Review of the Motorola W233

I had the opportunity of testing the W233 along side of the Nokia 5130 XpressMusic, which was rather fortuitous because both phones have very similar feature sets and are aimed at the same general audience. This of course disregards the claims made by Motorola that the W233 is a carbon-neutral ďgreenĒ phone. My review is not concerned with such things and is, as always, focused on the performance of the phone.


Available at Fido.

Last Updated: 10-Aug-2009

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

Both phones are simple 2G models that provide minimal data features, but boast music-playing capabilities and they both support MicroSD cards to provide storage for a large number of MP3 files.

Note that because of the strong similarities of these two phones, and because the reviews were written at the same time, I have cut-and-paste many of the remarks from one review to the other. If you read both reviews youíll get a feeling of dťjŗ vu, but rest assured that the import facts concerning each phone are accurate and unique to each model where applicable. However, both phones are remarkably similar beyond their basic feature sets.

RF Performance

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

RF Sensitivity: (A+) Tests of the W233 were performed in the hallways of Square One in Mississauga, where the signal on Rogers 2G network could be faded to non-existence to get a feel for the ability of a phone to hang on to the signal. At Square One both the W233 and the 5130 performed identically and they managed to work in places previous phones had not.

However, I was unable to compare them with my Nokia N95, because the N95 with Rogers firmware couldnít be forced into 2G mode. 3G coverage inside of Square One is superior to 2G coverage, and so no comparisons between the performances of phones operating on the difference networks could be made.

I next went to the Ikea store in the south end of Etobicoke. This particular store is well-known for blocking out signals from all of the networks and furthermore the 2G performance on Rogers is actually better there than on 3G. That meant I could easily get the N95 to switch to 2G on its own accord, thus allowing me to compare it to the W233 and 5130.

The results of this test were a bit puzzling. While the W233 and 5130 once again came out neck-and-neck, the comparison to the N95 was a mixed bag. The N95 could more readily find and lock onto 2G signals, plus it could more readily complete calls when the signal was weak. However, once the call was underway the W233 and the 5130 could maintain more stable audio than the N95.

The bottom line is that the W233 appears to have excellent RF sensitivity and will provide service where other phones struggle (with the exception of the Nokia 5130 that is, which provides virtually identical performance).

Over-the-road Performance: (A+) Out on the road the W233 comes into its own and clearly trounces the Nokia 5130. The Motorola phone exhibits the same remarkably tame handoff performance that Iíve reported in many of their models stretching back to the P280. Not only are the handoffs less obtrusive, but there also appear to be far fewer of them than with the 5130. This was tested by listening to both phones simultaneous (one in both ear) while I was driven along various routes that took me past multiple Rogers sites.

In this category the W233 is the king on a 2G GSM network. Audio remains rock-steady throughout long calls with just minor short drops in the audio as handoffs occur. Short of moving to 3G to avoid handoffs completely, you really canít get any better than this.

Audio Performance

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Tonal Balance: (C) As a Motorola model, the W233 comes with high expectations, because there have been many Motorola models in the past that have provided stellar tonal balance (the most recent model I tested being the PEBL). Sadly the W233 doesnít live up these elevated expectations, and it even falls a little short of the Nokia 5130.

At first listen the tonal balance seems quite pleasing, but when I used the W233 and the N95 to simultaneously call a sample voices line (in which a male and a female voice alternately say short sentences) it was fairly obvious that the W233 was a bit muddy sounding. The higher frequency components of speech (such as the ďsĒ sounds in words) were muted on the W233 to the point where they were almost inaudible. Depending upon the type of voice you have on the other end of the line, this can result in a very indistinct and muffled tonal quality.

Sound Reproduction: (B-) The previously-mentioned indistinctness of speech is as much a sound reproduction issue as it is a tonal quality issue. The lack of the higher-frequency components means that it isnít always possible to hear the nuisances of speech, which is a big no-no in this category. Beyond that however, I did not detect any distortion in the sound, and so aside form the muddiness the sound reproduction was fine.

Earpiece Volume: (A+) The W233 is rare in that it has exceptionally loud maximum earpiece volume. In part this compensates for not including Nokiaís volume boost feature, but in the end the maximum volume of the W233 is clearly louder than the Nokia 5130 even with its volume boost activated. Indeed, there are few phones out there that can boast of having such a high maximum volume. Even when ďcrankedĒ, the W233 retains good-quality audio with minimal added distortion.

More importantly, the W233 has a really well-designed sound channel (the groves and openings where the sound comes out). Because of that there is no sweet spot and you can just slap the phone on your ear any old way you like and youíll still hear full volume. This compares very well to the 5130 which has a very pronounced sweet spot. One must carefully align the 5130 to the ear to prevent blocking out most of the audio.

Outgoing Audio: (A+) In quiet areas the outgoing sound quality of the W233 is very good, with nice tonal balance and very little hiss. In a crowded shopping mall the phone does an excellent job of suppressing the background noise, though it introduces a small amount of detectable distortion. When tested on a highway with the windows down the same was true, but the overall level of added distortion was nothing compared to the level of noise reduction provided.

This was in stark contrast to the 5130 which did nothing to suppress background noise. There seemed no question that the W233 was the phone your callers would prefer to you talk with them on when background noise was high. The W233 simple did an incredible job of masking the nasty stuff in the background while providing your caller with as intelligible audio as possible under the circumstances.

Speakerphone: (D) The single back-mounted speaker of the W233 can play MP3 files with reasonably high volume and clarity (if you insist on listening to them that way), but oddly the performance of the speaker is terrible during a call. It doesnít even seem as though the same speaker is being used, though clearly the sound comes out of the same holes. The volume is extremely low, the tonal balance is a joke, and there is so much sympathetic vibration from the housing that the only way youíll ever use this feature is while youíre waiting on hold.

I really donít understand what causes this. The sound quality and volume of the MP3 playback is quite good (and almost identical to the 5130), but that quality goes down the toilet when you listen to calls (unlike the 5130, which provides similar performance for both calls and MP3 playback).

Support Features

Ringer Volume: (B+) To properly test this feature I uploaded my customary Loud Ring MP3 file to the W233 and I made sure that the ringer was set to maximum volume. The ringer sounded a bit distorted (like I was overdriving the little speaker) but it had a fairly decent amount of volume. If the N95 had a ring volume of 10, then the W233 had a volume of 7. Ringers donít need to sound great, and so going solely upon volume I canít say I had any problems with it. However, the volume of the ringer is greatly dependent upon the ringtone you choose, and so your mileage may vary.

Keypad Design: (C-) The keypad of the W233 is laid out in a fairly traditional manner, but at the same time the keys are tiny and donít ďpressĒ with any degree of accuracy. During use I found keypad accuracy to be only so-so and I would often miss keys, forcing a redial. It makes the N95 keypad seem almost stellar by comparison, and the N95 is hardly a model of excellence in this category.

Display: (C+) The display is a little disappointing, especially when compared to the much-larger 320 x 240 screen of the 5130. The Motorola unit had a very small screen that has quite low resolution. However, since it doesnít have a camera or any other picture or video-based functionality, a high-resolution screen isnít really that necessary. Motorolaís font looks a bit odd at first, but itís easy to read and it makes good use of the limited screen real estate.

To make matters worse the screen is nearly impossible to see in direct sunlight. This no worse than the 5130, but it compares poorly with the type of screen used on the N95, which can reflect sunlight and provide a readable (though washed-out) view of the display.

Icing on the Cake

Music Player:
(B) Like the 5130 XpressMusic the W233 includes an MP3 player and it supports a MicroSD card to load your music onto. It even supports USB Mass Storage, which means that you can access the MicroSD card by just plugging a USB cable into your computer (no driver software is necessary). As I mentioned earlier the built-in speaker does a fairly good job of playing music, so it is possible to listen to your MP3 files without connecting headphones. You probably wonít do this frequently, but in a pinch it is at least possible.

When it comes to headphones however, I was disappointed to note that the W233 used Motorolaís proprietary 4-pin 2.5 mm jack. That means youíll have to get your headphones from Motorola, or use a bulky adapter.

At first it didnít seem as though I could leave the music player running in the background, but that was simply a matter of choosing the correct menu option once the player was started. While the phone isnít exactly a smartphone, meaning there isnít a whole lot you can do while the music plays, the phone at least allows you to continue using your phone normally (such as editing contacts or surfing the web via the built-in WAP browser).

Operating System: (C) The O/S in the W233 is fairly basic and it provides no real means of expansion (as does the Series 40 O/S in the 5130). However, this is intended to be an entry-level phone, and so I doubt that many buyers even remotely considering the W233 or the 5130 will be particularly upset by this.


With a few exceptions, such as the lackluster speakerphone, somewhat muddy incoming audio, and rather fiddly little keyboard, the W233 is a rather impressive low-end phone. It has RF and over-the-road performance that is second-to-none, a loud earpiece, and excellent outgoing audio quality. In other words it performs extremely well in most of the important areas of phone functionality and if you can live the muddiness of the incoming audio youíll really enjoy using the W233.

If I had to choose between the W233 and the Nokia 5130 based solely upon phone performance, Iíd be hard-pressed to make up my mind. The W233 beats out the 5130 in over-the-road performance and I find that a solid plus. On the other hand Iím not too pleased with the muddy audio of the W233. Still, Iím no fan of the nasty sweet spot of the 5130, but I like its keyboard better. Actually, Iím glad I donít personally have to make this choice, because the two phones seem to offer conflicting pluses and minuses.

So it seems that my bottom line is no bottom line at all. I donít think Iíve ever encountered two phones that have so much pull in opposite directions. All I can recommend to you is that you sum up your own personal preferences concerning the strengths and weaknesses of these two models and decide which one for you is the best (or, if youíre a pessimist, which phone is the lesser of two evils).

One thing that might sway your opinion is the price. At the time of this writing Fido are selling the W233 for just $65 on prepaid, or $0 on postpaid. However, the phone does not come with a MicroSD card, and so you'll have to figure in the cost of buying one them.