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Review of GSM-handset Motorola MOTOAURA
Live photos of Motorola MOTOAURA
Motorola has been through a lot of up and downs and its current condition, while still critical, isn't the worst they've been in. At any rate, it hasn't affected their ability to create out-of-this-world phones. And the reason why we've brought this up, is that the focus of this write-up, the MOTOAURA, set to land on most markets later in 2008 is another off-the-wall offering in Motorola's portfolio. As for the "AURA" prefix - in essense, the word "aura" stands for an invisible emanation produced by and surrounding a person or object and is very rarely used in a negative sense these days, so normally it's used to distinguish something special from the rest of the pack.
Essentially, they are going back to the origins - Motorola pioneered the "rotate" form-factor, but we haven't seen any in this design from them over the last couple of years. I'm positive many still have warm memories of the Motorola v70 and them Motorola v80 (originally codenamed R880). Back in the day when they rolled out the first rotate-styled handset, it seemed pretty quaint and was positioned primarily as a top-notch fashion-savvy solution, but at that moment they didn't garner any significant following, as clamshells were all the rage. In 2004 they launched the Motorola v80 in Cracow, but we managed to give our readers a lowdown on it almost two months prior to that day. Nevertheless, very few actually noticed it, the reason being that there weren't all that many pieces of information about this phone out there, so it never generated much hype. That's why we are releasing our first and very exclusive look at the Motorola MOTOAURA on the day it goes live worldwide
As far as consumer electronics go, over all these years we've seen some of the most incredible crossbreeds, like Samsung's digital camera that packs in a GSM radio module on top of all other things that allowed its users to make and recieve calls. I believe it'd be hard to shock someone with a cross between a mobile phone and TV or wristwatch. However, as far as I remember nobody has ever attempted to put the best of these two worlds (watches and mobile phones) together in one device. If you're thinking about Tag Heuer's MERIDIST, it had no bells and whistles on offer, other than several metallic accents in its casing. It didn't even have any moving parts, so it was a pretty ordinary phone, all things considered:
Luckily, Motorola have taken a completely different approach to their top-of-the-line solution - if it's an off-the-wall design, why not put a fair bit of insanity into it? What is the most characteristic feature of any watch? Apparently, it's the dial, and what is its most common shape? That's right, a circle. This means, the MOTOAURA's main display should be circular as well, and not just some piece of hardware mounted into a rounded frame, but a full-featured screen that uses every bit of its real estate and unconventional design. So far, the only company to have mastered this technology is Sharp, although while its solutions are unique, very few manufacturers actually use them in their offerings.
On balance, going for the MOTOAURA are a sapphire glass, metal casing (with very little plastic in it) and a very unique screen. Will that be enough for a fashion-centric rotate-phone? Make no mistake about that, with all these features and a price tag of 2000 USD it certainly will turn a lot of eyes your way. Nevertheless, while it will enjoy some sales, it won't be a wild success by any means.
Much like any other metal-clad phone, the AURA's casing feels on the chunkier side. All buttons found here are metallic without even a slightest hint of plastic. Actually the only place where you will find it is the base of the handset, because the cellular antenna is housed there. The AURA tips our scales at 145 grams and is very palm-friendly at 96.8x47.6x15.9 mm.
Around back there are (surprise!) three gears of the opening mechanism underneath a thick layer of glass. You can flick the MOTOAURA open in any direction, although you'll have to close it in the same way, which isn't all that intuitive, as we tried to show in our video. On the other hand, it will take very little practice to get used to this design.
These gears are all another way of showing the MOTOAURA's origins, but what's more, it houses a 130-ball bearing, that guarantees you'll be able to kick the phone open and shut at least a hundred thousand times. What's more, there is only one Swiss manufacturer on the entire globe that crafts this kind of bearings.
Mounted on the left-hand side is a particularly soft-to-press volume rocker. The microUSB socket, used for plugging in headsets and chargers, is perched on the top end of hte phone.
At 1.58 inches diagonally, this display's active area reaches only 1.55 inches; it has a resolution of 480 pixels at 0.082 mm dot size. We could count how many pixels it's got, but it would take way too much time and apparently we don't have it here. We'd really appreciate if someone could do the math and then post the answer in our forums
Motorola's engineers wanted to tailor all menu items to the display's shape, however as it turns out, they have succeeded in tweaking only the main menu and a handful of sub-menus where all extra keys are rendered along the edge of the circle. All other menus and applications are down to a more conventional 240x320-pixel zone that resembles a more conventional QVGA-display, which is quite a useful feat, given that the MOTOAURA runs on the LJ platform. By the way, as far as its software is concerned, this phone takes a lot of cues from the Motorola Z6, but we'll get back to this later, and now - more on its screen.
Here is another question - what material is frequently used in premium watches for the dial glass? It's saphire, so Motorola went ahead and employed this A-grade 62-carat lens that can endure all sorts of physical abuse. Check out our video tour of the MOTOAURA, where I try to scratch it with keys (apparently, without any success). So unless you carry a bunch of diamonds in your pocket, the MOTOAURA's screen will be just fine.
The sapphire glass adds a whole new dimension to the MOTOAURA's display, making it look a bit convex. And the image quality is supreme; in fact it's probably this phone's key feature with its amazingly sharp and vibrant colors. Plus the MOTOAURA comes preinstalled with decently sized and definitely readable fonts.
Putting the icing on the cake are screensavers designed exclusively for this display, and I can't just keep mum about them - I really dig them. Motorola has always been serious about bundled content and the MOTOAURA is no exception on this front, as I can hardly imagine what chunck of its charm the phone would've lost if it didn't have some of these sumptuous wallpapers or themes onboard.
But that's not the best thing about its themes - no words or images can describe the excellence oozed by the MOTOAURA's clock-styled screensavers that really look the part and leave no room for doubt that it's a really haute couture phone.
The AURA's keys are made of aluminum, however here they have broken away from the standard single-slab setup - each button is separated from the others, offers great tactile feedback and is generally soft to press. All this makes dialing a phone number or typing a message a cinch. All buttons are evenly lit in white.
The handset utilizes a 810 mAh Li-Ion cell. The maker rates AURA's cell as being good for up to 400 hours of standby and 7.7 hours of talk time. Within European networks the phone lasted around 3 days (at one hour of calls total and three hours of music). At the same time, in Moscow it managed to stay online for 2 days at around 2 hours of calls. It takes the handset 2 hours to charge from empty to full. No higher-capacity cells are available for this model.
The AURA ships with 2 Gb of bundled memory and doesn't have memory expansion slot. Basically, this storage size should prove sufficient for pretty much all needs of the AURA's users, especially since they won't be heavy on its multimedia functionality anyway.
Connections. The AURA's Bluetooth manager comprises of two tabs - the first one features all devices it has had connections with, even if it's not paired with them at the moment. The other one allows starting a search for new available devices around; furthermore, the AURA's Bluetooth manager lets you look for specific device types, such as wireless headsets, PCs, PDAs, printers and phones. As it's the case with the vast majority of Motorola-branded phones, the AURA sports 3-minute availability restriction.
As far as settings go, the phone enables you to select the place where all received files will be stored.
The AURA's Bluetooth 1.2 supports a wide array of profiles, including A2DP and Print. On the downside, they have disabled the ability to browse file systems of other devices (GET method).
But that's not all - when sending files to other devices from the AURA's context menus, you'll have to deal with its Bluetooth manager, however this time around all active devices on the list will have check boxes next to them. As you have already guessed, these are used to select specific devices you'd like to beam files to.
Modem. Modem settings on wireless or USB connection, setup of automatic modem launch is present too.
Data connections. Here you can use either wap-protocol or internet APN. The settings are quite simple, there's nothing complicated about them.
USB. The vendor claims that the handset supports USB High Speed 2.0, and it does indeed. In the USB Mass Storage or MTP modes the USB connection offers average data transfer speeds of around 1100-1250 Kb/s. On a successful USB connection in either of these modes, the handset's features get disabled, although you will still be able to receive calls, as the phone's wireless radio remains operational.
In the settings you can find several options for coupling the AURA with a PC: Media Sync (MTP protocol), Memory Card (USB Mass Storage, no drivers required), Tools (synchronization with Mobile Phone Tools), Modem&Tools.
Speaking of other amenities, we can't overlook the AURA's full-fledged support for Windows Media Player 11, which means you are free to use your PC to compose your own playlists and then transfer them onto the handset. In the future the support for this player will become par for the course in all Motorola-branded devices.
The handset is armed with a 2 Mpix CMOS sensor, that is no different from other Motorola's phones. The AURA offers the following resolution settings:
The user is allowed to choose default picture name, storage place, and opt to forward his/her shots to pre-set phone numbers (only via MMS messages). Even though the broad audience might not feel a dire need in such an option, I'm most positive there will be people who will grow fond of this function.
ЗDigital zoon (x8) and multi-shot mode come included with the AURA's camera as well. Date and time may be stamped on every snap automatically.
Video.The handset records video in 176x144 pixel resolution (15 FPS) with unlimited clip duration. All in all the AURA's video recording quality is quite sub-par compared to other contemporary solutions.
The AURA's user interface is centered around its circular display - both its menu icons and status indicators on the home screen are aligned along the edges of the display. However once you get inside the menu main, you'll run into conventionally styled menus that aren't different from other Motorola-branded solutions, which, naturally, spoils the overall impression a bit. Unlike other Motorola's phones, the AURA doesn't allow its user to change the main menu view or icons.
You can find a detailed review of the LJ 6.3 platform and all its features in a separate article.
This circular display also calls for rounded screensavers and wallpapers. Furthermore, not only can you view the phone's preinstalled content this way, it's also possible to apply this setup to your own images. Other than that, the AURA's interface has no bells and whistles, with a handful of themes, eye-pleasing default images and wallpapers.
It goes without saying that the MOTOAURA is one unique phone - you can either love it or hate it, there is no room for some third option. It's a fashion-conscious phone that, I believe, will appeal to its target audience. It is way slicker than the Samsung S9500 Eccelso that feels somewhat edgy and cumbersome, plus packs in two SIM card slots, which isn't a major selling point by any stretch of imagination. Furthermore, the MOTOAURA's fashion cred is higher than that of all current iterations of the Nokia Arte. And even though the next 8000-branded handset will sport a revamped design, it's still quite far-off. Again, as far as its price point is concerned, the MOTOAURA is quite an adequate solution, and very quaint at that.
It's next to impossible to treat the Motorola AURA as a phone - at the end of the day, it's so much more of a fashionable accessory. Once you start seeing it in this light, the awkwardly positioned OK button and lack of 3G connectivity will take a back seat to the phone's tremendous value as a thing that can emphasize its owner's social status and wealth. In this sense it's very similar to Vertu-branded phones that can make and receive calls, but other than that their feature set is very limited.
Personally, I liked the AURA, especially because I even managed to use it as my primary phone without much hassle. The thing is, it doesn't boast any fancy and overelaborate ergonomics. On the contrary, it's a very conventionally designed device that makes a great top-of-the-line accessory. If you are after something off-the-wall and expensive - the Motorola AURA is definitely worth your attention.
Published 11 December 2008
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