Review of the Motorola V66

The Motorola v66 is the second GPRS phone to be released by Fido. Itís a small clamshell design that should appeal to those who like that sort of phone. The v66 is functionally identical to the P280, so I will use various portions of my P280 review word for word where applicable.

Last Updated: 10-Nov-2001

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

Menu System and General

Motorola must have sent their programmers on a crash course, because the menu system in the v66 is light years more advanced than in their earlier phones. Now before we get carried away though, I should note that they still have to improve their design before it can rival the menus of a Nokia phone.

That said however, the v66 (and most of the other new Motorola phones) has one unique feature that makes it almost fun to use. You can assign virtually any menu or sub-menu item in the phone to a 1- or 2-digit numeric shortcut. So while Nokia phones might have fixed numeric shortcuts, they are sometimes 3, 4, or even 5 digits long. In recent Nokia designs such as the 7190, the numeric menus arenít properly implemented, and they only apply to about 50% of the menus in the phone.

Secondary menus are abundant, but they donít contain quite as many options as youíll typically find on a Nokia phone. Itís somewhat better than the Ericsson R520 and T39 in this regard, but not incredibly so. Nokia still wins in this department.

And customization doesnít stop there. You can assign any of the top-level menu items to the two soft keys during idle mode. As for the main menu itself, you can even change the order of the menu items so that the ones you access the most can appear at the top (or the bottom, since thatís easy to get to as well), while the least used ones can be dumped in the middle.

A four-way key cluster allows for easy menu navigation, though I felt that the engineers underutilized the left and right cursor keys. Those left and right keys are used mostly for stepping through options, but you can also see a ďdropdownĒ list of option to select from them in a more traditional manner.

Continuing on the customization front, Motorola has also implemented something very similar to Nokiaís Profiles. There are 5 profiles you can choose from, and each one allows you to set ringer volume and type, as well as keypad volume. One very nice feature is the ability to independently assign the incoming call ringer, the incoming SMS ringer, the Datebook alarm, and the message waiting alarm to any of the ringtones provided by the phone. With Nokia, you can only assign the incoming call ringer to a ring tone, while everything else gets a severely limited selection of beeps.

The phone provides a wide array of musical and traditional ring tones, and it provides 32 slots for user-defined ring tones, which are entered from the keypad in a manner very similar to Ericsson. I used the tone editor to create my own high-volume beep alerts for incoming SMS and for my Datebook alarms. With only a small amount of mental conversion, you could easily enter a ringtone designed for an Ericsson phone. There are plenty of them out there.

Changing from one profile to another does take a few more keystrokes than with a typical Nokia phone, but if you assign an appropriate numeric shortcut, it isnít really that bad. Once you get used to it, itís actually quite easy. If all you need to do is change the ringer volume though, you can easily do that by merely pressing the volume up or down keys while the phone is idling.

The screen is among the worst Iíve ever encountered. Not only is it small and difficult to read, but also the backlight is ridiculously dim, and the contrast is poor in all but the brightest of conditions. Reading the data on the display takes a fair bit of concentration, so donít expect to glance at this thing and quickly read information from the display.

The phone supports two font sizes, which can be easily changed with only two keystrokes. Unfortunately, the small font is so tiny that itís difficult to read. The larger font is easier to read, but you get only 2 lines of text when you select it. Even the small font only gives you 3 lines of text.

Keypad feel is excellent, but the keys are flush mounted, and they require a certain degree of dexterity to operate. In other words, people with fat fingers will have a tough time working this keypad. The menu button and softkey buttons are so tiny, that I had trouble operating them, and my fingers arenít really that big. The four-way cursor keys were okay, but I often found myself pressing the wrong one. Only the numeric keys were actually easy to use.

I didnít try running the battery down to see how long it would last, but my overall impression of battery life was reasonably positive. However, keep in mind that the battery on the v66 is smaller than the one in the P280, and so you will probably get only 50 to 60 percent of the battery life you get from the P280.

Speaking of battery life, you can choose to turn the backlight off all the time, or you can choose to turn it on all the time. There is also a selection of on times that you can pick from. It is a common complaint that Nokia phones donít allow their backlight to be turned off to save battery power.

In terms of size, the v66 is probably among the smallest phones you can get right now. It weighs a scant 2.7 ounces, but it didnít feel much lighter than the P280, which weighs 3.5 ounces. The casing is made of silver-painted plastic, and itís impossible to tell how well that material will hold up over time.

The earpiece is generally quite comfortable, but I had a huge problem with the rest of the phone. In order to press the earpiece snuggly against my ear, I had to have the bottom section of the phone pressed into my cheek. I found that very uncomfortable, and the only way to alleviate the problem was to pull the bottom of the earpiece away from my ear. Without the snug fit against my ear, the tonal balance suffered, as did the volume.

Sound Quality and RF Performance

When it comes to sound quality however, the v66 is a match to the P280. That is to say, perhaps the best out there. Its tonal balance is near perfect, and it reproduces every nuance of your callerís voice with astonishing clarity. It also has virtually no background noise, and the usual background rustle you get from the network is also tamed extremely well.

Earpiece volume is not bad, but it isnít as loud as the P280. At full volume, the v66 is approximately as loud at the P280 with the level set to 5 or 6 (out of 7). I didnít find this objectionable for the most part, but in a very noisy environment, this would certainly be a drawback.

Unlike earlier StarTac models, the V66 does not include any tabs on the side to aid in flipping it open. Subsequently, it was a horrendously difficult phone to open using just one hand. The phone could be dialed with one hand, but because was top-heavy, I always felt that it would fall out of my hand if I wasnít careful.

Many of you have no doubt read messages from people reporting poor RF performance on the v66. I was curious about that too, so I performed some tests in weak signal areas to see how well it compared to the P280. Iím afraid I have to report that those messages are true. The v66 has perhaps the worst RF performance of any GSM phone Iíve tested recently.

I took the v66 and the P280 to Square One in Mississauga, where Microcell Connexions had reasonably good coverage. However, there are hallways deep inside the mall where the signal fades out completely. The further down the hall you go, the weaker the signal gets. That is a perfect place to perform comparative tests of two phones on the same network.

After noting the spot in the hall where the v66 broke up and lost the call, I repeated the test using the P280. Not only did the P280 work exceptionally well in the location where the v66 lost service, it continued to work quite well much further down the hall. I repeated the test in a different hall to make sure the results werenít a fluke. The bottom line is, the v66 gives up a lot of RF sensitivity in exchange for its small size.

Fortunately however, handoffs are still handled very graciously by blanking the audio, just as you get with the P280. But what makes the Motorola approach better than the Siemens S40 (which I griped about in my review)? Unlike the S40, the v66 blanks for very short periods of time, and quite often those blanks are hardly detected by your brain. The blanks on the S40 are excruciatingly long, and as such they are annoying.

Network recovery has always been a strong point of all Motorola GSM phones. Like its predecessors, the v66 has a menu option for selecting the way the phone scans for the network once it loses the signal. You can choose, slow, medium, fast, or continuous. In continuous mode, you can regain the Fido network within SECONDS of coming out of a no-signal area. This even applies if the phone has locked onto the Rogers network in the meantime. It beats the pants off of any other make of GSM phone Iíve tested under those circumstances.

Features

The phone supports voice dialing, and voice commands. The voice-dialing feature is pretty much what youíd expect, so I canít really say much about that. However, the voice-commands feature was of dubious value, especially in light of the user-define numeric shortcuts. To use the voice-command feature you have to first press the menu button on the front of the phone, and then the voice dial button on the side of the phone. Since you can assign two-keystroke numeric shortcuts, whatís the point of pressing two keys just to say the name of the command you want? I guess they werenít thinking when they designed that one.

They were thinking when they designed the voice recorder though. It can be used to record your own dictations outside of a phone call, or it can be used to record a phone conversation. Unlike other phones Iíve tried with voice recorders, it actually records both sides of the conversation. You can also erase voice recordings independently of one another.

Like the V2282, the v66 supports an FM radio, but unlike the V2282, the radio itself it not built into the phone. All that the phone actually supports is a user interface to an external FM radio headset that you can purchase separately. The V2282 had the radio itself built into the phone, so all you needed was a standard stereo headset with a 2.5 mm adapter jack.

For data access, the phone supports GPRS. You can use GPRS for connecting your laptop or palm device to the Internet, or you can use the micro browser on the phone in GPRS mode. In fact, Fido plans to support this type of browsing with the introduction of a pay-per-use GPRS package. The v66 supports serial and USB connections to your computer, but it does not support IR or Bluetooth, so youíll have to use a cable.

Like the P280, the v66 shares a host of weaknesses and software bugs. Weíll begin with the Phonebook, which isnít really all that great compared to other phones coming on the market now. Although the phone will store up 500 names and numbers, the utility of this Phonebook is rather limited.

It is not a hierarchical structure as we find on the 7190 or even the CDMA Timeport. It looks as though it supports multiple numbers per name, but all it really does is create a duplicate entry with a different icon. Given that, Iíd rather uniquely name those entries, such as ďSteve (Fido)Ē, ďSteve (Home)Ē, ďSteve (Work)Ē, etc. You can still apply an icon, even to independent entries.

You canít tell the phone to hide the entries in the SIM, so if you copy a SIM entry into the phone to take advantage of the slightly longer name field, the type icon, or voice dialing, then you end up with two entries in your Phonebook. There also appears to be a bug concerning SIM entries with phone numbers longer than 20 digits. Even though the SIM has stored those longer numbers, they donít ďloadĒ into the v66 correctly.

The phone book does not support any text data other than the name. That means no street addresses, and no e-mail addresses. I didnít find this a great hardship myself, but others might rely on such information in their Phonebooks. As for sending e-mail, I prefer to do so through a good quality gateway such as eXcell or Me43, where I can create shortcuts for my most commonly used e-mail addresses anyway.

The phone supports Predictive Text Input, but not T9. It instead supports Motorolaís own iTAP technology. This wouldnít be so bad if the v66 also supported a user dictionary, but it doesnít. If the word you want isnít in the dictionary, you have to enter it manually (each and every time). Having said that though, iTAP is certainly better than no predictive text input at all, and itís available at virtually all the text input prompts on the phone (unlike the T9 implementations in Nokia phones for example).

SMS handling was so-so, and coupled with the tiny little screen, and a general lack of features, it receives my usual ďprimitiveĒ rating. Message entry is handled through a two-field ďNew MessageĒ screen. While this seems odd at first, it really does seem to make a lot of sense once you use it a bit.

The inbox shows the first 10 or 12 characters of each message, rather than a pointless list of dates and times, or recipient phone numbers. The 7190 does this so long as the person sending the message isnít in your phone book. Once you start reading messages, you can use the cursor keys to jump through each message without returning to the inbox menu first.

It doesnít support user-defined mailboxes like the 7190, but no other phone does that anyway. However, unfinished messages can be stored in a ďDraftsĒ folder, where they can be edited and/or sent at a later date. The folder even remembers the phone number you were going to send it to. Messages that are sent are automatically copied into the Outbox, where they can be re-sent with just a couple of keystrokes. However, you canít edit the text of a message once its in the Outbox, which was a huge disappointment.

For adding your own pre-written text to a message, the v66 supports a feature they call Quick Notes. The manual says that to send a Quick Note, you select it from the list of available Quick Notes, and then you select Send from the popup menu for the folder. However, that does not work, and at first I thought the entire concept was broken. Fortunately, there appears to be another way to insert Quick Notes into a message, and you may do so repeatedly in the same message.

Finally, the v66 includes three relatively lackluster games. One of them is nothing more than a poor excuse for Pong, though the Blackjack and a Mastermind variant (called MindBlaster) are okay. The tiny screen and poor contrast make them a pain to play compared to the P280.

Recommendations

In summary then, the v66 is a phone targeted at a very small group users: those who just have to own a small clamshell unit. The rest of us are going to find this thing a pain to use, and disappointing in areas where it really counts (such as RF performance). At $150 more than the P280, what are you getting for your money?

On the positive side:

- A small clamshell design

On the negative side, you get:

- Poorer RF performance
- No IR Port
- Tiny and almost illegible screen
- Poor ergonomics
- Difficult-to-use keypad
- Less earpiece volume

So, unless you count yourself among those who would give their right arm to own a small clamshell design, then you should move on and look at something else.

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