Review of the Motorola P270c

The Motorola P270c is a candy bar-shaped CDMA phone that looks and works a lot like its GSM sister phone, the P280. Ever since the release old CDMA StarTac/Timeport phone from a couple of years ago, I've been quite impressed with Motorola's version of the CDMA chipset. I ranked the old Timeport as the best CDMA phone available at that time. While I was disappointed with Motorola's V120, the P270c is easily good enough to take the place of the old Timeport (in my estimation) as the best-performing CDMA phone presently available.

Last Updated: 05-Jun-2002

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

Menu System and General

Although the P270c looks similar to the P280, and shares some components (such the display and keyboard layout), it also differs in fundamental ways. For starters, it's slightly larger, in both height and thickness. It also weighs a big more, but in return you get a speakerphone feature not found in the P280. It looks like it's made out of cheaper plastic, but this might only be a perception brought on by the smooth, shiny appearance of the plastic.

The P270c is a tri-mode phone, which is an absolute must on Bell Mobility, since much of their rural digital coverage is at 800 MHz, while virtually all of their urban digital coverage is at 1900 MHz. It would be a great boon to Telus users as well, but for some reason, Telus does not carry this excellent phone. Even if you could somehow get the SPC for a Bell Mobility version of this phone, Telus would refuse to activate it, as they didn't sell it.

In terms of menu functionality, the P270c is virtually identical to the P280, and so I’ll be borrowing some of this review directly from my write-ups on the P280. Anywhere the phones actually differ, I’ll write brand new material.

The P270c shares one unique feature that makes all of the new Motorola models almost a joy to use. You can assign virtually any menu or sub-menu item in the phone to a 1- or 2-digit numeric shortcut. So while Nokia phones might have fixed numeric shortcuts, they are sometimes 3, 4, or even 5 digits long. In recent Nokia designs such as the 7190, the numeric menus aren’t properly implemented, and they only apply to about 50% of the menus in the phone. Secondary menus are abundant, but they don’t contain quite as many options as you’ll typically find on a Nokia phone.

But customization doesn’t stop there. You can assign any of the top-level menu items to the two soft keys during idle mode. I have my left key assigned to the Datebook, and the right key assigned to the Phonebook. If that’s not your cup of tea, then you can change it. As for the main menu itself, you can even change the order of the menu items so that the ones you access the most can appear at the top (or the bottom, since that’s easy to get to as well), while the least used ones can be dumped in the middle.

A four-way “joystick” allows for easy menu navigation, though I felt that the engineers underutilized the left and right movements. Those left and right movements are used mostly for stepping through options, but you can also see a “dropdown” list of option to select from them in a more traditional manner.

The phone supports two font sizes, which can be easily changed with only two keystrokes. The larger font provides 4 lines of text, while the small font provides 6 lines of text. I personally found the small font a bit too small, but it was very legible, and reasonably handsome.

Continuing on the customization front, Motorola has also implemented something very similar to Nokia’s Profiles. There are 5 profiles you can choose from, and each one allows you to set ringer volume and type, as well as keypad volume. One very nice feature is the ability to independently assign the incoming call ringer, the incoming SMS ringer, the Datebook alarm, and the message waiting alarm to any of the ringtones provided by the phone. With Nokia, you can only assign the incoming call ringer to a ring tone, while everything else gets a severely limited selection of beeps.

The phone provides a wide array of musical and traditional ring tones, and it provides 32 slots for user-defined ring tones, which are entered from the keypad in a manner very similar to Ericsson. With only a small amount of mental conversion, you could easily enter a ringtone designed for an Ericsson phone. There are plenty of them out there.

Changing from one profile to another does take a few more keystrokes than with a typical Nokia phone, but if you assign an appropriate numeric shortcut, it isn’t really that bad. Once you get used to it, it’s actually quite easy. If all you need to do is change the ringer volume though, you can easily do that by merely pressing the volume up or down keys while the phone is idling.

Keypad feel is excellent, though I wouldn’t have minded having the keys a little softer. Still, they provide good feedback, and they rarely misbehaved on me. Unlike other recent Motorola designs, you can actually set the keypad volume separate of the earpiece volume.

I didn’t try running the battery completely down to see how long it would last, but my overall impression of battery life was very positive. It took a solid day of messing around with the phone and making phone calls to finally get the battery meter to drop from 4-bars to 3-bars. Assuming a reasonably linear battery meter, that should translate to well in excess of 4 days of pure standby. That's about the same as I experienced on the P280.


The phone supports voice dialing, and voice commands. The voice-dialing feature is pretty much what you’d expect, so I can’t really say much about that. However, the voice-commands feature was of dubious value, especially in light of the user-define numeric shortcuts. To use the voice-command feature you have to first press the menu button on the front of the phone, and then the voice dial button on the side of the phone. Since you can assign two-keystroke numeric shortcuts, what’s the point of pressing two keys just to say the name of the command you want? I guess they weren’t thinking when they designed that one.

They were thinking when they designed the voice recorder though. It can be used to record your own dictations outside of a phone call, or it can be used to record a phone conversation. Unlike other makes of phone that I’ve tried with voice recorders, it actually records both sides of the conversation. You can also erase voice recordings independently of one another; whereas on other phones I’ve tried (notably the Ericsson R520 and T39m), you must delete all of them at once.

For data users, the phone only supports circuit switched data, as it is not a 1XRTT model. With the advent of packet switched 1X phones, the P270c is not a particularly good choice for those interested in data.

Although I generally like the new menu structure of P270c (and most of the newer Motorola phones), they do have some rather glaring weaknesses. We’ll begin with the Phonebook, which isn’t really all that great compared to other phones coming on the market now. Although the phone will store up 500 names and numbers, the utility of this Phonebook is rather limited.

It is not a hierarchical structure as we find on the 7190 or even the CDMA Timeport. It looks as though it supports multiple numbers per name, but all it really does is create a duplicate entry with a different icon. Given that, I’d rather uniquely name those entries, such as “Steve (Mobile)”, “Steve (Home)”, “Steve (Work)”, etc. You can still apply an icon, even to independent entries.

The phone book does not support any text data other than the name. That means no street addresses, and no e-mail addresses. I didn’t find this a great hardship myself, but others might rely on such information in their Phonebooks.

The phone supports Predictive Text Input, but not T9. It instead supports Motorola’s own iTAP technology. This wouldn’t be so bad if the P270c also supported a user dictionary, but it doesn’t. If the word you want isn’t in the dictionary, you have to enter it manually (each and every time). Having said that though, iTAP is certainly better than no predictive text input at all, and it’s available at virtually all the text input prompts on the phone (unlike the T9 implementations in Nokia phones for example).

The P270c includes three relatively lackluster games. One of them is nothing more than a poor excuse for Pong, though the Blackjack and a Mastermind variant (called MindBlaster) are okay. For pure gaming fun though, I don’t personally believe you can beat Nokia’s Snake or Othello variant called Opposite (available on the 7190). The 7190 even supports two-player Snake using the IR port. No such feature could be found on the P270c.

Sound Quality and RF Performance

When it comes to sound quality, the P270c is about as good as it gets with the EVRC CODEC on CDMA. The tonal balance is beautiful, though some might find it a little bassy for their tastes. Aside from that, the P270c seems to squeeze as much goodness out of the CODEC as is likely possible.

It can't however, gloss over the two rather horrible shortcomings of EVRC. The first is the accursed active noise suppression, which attempts to blot out the background noise in an attempt to reduce the number of bits transmitted by the phone. That would be a noble goal if it weren't for the fact that the system trashes the quality of your voice when background noise is high. The second is the rather limited high end that muddies certain speech nuances, such as "s" sounds.

The only fly in the ointment was a rather noticeable background hiss. I've heard a similar hiss on many other CDMA phones, but since it was not a problem with the old Timeport, I was rather surprised to hear it in the P270c. It isn't that severe, but it can be annoying when you are speaking with someone with a soft voice, or a faint phone.

If sound quality is really important to you, then I'd strongly recommend you consider a GSM network. That said however, if you have definitely chosen CDMA for whatever reason (better coverage in your area, better rate plans, personal preference, etc) then the P270c is certainly going to give you excellent voice quality compared to most other CDMA phones on the market.

The speakerphone feature actually works quite well, and provides good sound quality, but with two caveats. Firstly, the volume of the speaker isn't all that great, and while it's more than adequate for use in a reasonably quiet environment, it isn't very audible in noisy conditions. It doesn't even come close to the volume you can get from the speakerphone of Motorola's i85 (on iDEN). Secondly, the aforementioned active noise suppression of EVRC is even more of a pain when using the speakerphone, once again relegating it to use only in quiet environments.

Output to a headset (through an industry-standard 2.5mm headset jack) is very good. The volume is great, and the sound quality is at least a match to the phone itself (assuming the use of a high-quality headset). For those interested in using a headset, the P270c comes through with flying colors.

RF performance is a bit tougher to comment on however. I didn't have any other Bell Mobility phones to compare the P270c to during my testing, but compared to previous experience with Bell, the P270c seems to have good-to-excellent RF characteristics (at least in digital mode). I was unable to make any serious tests of its analog performance, but that's becoming less and less important everyday.

Summary and Recommendations

So to sum things up, I really liked the P270c as a phone, even if I wasn't very impressed with the performance of the technology on which it has to work. As I noted earlier, if you've chosen to go with a CDMA provider (regardless of your personal reasons for doing so), and you value sound quality and overall performance above glitzy features or looks, the P270c should be near the top of your wish-list.

On the other hand, if you salivate over feature lists, color displays, styling, and other attributes unrelated to the use of the device as a phone, then you might find the P270c a bit pedestrian for your tastes.

Other Reviews of the Motorola P270c

Howard Chui