- Small pocket-friendly design
- nice range of extra applications
- can be inexpensive on certain tariffs
- No Bluetooth
- no camera
Motorola became the first handset manufacturer to openly declare a Windows Mobile-based smartphone when it announced the MPx200 earlier this year in an exclusive deal with Orange. The device joins Orange's SPV, now on its third incarnation as the SPV E200, as one of only two current models of phone running Microsoft's operating system available in the UK. Motorola has done a fairly good job, although Bluetooth and a camera are both absent from the hardware, while the SPV E200 runs a more recent version of Microsoft's software. The MPx200 is available on Orange's network and is free with certain tariffs. It will also be offered shortly on a pay-as-you-go basis.
The clamshell hardware design makes the MPx200 immediately appear different to its only current UK rival, the SPV E200. This design makes for a pocket-friendly phone that’s both small and neat, although not overly light. At 4.8cm wide by 8.9cm tall and 2.7cm deep it easily slots into both pocket and bag, and is ideal for carrying when you’re travelling light. You do notice the MPx200’s 118g weight in your pocket, but it’s not too distracting.
The clamshell design offers two notable plus points: there’s no need for a separate case to protect the screen, and there’s more room for keys than on a ‘candy-bar’-style phone, which should in theory mean you get a more ergonomic key layout.
On the whole, Motorola has taken advantage of these two features. The 176-by-220-pixel, 65,536-colour screen is obviously hidden from view when the clamshell is closed, so Motorola has implemented a small LED on the outer casing. This conveys vital information like battery power and signal strength, offers icons for missed calls, new SMS, email and answerphone messages, and even tells you the current time. When the phone receives a call, you get the number, or the caller’s name if this is stored in the phone. A dial wheel on the left-hand side of the unit -- whose main function is to change volume and start the Voice Notes application -- can send the call to voicemail if pressed twice.
As far as button layout is concerned, Motorola provides a large navigation pad with a clearly marked (blue) action key at its centre. The soft keys, the talk and end pair, and the home and back pair are nicely spaced around this, but sadly Motorola has rather cramped the number pad. This is annoying, as there’s close to a centimetre of unused space near the hinged area that could have been used to give these keys a bit more room.
The edges of the phone are neatly laid out, with SD/MMC card slot and headphone socket on the right-hand side, power, infrared and the volume key on the left, and the bottom edge reserved for docking and charging purposes.
The MPx200 runs Microsoft Smartphone 2002 (not the more recent Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphone found in the SPV E200), and hence comes with the software that forms the core of that operating system installed onto ROM. This includes the Contacts, Calendar and Tasks tools that synchronise with Outlook, Inbox for integrated email and SMS management, Voice Notes, Pocket Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player. You also get an MSN Messenger client. Motorola and Orange add a few applications of their own, including Orange Backup, a management tool for using the phone as a modem and some utilities for managing the on-board memory.
The product box includes a mains power adapter, synchronisation and recharge cable and a handsfree kit. The installation CD provides Outlook 2000 and ActiveSync, backup versions of some of the pre-installed applications, a couple of demo versions of games, and full versions of Lemonade Inc (a game), and Caller ID. The latter allows you to assign a picture to your contacts, so you can the source of incoming calls.
Just 10MB of storage is set aside for your own applications and data, which will sound miniscule to any existing handheld user, or anyone wanting to use the fairly good-quality output from Windows Media Player to listen to music on the move. Fortunately, there is an SD/MMC card slot and a 16MB card. Unfortunately, the slot does not support SDIO.
The phone itself is tri-band GSM, supports GPRS, conference calling, HTML and WAP browsing, and voice dialling. There are plenty of on-board profiles and ring tones, and you can add more as well as augmenting the screensaver and home screens with downloads over the air or via synchronisation. The processor -- never something smartphone manufacturers shout about -- is a Texas Instruments OMAP 710 running at 120MHz. It coped easily enough with the tasks we threw at it, although (as with other Microsoft smartphones we have used), we did have to wait for the software to act on our key presses on occasion.
Orange suggests that the MPx200 is a phone for ‘professional consumers’. This, we presume, means those who want to keep tabs on their work diary and contacts, but who may also want to listen to the odd MP3 or generally have a little fun with their phone.
Microsoft’s software has a few irritations that Motorola, like other hardware partners, simply has to live with. One example: we aren’t enamoured of the system for navigating to applications, which can require scrolling through bland-looking list-type menus. But Motorola provides some software tools that help you make the most of it -- notably the suite of tools it calls the Utility Pack. Hidden away in the Accessories folder, these allow you to manage the memory on the MPx200 in various ways, for example closing open applications and deleting unwanted SMS messages, emails, voice notes and so on. Excellent tools, but why so well hidden?
We have a similar gripe about the hardware wheel on the left-hand side of the unit. As noted, this alters the volume and can send incoming calls to voicemail. But it would be much more useful if it also scrolled through applications in the manner of a jog dial.
We were irritated on those few occasions when we had to wait for the system to process tasks -- for example opening or moving between applications. The MPx200 seems less prone to this than earlier SPV phones, but having to wait at all is annoying.
Finally, there’s battery life. Orange Web quotes up to 5 hours’ talktime and 110 hours on standby. We found we got through a couple of days of average use between charges, although heavy use of Windows Media Player and lots of talk did deplete the battery more quickly. You should plan for daily power boosts to avoid disappointment.
Overall, the MPx200 is an impressive little phone. The hardware is generally very ergonomic, and the software enhancements from Motorola and Orange are welcome. If you’re looking for a smartphone and find the Orange tariffs on which this phone is free attractive, then it’s an interesting proposition, but don’t expect it to deliver handheld-like functionality.