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Editor's rating (1-5):
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Reviewed June, 2006 by Jacob Spindel
It's rugged and stylish. It's sleek and comfortable. In fact, the Motorola PEBL offered by T-Mobile has quickly become the second-most handsome thing in my house, behind only the cat (trust me, you don't want to upset the cat). The PEBL is the fashion-conscious cousin to the stylin Motorola RAZR and SLVR (all vowel-challenged and hip). Although its features don't stack up quite as well as its design, the PEBL is a contender for basic users who are concerned about their phones' durability and good looks.
The PEBL is a jet-black flip-phone with rounded edges, measuring about 3.5" by 1.9" by 0.75" when closed and weighing 3.8 ounces (other colors are also available). It's also available in blue, orange and green. The device is called "self-opening," meaning that it snaps completely open or closed in a manner that feels almost spring-loaded. Three buttons line the phone's sides, while the camera and outer display are on the front of the phone. The only other external component of the phone's minimalist design is the user-replaceable battery on the back of the phone.
When opened, the phone's internal buttons and screens follow the standard layout. However, one feature that is more unique is the style of the buttons themselves, which are flat and involve less physical motion than the buttons on most cell phones. Although the backlighting of the buttons is minimal, the buttons' design also contributes to the phone's overall sense of durability.
Durability, in fact, is one of the phone's strongest features, since the outside shell simultaneously feels both rubberized and solid. I wouldn't recommend the phone for situations where you will intentionally be regularly involved in high-risk situations (and definitely no scuba diving!), but if you use it normally and happen to have an accident, the PEBL seems significantly more likely to survive than many other phones.
Data and Phone Features
The PEBL is a quad-band GSM world phone (supporting the 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands) with support for EDGE and GPRS. For voice calls, it worked well, generating clear audio with good volume, with the built-in speakers as well as with wired and wireless headsets. The reception remained strong throughout the areas in which I tested the phone.
The PEBL worked well with T-Mobile's "T-Zones" portal, which allows you to access basic functionality like ringtones, images, and news sites specifically built into the T-Zones area. Ringtones downloaded quickly and easily, although users should note that "celebrity voices are impersonated" (the Darth Vader ringtone sounded more like Arnold SchwarzenVader). Since our review phone had only the basic T-Zones data plan, I wasn't able to download Opera Mini, or test DUN (Dial up Networking). The phone is Java compliant and supports J2ME, so Opera Mini and the wealth of J2ME games should work fine.
PEBL to the Metal
This would've been yet another restatement of "the phone uses the standard Motorola user interface, which has decent performance..." except that the PEBL had the misfortune of being reviewed at the same time as Samsung's t509, a phone that has truly raised my expectations. Compared to the Samsung, Motorola's user interface has a noticeable lag for virtually every button push, even just navigating basic menus. T-Mobile doesn't specify what CPU the PEBL uses, but my patience for these types of delays is quickly running out.
The phone does not accept any expansion cards, and has only about 5 MB of internal memory accessible to the user. Although I was glad to see that its connector is a standard USB mini-B 5-pin port, the usefulness of this feature is largely negated by the fact that it cannot connect to a computer via USB unless the computer has optional software installed (not included with the phone).
The phone has very sharp displays. The inside display is active matrix with a resolution of 176 pixels by 220, and it displays up to 262,000 colors with a bright, clear image. Even the external display, which is 92 x 32 pixels, is more stylized and unique than most flip-phones' outer screens, offering multiple display styles you can choose from to monitor the phone's clock, battery, and signal strength when the phone is closed. Being a flip-phone, the PEBL also has the inherent advantage of strong protection for its internal screen.
The PEBL's built-in camera also worked well. Although its resolution is a modest 640 x 480, I found the clarity of the pictures to be impressive. Using the 4x digital zoom made images a bit blurrier (as expected), but still fairly decent. As with most cell phones, pictures and movies from the camera are stored as JPEGs and 3gp files, respectively.
The PEBL's Bluetooth is yet another case of "just like all the other Motorola phones." In testing, it paired with computers and wireless headsets without problems, and it also used Bluetooth to transmit files (such as photos you take with the camera) successfully. However, like other Motorola phones, you have to manually enable the "discoverable" mode every time you need it, since the mode will turn itself off after one minute. This makes for better security but it can also be a nuisance if you frequently pair with new devices.