220x176 pixels on the V300 vs 320x240 pixels on the GX22), but the overall crispness and color clarity were at least on par. It would have been great to have a GX22 to compare directly, but as I didnít, I had to go with what I could remember. The main display is perhaps one of the phoneís best features.

While the screen is quite large, Motorola wastes a lot of screen real estate in many of the menus and input screens by trying to be cute and Windows-like. In many instances for example you get only 7 lines of useable text while the rest of the screen is taken up with status bars and faded versions of the background image to give you the feel of a window-on-a-desktop (just like your home computer). Thankfully they do provide full-screen input for SMS and email messages. Generally however, I believe that Motorola has under-utilized the gorgeous screen on this phone in the name of looks.

The font is handsome and extremely readable. 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. Without a font size option the standard font is just too small for some applications. Itís great if you have the luxury of time to look closely at the screen, but if youíre in a situation where you must glance quickly (such as when you are driving) a larger font would have been a welcome addition.

The keypad is a bit of a mixed bag. The numeric keys arenít too bad, as they are raised enough to be felt easily without looking at them, and they press with a positive and reassuring click. I virtually never made keying errors with the numeric keys. I wasnít awfully thrilled about the some-round-some-rectangular design, but in reality it never really presented much of a problem.

I canít say the same for the 4-way cursor. The ring containing the 4 cursor keys lacked sufficient feel, and I often had trouble getting these keys to response as expected. I often found myself frustrated with them. The okay button in the middle of the ring wasnít too bad, and the collection of 5 larger buttons surround the 4-way ring seemed to work well enough. I adjusted to the feel of the keypad, but I never felt at home with it.

The volume buttons on the side of the phone fell readily to hand, and were easy to discern. However, the voice-dial/recorder button on the right hand side of the phone seemed difficult to press, and even harder to keep pressed while recording something the caller was saying. I would have preferred a press-to-start and press-to-end system for the voice recorder.

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.

The phone supports Picture ID, which displays a photograph on the internal display to match the caller. However, in order to use this feature you must turn off the open-to-answer mode, and you must press a key to accept or reject the call. It also takes quite a few seconds from the time you open the phone to the time that the picture is displayed (which gets worse as you put more pictures into the phoneís memory). This means you have to stand there looking like an idiot while you stare at a ringing phone. This feature is poorly implemented, and of limited novelty value.

Text entry is via Motorolaís iTAP technology, but before you get too disgusted by that news let me tell you that implementation in the V300 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 V300) 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 V300 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 V300 includes a speakerphone feature. For once we have a small phone with enough volume to make the speakerphone truly useful in day-to-day applications. While the speaker volume isnít nearly as loud as a typical Motorola iDEN phone (even the i730, which is among the quietest of the line) it still blasts past the silly excuse for speakerphones on most other phones. You can have comfortable two-way conversations using the speakerphone, even in mildly noisy 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 V300 comes packed with some very neat musical ringtones that sound so good on the built-in speaker that you might actually play them just for entertainment. They could do with being a bit louder, but overall they seem to function well, and will likely be a big hit with the target audience.

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, 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 V300 includes a camera, but the quality of the 640 x 480 images is very disappointing. The following two images demonstrate the vast difference between the quality of the V300ís camera and a Nikon Coolpix 990 set to take 640 x 480 images. Please note that before I took these pictures I thoroughly cleaned the lens using a proper lens cleaning cloth. The photograph was not taken through glass, and there was nothing between the lens and image to distort results. No post-processing was done to these pictures, they appear exactly as they were rendered by the cameras.

The above photograph was taken with the V300.
Note the Fisheye effect.
 
The above photograph was taken with the Nikon Coolpix 990
in 640 x 480 mode

The quality was so poor in fact that even when I used the snaps Iíd taken as wallpaper I could still see how poor they were. I wanted to upload a picture Iíd taken with the Coolpix camera, but I ran into size restrictions in the email client, which I will discuss later.

The V300 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. Oddly you cannot ask to have the reminder fired at the same time as the event. The closest you can get is 1 minutes in advance.

The V300 has a built-in voice recorder, which can be used to record your own voice, or both sides of a telephone conversation. Sound quality of the recordings is not bad, but itís hardly stellar. It should suit your needs. Maximum combined recording time is rather short at approximately 2 minutes. This is strangely undersized for a phone with megabytes of memory in it.

I didnít much like the fact that to record a conversation you had to press and hold the button on the right side of the phone. If that button had better feel I might have liked it a bit more (the one on the P280 wasnít bad). Another annoying feature is a beep that is recorded every 10 seconds. During playback the beep is so loud that it makes you pull the phone away from your ear. There is no apparent way to play your recordings through the speaker.

The microbrowser makes excellent use of the screen real estate, and it would be a terrific browser if it wasnít so damned slow. Scrolling through even simple screens containing text links is an exercise in frustration. Sluggish browsers seem to be the norm for all Motorola phones (which I had tested).

The V300 includes a POP3 email client that allows you to use your GPRS connection to send and receive email. It worked great for sending email, or for receiving mail without attachments. However, there seems to be an upper limit of 60,000 bytes per message, else the client refuses to download it (even the header, arghhh). I tried to set the limit to 0 in hopes that I could get around the download limitation, but nothing seemed to work. If anyone knows how to get around this, Iíd appreciate hearing form you.

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 V300 should be fine.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

But what about RF and audio performance? In that regard the V300 is a reasonably good phone, though not as stellar as Iíd expected. My ability to compare RF performance at 850 MHz however was sorely limited, and for the time being the only phone I had to make the comparison with was a Motorola C333. I was able to test the phone against many others at 1900 MHz, fortunately.

Testing the phone at 1900 MHz was just a matter of finding an area where 850 MHz signals were not present. Fortunately the cell site inside of Square One has only 1900 MHz channels on it, and so I was able to use the usual Hall of Shame to run my tests. I was rather surprised to find that the V300 had mediocre performance at 1900, and was beaten handily by the Nokia 6310i, Nokia 6190, and by the C333!!! This isnít to say that the 1900 MHz performance of the V300 is poor, only that it could be better.

Testing 850 MHz was also easy, and I was able to do that inside Square One as well. Over in the far corner of the lower level of Sears the in-mall cell site had no reach. All signals there came from sites outside of the store, and so 850 MHz was preferred by both the V300 and the C333. I had Field Test Mode operating on both of these phones to ensure that I was indeed on an 850 MHz channel during the test. On this band the V300 performed just as well as the C333, at least in terms of pulling in a signal. It did a better of job of making weak signals sound clearer (a definite weakness of the C333).

Over-the-road performance was one of the phoneís really strong points. Like many good-quality Motorola phones the V300 handles network problems and handoffs quite well. This is one place where the V300 has it all over C333, as the over-the-road performance of the C333 is horrendously bad.

Incoming audio quality is exceptional, with excellent tonal balance and sound reproduction. Sadly the earpiece volume is too low (especially on Rogers, which has lower audio volume than Fido). The phone apparently has an audio boost feature, like that found in many Nokia and Kyocera phones. When the background noise gets over a certain level the phone automatically increases the earpiece volume (though not by a whole lot).

Fortunately the V300 is a lot like the i730, in that it provides excellent volume to the headset jack. If you use a good-quality headset or earbud (like the Samsung earbud I use) then youíll find the audio quality is just as nice as on the native earpiece, but a whole lot louder. The V300 does not support Bluetooth, and so youíll have to settle for a tethered headset of some sort.

Outgoing sound quality is good, but not nearly as good as the incoming audio. The phone can cope well with loud background noises like the deafening roar in my Wifeís 1977 pickup truck on the highway. Oddly the outgoing audio actually sounds better in the presence of background noise than it does in a quiet environment.

So despite some glaring weaknesses and omissions, the V300 is a very competent phone. If I were personally in the market for a GSM phone on Rogers I would give serious consideration to getting a V300. Iíd consider it because of its strong points, rather than reject it for what it doesnít do so well.

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