- Bluetrack works on almost any surface
- Compact design
- Uncomfortable after a while
- Expensive compared to alternatives
- Folding ability isn't all that useful
It’s been hailed as a revolution and 3’s advertising talks about video telephony as something that no-one should live without. My personal interest however, was not the video telephony at all, but rather the nice hefty bundle of inclusive voice calls that 3 offers at a very competitive price. The 750 minute bundle costs a very affordable £35 a month which seemed ideal to me as I use my mobile phone quite a lot.
So off I went and ordered the brand new Motorola A920 handset online, at a bargain price of nothing at all. A day later the handset arrived as expected. I was aware that 3G phones where larger than the current generation of GSM handsets; but I still didn’t expect the brick that arrived.
The Motorola A920 is larger than most modern PDA’s but still offers a smaller screen. It might be a bit narrower than the HP iPAQ 1940, but it’s much taller and quite a lot chubbier. The exact dimensions are 60 x 148 x 24mm (WxHxD) and it weighs in at a hefty 212g, which makes this by far the largest mobile phone I have ever owned.
Taking a closer look at what you get in the box, you might think that you’ve bought a portable computer and not a phone. The package contains the phone itself, a desktop cradle, two chargers, a USB sync cable, two batteries, a stereo headset, a stylus, a 32MB SD memory card, a protective pouch, a software CD and let’s not forget the massive manual and documentation bundle. Not a bad set of accessories with a phone. There is a reason for the two chargers and two batteries but I’ll get to that later.
First off, let’s take a closer look at the handset itself. The display sports a resolution of 208 x 320 pixels and 65,000 colours which equals to 16bit colour depth on a PC. The display is touch sensitive as with modern PDA’s and as mentioned a stylus is supplied. The stylus is however nowhere near as good as those seen with most PDA’s. The stylus is a bit too short and smooth to feel comfortable in use. The A920 also features 8MB of internal memory which seems a bit stingy for such an advanced device, but this can be expanded by adding an SD card.
Below the display you’ll find the main buttons. You get a four-way navigation rocker with a push button in the middle, a programmable back button, a quick access button to 3’s online services as well as call and hang-up/power off buttons. At the top of the display are two game buttons on either side of the speaker. Above that is a digital camera that can be rotated to either face towards or away from the user.
On the left side is a button that accesses the built in hands free, a volume button and a voice dial button. You’ll also find a connector for a hands-free kit behind a small rubber flap. On the right hand side is what looks like an infrared port, but this doesn’t seem to be enabled and there is no option in the menu system to enable it either.
Below the battery compartment, inside the rear cover, is a card slot for SD or MMC memory cards. You’ll also find a SIM-card slot behind the battery. One thing worth mentioning here is the small plastic tab that you have to pull to remove the battery. This felt particularly flimsy and could well come off at some point if you change batteries regularly. The supplied batteries are of Lithium-Polymer type and are rated at 3.6V and 800mAh.
On the topic of batteries, why does this phone come with two as standard? This is something you don’t expect to see with a modern mobile phone, but with the A920 reporting flat battery after about 90 minutes usage with phone calls and data use, you’re going to need to change the battery. An in-car charger would also have been a handy inclusion. The A920 managed some 40 hours standby with light usage (no phone calls), although 3 quotes up to 70 hours. The stated talk time is quoted at 95 minutes and the video talk time at 55 minutes, which is fairly poor compared to standard GSM phones.
The integrated camera is capable of capturing video and stills at resolution up to 640 x 480. This is very good for a mobile phone, but it can’t compete with even cheap digital cameras. This is however slightly beside the point, as the camera is meant to be used with 3’s video telephony service. Sadly, I was unable to try this out, as I don’t know anyone else that owns a 3G handset. Recording a video with the built in camera is fairly straight forward, but a shortcut button for the camera would have been preferable, rather than having to press an icon on the “home” page to access it.
The video image quality is very blocky and doesn’t bode well for those wishing to have long video conversations. Still images come out much better, but the quality is still nothing to brag about. You can assess the still image quality yourself by clicking on the picture taken outside the TrustedReviews office.
The A920 can roam on GSM 900/1800/1900MHz which allows you to take it with you when you go travelling. On top of this you get support for GPRS as well as the 3G UMTS (WCDMA) standard which allows for high-speed data transfer. It should also be possible to roam on other 3G networks abroad, especially in countries where 3 already operates a service.
I have to mention the hands-free headset, as it is beyond a doubt the most uncomfortable set of head-phones I have ever used. The ear-buds are so big and heavy that they start to hurt even after a short while. If it wasn’t for the soft foam pads it would be too painful to use the hands-free device, this is something Motorola should improve on in a hurry.
The USB cable and the docking cradle are straight forward enough to use and the neat thing with the docking cradle is that it can charge the second battery at the same time as the phone. The only slightly odd thing is how you connect the charger to the cradle.
Instead of having a separate connector for the charger, it connects to the side of the USB sync cable.
The one really cool feature of the A920 has to be integrated AGPS (Advanced Global Positioning System) navigation. This allows you to access GPS satellite data in order to locate where you are or navigate a route to where you want to go. The only snag here is that 3 charges 10 pence per map download. The problem is that the maps aren’t exactly accurate, although they do show the exact location you enter. The level of detail displayed is sketchy at best and it’s hard to see the street names. It can however be very useful for locating the nearest cash point, pub, restaurant and a wide range of other services that 3 offers as part of its GPS service as long as you have some idea of where you are in the first place.
There is one vital thing missing, a wireless interface such as IrDA (although it seems to be implemented, but not functional as mentioned earlier) or Bluetooth. You might think that this is not so important with an all-in-one device such as this, but it is very handy for sending data across to other types of devices such as mobile phones or PDA’s. Also it means you can’t use a Bluetooth hands-free headset. And with a phone this big, that’s exactly what you’d want to use with it.
So what about the operating system and usage? Well, the operating system is based on the Symbian platform, similar to that of the Sony-Ericsson P800 phone. It’s using what Symbian refers to as OS 70 which is the platform developed for stylus based devices.
This is a very stable platform, although it is somewhat slow on the A920 but this is likely due to the supporting hardware rather than the software. The A920 is also very slow to boot into the OS once you’ve switched it on, taking between 20-30 seconds.
If you’ve used a stylus-based PDA before, you shouldn’t have any problems getting to grips with the A920. Even if you haven’t used a device like this, once you’ve got used to stylus input, it should become simple to operate. It is worth reading the manual, which is reasonably detailed, although some changes seem to have occurred in the software since the manual was printed.
The standard set of applications include a simple Notes application, a To Do list, a Calendar, a Calculator, a Contacts list, an email and SMS application, an Audio player, a Video player, a world clock, a Picture viewer and a Voice recorder. There is also a control panel and applications that allows you to sync the A920 with either the supplied desktop suite or over SyncML. There are no games supplied as standard and these have to be downloaded for a charge. The biggest problem here is that you’re charged for them every three days and it’s not cheap at 50p per game.
The applications are very similar to those found on PDAs so they are pretty simple to use for anyone who’s ever had a PDA. The Contacts list is very useful and can be synchronized with Outlook. You can dial numbers or send emails by taping on the corresponding field in the contacts list. There is also an option here to select between voice or video calls as well as SMS or MMS.
Using the A920 as a mobile phone feels clumsy and the on-screen keypad doesn’t help. Having to tap numbers on a screen just isn’t as intuitive as pressing a keypad. One good feature however is the call log which makes it very easy to go back and check the last 20 or so calls you’ve made.
You can select what network to use and change the phone over to 1900MHz if you happen to be in North America. There is also an option to switch the radio transmitter off, allowing you to use the A920’s PDA features while you’re on an plane.
Online content was one of the main selling points when 3G was launched and 3 provides plenty of content through its online service. This is accessed trough a special version of the Opera web browser. You can download news, football, movies clips, games and weather reports to mention a few. The only problem here in my opinion is that you can’t access non 3 content such as other web sites or even WAP content. You don’t always want to download a video to check the news, sometimes just accessing a news website is preferable. Hopefully this is something 3 will change as soon as some of its competitors launch 3G services.
As this is a mobile communications device email is also part of the package and I was hoping to be able to access my office email while on the move. Even though the manual seems to be slightly out of date with regards to this, setting it up was fairly painless. You need to set up a 3 voice mail account first and then a 3 email address. With this done I figured it shouldn’t be any problem to set up my POP3 email, but I was wrong. It turns out that 3 won’t allow you to access a POP3 mail server and you’re forced to use the 3 service, as with the online content.
Emails are charged by the kilobyte, so you end up paying anything between 5p and 50p to send and receive each mail. Considering that it takes around two minutes to send and receive a few emails via a GSM dialup connection using any POP3 account, I can’t see too many people wanting to use 3 email.
Oh yes, Voice mail, I almost forgot about this. If you don’t check your voice mail, 3 will email you a reminder with the option to download an attachment with the voice message. What I didn’t realize was that the file I ended up downloading was close to 500kb, which would set you back quite a lot outside of any included data traffic.
Not exactly what you would call customer friendly, but I imagine that most users will only fall for this once.
There were of course several features I was unable to test, partly because I don’t know anyone else with a 3 phone. Features such as SyncML require a server to sync with, again something I didn’t have access to. Several of the online features weren’t available or didn’t seem to work. A word of warning here, 3 does charge for most of its online services, anything between 5p and £2 and this is worth bearing in mind before you go mad downloading things.
So what about making phone calls? As this was the reason for getting the A920 I had high expectations and as the A920 roams on O2 when you’re outside 3’s network I was expecting no less than excellent voice service. Sadly this was the biggest flaw and disappointment. Sitting at home, making a voice call, the network would cut out without any apparent reason and it was even worse when on the move.
It seems that the problem is when there is a weak signal on 3’s network and the phone is trying to roam, but still detects the signal from 3. This makes the phone swap between the 3 and the O2 networks without being able to decide which one to stick with. I would have thought that it would be smart enough to stick with one network until you finished the call you were on, especially if you were stationary at the time.
Obviously the price depends on the contract option that you go for, but the A920 doesn’t seem to be available free anymore. The best price we could find at the time of writing was £129 with a 12 month contract.
Somehow it seems that technology has got the better of usability and I will be returning my handset to 3 thanks to its two-week no questions asked return policy.
It has to be said that the A920 does have some solid features, but the poor network performance and the inability to use my office email means that the phone and the service are of little use to me. If 3 allowed you to use third party services and not force you to use its own, then the A920 could be a very useful tool. However, the intolerable voice service can not be forgiven, especially since the generous talk-time package are what will entice the majority of buyers.
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