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Motorola MPX 220

Motorola MPX 220
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by Matt Kitchen, Executive Editor & Publisher of Mozongo.com

The Various Iterations Of Smartphones
The recent wordage “smartphone” has become both specific and very broad. Microsoft has adopted it to describe their Windows Mobile powered cell phones with no touch screen centered around one handed, two buttoned use. So you may have seen or read someone say, “That phone runs Windows Mobile Smartphone,” referencing a cell phone running the Windows Smartphone OS. You may have also heard someone say, “cell phones are on their way out, you should check out a smartphone.” Phrasing like this could then mean any phone that has PDA functionality built-in whether it be a Nokia phone that runs the Series 60 version of Symbian, a Windows Mobile Smartphone, or a PDA convergent phone (Treo, JAM, SX66).

So what separates a Windows Mobile specific Smartphone from the Symbian phones or even its touch-screen brethren? Let us talk about the Windows Mobile Smartphone a little.

The Windows Mobile Smartphone is a concept that has been around for close to two years now, but just recently implemented very well. People were slow to catch on at first because not many devices were being pushed with this new OS. People began doubting whether this WM Smartphone market was going to indeed make a plea for any market share. The first WM Smartphone to really catch the attention of people here in the US was the MPx220, but was plagued by too many problems and left people wanting more. Cue the Audiovox SMT 5600 - the first Windows Mobile Smartphone to finally get things right. The SMT 5600 has then followed by the MPx220, and the HTC Feeler in its multiple forms including the i-mate SP3i which I will be reviewing in the forthcoming weeks.

So why would a Windows Mobile Smartphone appeal to you? A Windows Mobile Smartphone is meant to give you as similar an experience to a Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PC as possible while trimming away some of the size and attempting to perfect efficiency. Phones running this Smartphone OS are going to be relatively smaller than most Pocket PC Phones you might find. The Smartphone OS also does not provide use for a touch screen. Instead, you do all your navigating with a directional pad and two dedicated buttons whose functions are always listed at the bottom of the screen. This system then allows for a more robust PDA experience, but a finer tuned phone experience. In short, a Windows Mobile Smartphone is a Phone before PDA, where my JAM is PDA before phone. Both can perform either function well, but their respected functions are far more easily performable with their feature set.

Shiny Silver - Good or Bad?
So how does the MPx220 look? Well, if you were to ask my girlfriend she would go on to say how ugly it looks. I would say it looks very tech chic, but the mirrored metal sheet on the front (the part surrounding the speaker and front display) makes it look a little over the top. Thus, I leave it at “to each his/her own.” There are enough pictures in this review for you to decide what you think of the look - I would love to know what you think though.

The Outside
When the device is closed, looking at the front will reveal the Motorola logo, the outer colored display, speaker holes and a camera with LED flash. On the top of the device is just the hinge and a rectangular protrusion of which I can only imagine would be the antenna (on the top of this protrusion is written “QUAD” which looks pretty ridiculous). On the left hand side is the lanyard hole, 2.5 mm headphone jack, up/down volume-control button, and a power button. The bottom simply houses the standard sync/charge connections along with the mic, and the right side has mini SD slot (don’t get me started on this), camera button and IR port.

The Inside
When opened, you have a very nice looking screen on one side and a host of buttons on the other. Starting from the bottom, you have a very flat but great feeling keypad. All the keys have a great tactile feel and response and are backlight a very cool blue. Above the keypad are the call and hang-up buttons. Then above this is the 4-way directional pad surrounded by 4 buttons. The bottom left button is the “home” button and takes you to the home screen no matter what application your using or where you at in the far reaches of the phone’s system. The bottom right is the “back” button and serves the purpose of… yup, taking you back to the last screen you were at before your current one. The top two buttons are those famed dedicated buttons that has all the smartphone people talking up a storm.

The Functionality Of Flip-Phone
The MPx220 is the latest Microsoft Smartphone flip-phone available. Many people out there in cell phone land love the style and functionality that a flip-phone offers - namely the fact that you can toss it into your pocket/purse without worrying about pressing some keys to initiate a button lock. In addition, I think people just like the action of flipping open the phone to answer a call. I agree that I do enjoy the flip-phone look and feel, but I find it also to come at somewhat of a price. I do not have an easy time opening the Phone one handed - maybe if it had a switchblade, spring loaded mechanism I would be all in. The phone does lock open and closed very firmly giving you a very sturdy feel stemming from the hinge which is very nice. But in general, I would say the MPx220 seems to be rather large in a manner in which I would deem unnecessary.

On the outside, you have a color screen that does its job of displaying the caller’s ID, as well as some system information including battery life, ring profile, signal strength, and the ever-needed time. There are a few backgrounds that you can choose from and you should be able to find one that suites your style with their selection.

WM Smartphone Today Screen
The default screen on the inside is a “Today” type screen of course on par with other Windows Mobile Smartphones. For those of you that have yet to use one, allow me to elaborate. A blue bar is at the top, which displays ring profile, GPRS activity, Bluetooth connectivity, battery life, and signal strength. Immediately below that is where your background can start (once again consult pictures if this all too wordy for you). All the information is divided up into rows. The first row gives you shortcuts to all applications that are currently open and as an application leaves this list it should be shutting down. Underneath that row should be your carrier, time and date listed. Below that is a line that says “Get Xpress Mail” – a Cingular thing of which I can only assume the line would then turn into a notification of new Cingular emails. Next is your upcoming appointment, a better description of which sound profile is active and then finally a display of any text messages you might have. Lines will then add/change depending if there is any pertinent information like missed calls and voice mail. The very bottom of the screen displays the current function for either of the two dedicated buttons. By default from the home screen, the left button activates the “start” menu and the right button activates “contacts.” Below is a picture of what a generic Windows Mobile Smartphone Today screen would look like.

The Ease of Smartphone Navigation
Navigation on the phone works very well. If there is one thing this phone does extremely well it is both button layout and quality of buttons that lead to a great navigation and dialing experience. The directional pad is large and feels great to use. It fits perfectly on this phone where so much of your day to day use will center around this d-pad, the button in the middle of it and the four surrounding buttons. When you are not dialing numbers – you will be using these buttons and thankfully, Motorola makes them very comfortable to use.

What About Those Issues
If you have followed the history of the MPx220 you have heard of its previous issues. When the device was released, it was extremely anticipated and people clamored to get one. After the initial “wow factor” died down there were complaints of poor sound quality (both in and out), poor volume control, and poor camera quality. Motorola has attempted to fix these problems with a Firmware update – my review unit has the latest update (1.3) so I will attempt to answer whether or not it is still plagued by these issues.

The sound quality is very good. Sound coming in was very clear and crisp on the internal earpiece. Sound coming out of the speakerphone was slightly distorted at the highest volume (during exclamations), but on all settings below that was perfect. Sound quality going out was great as well. I did not have one complaint during the whole time using it – in fact, when I asked about it, I was complimented on the quality. Good job Motorola.

What about volume? I am beginning to wonder if I demand too much from volume – Nah! The volume on this device is just too soft for my liking. Even though my JAM slightly distorts when going loud – it can still go loud. I would say at the loudest setting, the MPx220 would only measure to about three quarters volume on the JAM. Once again another adequate, but far from optimum, performance.

As for the camera – well you can judge yourself with a few shots that are posted on the gallery page. Overall I would say the camera is on par with other 1.3 MP cameraphones on the market. If there are improvements from previous firmware versions, they are only of a minor nature as the quality does not impress me. In a dark setting with a close shot though, it is very nice to have the LED flash, so props on that. (Note: The 1.3 ROM update was meant to be more of a correction to volume issues rather than camera)

Conclusion
When you get down to it...
The heart of the matter is that this device is a phone before PDA. This would accessorize will with your current PDA if you are a power user or accompany a Laptop well if you are only a minor user. If you view it as such, it is a good device. It triumphs in wonderful one-handed navigation and relative ease of use. It is a flip-phone that packs in a lot of functionality. Whether you are using it to keeping track of your contacts and appointments or using some of its added media features, the device is suited to multi-task to meet your needs.

And now, the questions.

Is it worth the money?
The MSRP of the MPx220 is $300 but if you look hard enough (like on Amazon.com) you will find it for less than that – especially if you are signing up for a new contract. I think the phone is well priced mainly because the build quality of the phone is high and mixed with all the functionality – I think you have an appropriate price.

Can you see yourself using it daily?
Sorry, I honestly can not. I am back to my JAM for two main reasons. I longed for the touch screen to enter data and navigate through some applications as well as the louder volume level. The touch screen thing is entirely a personal preference of PDA needs, but the volume level concerns me.

Are there things you would change?
The volume level on the built in ear-piece needed to be much louder. I would like the device to be either a little thinner or a little shorter as well.

More PDA than Phone or Visa Versa?
Definitely more phone than PDA – which just is not my style. I am big on PDA functionality, but that is not the phone’s fault. It is made for phone functionality first – see review.

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