Why I’m Never Getting Another Motorola Cell Phone – A Case Study in Design

I own a Motorola V180. I hate this phone. I want to chuck it at walls so very often. I explain why here.

I’ve been meaning to post this, as undoubtedly some of you have noticed, I am very upset at my cell phone. It’s not just its abject failure to work as any stable form of communications, though that’s part of it.

Just to start out, I want to make a few clarifications:
First, when I say “never again”, I mean “until proven wrong” (this is in contrast with my “never use Sprint” policy, which is deep-seated and will last as long as it possibly can). Secondly, yes, I mean any Motorola phone – this includes the RAZR and the ROKR, because, despite these two phones’ respective sexiness factor, as far as I can tell, these design issues apply to all of Motorola’s current lines of telephones, including my friend’s RAZR I played with. Thirdly, this is not a vendetta agains Motorola – I had a StartTAC back in the day and loved that phone like a brother, even in the face of the new-fangled color screens, non-alphanumeric displays, and cameras. It’s just they don’t seem to have kept up with the pack (or at least Nokia). Finally, my next phone will probably be a Nokia. I have experience with Nokias, and loved my old one, even if it got dust inside the faceplate a lot – I put that thing through enormous abuse, and it never stopped delivering like a pro. Plus, the design decisions in terms of the software were so subtly useful, except for one, which I’ll get to in a bit. Anyway – on with the show.

For fairness sakes, I ought to start this off with Motorola’s successes with this phone in my eyes:

Things Motorola Did Right

  • Standard USB connectivity with a standard 5-pin mini USB connector built into the phone (of course, if you’re a Windows person, you have to shell out big buck for their accompanying software.
  • Having four different customizable functions a simple click away from the home screen is very nice.
  • Works with iSync. (I’m not sure this is Motorola’s doing, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • It uses a standard hands-free set connector
  • There is a microphone, and two speakers (one for speakerphone, one for the earpiece

That’s more or less it. Now for the meat:

What Motorola Did Wrong

This is an extensive section. So extensive, in fact, that it is subdivided.

General Functionality

  • I want to start with the first, and most impossible thing about my v180: it does not, as far as I can tell, function as a phone. This is what makes me most want to throw the phone at things – its utter refusal ever to work. I spend way too many conversations trying to just be heard. It’s not the network, because I used my Nokia 6200 GSM phone in these exact same places – hell, I’ve used this very phone in most of these places, and I just cannot get consistent functionality out of this thing.
  • Second, ring and vibrate are mutually exculsive. That’s great if your only reason for vibration is to avoid people being distracted by your phone ringing. But when I’m in a loud place, I may feel a vibration but not hear a ring. Or, if my phone’s in my bag, I might hear a ring, but not feel a vibration. I shouldn’t have to decide which of the two I want when I just want to be sure my phone gets my attention.
  • Call logging – This phone, like many, keeps track of the most recent 10 unique calls each that the phone receives and sends. Unlike others, though, it only keeps the most recent of call times to each of those entries, so you will have no idea if person X called you at 2 before they called you at 4. Worse still, it keeps no counter of how many times a given caller was missed, so that when you come back and see you missed 104 calls from two callers, you have no idea which one, if not both of those callers is desperately trying to call you.

Moving on…

The Phonebook

Where to begin, where to begin… ooh, I know!

  • The speed-dial system – On my Nokia, if I wanted to say, assign the 4th speed dial slot to my father, I’d go to the “1-touch dialing” menu, go to number 4, and assign (or re-assign) it to my father’s record in the phonebook. I could also access this menu directly from my father’s entry in the phonebook. Nice, no? What’s Motorola’s view? Motorola thinks that every record in the phonebook should be assigned a unique “Speed No.”. Those entries with numbers below 10 become speed dial numbers (except #1, which it seems, is now standardly voice mail across manufacturers). Well, now, let’s say that I previously kept Greg in my number 8 slot, but since he moved to CA, and I’m not likely to call him up just to go hang out, I deside to put Kristen in that slot – how does the process go? Well, on my Nokia, I’d just assign number 8 to Kristen, it’d warn me that I was changing the speed dial entry, and I’d be done. Let’s try it on the Motorola – we’ll go to Kristen’s entry, change her “Speed number” to 8, hit “save”. “Replace Greg?” Sure – I’m trying to replace him as the number 8 on my speed dial. Now then, let’s call Greg and… wtf? Where’s Greg’s number? But of course! I actually replaced the slot filled with Greg’s information with Kristen’s information, which had been stored in another slot. I’m not entirely sure how often they thought people would actually want to do this instead of either deleting an entry in the phone book or swapping, but that’s what happens. So what’s the “right” way to do what I want? Well first, I browse through my numbers (of which there are hundreds) to find an empty slot number, then I assign Greg’s slot number to the known unoccupied slot, and move Kristen’s number to his old spot. Heaven help you if you accidentally move the wrong entry. And while we’re on the subject of entries…
  • Each number has its own entry – in fairness, it’s simple to “add a number” to a given person, but this creates a new copy of their information, in a new slot, with a new number. This means that entering one person in and viewing their various numbers is practically impossible, and good luck if you know two people with the same name and want to keep their numbers separate. But the most annoying thing about the phonebook…
  • The find system. When looking for my friend Alex in the phone book, I instinctively started typing his name using that great one-fingered typing method… “A-L-” Hey, why am I looking at Lauren’s number? That’s right! They only let you jump by first letter! It’s just too bad if half your friends have names starting with “Q” – you have to do a linear scan through them to get to Quentin instead of Quarles.

But the fun doesn’t stop there!

Organizational Tools

I know this is not as crucial to some people as it is to me, but after making calls and remembering numbers, this is probably my most valued functionality of a cell phone. It is the one piece of electronics that I have with me consistently, and the fact that it can store information for later retrieval, as well as warn me of upcoming engagements is very useful when you’re scatterbrained like I am. So, I said this thing syncs with my calendar (which is awesome, I must admit) – what’s the problem? Funny you should ask…

  • No “note pad” – just a quick place for notes – how easy would that be to implement? Well, easy enough that Nokia does, standard, on their color phones.
  • No “to-do” list. In fact, no lists of any kind – this is kind of related to the above, but while I can see what my day has planned, I cannot check what I’m supposed to be working on now, or what I need to restock on when I’m at the grocery store.

I feel like I’m forgetting some things, but it’s getting late, and I’m sleepy. Just to round off the fairness, I thought I’d mention somethings that Nokia did wrong:

On the other hand…

  • Some Nokia phones (like my old one) don’t use standard hands-free set connectors
  • There is a specialized port on Nokia phones, and to connect it to your computer, you need a $50 cable. Luckily, I bought a cheap clone for $20 in India.
  • They don’t add the ability to apply ring profiles to particular calendar events. I don’t think any phone does this, but it would essentially eliminate both the problem of having my phone ring in class and the problem of forgetting to un-silence it after
  • Many of their models being sold now (and before) don’t work with iSync. Of course, this is where software homogeneity comes in handy when I realize I can just use gnokii on my desktop.