Review of the Motorola v120c

The V120c is a new Motorola CDMA handset that provides digital service at both 800 MHz and at 1900 MHz. This is especially important these days, since both of the major CDMA providers in Canada (Telus Mobility and Bell Mobility) have areas that are covered by one or the other of these frequencies. Without a multi-band phone, youíd end up with no coverage in areas where others had coverage.

Last Updated: 03-Nov-2001

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

There is quite a bit of disagreement over the correct term for such a phone, but the industry seems to have settled upon Tri-Mode. While this is slightly incorrect, no other term is any more accurate, and many of those other terms are a huge mouthful, such as Dual-Band, Dual-Mode. However, that name implies that it actually has 4 operational modes instead of 3, so take your pick. Note that the 3rd operational mode is analog at 800 MHz.

The V120c is a fairly small phone, sporting the peanut shape that weíve seen on other Motorola models of recent. However, it is one of the first CDMA models to have Motorolaís newly improved menu structure. This new menu structure is light years better than what weíve seen from them in the past, and while it still has a way to go to rival Nokia, itís a worthwhile step in the right direction.

Menu System and General

The same menu scheme can be found on many other Motorola models, including the V60, P270, P280, V66, i85, i80, and i90. Each division of Motorola was bound by certain guidelines for the implementation of this menu scheme, but beyond these guidelines, they were free to do whatever they wanted to expand upon it. Subsequently, there are differences between Motorolaís new CDMA, GSM, and iDEN phones, despite the obvious similarities.

Perhaps the greatest attribute of the new menu scheme (shared with all of Motorolaís newest models) is a high degree of customization available to the user. You can select any of the top-level menu commands for the two softkeys during idle. If you want the left key to access the Datebook, and the right key to access the Phonebook, then itís no problem. Itís completely up to you.

You can also change the order of the items appearing the main menu, and thus you can move the most commonly used features to the top or bottom, and move the lesser-used features to the middle. Perhaps the most powerful feature is the ability to assign just about any menu or sub-menu item to a 1- or 2-key numeric shortcut of your choice.

What I believe hampers the V120c the most however is its pitifully small screen. Letís get this out of the way quickly; I hate the screen on the V120c. Itís too small, it has tiny little pixels, and it is difficult to view under the best of circumstances. Although Motorola has endowed the phone with two font sizes, the larger font leaves you with just 2 lines of text, and it isnít really that much more readable. The smaller font isnít that great either, since you only get 3 lines of text from that.

Features

The phonebook isnít all that great. Itís identical to the one appearing most of the other new Motorola phones except the iDEN models. The iDEN group apparently had the right idea, and they did a much better job of implementing the phonebook concept. The concept implemented by the CDMA and GSM groups is really not much better than the primitive ďname and numberĒ scheme weíve had on phones for well over a decade.

The only modern addition to the Phonebook is Voice Dialing. This feature allows you to record a voice tag for a phone book entry, and then dial that entry by speaking the voice tag at a later time. It works fairly well, but this is true of virtually all phones that include a voice-dialing feature. The phone also supports voice commands, but in light of the user-definable numeric shortcuts, I find this feature of dubious value.

The phone supports Motorolaís proprietary iTAP technology for text entry. While it is very similar to T9 in many ways, I donít believe itís nearly as well implemented. It doesnít support a user dictionary, which means any words that arenít in the primary dictionary must be manually entered each and every time you use them. To its credit though, the V120c makes iTAP available at virtually all text input prompts.

Keypad feel is excellent, though I wouldnít have minded having the keys a little softer. Still, they provide good feedback, and they rarely misbehaved on me. Unlike other recent Motorola designs, you can actually set the keypad volume separate of the earpiece volume. I donít know what came over the engineer who designed that chestnut in the L series and V2282. Thank god theyíve fixed it.

I didnít try running the battery down to see how long it would last, but my overall impression of battery life was very positive. Based on that limited experience, I would expect battery life in excess of 3 days of pure standby.

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 that backlight to be turned off to save battery power.

Like many other new Motorola phones, the V120c includes a voice recorder. You can use it to record your own voice, or you can use it to record things people are telling you over the phone. This is an excellent way to take down notes while driving, since you only need to press and hold a small button on the side of the phone.

Sound Quality and RF Performance

When it comes to audio quality however, the V120c is probably among the best CDMA phones there is. I personally liked it better than Motorolaís old Timeport model, which I previously rated as the best CDMA phone for audio. Unfortunately, the V120c has rather low earpiece volume, and this conspires to ruin any otherwise good feelings you might have about the audio. Whatís the good of excellent audio if you have trouble hearing it?

RF performance was good to excellent, and the phone managed to hang on to signals well under poor conditions. It also managed to hide most of the frame errors that quickly deteriorate the audio quality on other CDMA phones. However, quite a few people have reported that it switches to analog far too easily, and many people would much prefer the phone to provide them digital service if it is available. I personally didnít observe it dropping to analog in the GTA too much, but too many other people have reported this problem to ignore it.

In the end, I was left with very mixed feelings about the phone. Itís low earpiece volume and tiny little screen were major disappointments to me, while the sound quality and RF performance were generally quite uplifting. If I were in the market for a CDMA phone, Iíd probably give serious consideration to a V120c, but that might only be until I get a chance to try the P270 (which is offered by Bell Mobility).

Recommendations

Here is how I rate the v120c for various classes of users:

Heavy Duty Phone Users

This group will have to search their souls to decide whether or not the excellent audio quality and RF performance are worth the low earpiece volume and tiny little screen. I think that they should serious consider this phone, but they need to look at the environment theyíll use it in the most. If they expect to use the phone in a noisy environment, theyíd probably not find this phone a good fit.

Data Users

As far as I am aware, this phone does not support data, and it certainly doesnít support Packet Data.

Gadget Nuts

There just arenít enough bells and whistles on this phone to excite anyone, so I feel that this group should give the V120c a miss.

Fashion Conscious

Iím no fashion guru, but it seems to me that the V120c is a fairly good-looking phone. However, it lacks some of the features that seem to excite people who buy phones as fashion statements. This is really a toss-up, and youíll have to see the phone in person yourself.

Heavy SMS Users

The V120c does support two-way SMS, but outgoing messages are not yet supported by Telus. They are supported on Bell Mobility, and so youíll at least get to use full power of SMS on that network. However, the V120c is no better than any of Motorolaís GSM models, which is to say, rather disappointing.

General Public

The price is perhaps one of this phoneís greatest attributes. From a bang-for-your-buck point of view, itís hard to go wrong with the V120c. This should be an excellent phone for Joe and Jane User who donít demand much from their phones.

Other Reviews of the Motorola v120c

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