Motorola E398 Review

Motorola E398I am often taken to musing on the quintessential essence of gadgetry. What makes a gadget? What makes a gadget good? These are somewhat rhetorical questions, but their existence serves to fine tune one’s sense of gadgetophilia, and aid in the search for the ultimate gadget.

So it was that I went on the hunt for a new phone, and found the Motorola E398. You can probably get more phone for more money, or a PDA phone, or a smartphone, or perhaps a coffee-maker-phone, but for the pricepoint, the E398 is a stunner.

If you’re into music, podcasting, or other mp3-borne audio goodness, then the E398 sports a 64MB transflash card, upgradeable to 128MB at the moment, and probably more once the central Asian pixies make their special pixie memory dust even smaller. A perfectly servicable MP3 player, video viewer, and image viewer provide a means to listen to and/or view the contents of the memory card. The exhibitionists will be happy that the E398 includes built-in stereo speakers, as well as a stereo headset plug. The stereo speakers can also be employed to play stereo polyphonic MIDI or MP3 ringtones.

The default set of ringtones seem to cater for the techno rave party set, and when coupled with the multicoloured ‘rhythm lights’ pretty much turn the phone into a 108x46mm dance party in your pocket. If you tend more towards the wallflower style of phone user, all of these soundy-flashy bits can be disabled (turn off the lights, use a ‘bring bring’ ringtone), turning the phone into a black-and-silver corporate ‘sleeper’. I’m reminded of the Audi RS4 wagon – it looks like something you’d take the kids to soccer in, but sports 381 purebred Deutschland horses under the bonnet. Of course just as the RS4 could easily light up all four tyres as you peel out of the supermarket car park, the E398 has a mode whereby the ‘ryhthm lights’ light up in time with an external sound source. I guess you enable this mode when you’re wearing the phone around your neck at a rave or something?

What else? The camera works as well as any VGA CMOS camera, which is to say a heck of a lot worse than a genuine CCD digital camera, but more than enough for the occasional ‘capture the moment’ shot. As with any cameraphone, you can get a good idea of the image quality by looking at the tags on Flickr. Anyone with half a brain will tag their images with the brand of phone or camera they are using. Check it out for things like the E398, Nokia 6600, or Sony Ericsson K700. Very cool.

The E398 also sports Bluetooth, which, in theory at least, allows one to connect the phone to any other Bluetooth enabled device. The supplied Mobile Phone Tools software allows you to connect the phone to your PC for file transfer and syncing via Bluetooth or using the included USB cable. If you enjoy tearing your eyeballs out with a blunt spoon, then you’ll get off on Mobile Phone Tools. The software is so kludgey and slow that even the least masochistic readers will be reaching for the cutlery draw in short order. Seriously. We’re talking 2-3 minutes to connect and sync a couple of phone numbers. Strangely it seems this is a ‘phone’ thing, rather than a Motorola thing. An acquaintance with a Nokia phone reports the same sluggish behaviour, and I must say my previous Nokia 6600 was pretty damn slow to sync, althought the E398 plumbs new depths.

Thankfully the included transflash card also includes an adapter so it can be inserted into any SD-Card compatible slot. I’d suggest a memory card reader if you are going to transfer large amounts of data (e.g. MP3 playlists), otherwise we’re back into cutlery butchery territory.

Gadgetry is a highly personal affair, and the E398 caters pretty well for this, with a selection of 3 different ‘skins’ and as many ringtones and wallpapers as you can fit in memory. Unfortunately new skins are not easy to come by, but I understand there are some enterprising hackers over at HowardForums.com who are busily creating ways to upload new skins to the phone. Personally I’m happy with the ‘Neon’ green skin, and a nice fluro 3D biohazard logo as a wallpaper. Sweet.

So all said, the E398 is a great phone for the price – around NZ$380, or US$260.

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