My Impressions of the Motorola 7797
Mot7797.JPG (9790 bytes) The Motorola StarTac 7797 is a tri-mode IS-136 phone available from Rogers/AT&T.

Last Updated: 12-Jun-2000

Disclaimer: The following review represents my personal opinion. No bench testing was performed on this or any phone reviewed on my web page. If you don't agree with something I say, you are certainly welcome to politely bring it to my attention (in public or private). However, any out-and-out insults or flames will be ignored.

Like the Nokia 6160, it supports both 800 Mhz and 1900 Mhz digital operation, as well as analog. As I noted in my review of Rogers, you owe it to yourself to get a tri-mode model if you plan on signing up with them. By gaining access to 1900 Mhz, you have greater capacity in larger metropolitan areas than do people using 800 Mhz-only phones.

The phone sports the familiar StarTac form factor, which I personally found very comfortable. The Motorola specs say that the phone weighs 3.6 ounces, but don’t take that too seriously. The weight is given using a super-low capacity battery that virtually no one ever buys. With the standard battery, the phone tips the scales at 4.2 ounces (120 grams). That’s still a bit lighter than the Nokia 6160, which tips the scales at 4.9 ounces (138 grams).

The keypad looks very handsome and despite the flush design it still had a reasonably positive feel. The display is a two-line LCD design with separate icons for various other features. It was quite easy to read, and despite the limited display size it is also quite adept at displaying text messages. It does that by scrolling the message sideways across the screen "marquee style".

The keyboard layout is a bit odd however, as I found the SEND and END buttons extremely hard to reach. Although it is possible to dial this phone with one hard, it requires a fair amount of concentration. The flip is also difficult to open with just one hand, since the phone has no tabs sticking out of the side for your finger to catch on.

The display is not visible when the phone closed, but Motorola does allow you to turn off the "answer when open" feature. This allows you to view the Caller ID information before you decided to answer the phone (by pressing the SEND button). Many people like the idea of a phone that answers when they unfold it, but that comes at a price. You can’t see who is called prior to answering the phone under those circumstances.

The phone comes with a belt clip "holder". You clip the holder onto your belt or pocket, then you lock the phone into the holder when you aren’t using it. This is very similar to the holder provided with the Motorola i1000 on Clearnet Mike. I found the holder to be very convenient, and it was consistently easy to use.

The phone includes a built-in vibrator alter, which unlike many other Motorola models is relatively weak. It is difficult to feel it through anything thicker than a T-shirt. The strength is slightly better than the anemic Nokia 6185, but not by that much.

The menu system on this phone is typical Motorola. Although it seemed nice enough on the surface, it has very little logic to its design and I found it horrendously difficult to get used to. There is no convenient method for stepping back one level in the menu hierarchy. In many instances, if you end up in the wrong place you must start from scratch.

If you’ve experienced the menu layout of a Nokia 6100 series phone, then this Motorola model isn’t going to turn your crank. That doesn’t mean the menus are a total washout though, as they work much better than those on Motorola’s iDEN phones. However, Motorola has a long way to go before this StarTac model has a menu structure that is even remotely user-friendly.

You can redial the last number by pressing the SEND button, but not if you pressed any other keys during the last call. This is one of the most frustrating feature of most Motorola phones, and one that drove me completely up the wall. You can access the last 20 dialed numbers through the menu, but getting there requires quite a few keystrokes. The phone also stores the last 20 received calls, but it does not make a distinction between answered and missed calls.

To make matters worse, the phone does not include a clock or a calendar. That means yours call logs contain only the telephone numbers and (where applicable) your alpha tags. The phone also wastes the available 20 entries by storing multiple instances of the same phone number. Most other phone designs remove older references to duplicate numbers, thus retaining historic information for longer periods of time.

Battery life seemed fairly decent with the standard battery, but you if you need extra power, you can always buy a piggyback battery that extends the life of the primary one. The piggyback battery can be changed without shutting down the phone (even during a call). The only other model I know of that supports secondary batteries is the Qualcomm "Thin Phone". I believe the upcoming Ericsson T28 will support secondary batteries as well, but don’t quote me on that.

Despite its small size, the phone also includes an industry-standard 2.5 mm headset jack. This jack can be found at the top of the phone, thus making it accessible when wearing the unit on a belt. Volume and clarity through the headset is also very good.

I was very surprised at the audio quality, which sounded far less coarse than my Nokia 6160. I didn’t have any other 6160 models to compare against, so I had to assume that mine was typical of the model. That being the case, I would have to rate the earpiece audio of the 7797 well above that of the 6160. It also has much greater earpiece volume, which should be a definite advantage in noisy environments.

The volume controls for the phone are conveniently mounted on the side of the unit, and they were easy to reach. My only gripe is that to adjust the volume of the earpiece during the call you had to press one of the buttons once to "get the phone’s attention" and then twice to actually begin the process of changing the volume. This is the same gripe I had with the Sanyo SCP-4000.

The phone also has an incredible ability to blot out background noise in the transmit audio. The only downside appears to be a microphone that is too sensitive and poorly placed. I found my 7797 producing far too many "breath across the microphone" noises if I wasn’t careful. If Motorola can fix that small problem, the audio qualities of this phone would be about the best I’ve heard to date on an IS-136 model.

All is not rosy however, since the RF performance of the phone is very poor. The phone suffered from far more audible bit errors than my 6160, it dropped to analog far more easily, and it was far more likely to begin a call in analog if the signal was questionable. To make matters worse, the analog side of the phone was just horrible. Under the same conditions the 7797 produced crackling and hissy audio where the 6160 could produce very stable audio.

Again, I had only one copy of the 7797 to test, so this may or may not be typical. However, I strongly suspect that it is, based on messages I’ve read in the cellular newsgroups. How much this matters to you depends on where you live. If you are usually around very strong Rogers signals, then the lower performance of this phone shouldn’t have much impact on you. However, if you live in areas with questionable signals, you may want to think twice about purchasing the 7797.

So in my opinion, the 7797 is a flawed but otherwise capable phone. If the RF problems aren’t a concern, and if you really don’t care how good the menus are, then I doubt you’ll be dissatisfied with the StarTac.