My Impressions of the Motorola L Series
Motorola L7089.gif (17134 bytes) I got a chance to test an L-2000 courtesy of Oscar Mok, who let me borrow his phone for a couple of days. Most of what I learned about this model also applies to the L-7089 and the L-7082

Last Updated: 07-Mar-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.

The new "L" series from Motorola consists (for the Canadian market at least) of the L-2000, L-7089, and L-7082. The L-2000 and L-7089 models are tri-band, which means they will work in any country where GSM is supported. The L-7082 is a single mode 1900 MHz model, so it will work only in North America. The L-2000 is targeted specifically at the Asian market, since it includes support for Chinese characters. The keys on the phone include "strokes" needed to form the Chinese alphabet.

Let me start by saying that this is probably the best looking Motorola phone I have seen to date. The rather poor picture on this page does not do the phone justice. Despite what you may think from looking at this picture, the phone does not resemble the company’s G520 model at all. In terms of size, its width and height are approximately the same as the Nokia 6190, but it is thinner and lighter. It is closer in size and weight to the Sanyo SPC-4000 CDMA phone.

The phone achieves it small size in part by using a small battery. I don’t know the exact capacity of the provided battery, but I’m guessing it’s around 600 mAh. This would make it only 67% as capacious as the 900 mAh BLS-2 that sells with the 6190. That would definitely translate into shorter talk and standby times, but not by enough to bother most people.

The display is a high resolution pixel matrix device not unlike the type used on the 6190. However, the L Series has substantially more pixels. I’m not sure exactly how many more, but I would guess that it falls somewhere around 30 to 50 percent. This does increase the "squint factor" when small fonts are used, but overall it is an excellent display.

Oddly however, Motorola does not use proportional fonts as does Nokia. This tends to waste a lot of that extra space, so the total amount of text that can be displayed on the phone is only about 10 to 20 percent greater than a 6190.

Other than the non-proportional font, Motorola does seem to make good use of the pixels, unlike many of their other phones that completely waste the power offered by this type of display. They use icons and other sundry graphics to get the point across, though I can’t honestly say that their icons were always intuitively obvious.

When viewed at just the right angle, the display glows in an emerald green color that looks very pretty and makes it easy to read the high-contrast display. This "light" is not generated by the phone itself, but rather it is reflected from the light around you. This makes it possible to see the display (without the back light on) in areas that other phones would be hard to read.

The receive sound quality is great, and it is noticeably better than the Nokia 6190. Oscar summed it up best when he said that the Motorola phone sounds less harsh, and is more "natural". The degree to which this is true is dependent upon the type of voice you happen to be listening to at the time, but there is no question that the Motorola wins in this category.

On the downside however, the Motorola phone doesn’t generate quite as much earpiece volume as the 6190. I called Environment Canada’s weather recording using both phones simultaneously, and the Motorola at full volume sounded only as loud as the 6190 at level 8 (out of 10). For loud audio, such as the weather recording, this was not a problem, but for softer voices it could mean trouble. Even with the superior volume of the 6190, I still find times when level 10 isn’t loud enough.

The transmit audio was not quite up to the standards of the receive audio. Although the phone sounded great under ideal conditions, it seemed to make noisy environments sound noisier. I recorded numerous examples of my own voice as I drove along Highway 407, and the recordings made with the Motorola phone produced louder background noise, but softer foreground audio. That meant that it was noticeably more difficult to understand my own voice in the recordings made with the L-2000 than in those made with the 6190.

The ringer sounds about as loud as the one on the 6190, but this phone also includes a built-in vibrator alert. And boy is does this thing vibrate. You could probably feel it through a thick winter coat, though in all honesty I did not try that.

The Motorola phone also includes a 2.5 mm headset jack located on the side of the phone, just near the top. Many people have said that they find side-mounted headset jacks preferable to bottom-mounted types. This is obviously a matter of personal preference, but the location of the jack seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

Oscar tried to demonstrate the voice recognition capabilities of the phone, which can evidently be used for accessing menu items as well as dialing the phone. Unfortunately Oscar couldn’t get it to recognize his voice very accurately. I’m sure the idea works well once you train it, but it strikes as more a novelty than a truly useful feature. How hard is it to press one or two buttons to speed dial a call anyway?

And speaking of the menus, they struck me as being far more logical than what we have become accustomed to on Motorola phones. One nice feature of the phone was the ability to assign any of countless internal functions to one of 9 short cuts. This made it very easy to access the 9 things you use the most. Although I have said I like the numeric shortcuts provided by Nokia, the ability to customize access to your favorite functions is just light years better.

Another feature that seems like a great idea is a built-in 3 minute digital audio chip. With this chip you can record the sounds around you (as you would with a digital audio recorder) or you can record what people tell you over the phone. The latter strikes me as being exceedingly useful if someone needs to give you important information while you are driving. All you need to do is record what they say, and then write it down later when you play it back.

You can record as many messages as you like until you use up the 3 minute storage space. The only weakness in this feature is that you cannot selectively delete messages. You must delete the entire 3 minute memory all at once. Most digital records allow selective deletion, and this oversight could put some people off.

I’m not 100% sure which L series phones have the recorder, but from what I understand some of them don’t. Certainly the L-2000 had it.

I found the keypad on the L-2000 to have very poor feel. Not only were the keys stiff, but quite often they would generate the "click" feedback without actuating. Oscar tells me that the L-7089 and the L-7082 have softer keypads, but since I didn’t get a chance to test those two models, I cannot comment on this issue. All I know is that after 30 minutes of playing around with the menus and the text entries features of the L-2000 my fingers were begging for mercy.

The phones also support the T9 Predictive Text Input. This means that you can spell words by pressing each key only once. For example, to spell "owl" using a standard phone, you would need to press 6,6,6,9,9,5,5,5. On the L Series phone you would enter just 6,9,5. The built-in dictionary looks up the word that fits the keys you have typed. If more than one word fits, you can scroll through the choices.

This idea works well for words in the dictionary, but it is a pain otherwise. You must first turn off the T9 option and then type the word in the "traditional" way. You must then turn T9 back on to continue. The phone does not allow you to build a user dictionary.

The L-2000 also offers "canned" messages. These are a selection of 10 to 15 standard messages that Motorola feels you might need to send. You can therefore easily send such messages with only a few keystrokes. This feature is only useful if those canned messages suit you. You can’t create your own.

But what about the all-important RF performance? Oscar had spoken with a Motorola representative at a "grand opening" event held by SiMPRO in the fall of 1999. This Motorola guy boasted about how much better the L Series could pick up weak signals than Nokia or Ericsson phones. He specifically mentioned Scarborough Town Centre, which is a weak spot for Microcell Connexions.

I tried the L-2000 inside Scarborough Town Centre, and in many different malls throughout Toronto where Microcell Connexions signals were weak. I compared the performance of the L-2000 directly with that of my 6190. After countless experiments in countless locations I could find no detectable difference between these two phones. Both units lost service at the same places, and both took about the same length of time to regain service.

The phone’s ability to cope with high bit error rates seemed similar to the 6190. I will give the Motorola phone the nod for making the bit errors sound a little less annoying, but the number and severity of those errors was identical on both the Nokia and the Motorola.

If you happen to need analog fallback however, this is one area where the L Series lets you down. These phones are digital-only. They have no provision for an analog module as with the 6190 and 5190. On the other hand, the L-2000 and L-7089 do offer the ability to work on all three GSM frequencies. This means the phones can be taken to any country where GSM is available. They are truly "World Phones".

Motorola also provides software that is similar in nature to The Nokia Data Suite. Like the 6190, the L Series does not directly emulate a modem, which means you must install Motorola drivers in your computer in order to communicate with the phone. This approach is ridiculous in my mind, since it severely limits the devices that can be connected to the phone (either by serial cable, or through the provided IR port). The Nokia 6185 (and many other CDMA phones) directly emulate modems, which means that no software is needed to use them and they work with any device sporting a serial port (or an IR device in some cases).

Since the L Series phones has a working IR Port, you can at least connect your computer to the phone without having to buy a serial cable. However, a cable is included with the phone in the event that your computer doesn’t have an IR port.

So far all providers who sell the L Series phone sell them UNLOCKED. This means that you can use any GSM SIM card in the phone. Travelers will appreciate this, since they can buy pay-as-you-go SIMs in other countries to radically reduce their roaming costs (for the L-2000 and the L-7089 at any rate). It also means you can sign up with any of the Microcell Connexions providers here in Canada, or with any GSM provider in the US.

Note on RF performance: Keep in mind that I can only test the L-2000 at 1900 MHz. This is a world phone, supporting 900 MHz and 1800 MHz as well. It is quite possible that the L-2000 could perform much better (or much worse) at those frequencies. It is therefore strongly recommended that you consult reviews written outside of North America for performance data at 900 MHz and 1800 MHz.


If you need a phone you can take with you on your world travels, I can’t think of a better model to buy than the L-2000 or the L-7089. These phones are not only among the best you can get, but they work everywhere. Nokia has yet to introduce a "World Phone", and the Bosch unit has never gone down very well with people who have used it.

The L-7082 is a different story completely. At around $300 from SiMPRO it isn’t a particularly cheap phone, and it doesn’t offer a lot of features that make it a compelling buy over a 6190 or a 5190. It only works in North America, and it does not offer analog fallback. It does have a size and weight advantage that might tip the scales in its favor, and the receive audio does sound a little nicer. However, a 5190 at only $50 provides almost the same level of received audio quality, slightly louder audio all around, and equal RF performance.

Picking a phone is a very personal thing, but if the Motorola L Series phone makes you drool, then I can assure you that you’ll be getting an excellent phone. Just make sure you can justify the price.