- contracts with 3 are competitively priced
- Large and bulky hardware
- no access to the wider Web or to WAP sites beyond 3’s 'walled garden' services
Motorola’s A920 was one of the early 3G phones, and we felt it was full of promise but rather too large and low on battery life to overly excite us. That phone has been updated by the A925, and, as its name suggests, it's an incremental development rather than a radical redesign. The advent of the A925 (from £149 with a contract from 3) means that the A920 has reduced in price to as little as £99 with a contract.
Physically the design of the A925 is similar to that of the A920. Size and shape are all but identical, and in terms of weight and dimensions there’s hardly a millimetre or gram to separate the two. Even the black and silver colour scheme is retained from the earlier model, although the configuration of the colours is rearranged. This all means that our comments relating to the A920 on its heaviness, largeness and clunky feel are all appropriate to the A925. And our comment that you’d better really want all the features on offer to justify carrying the A920 applies here too. Motorola has altered the shaping of buttons on the front of the unit, but not their functions or locations. So beneath the large screen lies a raised round navigation key with select button in its centre, and four shortcuts on a pair of long horizontal rockers. The upper rocker houses what Motorola calls the ‘shortcut key’, which takes you to the phone’s home screen, and the ‘triangle key’ which is dedicated to launching 3 services. The lower rocker houses call and end keys. Above the screen sit two game keys (which actually do more than simply function within games), the earpiece (which is disguised as a Motorola logo) and the built-in camera. As before, you can swivel the lens round to take photos facing towards you and away from you; positioning the lens somewhere between these two orientations affords it protection. The camera captures stills at three sizes up to VGA (640 by 480), which feels a little low-resolution in comparison to some camera phones now coming onto the market. However, you can take MMS-style photos without any problem, and video at 176 by 144 resolution. You can capture either a 60-second video or a 12-second one, the latter being suitable for sending as a video message. On the left side of the unit are buttons to launch speakerphone and control volume, and right at the bottom is the earpiece connector. This is a singularly unergonomic location for this connector: it's precisely in the spot where it may get jarred and in time adversely affect the connection. If only this were always located on the top of the case.
The Motorola A925 runs on version 7 of Symbian’s operating system, and sports the UIQ interface. This puts it in the same category not only as the A920 but also as Sony Ericsson's P800 and P900 (although obviously the two Sony Ericsson phones don’t offer 3G services). The 208-by-320 pixel screen measures 40mm wide and 60mm tall, which means it occupies about half of the front of the casing. Using the A925 alongside the A920, it's clear that Motorola has tweaked the screen to make its 65,536 colours a little more vibrant on the new model, which enhances usability especially in lower light indoor conditions. The Symbian software includes a range of applications suitable for personal information management, (contacts, calendar, to do list) and can share data with your main computer via the bundled software and docking cradle. There's plenty of other software on ROM, including a music player and note taker (which lets you both sketch to the screen and use handwriting recognition), applications for managing digital images and video and communications-orientated software such as the phone dialler and SIM/MMS/email manager. The A925, like its predecessor, can be held horizontally when paying wide-format games -- the phone supports Java, and there is already a range of games available. The other key application provided on ROM is the browser, which is your route to almost all of 3’s services (with the exception of video calls). These include entertainment and information services ranging from news and weather to sports results, film reviews and 3’s much-vaunted location-based services. These can route you from place to place and find services within an area you specify -- services include things like restaurants, cash machines, cinemas and hotels. Information can include video clips, and while there's some cachet in seeing Premiership goals being scored on a mobile phone, we found the buzz a little short-lived. Although the A925 is technically capable of wider Internet access, 3 restricts access to its own 'walled garden' services. Video calls are made via the general-purpose phone dialler, a utility that puts the usual soft number pad on-screen for you to prod at. Using video calling is as easy as keying the number you want to call and then hitting an icon for either voice or video to initiate the call. Bluetooth has been added to the A925 -- its absence from the A920 was something of a sore point. If nothing else, this should alleviate problems with that awkwardly positioned headphone jack. As far as the other specifications are concerned, the phone is tri-band, and there is 8MB of memory inside for your data and for add-on applications. An SD card slot lies under the battery cover, and you get a 32MB SD card in the box. The A925 is supplied with a docking cradle and software to help you share information like contacts with your main computer. In addition, Motorola provides a comprehensive -- and perhaps to newcomers rather daunting -- set of manuals encased in their own plastic folder. In fact, these are among the better written guides we’ve seen, although they don’t go into a great deal of technical detail.
Motorola suggests battery life of 90 hours standby and 120 minutes' talktime. Actual performance will depend on how much you use multimedia features and 3G access -- the quote for video calling is 60 minutes, for example. We found it unrealistic to expect a full day’s usage when using all of the 3G features from a single battery, and even using the second battery we sometimes fell short. Plus, of course, carrying that second cell adds to the overall bulk and weight of equipment -- albeit not by a great deal. We have always found Symbian’s UIQ interface to be usable, and have no qualms on that front. The handwriting recognition in particular deserves special praise -- it worked perfectly first time, and considering the array of software on ROM, finding what we wanted was remarkably easy. However, the A925 remains too large and heavy to be a main mobile phone unless the 3G services are truly compelling – and we're not convinced that video calls and 3’s other services are there yet. Many people – particularly mobile professionals -- are too used to having access to the full Internet to be content with a walled garden.