Reviewed August 17, 2008 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
When we first played with a pre-release Motorola ROKR E8 early this year, mobile phones with haptic feedback touch controls and touch screens had not taken the world by storm. Fast forward to today, and we have a slew of Samsung phones including the Samsung Instinct, Samsung Omnia and Samsung Glyde with haptic touch screens, along with the LG Vu and Dare among others. The Motorola ROKR E8 takes a different and cooler approach with localized surface haptics for the buttons (only the area underneath the virtual button vibrates instead of the entire phone). The ROKR is a music-centric phone with Motorola's signature strong reception and voice quality, and it has head-turning good looks. It's a solid music phone with 2 gigs of internal storage space and a microSD card expansion slot, a standard 3.5mm stereo audio jack and Bluetooth A2DP stereo support. The phone's design is stunning and folks asked about it wherever we went.
The Motorola ROKR E8 is a quad band GSM phone with EDGE for data. T-Mobile is the only US carrier offering it, and like all new feature phones on T-Mobile, the ROKR E8 has support for T-Mobile myFaves.
There is no question that the Motorola ROKR E8 looks cool. It's not as sinuous as some Nokia fashion phones we've seen, but it has a modern-art like slab look with a sense of 3D motion. The back of the phone has a soft touch surface while the rest of the E8 is piano black, smooth and slippery. The 2" QVGA display sits in landscape orientation and is bright and colorful with 262k colors. The ROKR E8 has touch sensitive controls with haptic vibration. You get all the normal phone menu keys, d-pad (all touch control of course) plus a FastScroll wheel wrapping around the d-pad at 270 degrees. The touch controls are easy to use with the exception of the FastScroll in phone mode which is too fast to give you precise control. You can use the d-pad however as an alternative to scroll in all 4 directions. The FastScroll wheel works great for music playback control-- more on that later. Side buttons include a volume rocker, camera launcher, charging/accessory port and key lock/power on key. The 3.5mm stereo audio jack sits on top of the phone, and the 2 megapixel camera and the excellent rear-speaker live on the back of the E8. The microSD card and the SIM card both live under the battery door, and you have to remove the battery to access either.
Music controls appear when the music player is running.
But behind the pretty face, the ROKR E8 uses a cool UI technology called ModeShifting. The phone offers a different set of touch controls depending on context. The buttons are actually virtual--drawn onto the phone rather than being traditional hardware buttons, so Moto had the freedom to place and remove buttons as they saw fit, depending on the task at hand. You will get the traditional number keys, call controls, and other menu touch controls when in the main/phone mode. But when you activate music, all the number keys and other menu touch controls disappear completely. Instead you will get the music playback touch keys such as shuffle, repeat, play/pause, etc., morphing the phone into a music player. The same thing happens when you launch the camera: you will see zoom in/out touch controls, photo/video recording toggle control and photo editing touch controls. We've seen touch sensitive controls on several feature phones including the LG Chocolate but none with such creative integration between the touch controls and the applications on the phone. See the ModeShift feature in action in our video below.
Phone Calls and Tools
The Motorola ROKR E8 is a GSM quad band world phone that's offered by T-Mobile in the US. Like many Motorola phones, the ROKR E8 has great signal strength and rarely drops a bar even inside of big building in T-Mobile's good coverage areas. The voice quality is also very good through both the earpiece and the built-in speakers. We tested several Bluetooth headsets with the ROKR E8, and it worked well with them. The voice through the Plantronics Discovery 925 was clear and volume was good. The DSP worked efficiently at filtering out road noise and background noise. The range between the E8 and the Plantronics reached 10-15 feet before we heard audio degradation. The voice quality was slightly less clear but also quite good via the Jawbone II Bluetooth headset.
The Motorola ROKR E8 has basic phone tools including a phone book, calendar, messages, file manager, alarm clock, calculator, world clock, task list, notes and voice notes. The phone has a slight lag in launching applications, not long delays but just long enough for you to notice it. Games run smoothly on the E8. We found the phone very pleasant to use when running most applications and we were very happy with Java games performance. The only thing we didn't care for was the set up for the Call Send key when myFaves is on the maximized setting. On most phones, the green Call Send key usually leads you to call logs, redial and to initiate a call. But the E8's Call Send key is dedicated only to the myFaves set up. If you want to look up a previously dialed numbers, to redial the last number, etc. you will need to go to Call Log under the Main Menu. Since you can use the Home screen of the ROKR E8 to add and manage the T-Mobile myFaves, assigning the Call Send key to add myFaves is not only redundant but also will confused most users. Fortunately, you can change the myFaves display setting to "minimized", and the call send key then does what you'd expect it to do.
When you are ready to shift your mode, the Moto ROKR E8 is primed to be your music player and FM radio. The sometimes annoying FastScroll wheel actually works well in the music player, providing an iPod-like control experience. With the number keys hidden and music playback touch controls in full swing, the ROKR E8 looks and feels like a dedicated MP3 player. The haptic feedback works well and the 3.5mm stereo audio jack on top of the phone is a great bonus. Combine these with 2 gigs of internal memory and a microSD card slot to store music, and you've got a powerful music player on top of a phone. The good news is Motorola and T-Mobile include a 1 gig microSD card to start you off and the bad news is the microSD card isn't hot swappable. The music player supports several major formats including MP3, AAC, AAC+, Enhanced AAC+, WMA, WAV, AMR-NB, Real Audio (RA) v10 and has common music playback features including playlist, shuffle, repeat and more.
How does the phone sound when playing music? The Motorola ROKR E8 has really excellent speakers and it sounds even better through the 3.5mm stereo audio jack with stereo headphones, and through Bluetooth stereo headset via A2DP. We are glad to see more recent music-centric phones coming with a 3.5mm standard stereo audio jack. The audio is clean and loud through the 3.5mm audio jack on the E8, and music tracks sounded good with nice bass and channel separation. The Motorola also has a FM radio that sounds great and gets lots of stations. You must plug in a standard 3.5mm audio headset to use the FM radio, since the headset's wire acts as the antenna (a wired stereo headset is included). You can also transfer the radio audio from the headset to phone's speaker to share with friends. If you want to listen to music wirelessly, the ROKR E8 has Bluetooth A2DP and AVRCP profiles to meet your needs. We tested the E8 with the Samsung SBH500, and the music sounded fabulous through that Bluetooth stereo headset. One more music-centric feature is Song ID: put the phone next to a music source so it can listen to a piece of music, and the phone will identify the song. The ROKR E8 comes with Song ID powered by Shazam Entertainment and it provides not only the track name, but also the artist and album info.
The Moto ROKR E8 has a built-in 2 megapixel camera with 8x digital zoom that can also record video. The camera can take still pictures at 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 320 x 240 and 160 x 120 resolutions, and the images are good by 2 megapixel camera phone standards. The ROKR E8 camera can take photos as good as those taken with the iPhone's 2 megapixel camera, and it captures good colors and texture. The images show slight artificial sharpening, but all in all the still images are quite good. The camera phone offers white balance, effect settings and supports multishot and self timer modes. The camera can also record video with audio at either 144 x 176 or 96 x 128 resolution. You can set video quality and video length (two MMS settings and max length setting). The video quality is decent without noticeable frame dropping or blockiness.
Amazing Battery Life
Without 3G or GPS, we expect good battery runtimes from feature phones. Even with that expectation in mind, we were amazed at the Motorola ROKR E8's runtimes. The 930 mAh rechargeable battery (model number BK60) gave us more than 7 hours of talk time and about 2 weeks of standby time. In today's power hungry cell phone world, these numbers should be extremely attractive to users who are often away from charging stations. The battery is user replaceable, and most users will do fine without an extra battery (we don't get to say this very often).
The ROKR E8 is a solid phone with great reception and audio quality, never dropping a call. The music experience is competitive with other music phones such as the Nokia 5310 and the LG Chocolate 3. The lack of 3G and related services such as streaming video (a la Verizon V CAST, Sprint TV and AT&T's CV), no music store and GPS are the downfalls for the ROKR E8 if you're considering carriers other than T-Mobile.
Pro: Very sleek and modern design with innovative ModeShift technology. The touch controls work well in most phone controls and applications. Very good audio and has amazing battery life.
Con: Phone lags at times. MicroSD card isn't hot-swappable. No 3G.
Price: $99.99 with 2-year contract after mail-in rebate and discount. $349.99 without contract.
Display:2" QVGA 262K color TFT screen. Landscape orientation. Resolution: 240 x 320 pixels.
Battery:Lithium Ion rechargeable battery, 930 mAh, user replaceable. Claimed talk time: up to 7.5 hours. Claimed standby time: up to 12.5 days.
Performance:2GB internal memory. Phone book can store 1000 entries.
Size:4.5 x 2.1 x 0.4 inches. Weight: 3.5 ounces.
Phone: Quad band GSM world phone. 850/900/1800/1900MHz. GPRS/EDGE class 12 for data.
Camera: 2 megapixel with up to 8x digital zoom. Supports multi-shot feature. Still image resolutions: 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 320 x 240 and 160 x 120. Can take video with audio.
Audio:Supports MegaTones, HFi Ringers and MP3 music tones. MP3 player onboard to play music in MIDI, MP3, AAC, AAC+, Enhanced AAC+, WMA, WAV, AMR-NB, Real Audio (RA) v10 formats. FM Radio. 3.5 mm stereo audio jack. Can record voice memo. Supports vibration alert.
Networking:Bluetooth v2.0. USB 2.0.
Software: Supports myFaves. HTML browser and Web-based IM on board. Messaging and email support. MP3 player built-in. Supports Java games. PIM tools include phone book, calendar, messages, file manager, alarm clock, calculator, world clock, task list, notes and voice notes.