Long-term product review: Motorola L2

I hate cellphones. I hate cellphones for the myriad purposes to which they are put which have nothing to do with the one thing they facilitate - communication. Status symbol, game platform, music player, digital camera, object of lust... None of these uses interest me in the least. I just want a phone.

Some engineers at Motorola apparently read my mind.

There's this term that everyone knows of, even if they don't know the term itself: convergence. Convergence means that instead of two discrete pieces of consumer electronics that each perform a specific function, you have one piece of technology that does both things, only not as well, with less battery life, and more complexity. Not only that, but the weaknesses of each device - fragility, vulnerability to the elements, heat dissipation issues - are combined in your shiny, new, state of the art device that is sitting there, shod of it's clamshell packaging, fragrant of solvent and mold-release.

Oh, and when one function of the device becomes obsolete, as it inevitably will, you get to toss the circuitry and supporting hardware for the equivalent of two devices into the trash.

Ain't technology grand?

I was opposed to the idea of a camera in a cellphone from the first time the news of this fevered marketer's dream appeared, and cellphones started sprouting tiny plastic lenses like warts. I already had a digital camera, and the limitations of it's huge-by-comparison lens were glaringly obvious. I already had a cellphone, and I wasn't really interested in killing my battery life with a huge color display and a CCD sensor, and the comparatively huge increase in processing power needed to process digital imagery. But consumers as a whole loved the technology. They were only using their digital cameras for snapshots anyway, and this removed several pretty serious barriers to sharing their snapshots - the need for a separate computer to get the snapshots onto the internet, and of course actually getting the images off the camera. The cellphone manufacturers rejoiced as every cellphone in the world was obsoleted in an instant.

Pretty soon it was difficult to even find a camera-less cellphone on the market, let alone get one bundled with a plan from a major provider.

What was a cantankerous luddite like myself to do? Enter the Motorola L2.

The L2 - my Knight in Shining, uh, Protective Metal Casing
I'm not sure how I discovered the L2. I think I wanted to prove to myself (and others, more importantly) that it was possible to have a modern, stylish phone that didn't include a camera. Plus I'd been researching cellular technology, and lusted after a quad-band GSM phone - it'd work just as well in the Carribean as in Berlin. Sign me up. So, I punched these criteria into a helpful cellphone database, and happened upon this delightful sliver of technology.

Only problem: No cellphone provider offered this phone anymore. Some had, for a brief moment in time, particularly in pink, but those days - apparently only a few days total, as cellphones sans camera don't appear to do that well in the US market - had come and gone.

Next stop was of course Ebay, where I found a brand new example of the handset from a British reseller, unlocked, with a universal charger. It was from a batch of Cingular-destined phones, and still displays the vaguely annoying Cingular logo on startup. Hmmm. Perhaps I need to fix that. I think I paid around $90 with shipping. You can pick up similar examples (new, unlocked, US packaging) for $60, these days. The phone works great on T-Mobile's network, and it's easy enough to set up world-wide roaming. The option itself is free, but you'll incur per-minute charges in other countries. Of course, if your friends send you lots of text messages, you might want to tell them to lay off when you're on vacation.

I love this phone. I think I said that already.

It has:
  • Bluetooth
  • SMS, of course
  • MMS capability (send and receive picture messages)
  • a Java compiler
  • 128 x 160 x 16 bit screen
  • a USB port for charging and hacking
  • quad-band GSM
  • 310 hours of standby time, 4 hours of talk time
  • MP3 playback/ringtones
It doesn't have:
  • a Camera
Really, it has everything I need, nothing I don't need, and a few bits that I wasn't expecting. The only port is a USB port, which charges the phone and allows access to the filesystem on the handset, for adding carefully optimized background images and MP3 ringtones. I'm not sure I have the original charger anymore, and I don't care. The USB port doubles (triples?) as an earphone jack. I wasn't expecting MMS capability, but since the hardware is essentially the same as the L6 - the same phone, with a camera - the firmware is probably mostly identical. I get about three days on a charge with moderate usage with a one and half year old battery.

Yeah, you can get an iPhone. In fact, these days, there's virtually no limit to the amount of computing power you can carry in your pocket. Manufacturers are packing millions and millions of transistors into increasingly small form factors, hoping to convince you to upgrade your moldy old phone, hoping to finally get you on the bandwagon of cellphone chic, hoping that you'll toss the handset that's served you well for so long (or, perhaps, hasn't).

Good luck, Apple. Do your worst. I've found the perfect phone.


alex said...

I bought a RAZR phone. The second generation, I think. It has insane battery life, compared to my first phone (yes, I'm still on my second). I baby my gear (think the Alt.Gen), but am still surprised at the longevity of this phone. A new battery (5 bones from eBay as opposed to 40 at the Verizon store) recently, and it's as good as new...

Which brings me to my point: I bought the RAZR phone from Verizon without knowing that they had crippled its features... Like a governor on an electric motor or something, their software purposefully disabled the best features of the phone (forcing me to pay to get pics off it, for example). Pissed off, I hacked it. It was very easy. I stole a technician's program from the internet and started activating the features of the phone. Now, I can pull pics off it straight to my computer. Yay.

My next phone will be a phone again, though...with no sms plan. I hate text messages, in name and practice. "Text message," what--like a letter in an envelope? How you gonna name something "text message?"

alex said...

and, oh yeah: good looking phone. I'm a fan of the hide-the-keys flippage, but that one looks nice.

deprogram said...

You'd be surprised at how few scratches (zero) there are on the screen. It basically lives in my pocket, too.

I should probably have noted this in the review, but the guts of the L2 are basically the same as the RAZR. It's just a candybar version of the same phone.

I might even be using the same tool to access the phone's filesystem. I'm going to post separately about hacking the phone, there's a bunch of linkage and tools I use.

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