Do you remember the days when phones were used to make phone calls? The days before we became obsessed with megapixel cameras, multimedia messaging, music playback and video calling seem to have been lost in the mists of time. It seems that unless a mobile phone can be used to do everything bar service our car, we’re not even going to consider it as our next upgrade, despite the fact that a great many consumers never use even a fraction of the features on offer. However, it seems that this situation is not completely lost on mobile phone manufacturers and one or two of them have realised that some people still want a phone just to make phone calls.
So, before I get started I’ll point out that the Motorola PEBL is very lacking when it comes to advanced features. You’re not going to find a high resolution camera, or masses of internal memory, or even a memory card slot. What Motorola has created with the PEBL is a small, light and beautifully designed phone for people who just want a phone.
To be fair, Motorola isn’t the only manufacturer that has gone down this style over function route – last year Nokia released the 8800 which proved to be hugely successful. The 8800 was pretty barren when it came to features, but its solid metal, sliding case made it an instant hit with the mobile phone fashion victims, despite its extortionate price. Motorola on the other hand has made the PEBL affordable for anyone and everyone – which may mean it’s not quite as exclusive as the 8800, but it’s no less slick and stylish.
You’ve probably seen the ads on TV for the PEBL – you know the one, where a meteor hits the Earth then after thousands of years becomes the PEBL. OK, so the ad is somewhat pretentious, but don’t let that put you off. I don’t think I’ve ever used a phone that feels as good in the hand as this one. The smooth, rounded contours, coupled with the tactile rubberised finish makes the PEBL extremely comfortable to hold.
Pretty much the whole of the PEBL is finished in matt black, with the exception of the polished metal hinge and the long external display. When in standby mode the external screen will display the time of day in either digital or analogue formats, as well as signal strength and battery life. This screen also displays the caller ID information when you receive a call, allowing you to decide whether to flip the clamshell open and answer or not.
Talking of flipping this clamshell phone open, the PEBL has the best opening mechanism I’ve ever seen. My everyday phone is a Samsung D600 and I love the way that slides open and closed, but the PEBL beats even that. The PEBL is secured shut by four strong magnets – two either side of the screen and two either side of the keypad. To open the phone you hold it in your palm, then just slide the whole top section towards you using your thumb – this breaks the contacts with the magnets and the PEBL flips open effortlessly. So the tactile rubber finish isn’t just to make the PEBL feel good in your hand, it also makes it very easy to open.
When you open the PEBL you realise that it looks as good inside as it does from the outside. The keypad has a shiny, mirrored finish to it, while the curved ridges separating the numbers look great, especially in a darkened room. But despite looking decidedly cool, the keypad maintains a standard layout, so you won’t have to re-learn how to text, as is the case with many of Nokia’s “stylish” handsets.
Unlike most phones today which have two soft buttons to control the menus, the PEBL has three. The middle soft button brings up the main menu, as does the button at the centre of the four-way pad, while the left and right soft buttons allow you to select options or exit your current menu. The four-way pad can also select four shortcuts from the main screen, as can the left and right soft buttons. All these shortcuts are user definable, so you can access much of this phone’s functionality with a single button press.
Below the three soft buttons and either side of the four-way pad are two more shortcut buttons, but these are hard locked to your Messages menu and your web browser. On top of this plethora of shortcut keys, Motorola has also managed to squeeze in hard Call and End buttons – so all those people who get confused using a phone without a green Call and red End button will feel at home with the PEBL. What’s most amazing though, is that despite all these buttons, the keypad on the PEBL never feels cramped. I’ve used phones with far fewer buttons on the keypad that felt cramped and clumsy, but not this one – I’m not sure how Motorola has pulled this off but I’m impressed.
There are even more buttons squeezed onto the side of the phone too. On the left you’ll find volume up and down buttons, while on the right is the Voice Command button. Pressing the Voice Command button allows you to control a number of the phone’s features using your voice. The most obvious voice command is voice dialling, but unlike any phones I’ve used in the past, you don’t have to record the voice command first – simply press the Voice Command button, say “Name Dial” and then say the name of the person in your address book that you wish to call. The accuracy is pretty impressive, but what impressed me even more was when I tried the Digit Dial option. Using Digit Dial you have to say the telephone number that you whish to call and despite the lengthy nature of phone numbers, the PEBL managed to get it right every time I tried.
Although I’ve already pointed out that the PEBL’s advanced features are thin on the ground, that’s not to say that it doesn’t have a feature set at all. For instance, the Samsung D600 doesn’t support voice dialling, but the PEBL does. With this in mind it’s good to see that the PEBL also supports Bluetooth communication. It also has an integrated camera, but the resolution is a very lowly 640 x 480. That said, if all you want to do is take pictures for multimedia messages, that resolution will be more than enough. But even if Motorola had equipped the PEBL with a 2megapixel camera, that would only have highlighted this phone’s biggest limitation, it’s lack of memory.
While the latest batch of mobile phones come with oodles of storage space for photos, music and anything else that you want to carry around in your pocket, Motorola has seen fit to give the PEBL only 5MB of memory. This is, quite simply a pathetic amount of storage space for a modern phone, especially since there’s no memory card slot either. Compare this once more to the Samsung D600 and you’ll see that the latter not only has 76MB of internal memory, but also has a memory card slot, allowing you to add up to 512MB!
The PEBL loses ground to the D600 in other areas too – the screen resolution of 176 x 220 is nowhere near as impressive as the 240 x 320 screen of the Samsung. To be fair though, the D600 does have the best screen I’ve ever seen in a mobile phone. The PEBL is also heavier than the D600 at 110g compared to 99g – although it really doesn’t feel heavier when you hold it in your hand.
But there’s one area where the PEBL really excelled and left pretty much every phone I’ve used in the past few years in the shade – battery life. All mobile phone manufacturers tend to quote a fairy tale number for battery life, since they will never know what your particular usage habits are, so you only really find out what battery life is like when you start using a phone. When I received the PEBL for review it was a Thursday morning – I charged it up, put my SIM into it and started using it as my own phone. It wasn’t until Monday morning that the PEBL started beeping to tell me that the battery was running down, so I got four full days on a single charge, including a couple of hours of talk time!
Talking of charging, the PEBL is charged through a standard mini-USB port and the bundled power supply obviously has a mini-USB connector at the end. However, I was somewhat disappointed to find that the PEBL wouldn’t charge when connected to a PC via USB. Now, it may be that Motorola’s synchronisation software is needed to facilitate charging via a PC, but this didn’t come in the box so I couldn’t say for sure. But even if the PEBL does require software to charge from a computer that’s hardly an ideal situation – being able to charge your phone from anyone’s PC is quite a bonus, especially if you travel a lot like I do.
Continuing the PEBL’s feature list, it will playback MPEG4 video, MP3 files (which can be used as ring tones) and can be used to download all your POP3 or IMAP4 email. But once again, these features are somewhat moot considering the amount of internal memory at your disposal. At least the quad band support means that you should be able to use the PEBL pretty much anywhere in the World.
Price wise, you can pick the PEBL up for free on most decent contracts. Going with Orange and a contract that gives you 120 anytime, any network minutes a month, you’re looking at £25 per month with the PEBL thrown in for free. Compare this to a Nokia 8800 on the same contract and you’re looking at paying £339.99 for the phone! I’m sure that there are many out there who feel that the Nokia 8800 looks better than the PEBL, but is it worth paying almost £340 for? I don’t think so.
Motorola’s PEBL is a beautifully designed and constructed phone that will appeal to the style conscious consumer. It’s far from feature packed, and the lack of internal memory will severely limit the use of the features that it does have. However, if you’re looking for a small and stylish phone to – god forbid – actually make phone calls, the PEBL should be high on your list.
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