- Packed with features
- screen flips automatically for gaming
- excellent home screen design.
- Bulky and heavy
- video calls are of questionable value
- lacks Bluetooth
- Assisted GPS functionality not yet fully implemented.
The A920 is Motorola’s second phone for 3G networks, and as such Motorola needed to address criticisms of the first generation of phones -- particularly their unwieldy size and weight, and poor battery life. Unfortunately, although the A920 has plenty of features and 3G networks promise much, it’s currently something of a disappointment.
At first glance, the A920 seems like a throwback: it’s bulky at 148.5mm by 60mm by 24mm, and also rather heavy at 212g. Some of this weight and bulk is down to the A920’s solid build quality, and some to all the technology that’s packed inside. If you’re going to carry this much phone around, you’d better really want all of its features. The screen, which occupies a large portion of the front of the casing, has a resolution of 208 by 320 pixels and can deliver up to 65,536 colours. Below it sit four buttons, two of which begin and end calls. There’s also a Triangle key that opens the browser to 3’s information services, and a Shortcut key that returns you to the Home Screen from wherever you happen to be. In the middle of this quartet is a four-way navigation key, with a selection button in its centre. Above the screen are two further keys that have several functions, including acting as game keys -- the phone supports Java and can be flipped into landscape mode during game play. Also above the screen is the VGA-resolution camera, which is embedded within the casing and can be swivelled towards or away from you depending on whether you want to capture stills or make video calls. It can also be swivelled to protect the lens within the phone’s casing. The only side-keys are along the left edge, and are for activating the speakerphone, changing the volume and setting up voice tags. The earpiece connector is also on this edge of the casing, although we generally prefer it to be on the top edge as it suffers less when the handset is in your pocket. There’s an infrared port on the right edge, and an SD/MMC card slot underneath the battery cover on the bottom edge.
The A920 is packed with features. Diary and contact management are provided courtesy of the Symbian operating system, as is the desktop software that lets you synchronise with a PC. Data travels via a rather chunky USB cradle -- you can’t synchronise using Bluetooth, as this is notably absent from the phone. When it comes to entering data (either into the diary, contact manager or any other application), there is competent handwriting recognition built in, although the stylus is rather flimsy. The A920 supports MMS and video clips, while an MP3 player delivers good-quality output to headphones -- speaker output is pretty loud, too. As already noted, J2ME is built in, and 3 is stressing the fact that the phone’s 16-bit colour capability, landscape mode support plus navigation pad and game keys make this a good gaming phone. Support for POP3 and IMAP email is catered for, so you’ll be able to use the A920 as a business tool when away from the office. But what’s really being pushed with the A920 are the features that take advantage of 3G technology. These include two-way video calls, location-based services and the various information services available over the air (which include plenty of video content). Of course, you’ll have to be in an area with 3G coverage to take advantage of these features, and -- in the case of video calls -- be contacting another 3G user. Video calls work reasonably well on the A920, and you can see both yourself and the person you’re calling in the large screen. Don’t expect real-time quality, but if you really need to see your correspondent, it works well enough. The information services on offer include various video-based offerings, and include bulletins on weather, news, sports and entertainment. This is a key selling point for 3, but the current range of services are designed to appeal to broad general interest rather than anything specific. For example, you can get cinema reviews, but you can’t look up Katharine Hepburn. Finally, there are the location-based services. To work optimally, these require the use of AGPS (Assisted GPS), and although the phone supports this feature, 3 has not fully implemented its end yet -- the company expects to complete this by early next year. In the meantime, some GPS-based features, such as journey planning and ‘find my nearest’, which functions for a small number of services, are supported.
The A920’s bulk and weight make it difficult to slip into a pocket and irritating to carry around. We had some problems getting access to video services during our travels, although connections were stable enough once made. The design and usability of the Symbian OS and its PIM features caused us no problems. The ability to personalise the Home screen to show information like unread text and email messages, active tasks and upcoming appointments as well as a selection of favourite 3 services is useful. However, the screen is often cluttered with icons, and newcomers may find it takes quite a while to learn to navigate efficiently. Battery life is quoted at around 90 minutes of talktime and 70 hours on standby, but you’ll get less than 90 minutes if all your calls are video calls. This is fairly poor, and Motorola provides a second battery that you can charge in a slot in the docking cradle and carry as a backup. Support for SD/MMC cards means you can augment the A920’s 8MB of internal memory to store applications and data; a 32MB card is provided with the phone.
The A920 is crammed with features, many of them taking advantage of the 3G network’s unique capabilities. Despite all this, using this phone is, on the whole, a rather unsatisfactory experience. Its large size and heavy weight do it no favours, and nor does the poor battery life. Screen clutter may well prove off-putting to newcomers, and although some of the more advanced features -- notably the mapping, route planning and ‘find your nearest’ -- are very appealing, maps and route planning aren’t confined to the 3G space. And the lack of Bluetooth will annoy anyone hoping to synchronise with a PC wirelessly. Finally there is the question of coverage, which for video in particular is currently not UK-wide -- and, if the map at 3’s Web site is accurate, won’t be UK-wide even by April of next year.