Review of the Motorola V101

The V101 is a GSM phone dedicated to sending and receiving SMS. It is presently available through Rogers/AT&T.

Last Updated: 16-Mar-2002

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

The Motorola V101 is actually a GSM phone, but it isnít shaped like a regular phone because its primary mission in life is to be an SMS device. Since it has to support the full GSM standard to handle SMS, it wasnít a huge deal to put a phone in it too. By default, the unit can only be used as a phone by plugging in a headset or earbud.

However, Motorola came up with a very ingenious work-around that allows you to use it like a traditional phone. They did this by creating a replacement battery cover that also has a microphone/earpiece combination on it. The concept was obviously an after thought however, since it doesnít integrate into the phone seamlessly. You must actually plug the attachment into the headset jack. Itís also rather uncomfortable, but Iíll get to that later.

The V101 is actually shaped like an alphanumeric pager, since after all, thatís really what the unit is intended for. It includes an approximation of a QWERTY keyboard, but you wonít actually be doing any 10-finger typing on it, since the keys are way too small, and way too close together. They also arenít offset the way a true computer keyboard is, but you should be able to find keys quickly if you know how to type.

The display is a little disappointing, since it could have been much larger than it is. The display area takes up only about 50% of the available space on the top of the fold-open design. One would expect it to fill the entire area, as do modern laptop computers. The character set is large and legible though, and it does accommodate more characters than most phones. I could often display all 160 characters of an SMS without having to scroll (so long as that SMS doesnít have a lot of carriage returns in it).

Because the unit has a full compliment of alphanumeric keys, it doesnít need to support such concepts as T9 (which only exists to provide an easier way to enter text on the limited numeric keypads of phones). You can actually type quite quickly so long as you donít try and do it while holding the V101 in the air. I found that entering text was only easy if the unit was placed on a flat surface. In addition, the keys donít have much in the way tactile feedback, but they seem to work well enough.

But would I rate the V101 as the best SMS device Iíve used? Yes and no. Yes because it has a full keyboard and a fairly large screen. No because it lacks some of the advanced features for storing and sorting SMS as we find in the Nokia 7190. My love of the 7190 as an SMS phone is well known (though I donít use the 7190 as my primary phone because I really donít like its audio quality). For most people though, I think the V101 will be more than adequate for the required task.

While I doubt that anyone who buys a V101 will be looking to use it heavily as a phone, I still believe that it warrants having a close look at this issue. In terms of RF capabilities, the V101 is at least as good as many of the other Motorola GSM phones on the market (though not the P280, which is perhaps the best performing GSM phone available at the time of this writing).

Audio quality depends on how you use the device. If you use the add-on microphone/earpiece (that Rogers provides as standard with the V101) then youíll find the audio pleasant, but extremely soft. The V101 when operated in this way is without a doubt the worst phone for earpiece volume Iíve ever tried. Donít expect to use it at all in a noisy environment. Plugging in the provided earbud helps, but the volume is still sub-par. Outgoing audio quality is very good, and up to the standards of other Motorola GSM phones.

Aside from the volume problem, I also took issue to the physical design of the add-on microphone/earpiece. It had a ridge running around the outside that dug into my ear and made it very uncomfortable to use. The shape of the V101 also made it feel very awkward, and Iím certain you must look like a dork holding it.

Keying in phone numbers is also a pain, since the phone doesnít have a dedicated numeric keypad. Instead, a block of 12 keys on the left side is marked to simulate the standard numeric pad of a phone (including star and pound). The markings for these keys are on the face of the phone, and so you canít see them in the dark. The backlighting on the keys only lights up the alpha symbol. Once again, pressing these buttons without putting the V101 down on a flat surface is more difficult than it needs to be.

Accepting calls without opening the unit is well executed however. The V101 includes a large button on the side that allows you to answer or hang up a call. The button is a little difficult to press, but otherwise it works quite well.

The V101 is clearly designed for a niche market. You wouldnít buy one if you planned on making a substantial number of phone calls. However, you would buy one if you spent most of your time reading and writing SMS. While it may not be the most advanced SMS device out there, it does do the basics rather well. Itís certainly a good deal at $99 (or less) if you are willing to sign a 2-year contract with Rogers.