The Motorola Clutch is a fascinating hybrid of a phone.
At first glance, it looks much like a BlackBerry smartphone: it's got a full QWERTY keyboard and its profile is a bit of a hybrid between that and a candybar phone -- meaning it's a bit smaller than your average QWERTY messaging phone.
But unlike your typical QWERTY messaging phone, laying down the $129 needed to purchase the i465 Clutch doesn't also involve a two-year contract.
That's because the Clutch is available through Boost Mobile, a no-contract division of Sprint Nextel (you can learn more about Boost Mobile in a recent article on ZDNet sister site SmartPlanet).
Part of the stigma of the no-contract business is that the phones aren't up to snuff with the contracted carriers. The Clutch aims to bridge that gap, only somewhat successfully.
In the palm, the Clutch feels great. The peaked keyboard, while a bit small for my big thumbs, is tactile enough to message quickly. The rectangular phone is relatively thin and quite light, and its tapered edges are wrapped in a textured, slightly rubberized gunmetal and crimson shell.
Along the right side of the screen are shortcut buttons for messaging, Web browsing and the camera. Out back, you'll find the built-in camera, which takes images as high as 640x480 resolution -- average, so don't expect the camera to perform well in less than bright light.
Interestingly, the Clutch is certified to military specifications for shock, vibration, dust and solar radiation.
On paper, the Clutch is quite a capable device: it's got a 600-contact phone book, supports several POP3 e-mail accounts and has threaded texting (no IMAP4 or Outlook Exchange or IMs, though). Thankfully, it has a standard mini-USB charging port, though the 2.5mm headset jack was a bit of a downer.
Unfortunately, turning on the Clutch reveals its main flaw: interface.
The user experience is less than optimal, due in part to the small 1.79-in. display (my digital camera's is bigger), which only has a resolution of 160x128 pixels, and the actual interface feels quite dated (see image at top). Though the OS responds extremely quickly, the screen feels crammed, icons and text are relatively tiny, and you feel as though you're typing in MS-DOS at times.
Perhaps it's because the Clutch has a passing resemblance to a BlackBerry, but you're left wanting a bit more.
In my testing, call quality was great. Voice came through loud and clear, and the phone handled loud volumes well -- usually a telling point for a cell phone. I tested the phone in New York and had crystal clear calls and great service -- even inside ZDNet headquarters, where my own phone's T-Mobile service usually gets iffy.
Battery life was also decent, and the phone managed to keep a charge for several days of standby (but only lasts a few hours through nonstop chatting).
Despite its drawbacks, the Motorola Clutch is a step in the right direction in bridging the hardware gap between contract and no-contract carriers. It's a good-feeling device that merely needs a screen upgrade (size, resolution, interface).
The real importance of this phone, however, is that the Clutch answers the prayers of those looking for QWERTY-style messaging on a prepaid, no-contract carrier. In that sense, the Clutch succeeds.