REVIEW: Motorola ROKR E1 iTunes Mobile Phone

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Date: Friday, January 6th, 2006, 09:53
Category: Mobile Phone

Motorola ROKR iTunes PhoneThere was a point in time where I carried around three plus electronic devices at a time and loved it – and that was before the invention of the portable MP3 player. Sure, I could be described as a geek, but at times it was part of my job.
Like may people, I have greatly simplified what I like to carry around and an MP3 player has quickly zoomed to the top of that list. Carrying a mobile phone has become a necessity. Carrying around a Palm organizer/PDA has slipped down the list, but staying organized with my calendar and contacts is still a priority. Am I really supposed to carry around three devices in my bag? Arguably, I am a good candidate for one of these devices that combines phone, music, and organization, in that order.
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Motorola ROKR iTunes PhoneThere was a point in time where I carried around three plus electronic devices at a time and loved it – and that was before the invention of the portable MP3 player. Sure, I could be described as a geek, but at times it was part of my job.
Like may people, I have greatly simplified what I like to carry around and an MP3 player has quickly zoomed to the top of that list. Carrying a mobile phone has become a necessity. Carrying around a Palm organizer/PDA has slipped down the list, but staying organized with my calendar and contacts is still a priority. Am I really supposed to carry around three devices in my bag? Arguably, I am a good candidate for one of these devices that combines phone, music, and organization, in that order.
In response to the desire for fewer things to carry in the pocket, there has been a convergence of devices into one. I decided to test drive one of these devices – the Motorola ROKR E1 which is available from Cingular for US$149 with a 2-year service agreement. The ROKR combines an MP3 player with a phone and the ease of use of iTunes. It’s the first phone to play music using the iTunes interface.
My first impression of the phone was that it was stylish, with the same look and feel to many Apple products and a crisp white exterior. It is a traditional candy-bar style phone with a great color TFT screen (176 x 220, 262 colors). It has a 0.3 MP camera with a flash that actually works. My previous Danger Sidekick had a flash that doesn’t shed light on any situation! Bluetooth is a major plus, both for using a Bluetooth headset and for syncing with my Mac at home.
I took the ROKR to work and set it up there. I have a full compilation of music in iTunes on my PC at work that usually only gets listened to at work. I was excited to take my tunes on the road with me for commuting by train and going to the gym. I connected the ROKR to my computer at work using a cable and iTunes opened. I was able to select songs and put them onto the phone. The transfer time was a little slow – allow for 30 seconds per song, depending on the file size – but after the initial transfer, I don’t expect to be adding and deleting songs in such a great quantity. Part of the speed issue is that iTunes converts higher bit-rate AAC files to 128kbps on-the-fly to save space.
There are three problems with the ROKR’s iTunes implementation:
First, there’s a 100 song limitation, you can only upload 100 songs to the ROKR. Even if you have a larger flash memory card (the ROKR comes with a 512MB microSD card) you’re limited to 100 songs.
The second major problem with the iTunes part of the phone is that you have to sync songs from your computer, there’s no way to download songs directly to the handset Over The Air (OTA). Major bummer. Apple claims that the carriers wanted to high of a price point (in the neighborhood of $3 per song) and Apple didn’t want to charge that much.
Third, you can’t use your iTunes songs as ring tones.
Aside from the ROKRs shortcomings, I like the ease of use of the iTunes interface. Compared with the iPod it seems to be a little slower to use, but exactly the same in functionality. It is very intuitive to setup and use and the joystick makes it easy to get around the interface. Of course, my experience using iTunes and an iPod probably helped the situation. The best feature of listening to music on your phone/MP3 player combo is that you do not miss calls. Frequently in the past when I was grooving to my iPod, I would not hear my phone in my bag.
Although most men wear their phones on their belt or in their pocket (I don’t know if that is such a good thing!) – most women carry their phones in a purse or bag and the same goes for teens. I would completely miss my calls. Now, when a call comes in, the ROKR interrupts my music and I answer using the combined headphones and microphone provided my Motorola. The headphones are excellent quality, although the microphone’s sound quality is mediocre. A Bluetooth headset provided unbelievable quality for phone conversations, but I can’t listen to music through it.
When I was home that evening, I tested the phone using my Mac with Bluetooth. I was able to easily pair the phone with my computer using Bluetooth (I did not try the cable) and sync my contacts and calendar with the ROKR. I was pleasantly surprised the next day when my phone was presenting me with reminders from my calendar.
In reading the ROKR manual (Yes, I am a geek) I discovered a feature that I had never seem in any other phone and that has not really been mentioned in the other reviews that I have read – “Rhythm Lights.” When put in the right mode, the phone reacts to the noise of the environment that it is in and lights up rhythmically. So, if you are out dancing or listening to music in a bar, the phone lights up to the rhythm and is a great conversation starter.
The ROKR is a decent solution at an inexpensive price but don’t expect to put your entire library of music on it. If you’re looking to stay in touch while enjoying some music it’s a serviceable phone and a good option for teens and for those of us that want to keep it simple. If you’re a diehard tech weenie, you may want to hold out for the second (or third) version from Motorola.

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