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Motorola MPx220 MS Smartphone (GSM)

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Posted Nov. 5, 2004 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

Update, Feb. 2006: Cingular discontinued the MPx220 and is now offering the Windows Mobile 5 Cingular 2125 MS Smartphone.

The MPx220 is Motorola's second generation Windows Mobile Smartphone and it offers many improvements over their first generation MPx200 which was released in January 2004. In a short revision period, Motorola has managed to give us the latest OS, a faster processor, larger battery and added a 1.2 megapixel camera with flash and Bluetooth— excellent! In fact, the MPx220 has every feature you could want: quad band GSM service, decent battery life, a very nice color screen, fast performance, stereo MP3 playback, video playback, Bluetooth and the camera. The only feature it lacks is EDGE for data, which no MS Smartphone yet offers.

The phone is offered by Cingular, and for the first month or so, Best Buy stores had the exclusive rights to sell it. It's now on Amazon's web site and has appeared in Cingular. It's a world phone that supports all GSM bands and the first batches sold by Best Buy were unlocked. It seems that as of January 2005, they are now locked, so you'll only be able to use them with Cingular.

Motorola MPx220
MPx220
back of MPx220

 

MS Smartphones belong to the Windows Mobile family of devices but don't confuse them with their larger kin, the Pocket PC Phone Edition models such as the iPAQ 6315 and Samsung i700. PPCPE models are full-fledged Pocket PCs with integrated mobile phone radios. MS Smartphones are smaller devices that resemble traditional cell phones and offer slimmed-down versions of the Pocket PC software you may be familiar with. MS Smartphones cannot run Pocket PC software, though quite a few apps have been ported to Smartphone, and they do not have touch-screens and styli. They are the perfect solution for users who want advanced features not found in standard phones such as a strong PIM suite, multimedia playback and above all, easy syncing to Windows desktops running Outlook. Don't be too confused by names: smartphone is a general term for mobile phones that have PDA features and includes Palm OS smartphones like the Treo 600, Symbian Series 60 devices such as the Nokia 3650, Pocket PC Phone Edition models and MS Smartphones. Microsoft decided to use Smartphone in the product name, that's all.

MS Smartphones have an interface that's very similar to Pocket PCs (minus stylus support) and are somewhat similar to Windows desktops. They have the same Today Screens found on Pocket PCs and a Start Menu that lists all applications installed on the phone. Rather than using a launcher screen with icons like Nokia Series 60 phones such as the 3650, 6600, 7610 and N-Gage QD; MS Smartphones use Start Menu listings with words (.i.e.: Contacts, Camera) for installed applications and settings items. Each system works well and is about equally efficient, so make your choice based on personal preference. One nice feature on MS Smartphone is that every listing on the Start Menu and every action menu item listing has a corresponding number so you can press that number on the keypad rather than scrolling through sometimes long menus to make your selection. As with most non-touch screen phones, you'll enter text using the number pad and have a choice of multi-press, predictive text or number entry. You can also turn caps lock on and off.

Design and Ergonomics

The Motorola MPx220 has an elegant silver finish and a clamshell design. Though it's attractive it's not distinctive and it looks like every other silver clamshell phone on the market. The front face inset has a shiny mirror-like finish. It's no larger than many other clamshell phones and you'll barely feel it on your belt or in your pocket. It's amazing how many features Motorola packed into such a small package, and the device is only a tad longer than the MPx200. It's longer because Motorola has put an internal antenna in the top of the phone and its cap adds about 1/3" in length. That antenna gives the phone great RF (reception) which is definitely worth that small additional length.

On the front face you'll see an external 96 x 64 pixel color LCD, speaker phone/system sound grill, camera lens and flash. The 2.5mm stereo headset jack, volume up/down rocker and power button are located on the left side. Unfortunately, it's too easy to accidentally press the volume up/down buttons, so handle with care when on the phone. On the right side you'll find the mini-SD card slot, camera button and the IR window. The battery lives under a plastic door on the back and there's a lanyard eyelet if you wish to carry the phone on a strap. The hinge is very sturdy and well made and the phone seems built to last.

size comparison

Comparing the size of the MPx220, Sony Ericsson T610, Nokia 7610 and Nokia 3650.

Open the phone and you'll see the earpiece speaker above the 176 x 220 pixel display on the top half of the clamshell. The lower half has a very usable keypad with large keys and blue backlit numbers, call send and end buttons, action buttons and a roomy and pleasant 5-way directional pad. The Motorola MPx200 and 220 have the best d-pads on Windows Mobile Smartphones and they make navigation and gaming a breeze.

Horsepower and Performance

First generation MS Smartphones weren't speed demons, but that's changed thanks to the Motorola's fast processor and the Windows Mobile 2003SE operating system. While the MPx200 had a 132MHz processor, the MPx220 has a 200MHz Texas Instruments OMAP 1611 processor. The 1611 is an ARM family processor that has a dual core: one is devoted to running the OS and PDA basic functions, while the other is a DSP that handles multimedia, sound and some video tasks. This means the phone can perform well when running sound and voice related tasks as well as playing back video without taxing the main processor.

How does it feel? Fast. Menus open quickly, windows draw fast and you won't find yourself impatiently waiting for the phone to accomplish basic tasks. Email, Contacts, Calendar and the rest of the built-in apps are pleasingly responsive. Two of the most demanding tasks for smartphones are image manipulation and video playback. The phone's image viewer opens its own 1.2MP images with reasonable speed and zooms decently fast. It won't give a 400MHz or higher Pocket PC a run for the money, but it's very usable. Video playback is good with files encoded at 300kbps bitrate or less. At 400k you'll see jumping using the included Windows Media Player and Pocket TV, with the free BetaPlayer playing the most smoothly but still skipping.

The MPx220 has 64 megs of ROM where the OS and built-in applications are stored, ~28 megs of which is available for you to store programs and data. It has 32 megs of RAM used as program memory. For expansion the Moto has a mini-SD card slot located on the right side of the unit under a rubber cover. Mini-SD cards are fairly new and are 1/2 the length of a standard SD card. These are currently available up to 512 megs which is the highest capacity the phone supports. It may be able to support larger capacity cards once those are available, but Motorola lists 512 megs as the max. Since the MPx220 has a mini-SD slot, it can't use standard SD cards or SDIO cards such as SD WiFi cards. Why did Motorola go with mini-SD? Because it allowed them to make the phone smaller.

Phone Features and Reception

Nokia generally wins when it comes to RF (reception) and the first generation MPx200 couldn't compare. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the MPx220 has excellent reception. In areas of weak and strong coverage, the phone managed to go neck and neck with our Nokia 3650, N-Gage QD and 7610 phones. Even with 1 bar (equal to 25% on Windows Mobile devices), call quality was quite good. Voice quality, both incoming and outgoing are excellent with none of the usual background hiss or white noise heard on most GSM phones. However, call volume through the built-in earpiece is low and it can be hard to hear your caller if you're in a public place. Outgoing call volume isn't very loud but is adequate: all our call recepients on cell phones and land lines had no trouble hearing us but our voices weren't very loud either. This problem is rectified with a firmware update and all phones sold on or after Nov. 15, 2004 should be somewhat louder.

The Motorola MPx220 is a quad band phone that works on the 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands, which means it will work anywhere in the world where GSM service is available. The phone isn't locked so you'll be able to travel abroad and put in a local SIM card to make calls more affordably. In fact, we tested the phone using a T-Mobile US SIM and voice, data, SMS and MMS worked fine. If you do use a carrier other than Cingular, you will have to manually enter your data and MMS settings as they're pre-configured for Cingular.

Phone features are standardized among all MS Smartphones, so the experience is similar across these devices. To make a call, you can press the call send button and dial using the number pad or dial from call history. You can also speed dial by pressing and holding a number that's assigned to a phone number in your address book. You can add a speed dial entry from the Contacts application for anyone in your address book and have up to 99 speed dial entries. Standard phone features include call waiting, call history, speakerphone, call barring, call forwarding and caller ID.

Voice Recognition and Voice Dialing

For convenience and safety, voice dialing is a must have on any mobile phone. The Moto does add nice voice command and voice dialing features which are powered by the excellent VoiceSignal software (also found on the Samsung i600 MS Smartphone and i700 Pocket PC phone). You need not create voice tags or train it to recognize your voice. In fact, it works out of the box with all contacts in your address book (say "call Tom Jones" to call him, and specify his calling location when prompted if you have more than one number for Tom). You can also use "digit dialing" and speak the phone number you wish to have dialed. If necessary, you can adjust sensitivity, set speech speed, turn off confirmation prompts, and change between English and Spanish.

If that's not enough, Speech Recognition allows you to give voice commands to launch applications, and several are pre-configured (Contacts, Camera, Calendar and more). You can add most any application to this list. If you wish to open Contacts, simply say "open Contacts". To activate Speech Recognition for voice dialing and commands, press and hold the volume up/down rocker. You'll hear a woman's voice state "Say a command" and you're ready to tell the phone what to do. Speech recognition works with the phone, with wired headsets but not with Bluetooth headsets (*sigh*). If you're using a Bluetooth headset, you'll need to activate Speech Recognition using the volume rocker switch and speak your command into the phone's mic rather than into the headset's mic.

Battery

The MPx220 has a 1,000 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's user replacable. That's a good capacity battery for a smartphone and the device should last most folks through a day of heavy use or two days of moderate to light use. Voice and data calls use the most power, followed by Bluetooth and playing videos. The unit comes with a charger that plugs into the port on the bottom, and you can charge via USB using the included cable. USB charging is pretty fast and it's handy to have your battery topped up when you sync. Unlike the MPx200, the MPx220 doesn't use a common mini-USB cable but rather a proprietary Motorola cable.

Bluetooth

Yes indeed, the Moto has Bluetooth which allows you to use headsets (both headset and hands-free profiles are supported), transfer files, ActiveSync and use the phone as a wireless modem for a Bluetooth enabled PDA or computer. The Bluetooth stack (driver software) is supplied by Microsoft and they haven't gained much praise in the past for their Bluetooth stack on devices like the XDA II Pocket PC phone. However, the Moto's Bluetooth software isn't bad and it pairs very reliably with Bluetooth headsets supporting both headset and hands-free profiles and it supports the extra features of the hands-free profile. I paired about ten devices with the Moto (an iPAQ hx4700, Dell Axim X50v, six different headsets, a PalmOne Tungsten T3 and my desktop PC). All worked well for file transfers such as sending camera photos from the phone, and ActiveSync worked well. We did find one bug that occured with all the headsets we tested: when Bluetooth is turned on and the headset connects, the mic won't pick up sound for the first outgoing call. This means your call recipient won't hear you on the first call, but will on sucessive calls until Bluetooth is turned off and on again. A workaround is to call voicemail right after you connect the headset. You can hang up once connected to voicemail, and further call recipients will hear your voice just fine.

The MPx220 can act as a wireless modem for your PDA or computer and it did well with our desktop. You will need to enter the fairly standard init string found in the manual under the USB modem section (the same init string is used for both Bluetooth and USB modem connections). Speaking of which, you can use the MPx220 as a modem for your computer over USB with the included sync cable. If you wish to use the Moto as a modem for your Bluetooth enabled Pocket PC, you can do so.

How to use the Moto as a Bluetooth Modem for a Pocket PC

With Windows Mobile 2003 and 2003 SE Pocket PCs, you'll need to do some manual connection work though, as these Pocket PCs don't automatically initialize the Moto correctly. For some reason, this is a problem with several MS Smartphones. So how to do it? Create a new Bluetooth modem connection on your Pocket PC using "Bluetooth Dialup Modem". In most cases, the number to dial is *99#. You may or may not need a username and password as that varies by carrier. Click on the Advanced tab as you walk through the connection creation process, and set the baud rate to 56k or 115k and uncheck the box that says "Wait for dialtone before dialing". Now tap on the Port settings tab and check the box that's labled "Enter dialing commands manually". The rest of the values should remain unchanged, so save your new connection settings and you're ready to connect. Start up the new connection and you'll see a large window open where you can enter a dialing command. You'll need to enter AT+CGDCONT=1,"IP","apn_name","",0,0d*99# and hit the enter key. You should see CONNECT appear after you hit the enter key and you can close the window and use your Internet connection. Note that apn_name stands for your carrier's APN: for example, T-Mobile uses wap.voicestream.com for Tzones accounts and Cingular uses ISP.CINGULAR (WAP.CINGULAR for the MediaWorks plan) for theirs. This sounds more tedious than it really is: once you've created the connection and connected once, you can tap on the connection symbol at the top of the Pocket PC home screen to initiate the connection and either paste that long command into the manual connection from Notes, or use a keyboard app with macro capabilities to enter the string with one tap (I recommend Resco's Keyboard Pro). Data connections are fast by GPRS standards since the MPx220 is a class 10 device.

Camera

The MPx220 has a 1.23 megapixel digital camera capable of shooting JPEG photos up to 1280 x 960 resolution. You can select from a variety of lower resolutions as well, and tweak your camera settings to get the best shot. Even nicer, the unit has a very bright LED flash located beside the lens on the outter face of the clamshell that makes night and dark room photos possible. This all sounds very impressive, but the Moto takes average quality photos at best. The Sony Ericsson S700i, Nokia 7610 and several other megapixel camera phones take much better photos. In fact, the MPx220's competitor the Audiovox SMT5600 has a VGA camera that often shot better photos. Mind you, the Moto's photos are higher resolution than VGA camera phone photos, but they have more noise than 1 megapixel competitors and show less detail. In general, with early firmware versions the camera oversaturated colors a bit and with the most recent it undersaturates colors.

We generally got the best results when leaving white balance set to auto except in very poorly lit areas where manually selecting night mode yielded the best results, and indoors under incandesent light where the incandesent setting yielded better (though overly warm) colors. When outdoors on a sunny day, choosing the sunlight mode resulted in photos with really odd colors; but the automatic setting gave us photos with good color and light balance. If you find you're getting overly dark images try the night mode (even if outdoors on a sunny day), increasing brightness using the d-pad and increasing contrast to 4 in settings. The camera does have manual white balance settings for sunlight, cloudy night, incandescent and flouresent environments, and you can set brightness in the viewfinder window (updates in real time which is sweet) and use digital zoom up to 4x. You can specify where images are saved (any folder on internal memory or a mini-SD card), and turn on the flash as needed. The feature set is certainly very nice and the user interface is intuitive; if only the image quality were equally impressive.

In addition, the Moto can shoot videos up to 10 seconds in duration (95k limit, intended for MMS) or max (limited only by available storage). You can specify where files are saved, set contrast, brightness, whether your clip will have audio, and recording quality (standard, medium, high). Movie quality is average and the associated sound is absolutely excellent. Sound and video stay in sync, unlike the Nokia 7610 which takes great video but doesn't maintain sync.

Software

Like all MS Smartphones, the MPx220 comes with the Smartphone version of Internet Explorer, Media Player 9, MSN Messenger, ActiveSync for the phone and Windows desktops, a file viewer, and MS Smartphone versions of Outlook: Messaging, Contacts, Calendar and Tasks. For some reason, Microsoft has never included a Notes program that syncs to Outlook notes, but a great 3rd party program called SmartphoneNotes will do the trick if you're a big user of Outlook notes. If you're an email fiend, you'll be happy to know that MS Smartphone 2003 SE works well with POP, IMAP and Exchange servers. Internet Explorer has improved by leaps and bounds on the MPx220. If you've used IE on other MS Smartphones you've no doubt marveled at how long they took to load web pages. The Moto's fast processor and the 2003SE OS mean that web pages load in 15 or 20 seconds rather than 1 minute.

File Viewer opens MS Office docs and PDFs for viewing but not editing. You need not convert documents using ActiveSync before putting them on the phone and you'll be able to read attachments in those formats. Along with the standard File Manager, you'll get Resource Manager which allows you to see available memory, running programs and kill programs if you wish. Very handy.

As mentioned, the Moto comes with Speech Recognition which allows you to voice dial contacts and launch programs by speaking a command. The phone supports picture caller ID using ArcSoft's Caller ID application. You can attach a picture to any contact in your address book and when that person calls, you'll see their photo on the external LCD as well as the main display. It works reliably and the picture is large enough to easily see at a glance.

Display and Sound

The phone has a very nice TFT 262k color display. Can the naked eye see the difference between a 65k and 262k display? Probably not, and I can't, but I doubt anyone will complain about getting more colors! The screen measures 2" diagonally and the resolution is the standard 176 x 220 pixels specified by Microsoft for MS Smartphones. The display is rich, contrasty, color saturated and easy to read even when using small fonts. You can turn ClearType on to smooth fonts, but I find it more crisp without.

The MPx220 has a color external LCD that's 96 x 64 pixels. You can set a background wallpaper for the external LCD and adjust its contrast. The LCD shows time, date, signal strength and battery status, as well as incoming call info. If you've assigned a photo to your contact, her photo will appear on the outter LCD as well as the inner display when she calls. Nice!

Though earpiece volume and outgoing call volume aren't terribly loud, the speakerphone is quite loud and it's easy to hear the phone ringing and application sounds. The mic actually does an excellent job when recording voice notes and sound for movies: it's very loud and the quality is surprisingly good. The phone has a 2.5mm headset jack that can accept Motorola's stereo earbud headset, but most 3rd party ones I tried didn't work. Though Motorola makes a stereo headset mic for the MPx220, they don't include one in the box— a shame for a phone in this feature and price class. The Moto has vibration mode for those times when silence is golden.

All photos were shot using the auto setting at the highest resolution (1280 x 960). Click on a photo to see the unedited original.

BMW

The new BMW 645i in a well-lit show room with natural lighting.

Odwalla

Odwalla in a supermarket.

frys

Fry's Electronics, geek heaven. This was mid-day on a mostly sunny day. The colors are overly saturated and photo is too dark.

Conclusion

It looks like a regular cell phone but boy does it pack a lot of features and power! If you're looking for a phone that offers easy syncronization to Outlook and MS Exchange, can carry much the same data as a PDA but don't need the size, features and touch screen of a PDA, then do consider the MPx220. However, if you make plenty of calls in noisy public places, you may want to steer clear of the MPx220 because earpiece volume is low. If you plan to use wired or Bluetooth headsets then you won't have to worry about this. We do hope Motorola issues an updater to increase the built-in earpiece and mic volume.

Pro: This smartphone has a lot going for it: very compact clamshell design, lightweight, fast, a very nice color display, stereo MP3 playback through headphones, a color external display, an expansion slot, Bluetooth, a megapixel camera and easy syncing.

Con: Camera quality isn't competitive with many other megapixel camera phones. It's annoyingly easy to accidentally hit the volume up/down rocker and unintentionally change phone volume. Why didn't Motorola include a stereo earbud headset on this multimedia demon?

Web Site: www.motorola.com

Price: $500 without contract. $250 to $350 with new activation from Cingular

 

Specs:

Display: Transflective TFT color LCD, 262K colors (18 bit), screen size diag: 2 ", resolution: 176 x 220 pixels. Color external display, 96 x 64 pixels.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1000 mA. Claimed talk and standby times: Standby Time up to 140-260 hours,
Talk Time: up to 300-440 minutes.

Performance: ARM4 family Texas Instruments dual core OMAP 1611 processor. 32 MB built-in RAM, 64 MB Flash ROM, ~28 available for program and data storage. Can use mini-SD cards up to 512 megs in capacity (that's the highest capacity currently manufactured).

Size: 3.93" x 1.89" x .96". Weight: 3.86 oz.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 2.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Media Player 9 included for your MP3 pleasure. Phone has vibration mode and standard ringers.

Phone Network: Quad band GSM world phone. Bands: 850/900/1800/1900MHz.. Data: GPRS Class 10.

Software: MS Smartphone version of Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition operating system. Smartphone versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer, Outlook (email, Contacts, Calendar and Tasks but not Notes included), MSN Instant Messenger, Pocket MSN, Voice Recorder, Windows Media Player 9 and Media Center (handles DRM content). Also included: Speech Recognition (Voice Signal), Picture Caller ID, Camera and Video capture apps, Video Player, Resource Manager, Solitaire, Jawbreaker, Speed Dial, Calculator, Modem Link (for using the phone as a modem with a PC over USB), two Java games, Call History and Photo Album. ActiveSync 3.7.1 and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.

Expansion: 1 mini- SD slot. Does not work with full sized SD cards, you must use mini-SD cards. IR port.

 

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