Review of the Motorola P7389i

The P7389i is the latest GPRS phone from Motorola.

Last Updated: 17-Sep-2001

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

Beginning with this review, I am going to break down my summary of the phone by relating its suitability to various user types. Obviously not everyone has the same demands of a phone, and it is unfair to judge a phone purely on the requirements of one small group of people. Youíll therefore be able to identify the group (or groups) that you feel you best fit, and read my recommendations on that basis. Hopefully this will help to alleviate the bad feelings I generate when I say nasty things about other peopleís favorite phones. The bulk of the review will focus on the various elements of the phone (as always), but Iíll try to keep the editorializing and comparisons to those specific features only.

General

If you mistake the 7389 for a 7089 on first glance, donít feel too bad. In almost every single way, the 7389 is nothing more than a 7089 with GPRS grafted onto it. They share the same casing, keyboard, and display, as well as the same menu system, the same feature set, and the same RF and audio characteristics.

Like the 7089, this a tri-band model that will work anywhere in the world in which GSM is supported. Since no GSM provider in Canada is presently selling the 7389, the only ones youíll be able to buy are gray market models from foreign web sites. Prices should be in the $500 to $600 range. However, I would guess that there is a good chance youíll see SiMPRO support this model.

The 7389 is a fairly big phone by todayís standards, and it has dimensions that are almost identical to the old Nokia 6190. It has nicely rounded contours that felt comfortable in my hands. I wasnít quite as pleased with the feel of the earpiece against my ear, but others may not find it quite so objectionable. Still, Iíve never really found a non-StarTac Motorola phone that I would rate highly for ďear feelĒ.

The phone includes a built-in vibrator alert, which was actually quite strong. Iíve often complained that vibrators in phones are too feeble, but the 7389 wasnít quite so bad. I would still have preferred a stronger vibrator, but given that it was better than most other phones on the market, I had to give it top marks here.

Like the 7089, the screen is backlit only by LEDs, rather than the much nicer electro luminescent displays used on other Motorola models. However, it does have a reflective emerald background that reflects much of the ambient light around you, and so it produces extremely sharp contrast under most lighting conditions. If it werenít for the excessively tiny fonts used on this phone, its display would be excellent.

The keypad is nicely laid out, but the keys are a bit stiff, and they lack any real positive feedback. However, they have just the right amount of ďbulgeĒ, and they are easy to actuate with just one hand. The only exception to this is the up/down cursor key, which is inlaid too much, and I found it difficult to use compared to the other keys on the phone.

Menu System

The menu system is identical to the 7089, which is to say, improved over older Motorola schemes, but way behind the competition. Its one saving grace is a programmable speed menu that allows you to pick your favorite functions and assign them to keys 1 through 9. Getting at these functions is only two keystrokes away. However, for the rest of the functions, no numeric shortcuts are supported, so youíll need to work your way through the menus to find them.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the Motorola menu system is that secondary functions ultimately cancel whatever it was you were doing. Even pressing the volume key and changing the volume will cancel any menu item that you were in the middle of working on (including the entry of text messages). After using a Nokia phone, which always remembers where you are, this is just inexcusable.

And speaking of the volume control, it shares the same ridiculous feature as the V2282. The volume of the keypad and the volume of your earpiece are one and the same. While virtually every other phone ever manufactured keeps these volume settings separate, the 7389 combine them. I eventually had to turn the keypad beeps off completely to avoid any further aggravation. How much work and/or memory space could this possibly have saved them?

Sound Quality

Sound quality on the 7389 is excellent, and it has terrific tonal balance. It suffers from no transmitter buzz than I could detect, and in quiet environments it was a pleasure to listen to. Outgoing audio also sounds very nice, but like all Motorola GSM phones, it suffered from a strange malady. Background noise is magically amplified by this phone, and so your callers have a tough time understanding you when the background noise gets loud. This is in stark contrast to Ericsson phones (and to a lesser extend Nokia phones) that suppress background noise on outgoing audio.

Earpiece volume is acceptable, but not especially loud. It conforms roughly to level 7 or 8 (out of 10) on a Nokia 6190 or 7190. On the surface, that doesnít seem too bad, but one has to remember the 6190 and 7190 support an ďaudio boostĒ feature that further increases its earpiece output by a whopping 3 or 4 dB when the background noise gets louder than a predefined limit. In very loud environments, I found the 7389 too faint to hear properly. To be fair, that is true of most phones on the market today.

The phone came with an earbud not unlike the type you can buy for Nokia phones. However, it produced shockingly little volume (even turned up full), and the sound quality was well below that of the earpiece. Oddly, the very opposite is true of Nokia GSM phones, which provide very strong volume on their earbuds, and excellent sound quality to boot. I tried the Motorola earbud on my 7190, and I confirmed that the sound quality issue was specific to the earbud, but the volume sounded fine. That meant the volume problem was in the phone.

Features

One very nice feature of the phone is a built-in voice recorder. It can record up to 3 minutes of audio, broken into as many separate recordings as you can fit into that space. You can choose to record your own voice, or you can record the voice of your caller. However, you canít record both at the same time. I donít know if we can blame Motorola for this, since every other phone Iíve tried that supports voice recording has this limitation. It might even be imposed by law.

Unlike stand-alone digital recorders however, you cannot erase selected recordings. You either keep them all, or you erase them all simultaneously. The manual makes special mention of this, since even the writers of the documentation must be quite aware that itís a horrible restriction.

The 7389 supports Voice Dialing, which can also be used to access any of your favorite functions as well. However, it does not support voice answering, nor does it support a ďmagic wordĒ as does the Ericsson R50m and T39m. Magic words are used to get the phoneís attention without having to press a key.

SMS handling in the 7389 is worse than primitive. I have to say that because I referred to the R520m and T39m as having primitive SMS handling, and yet they are actually better at it than the 7389. Despite having plenty of screen real estate on which to display messages, Motorola engineers felt compelled to WASTE at least 40% of that space with a totally useless icon. The SMS is forced to fit in a skinny section of the screen immediately to the right of this icon.

Besides having no user-defined mailboxes into which to sort messages, it doesnít even support a summary listing of the messages in your inbox. That means you must read each message sequentially to work your way through to any one of them. One could end up committing suicide after too many hours of this sort of punishment.

To its credit, the 7389 does support Predictive Text Input, though it isnít T9 as we find on most new phones. Itís a proprietary Motorola scheme called iTAP. It works fairly well, but it doesnít support contractions (a big complaint I have against Ericsson phones), and adding words to the dictionary is unnecessarily convoluted. Oddly, the manual that came with my phone didnít even mention this feature. I had to download a different manual from Europe to find out exactly how it worked. The only reason I knew it even existed was because I was curious what iTap did.

When iTAP is turned on, it applies to all text input situations, including the alpha search of the phone book. While some might see this as a definite advantage, I found iTAP unsuitable in some situations, and it was a bother to have to turn it on and off all the time. Iíve never seen a perfect solution to this problem however, so I canít really fault Motorola for taking a slightly different approach from everyone else.

RF Performance

RF performance was actually quite good, but it wasnít quite as good as my standard reference, the Nokia 7190. As with all my test phones in the last few months, I took the 7389 for a trip along Bancroft Drive in Mississauga. This stretch of road between Silken Laumann Way and Creditview (just north of Britannia) is a horrible spot for Microcell Connexions. It is therefore a perfect place to see how well phones perform under stressful conditions.

The Ericsson R520m, the Ericsson T39m, and the Siemens S-40 all performed very poorly along there. They each dropped the call at least 2 or 3 times, and they broke up far more frequently than the 7190. The 7389 dropped the call only once, and although it did break up a bit more than the 7190, it wasnít all that much worse. For the record, I have yet to drop a call on either my 7190 or my 6190 while driving along Bancroft.

The 7389 retains good reception even while stuffed into a shirt pocket, which is a big problem for many other phone models. Overall therefore, I would rate the RF performance of the 7389 as good to excellent, though I wasnít particularly happy with the way it dealt with handoffs. Like the S-40, it made a valiant attempt to blank the effects of a handoff, and this often resulted in much less intelligible audio under thrashing conditions. It wasnít as bad at the S-40 in this regard, but it was below average compared to other models.

Recommendations

Now for my recommendations, which as promised are broken down into various user-type categories. For a description of each category, click on the header for each section.

Gadget Nuts

I donít see gadget nuts running to out to buy this phone. Except for the ability to enter a single ringtone from the keypad, the 7389 has absolutely no gee-whiz features at all. No graphics, no operator logos, no downloadable ringtones, no picture messaging, no games, no calendar, no alarm clock, and so on. This is phone is all business.

Fashion Conscious

I also donít see much attraction to people who value style over substance. Although the phone looks handsome enough in its own way, itís really not a stunning piece of work, and I canít see anyone looking twice at it. It therefore has little or no sex appeal, and you arenít likely to get many jealous stares from others.

Heavy Duty Phone Users

For people who value a phone as a phone, the 7389 actually has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, it misses the mark in a number of important respects. It has relatively weak earpiece volume (especially when used with a headset), it amplifies outgoing background noise, and it does rather poorly at dealing with handoffs. However, it has gorgeous sound quality and good RF performance. Itís therefore a bit of a toss up here. It depends which things you value the most.

Heavy SMS Users

Although this phone does include Predictive Text Input, Iíd have to rate it as the worst possible phone to use for SMS. As noted in the review, 40% of the screen is wasted on a useless icon, the messages can only be read sequentially, and messages cannot be categorized into user-defined mailboxes. The stiff keypad also doesnít help when it comes to composing messages.

Data Users

What can I say; the phone supports GPRS. Given that there arenít many phones on the market that do, the 7389 makes a compelling case. However, so does the Ericsson T39m, which is smaller, sexier, and it supports Bluetooth. Once again, itís a bit of a toss up here, and Data Users will need to evaluate other aspects of the phone to make a final decision.

General Public

For the average Joe, the 7389 is a descent phone, but its mix of good and bad features (especially its user interface) make it far less compelling than other models currently available. Given that it will probably be sold as an unlocked model, the price is likely a huge barrier for the average consumer (as is presently the case with the 7089). Theyíd probably be much better off to look elsewhere, especially if they donít need to travel outside of North America.

 

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