Motorola ROKR E8

The success of the iPhone has sparked a craze for touch-based music phones. Now, Motorola are giving it a go with a new inexpensive music phone.

The success of the iPhone has sparked a craze for touch-based music phones. As well as Apple, no less than six manufacturers are releasing touchscreen equipped music players this year. Interestingly though, music capable mobile phones aren’t anything new. While the mp3 player proliferated success while the mobile phone evolved, it was only a few years ago that manufacturers started converging the two technologies and putting usable digital media players inside mobile phones.

Faster forward to now and everyone wants the new touchscreen music players. They’re hip, swanky, in the now, and a whole bunch of new adjectives I can’t be bothered digging a thesaurus out to find and use. Regardless of who you are, chances are you want some level of this music convergence so you don’t have to be seen or worried carrying both a music player AND a mobile phone.

But what if you don’t have a lot of money? Should you be discriminated against if you want the latest and greatest in technology?

Motorola don’t think so and earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in January they announced the new ROKR E8 which we’ve been playing with for the past week.

The ROKR E8 isn’t an iPhone. It’s not even like the RAZR that Motorola gained success with and spawned loads of clamshell razor thin copies in the mobile phone world. The ROKR E8 is something new and something very cool. As it currently stands, the ROKR E8 is unique.

Built upon a simple touchscreen panel, the ROKR E8 is almost a touch-capable music phone. Instead of using the conventional interactive and full-colour touchscreens that pretty much every manufacturer who attempts one uses, the ROKR instead opts for a simple one that barely resembles one. What this touchscreen does, however, is switch from different modes of phone use by displaying the buttons for calling people in much the same way a normal mobile phone’s keypad works and displaying music controller buttons. Depending on which mode you’re in, you’ll see either the phone layout or the music player layout as interfaces fade out like the end of a movie and switch between each other.

Adding something else to the equation is the use of haptic feedback.

Haptic feedback is the use of a little vibration to enforce the notion that the user is indeed pressing something. Many people who use touchscreen phones complain about the lack of tactile feedback, something which regular button clicks on a mobile phone have. Haptic feedback replaces this with tiny vibrations usually in the place that you’ve pressed your button.

So already we see that the ROKR E8 has both an unusual way of dealing with combining a media player and phone as well as introducing you to the wonders of haptic feedback.

Moving past this, you’ll find the ROKR E8 has been designed fairly well and feels like a solid music phone. With a rubberized back and a slim profile, the phone actually looks and feels like a device you’d want to carry. Motorola have finally gone past their whole “USB as a headphone port” idea (something that never ever had any chance of working – take note HTC) and have given you a 3.5mm headphone port on the top of the phone. While the rubber bit protecting it when it’s not in use seems pretty arbitrary – translating to “good luck not losing it in the first twenty minutes” – it is nice to see that Motorola have made this mp3 player phone more user friendly with the switch to uniform standard.

Preloaded with 2GB of memory and with room to support more via the included microSD slot, the ROKR E8 should work with Windows Media Player syncing your music back & forth. iTunes doesn’t seem to pick up the ROKR suggesting to us that once again this is another phone that doesn’t work with the Mac OS platform, but we’re hazarding a guess that most Mac users probably aren’t the target here.

Rather, teens & pre-teens wanting a music capable phone in an inexpensive market sector that looks good are likely to be pleased with that they find in the E8.

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But not all is good here as the ROKR has some very elemental problems that could have been solved with simple product testing. Perhaps some more R&D was needed before release because much of this might end up bugging you.

Random bugs appear to exist in the phone including how drafts give you the option to save and leave but no option to just leave. You also can’t use the phone without a SIM card in it, a strange & perplexing notion for a phone that exists to work as a digital music player as well.

The camera isn’t brilliant. While we do like how the lens is set further back from the casing just enough so if you drop the phone it won’t break, the quality and speed makes the addition of this two megapixel feature more of a pain than a boon. Loading the camera isn’t efficient nor is taking a quality picture with speed & image quality being two things that Motorola spared here.

What’s interesting about these problems is the nature in which Motorola could fix them: all that would be needed would be a firmware update. Because the phone is built off of a touchscreen panel, everything is being controlled by some level of an operating system & firmware making the fix relatively easy.

What can’t be fixed by firmware is just how little grunt the ROKR E8 has underneath its hood. In fact it’s the one area where you can’t just help feel a little let down by a company who have been known to produce some of the best microprocessors the industry has ever seen. Between a slow menu system and lackluster performance when you’re switching between the various modes, you can’t help but feel a little let down by one of the stars of 2008’s Consumer Electronics Show.

Sadly, there’s also no 3G or WiFi cutting the E8 down a few more steps. Sitting itself only on the 2G networks, the ROKR feels disturbingly underpowered for a modern situation. While the operating system is obviously not cut out for a proper web surfing experience, it does feel odd that such a well-designed phone is missing some of the most basic features found currently in lower priced phones like access to third-generation networks.

However people likely to end up with the ROKR E8 aren’t likely to care for the speed. They’re probably after the whole notion of “what if Apple made the iPod Nano into a phone” and honestly, until they do, the E8 fills that gap quite well.

With decent sound, a fantastic feel & build quality, a cool use of technology, and a look that revitalizes any doubt you once had in the company that kept on cloning their own RAZR (to its death, to it’s death!!!), the ROKR E8 is a breath of fresh air that is likely to gain a few more fans than just another ordinary slim metallic thing that Motorola would normally produce. A great phone for teenagers and anyone looking for an inexpensive stylish music phone solution.

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Product: Motorola ROKR E8

Vendor: Motorola

RRP: $450

Website: Motorola ROKR E8

Reviewed by Leigh D. Stark