Review of the Motorola i530

The Motorola i530 can best be thought of as a stripped i730, though it does come in a ruggedized shell that can supposedly withstand much more abuse than the i730. The phone is very similar to the i730 in many ways, but it lacks quite a few of that phoneís advanced features. Except for those missing features the phone is so much like the i730 that you might do well to read my i730 review first.

Last Updated: 14-Jul-2004

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


Letís begin by covering what the i530 doesnít have, beginning with an external display. For some an external display is nothing more than an interesting extravagance that is also prone to damage. Leaving off the external display was probably as much a concession to the ruggedized concept as it was a money-saving effort.

However, because the phone doesnít have the external display you canít scroll through your last-calls list and dial the phone without opening it (as you can with the i730). Fortunately the i530 does support the 1-touch PTT feature, which allows you to program the PTT button to contact either the last Direct Connect number that you talked with, or to a fixed Direct Connect number that you select.

The internal display of the i530 is strictly black & white, and itís smaller. This means the display canít fit as much text as the i730, but for people who find color displays difficult to read, the i530 is refreshingly clear and readable. My friend Leonard, who loaned me the phone, said that for his eyes the monochrome display was much better. In addition to having just a black & white display, the i530 doesnít support multiple font sizes. You get just one size.

The i530 doesnít have Java support, which means that you canít load up all those great applications the way you can on the i730. This includes the My Location Demo applet, which provides some genuinely useful capabilities to the built-in GPS receiver. The i530 has an accessible GPS receiver too, but its display options are quite limited by comparison.

The i530 doesnít have Profiles. I was rather shocked to learn this, as the Profiles feature has been on virtually every other iDEN phone over the last few years. Its absence is, in my mind, a horrible mistake on Motorolaís part. This means that the i530ís various ringers, volume settings, etc, must be edited individually any time you wish to alter them.

The i530 does not support voice-activated dialing, nor does it have a voice recorder. This isnít a huge omission for most people, since Iíll wager that few people actually use it. However, being able to record what your caller says is a very useful feature that once youíve used it, youíre glad you have it. I did notice that these two features can be downloaded from the Motorola web page in the US (for a price). That means the phone is quite capable of supporting voice functions, but doesn't provide them in the native firmware.

The i530 doesnít allow you to customize the keypad or alter the order of the menu items. I could live without the re-ordered menu, but not being able to assign your own commonly-used functions to the various keys is a bit hard to live without for me. However, the i530 is clearly aimed at people who use their iDEN phones as a tool of business, and they probably donít do things that are radically different from the default functions provided on each of the keys.

Perhaps it was just an omission on the part of Telus, but the i530 does not come with a belt clip. The Telus web page does mention a plastic swivel clip available as a $25 option, so at least one is available if you like the style of clip that Motorola makes (and I certainly do).

Finally the i530 doesnít include the Datebook. I use this feature frequently on my i730 to remind myself of things I need to do, places I have to go, and meetings I need to attend. I suppose this could be construed as an advanced feature, and as such you would really expect to find it on a base model like the i530.

Is there anything that the i530 has that the i730 does not? Well, aside from the ruggedized housing (which is slightly bigger than the i730 housing) there is one small thing that i530 does have. On the top of the phone, between the two buttons found there, is a status light. Many people felt that this was a sad oversight in the design of the i730, and so Iím sure many people will be very pleased with this.

Beyond these differences the i530 is very much like the i730. The external buttons are not only in the exact same places, but theyíre also the same size and shape. The main keypad is also the same, though the i530 lacks the OK button in the middle of the 4-way cursor keys. They i530 keypad has a different feel, but in some ways it is a better-designed pad than the i730ís. The ďpressĒ of the keys is a little shorter, but they seem to be more positive (at least compared to my i730).

The ruggedized housing comes in black or yellow. In the case of the yellow version there is still a large band of black on the bottom 2/3rds of the phoneís exterior, which is made of a soft rubbery plastic. I personally liked the black model better, but the yellow one (which I tested) was still a good-looking phone, though some may find it ugly. It depends on your viewpoint.

The i530 uses the same battery as the i730, but its monochrome display is likely to use up less battery power, which may well result in longer standby time. I wasnít able to do any real battery durability comparisons, and so this is only conjecture.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

The RF performance of the i530 is indistinguishable from the i730. I took the 2 phones to Westdale Mall in Mississauga where the Mike signal weakens substantially (to an RSSI of around -110 dBm in many locations). The SQE drops below 10, and this is a great place to see if there is any real difference between the two phones. I noted virtually identical RSSI and SQE readings on both phones, and test calls revealed the same overall call quality.

The earpiece opening on the i530 is a slightly different design than that of the i730, and subsequently it is easier to find the sweet spot. That makes the i530 a friendlier phone to use, in my opinion. The ruggedized housing also makes the phone feel much more solid, and so in this regard the i530 is a definite winner. However, the overall earpiece sound quality, tonal balance, and volume level are virtually identical to the i730.

The speaker on the two phones sounds so much the same that when I switched from one to the other (as Iíd done with the i830 recently) I heard practically no difference in volume, tonal balance, or clarity. The speaker grills look the same, but in fact the i730 grill is slightly larger.

Outgoing sound quality is pretty much the same on both models when using them in handset mode. Oddly there is a rather detectable difference when using speakerphone mode. During my tests I found that the i530 seems to pick up more background noise and less voice, or it didnít do such a good job of suppressing the background noise, I wasnít sure which. The end result was a noisier and less distinct experience for the person on the far end, though the outgoing sound quality in speakerphone mode was still very good.

The difference in hands-free microphone performance might be explained away by the design of the housing. In the i730 there is a grill on the top of the phone that allows sound to pass through the housing to the microphone. The i530 doesnít have this grill, and it seems to rely on the sound making it to the microphone through rather indirect means. As noted however, the difference isnít that great, but it can be demonstrated in back-to-back tests.

All of the RF and audio similarities lend credence to the theory that both the i530 and the i730 use the same circuitboard, microphone, earpiece, and speaker. I wasnít about to disassemble the phones to find out, but itís a good bet. This obviously leads some people to wonder if i730 firmware could be flashed onto an i530 to get some of the missing features back. I rather doubt this can be done, since the higher-resolution color display of the i730 is clearly not compatible with the lower-resolution monochrome display of the i530. Itís also quite possible that the i530 doesnít have the necessary memory to support Java or the voice recorder.

The i530 sells for $100 less than the i730 at Telus. Saving $100 means giving up a number of nice features, but many of these features are often not used enough to justify their cost. The only one that would have been nice to have kept was the Profiles. Nonetheless, the i530 still stands as worthy of your consideration because of it lower price, because of its ruggedized housing, and because it still has all of the stellar RF and audio qualities of the i730. With any luck it wonít suffer from the same number out-of-the-box failures as the i730, though both phones are built in China, and probably at the same assembly plant.