Thursday, January 11, 2007

Review: Motorola RAZR V3m Phone (Sprint)

Overall rating: 1/5. Comparison: Samsung i500 at 4/5.

I have a bad marriage -- with my phone.

When I first bought my Motorola RAZR V3m I thought it was pretty feeble, but I needed something to tide me over until my Sprint contract expired. The main selling point was the mini-USB connector, I figured I could charge the phone from my MacBook (nyet) or my Dell laptop (yes). After a few days I thought it looked pretty interesting, especially when I cleaned out the default settings and installed Google's superb Gmail client.

Then I began to see the warts. They didn't go away, they just got wartier. Soon I decided the phone was a bit weak. That didn't last. I came to hate the phone with a deep and abiding passion. I was ready to rant against the RAZR in public spaces. I saw Paris Hilton holding the RAZR and I thought it was perfect for her.

Now I realize this phone was created so that I could learn to abide a deeply defective device. It exists to teach me wisdom.

Until I end my contract and take a sledgehammer to it. (Well, really I'll just donate it to charity and take a tax write-off.)

Here's the review:

Features
  • Very light and slender, good build quality. This phone is a classic example of marrying reasonably good hardware to really bad software.
  • Images are stored on an mini-SD card that can be read on any computer - if you can remove it. (OS X 10.4x also supports browsing the folders via Bluetooth. This is undocumented, but it works. Choose the browse option from the menu bar Bluetooth icon when the phone is connected). The card is a bit inaccessible. Don't lose the adapter that allows it to be read in an SD reader.
  • Compact and well made quasi-USB charger. It's the same charger for Motorola bluetooth headset.
  • Mini-USB connector for charge and data. It will charge with a mini-USB data cable connection if the phone's USB drivers have been installed. Otherwise you will get an "unable to charge" message. This drove me nuts as its very poorly documented. Sprint's web site has an obscure link in the support section for software downloads, if you specify XP as the OS you can find the Motorola Sprint PCS Connection Manager. Installing this introduces several USB drivers, enables charging via the computer port, provides some diagnostic software utilities, and lets the phone act as a modem! I haven't tested this to see if will work in Parallels for OS X. Motorola doesn't provide anything for OS X, but a generous Mac developer has.
  • Flip phone with external clock and number information.
  • Runs Google's very impressive Gmail client. Ignore the "possibly not supported" install warning, it works.
  • Somewhat to my surprise, I can browse this phone using the os x bluetooth browser and extract images that way. I can also drag and drop MP3s into the music file and play them.
Issues
  • quasi-USB chargers! Argggh. Appearances are deceptive. The cable is mini-USB, but the output is 5V and 550mA. The USB standards is 5V and 500 mA. Those 50 mA seem to matter. In any event I get "unable to charge" messages when I use an external USB charger. (See this thread and the footnotes below for more details [1]). Based on the seemingly authoritative post [1] it might be safe to use this charger with standard USB devices.)

  • you can't search the address book. Really. Yes, you can match on the first few letters of a first name, but that's so feeble I don't consider it search. It works for 20 contacts, it fails for for 500. You can't search on the last name, the city, etc.

    You can create "groups" and assign contacts to groups that are used to filter views, but I half-suspect there's no "all" view. You can do a "voice lookup", but, of course, names are not phonetic. I was able to get the voice lookup to work if I modulated my voice carefully, raised my pitch, spoke in a quiet room, used the first and last name, and pronounced the names phonetically rather than as spoken.

    If a contact has multiple numbers, you have to name the number -- and the naming process is weird. For a long time I thought it was broken, though I never did consult the manual. You have to say "mobileOne" or "workTwo" -- all one phrase without a pause between the components.

    Voice recognition systems don't like the way I speak, so others may do better than I. I would not use the voice input on this phone if the rest of the contact's interface were half-decent.

  • extremely annoying default ring tones If you want something geriatric, you're supposed to pay for it. Or choose a beep. However, you can record something as a voice message and save it as a ring tone and you can use any mp3 as a ring tone (thanks to Chris in comments).

  • no iSync support. There is an effective hack however - I can sync contacts, calendar items, and alarms. I suspect iSync will lose the "group" assignments however.

  • no input for a 2.5mm jack - need Bluetooth, proprietary headset, or a $6 USB to 2.5mm adapter which is annoying to find. Dumb.

  • address book is limited to about 500 entries and 2,500 numbers/emails. That's good, because the contacts functionality is SO bad that you probably only WANT 10 numbers.

  • You can't use it as an external "modem" to connect a computer to the net -- OUT OF THE BOX. You need to know to locate and download Sprint/Motorola's free PCS Connection Manager software. XP only. I haven't been able to get it to work yet, but I've only tried for a few minutes.

  • Using Spring 3G services drains the battery in no time. The story that the iPhone uses EDGE because of power issues is more credible to me now.

  • It's very slow to hang-up. This is a surprise, I don't know why.

  • mini-SD card is stored beneath battery -- essentially not removable

  • weak text input by default -- the default is to disable predictive text entry from the 3 letter/key cycle entry. You can actually enable predictive text with the kb entry, but it's an obscure configuration option and it doesn't work everywhere.

  • Sprint has loaded the most prized UI locations with junk, while hiding the calendar, alarm clock, voice recorder and calculator in "Tools". However, you can change the key assignments to put Tools up front.

  • The many games are all very limited demos. I've deleted all but one of them.

  • The micro-SD card is about the size of a fingernail, and not much thicker. Impressive. Push the battery downwards to lift it out. It's not obvious where the SD card goes; lay it on the metallic surface near the arrow and gently press it in.

  • The "web" is a "walled garden" -- all sprint, junk, and third rate portals. (AOL? Puhlease.) Way down the 'options' menu is a 'go to url' option. I was able to navigate to Google and install the superb Gmail app on this phone. There's an obscure preferences option to change the home page and a button to revert to original. I changed to Google Mobile of course, but I kept the original as a bookmark.

  • If you turn off bluetooth power, then turn it on again, you will need to power cycle the phone before it will be reachable by bluetooth.

  • I enabled the 'track location' option for third parties, but so far Google doesn't seem to have picked this up. I wonder if Sprint is charging a large amount for this data. I don't know if enabling the $6/month GPS option does anything useful.

  • The corresponding Motorola bluetooth headset dials the last number called if you press the single large external button. This happens very often -- by accident! I'm constantly dialing people who think I'm making obscene phone calls. The only way to prevent this is to turn off the Motorola bluetooth headset -- but the UI for that is very bad. The headset and phone together are so bad they're almost good in a hideously bad sort of way.

  • If I carry the phone in my pocket the phone ringer volume is often accidentally dropped to the lowest level - no sound! I miss calls this way.

  • There's no external light or indicator to tell one that there's a voice mail waiting. So if you miss the voice mail ring, you miss the voice mail until the next time you open the phone.
Reconfiguration (mostly making this a Google phone)
  • Change screen settings so top is messages, left is tools, right is "content" and down is contacts
    .
  • Change web home page to Google Mobile and login to your personal Google HomePage.

  • Install Google Maps and Gmail reader from Google Mobile. Google Maps, btw, will show traffic information on the phone for some areas, including the Twin Cities (MN).

  • Learn to use Google SMS to request location specific information

  • Configure Google apps with the locations you want (I have to learn if these can be configured via computer).

  • Turn of auto-guess with the non-predictive text entry
Summary
  • A pretty face on a brainless abomination. This phone is so repulsively bad it probably convinced Jobs to greenlight Apple's iPhone project.

  • Data port charging requires USB drivers installation. There are none for OS X. See this post.

  • Contacts are really bad and voice selection is broken in a particularly obnoxious way.

  • Remember to change photo and video settings so images are stored to the micro-SD card.

  • Sprint has larded the phone with low value content that generates direct or indirect revenue for Spring. This can mostly be removed, but it takes a lot of tweaking to cleanup the phone. I think we have to live with the music link.
Footnotes

[1] A recent Future Hardware thread is excellent. Many vendors have sinned by producing non-compliant quasi-USB power supplies.

Update 1/17/07: Wikipedia says computers won't deliver more than 500 mA, so it's exceedingly annoying that the phone will charge from a data port but not a 500 mA charger:
Initially, a device is only allowed to draw 100 mA. It may request more current from the upstream device in units of 100 mA up to a maximum of 500 mA. In practice, most ports will deliver the full 500 mA or more before shutting down power, even if the device hasn't requested it or even identified itself. If a (compliant) device requires more power than is available, then it cannot operate until the user changes the network (either by rearranging USB connections or by adding external power) to supply the power required.
Update 1/18/07:
Update 3/12/07
Update 2/18/2008: It's not easy to leave the RAZR -- no true reset function!

16 comments:

Mr. Zwiggy said...

There is in fact a search command on the contacts listings - no worries! Simply begin to type your letter and a magnifying class popup will appear. Enter the corresponding 3-tap letter to jump to that letter. Good review, though!

John Gordon said...

Thanks, I should have been more precise about my search comments. I've revised the review to clarify. I know about the ability to match on the first few characters of the first name, but that doesn't scale to 500 names. There are too many matches, or I don't remember the first name, etc.

(Prof) Hal said...

Great review!!!
QUESTION: any way to download images On Razr V3M (Sprint) to computer via a USB cable? Please reply to hhfrank@bovine.net Thankyou.

(NOte: Understand images stored on memory card can be downloaded if card it removed, placed in special holder, then inserted into a card reader. FYI cable charges phone from my Dell)

John Gordon said...

Prof hal - I don't know a way to download images via the USB cable, but if you're able to charge from your Dell you've probably installed the XP Connection software from Sprint. Try playing with that, or see if XP is displaying the phone as a mounted item.

On OS X I can browse this folder using the OS X Bluetooth browser -- but not via USB. (There are no OS X drivers, so none of the USB stuff works with OS X except charging thanks to the hack I reference in my review.)

Anonymous said...

My complaint is the lack of a USB Audio driver. Without this, you can't plug the V3m into your PC, and use your PC's speakers (or PC's headphones) to listen to your music (while charging the V3m too). I don't understand why MOT makes a phone that can output music/sound thru its mini-USB port, but never thought to supply a USB Audio driver for the PC.

John Gordon said...

I wonder if a USB audio driver would break some DRM scheme they fancied they'd add.

Drew said...

Do you know how to turn mp3 selections, transferred to the phone, into ring tones? I used Motorola Phone Tools to transfer chopped mp3's to the media player on the phone but can not figure out how to make them usable as ring tones. I have done this before quite easily on several other Motorola's I've had under Cingular service but this Sprint version just might be the death of me.

John Gordon said...

The phone will record ambient input as a ring tone, so I was thinking one could bet a mini-jack to phone jack cable and use analog output from an MP3 player to create a ring tone. It's kludgy, but it's not like sound quality would be much of an issue!

Eric said...

A lot of your issues have easy fixes, such as the need to purchase ringtones. I actually love the Razr for how easily modifiable it is, compared to most cell phones. Head on over to www.hacktherazr.com if you have some spare time. The guides there were meant for the Verizon Razr, but a lot of them will work for the Sprint V3m. If it doubt, ask in the forums. One of us will answer you!

Chris said...

To use an .mp3 as a ring tone just drop your .mp3 into the audio folder via bluetooth and it should show up in the available ringtone list. Another way is to make a voicerecord, it will create a file like this: 6 28PM 04-18-07.qcp. You then rename your .mp3 to match the voice records file name and replace it.

John Gordon said...

Chris, I know the voice record works, but another commentator thought the mp3 hack didn't work on the v3m. I'll try what you suggest via Bluetooth. I've an MP3 of 'bird calls' that would make a tolerable ring tone.

John Gordon said...

Chris is absolutely right. Now I have "dawn chorus" as my ring tone. thanks Chris. I think I'll take Eric's advice as well and start hacking the phone.

alok said...

my v3i has a sound clip in the voice recorder but it is not transferrable to any computer or any other phone i want that clip as it has someones last words and i have tried my level best to copy that clip to my computer but always failed. pls help me to get that voice recorded clip.

John Gordon said...

Alok asked about recovering a voice recording that held the last words of a loved one.

I'd recommend the old fashioned route. Play the recording so the audio out goes to the audio in of a recording device.

Anonymous said...

Go: -->
1st HelloMoto.com/ Memu → support/download get drivers.
2nd Motorola Phone Tools Vr 4.x ---> eBAY IT... if it comes with the Moto Cable the better.
3rd UpGrade FrimWare Frm #1st... best if cable is in attached fone to puter -- follow the #ed instructions.
Will tide U over to the > -end of HELL contract-< Good Luck!
Phone Tools will DownLoad and transfer files to and frm fone and puter.
4th 2gig mico sd will help with storage...
Wife: has same razr and we transfer files with cable and BlTooth connections images, ringtones,
I like the razr but Sprint APPEARS TO ME!
Service is being down graded call don't alway ring ??? tis a puzzle they go into voice mail... bing getting that a lots lately.

Calls just go into voice mail I've called from house fone and second Sprint Line and it just goes into voice mail. Think! Sprint has cut down on coverage capacity area to compensate for $,$$$.xx company short falls! "DFW METRO AREA"

JESSICA said...

THIS MESSAGE IS FOR CHRIS, HEY I HAVE A SPRINT V3M PHONE AND I TRIED THE VOICE RECORD METHOD. IM JUST WONDERING EXACTLY HOW DO U CHANGE THE NAME OF YOUR MP3 TO REPLACE THE VOICE RECORD. WHEN I WENT TO MY MP3 PLAYER IT WONT EVEN LET ME RENAME A SONG, SHOULD I INSERT THE MEMORY CARD AND DO IT THAT WAY, IF SO PLEASE TELL ME WHAT ELSE TO DO........