Nit Picking the Motorola V551
It seems like yesterday that the V400 and V600 hit the stores for Cingular users. On paper, these phones were unbeatable for clamshell fans: Quadband, external LCD display, speakerphone, java, and even Bluetooth on the V600.
But trouble was brewing in the heart of Nit Pickers everywhere. All the V400 phones I sampled or owned each had some defect of some kind, ranging from earpiece audio being too low, to my #1 V400 Nit Picks: Crooked LCD screens! Mushy keys! Misaligned hinges! Read my comments about Nit Picking the Motorola V400 here.
Then there was the infamous Cingular V600. Tales of cracked plastic bezels where the two halves meet at the hinge, and finally, the sudden removal of the V600 from the Cingular lineup.
The Motorola V551 - image from Cingular.com
So how does the V551 stack up? Let’s find out!
When first released with Cingular in the fall of 2004, right around the time of the AT&T Wireless merger, it listed for $249 without contract, and even less depending on length of contract renewal.
For this Nit Pick, I physically inspected 12 different handsets before leaving the store with one for a more in-depth test. In those 12, I found one or two version “AA” phones, and the rest were “BA” versions. This review discusses a sample “BA” version.
I was pleased to find that the only major fit and finish problem with the sample V551’s I looked at was the LCD screen alignment. Nearly every phone I looked at had out of alignment external and internal LCD screens, except one. Otherwise, typical problems such as hinge alignment, mushy keypad buttons, dust under the screen, are practically absent.
The box the V551 comes in.
In the Box: The V551 comes in a newer, smaller box than what Motorolas have come packaged before. The top opens up to reveal a small recessed area where the actual phone rests in. Under this decorative panel lies the manual, charger, battery and rear door.
Physical Appearance: One big feature that sets this phone apart from it’s Cingular predecessors (V400 and V600) is the rubberized plastic in a handsome dark blue color. It provides a very nice grippy feeling in the hand, and resists fingerprints very well. Even the battery door is coated in this material.
The battery compartment is nearly identical to it’s V400 cousin. A metal slider holds the SIM in place, and takes the same slim battery as the V400/V600 series.
One of my biggest gripe with the V600 is how the hinge tends to press down on a glossy black bezel near the camera. In the case of the V551, the hinge edge rests on the dark blue rubbery plastic. In this image, you can also see the wrist strap hole, 2.5mm headset jack, camera lens and self-portrait mirror.
The V551 is slightly larger than the classic V60 (right), but smaller than the built-like-a-tank i530 for Nextel (left).
i530, V551 and V60 opened up
V60 on top, V551 in the middle, i530 on the bottom.
As recently as the V400/V600, Motorola has had the unusual reputation for “backwards” keypads. That is, the send/end buttons were right-to-left. I’m happy to say that the V551 buttons are send of left, end on right.
The keypad illuminates under low ambient light conditions. A light sensor is located under the translucent rubbery “foot” to the left of the Cingular logo and mic. The 7 and 9 keys were slightly less bright than the others.
In actual usage, the keys in all sample V551 handsets I tested had very good tactile feedback, without any mushy keys I’d get with V400 phones. The V551 adds a Cingular logo button above the send key for one-touch jumps to the browser home page, and a dedicated still camera button above the end button. While this is nice, this makes the menu softkeys just below the screen just that much smaller, and I found myself constantly pressing the Cingular logo or camera key all the time. My fingers aren’t huge, but it’s just something to get used to.
Hello, Moto! The V551 startup splash screen.
Poking Around the V551: The V551’s screen is very familiar. Nice and bright and good color saturation.
The brightness controls, shown in the “Neon” theme.
Excellent contrast between light and dark colors.
Yes, the V551 has Bluetooth! I could not test the functionality of this, as I do not currently own any Bluetooth accessories. I’ve been told that there is a small bug when using Bluetooth headsets and ringer profiles, where the phone will ring in a default “Continental” ringer when paired with a headset. Your results may vary!
The Bluetooth menu shows two options: Bluetooth Link lets you configure and manage your device and pairings, and the icon on the right is for synchronization. Sync functions were not tested at the time of this writing.
LEFT: Default icon/photo address list. | RIGHT: Address by list view.
You can adjust your phonebook’s appearance under this menu option.
Gamers, look elsewhere. You’re looking at the V551’s gaming options out-of-the-box. Just Bejewled, but it’s a DEMO version!
On a happier note, the V551 now features skinnable menus. The V551 comes with three default choices: “Moto”, “Techno”, and “Neon”. Each one activates a new color scheme, background wallpaper, and text color.
The “Moto” skin
The “Techno” skin
The “Neon” skin
I prefer the Moto skin’s simplicity and the Neon skin’s black text color. Very easy to read that way.
The built-in browser is nothing fancy. The left shows the homepage, and the right shows a typical WAP-ready page (Yahoo!) with a few spartan color icons. Although the V551 is EDGE capable, I had no way of knowing if I was in an EDGE coverage area by looking at the phone. Download speeds were typical and unremarkable.
Yes! Dancing status animation!
One really Nit Picking thing I did enjoy was the addition of a status animation on the very top of the screen, between the RF bars and battery icon. Little dancing arrows zip between a phone icon and a globe icon.
One of my biggest Nit Picks about predictive text entry is that it should include the ability to learn new or unique words. Motorola’s latest version of iTap, which I first saw in the V400, features a nice word completion feature. In this example, I had already “taught” the V551’s dictionary the word, “Wirelessandy”. The next time I started typing, it recognized the pattern and offered up four matches below, but goes one step further: It offers the last complete match in a grayed-out text, followed by an “up” arrow. Pressing the keypad’s up arrow automatically inserts the complete word. For those of you who find this distracting, the V551 also offers tap methods as the default text entry method.
I don’t know if the V551 will play your latest greatest sound file so your phone can cluck like a chicken or belt out the latest hip-hop tune. I just don’t care, so I didn’t test sound files.
The multimedia menu (“Videos” selected in the photo above) gives you shortcuts to view your stored photos, videos, sounds, and the infamous Moto Mixer.
But I was interested in the camera and video aspect, so here are some samples:
Sample photo in my kitchen, “small” (160x120) setting.
Sample photo in my kitchen, “medium” (320x240) setting.
Sample photo in my kitchen, “VGA” (640x480) setting.
The V551 also takes short video clips, and I was somewhat befuddled by this. The phone has two settings: small and large (I don’t remember the exact names, but you get the idea). No matter what image size setting I chose, each video timed out at just around 91KB filesize. Naturally, this meant the smaller image size video clips were a little longer.
The V551’s default video file format is a “3GP” format. Quicktime seems to work to view these clips. You can probably find other players that work just as well.
Download small V551 movie clip my dog, Cliff, playing fetch. (92KB, .3gp format)
Download large V551 movie clip my dog, Cliff, playing fetch. (91KB, .3gp format)
All photos and movie clips were transferred from the phone to my laptop via Motorola’s MobilePhoneTools using a Motorola OEM USB cable.
Misc. Nit Picks:
Profiles: Motorola has long championed the “Vibrate then Ring” mode. This is still the case here. However, when the flip is closed, you can toggle through the different profiles WITHOUT causing a major audible ruckus! The “bloip!” tones you normally hear as you switch between the profiles is noticeably less noisy and obvious.
Instant Messaging: The V551 comes with AOL’s IM application built in, but nothing else. No ICQ, Yahoo!, etc.
Email: Like the V400 and V600, this phone has a built-in email app.
That Rubbery Texture: I am paranoid about this. I like to slip my phones in my pocket or a case, but this rubbery stuff is so sticky, it feels unnatural. I know the T-Mobile V300 also featured this material, but I question the long-term durability of this material.
I know it’s a pager. Keep reading.
This is my pager I use for work. It’s got a similar rubbery finish over plastic. But there is very obvious scuffing and there rubbery coating has worn out completely where the sides rub up against the plastic holster. At the time of this writing, the pager is only about three months old. I can’t help but think this might happen to a V551.
Front LCD Contrast: I’ve always enjoyed the V60 and V400/600’s front LCD displays. A monochrome LCD doesn’t time out and go blank like color ones do, making them ideal for always-on status indicators. But for some reason, the V551’s front LCD is difficult to read off-axis, as seen in this photo. Not a deal-breaker, but worth noting.
WirelessAndy Screen Test:
The V551 passes. With a monochrome external LCD, you can always read RF bars, battery, etc. For some reason, the off-axis viewing is a bit of a problem, as the display becomes slightly washed out. The main LCD is readable outdoors, but contrast is a bit of a problem unless you turn off the wallpapers.
WHAT I LIKED: Very low electronic background noise in the earpiece. Able to hold onto a call in lower RF areas. Quadband and Bluetooth are nice touches. Built-in email app and nifty iTap are plusses. Video clip capture, at the smaller resolution, is a nice trick. Skins are a nice touch.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Video capture file size limitations are puzzling. Smaller shortcut buttons take some getting used to. External LCD off-axis contrast problem. Complete lack of pre-installed games other than a demo.
NIT PICKER DEALBREAKER: The rubbery finish is what did it for me. It feels unnatural in the hand for me, and I really can’t say how it’ll hold up over the long run.
For other reviews, opinions or stats on this phone, click on these links:
PhoneScoop.com: Motorola V551 / V547 / V555
Air goes in and out. Blood goes round and round. Any deviation is a problem.