Motorola Razr V3C

February 26th, 2006 by Potato

My old cell phone had a small crack in the antenna, and its already mediocre reception became downright shitty. At the same time, my parents decided to upgrade their phones from that same Samsung to the new Motorola Razr V3C (they upgrade their phones every 2 years or so). Since I’m on a family plan with them, they got me one too. It’s a very expensive phone, and Bell offers $125 or $175 (IIRC) off for committing to a 2 or 3 year contract (respectively). I was all for signing up for 2 years again; we haven’t changed cell phone plans in over 6 years, when we left Rogers and the permanently-mounted carphone and got modern portable cells. Moreover, since we’re on a family plan, we pay practically nothing for each phone (I think it’s less than $20 per extension, though that’s because we only have like 200 minutes to share — not that we even use that much), so the savings would be significant. Nonetheless, my mom was afraid of locking in to that long a time and bought the phones outright (yikes!).

I’ve had it for a week now, and here are my thoughts:

The Hardware

The look is fairly distinctive, and you’d have to be living in a cave not to have seen a Razr ad somewhere. I like it. First off, the very fact that it’s a flip-phone is going to drastically reduce the number of calls I accidentally make from my pocket. The screen is quite nice, a colour LCD with something like 200×100 pixels (about 1″ wide by 2″ tall). There’s also a small screen on the back (about 1 cm square) that displays the time, date, signal strength, battery power, and a thumbnail version of your wallpaper when the phone is closed.

The keypad is a little different, being a single piece of metal rather than discrete buttons. I find it makes finding the keys without looking a little harder, though it does help make the phone thinner. There are three buttons on the side, up by the screen. First is the fairly standard volume up/down rocker on the left. Just above that is the speakerphone button. The speakerphone function is pretty neat, and seems to pick up my voice from 3′ away clear enough for the person on the other end to know what I was saying, though they could definitely tell I wasn’t speaking normally into the phone. Then, on the right side, is the voice activation button. This is in a really bad spot, since it’s directly opposite the volume key, and I invariably hit it with my thumb when trying to squeeze/stabilize the phone to adjust the volume. The function itself is pretty cool, though. You press it, and then you can give voice commands to the phone, including having it look up and call someone from your phone book, check the battery status, check the signal, or dial a number you dictate. There’s no need to train the phone or record your friends’ names in advance, it seems to do a good job of doing a speech-to-text conversion. However, while it will recognize just about any name in your phone book, it only has access to a limited number of phone functions. In particular, the one other thing I would want the voice command feature to open up doesn’t work: recording a voice memo. More on that later.

There’s no external antenna, so I should be ok for a while without snapping it off. The signal is quite good, even in my parents house (which is some strange signal black hole, second only to the cottage on PEI, where our phones invariably try to connect to the towers across the Northumberland Straight in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, rather than the one 4 km away, but that sits oddly enough behind a large hill, rather than on top of it). For the first time ever, Wayfare has asked me to speak softer, so the microphone has very good pickup (helped, of course, by the fact that flip phones inherently get better voice quality by being longer and closer to your mouth when open). The battery life is also pretty good, running for 4 days on standby, along with a day spent inputting my contacts and playing with the settings, etc.

It’s also a camera phone, with a ~1 megapixel camera on it. The camera isn’t too bad for a low-res camera, but I haven’t found a way to view the pictures on anything other than the phone’s screen (which is decidedly nowhere close to a megapixel resolution). It has a 4x digital zoom, but no other way to focus and no flash, which isn’t surprising for a phone. While it might help for those rare moments when you want to take a picture but only have your phone with you, I find it’s not really worth it for camera phones to exist at all. Just by the very possibility that you might use your phone to take a picture, you’re no longer allowed to use your phone in the locker room (though that was a faux pas to begin with), or on tours of our lab, etc. Not worth it, in my opinion (plus that’s got to be a fairly large contribution to the price tag).

The charging port is mini-USB, which should make cross-compatability with other chargers possible in the future (e.g.: the Blackberry also charges via a mini-USB port). More on this below…

The Software

All this neat hardware stuff is nearly killed by the software.

For starters, there are 6 options at the phone’s “home screen”, and you access each one through either one of the 4 directions on the direction keypad, or the two “soft keys” just above that by the screen. My first instinct would be to use the direction pad to move some sort of selection box amongst the options (or to perhaps scroll through more) and then select with one of the softkeys, send, or the center button of the direction pad. Instead, hitting a direction key instantly opens the function on that side. There’s no clear way to open up a more detailed menu (turns out you just hit the centre part of the direction pad), and while that information is in the manual, it wasn’t really explained well enough or emphasized early enough — something I think should have been done since no one in my family found it intuitive (though it might save time when you get used to it and get it tweaked right). The 6 default options are not ideal, at least to us: you have your mobile browser, games/apps, contacts, recent calls, picture viewer, and messenging centre (for voicemail and text messages). It took a few days, but I realized that you can change what those 6 options are through the preferences menu, buried 3 levels deep after you hit the centre button to get the general menu (there is no “menu” button, unlike my Samsung phone).

So, the first thing I did was replace mobile browser, recent calls, and games (it doesn’t come with any games, you have to buy them!) with calculator, voice record, and datebook. The fact that it comes with a calculator is going to be really handy, and not something I’ve seen in a cell phone before. The datebook will also be quite useful to me. But the thing that had me saying “holy shit!” out loud is the voice record option. About 2 years ago, when some of the first MP3 phones were first coming on the market, I actually wrote a letter to Samsung and Motorola, begging them to use the hardware that was already in place to let people use their phones to record audio such as brief reminders or even meetings/lectures. Turns out they listened (or already had this on the development track), and there is a voice memo record function on the Razr. I don’t know if this has quietly become standard or what, but I was really surprised it wasn’t mentioned in the phone’s list of features on the box. It’s such a useful thing to record notes to yourself with — I used to burn airtime on my old phone calling myself to leave messages on my answering machine. No more of that now! Of course, the odd thing about the voice record is that you can’t get to it via the voice activation commands when you hit that side button. You would think this would be one of the best things to have that function access (much more important than say “send picture to”).

Now, let’s do some quick logical thinking. Charging port: mini-USB. Advertised on box and in manual: a way to sync your contacts list with your computer. Present on phone: camera with 48 MB of memory. Conclusion: this phone has some way to connect to your computer via USB for syncing your phone book and transferring photos, and potentially for use as a small USB drive to carry with you.

At least, that’s the conclusion I came to. Turns out I was completely wrong: the USB port is for charging only, unless you buy a special USB cable and software package from Motorola for $50 US. The syncing and transferring functions were only intended to be done over Bluetooth. However, seeing as how neither my desktop nor laptop have bluetooth, this sucks for me (and even then, looking online it appears as though you still need to buy the software package). I call this some of the biggest stinking pile of bullshit surrounding this phone. Now, it is handy that you can charge it from your computer’s USB port, since you might be able to bum a charge from just about anywhere without having to take your adapter with you. However, this function appears pretty buggy: windows keeps bugging me for a driver when I plug the phone in, and it only seems to charge for a few seconds before disconnecting itself. I have found drivers online that will satisfy Windows and let the phone charge, but it still doesn’t seem to charge up beyond halfway.

As I quickly mentioned above, the phone has no games pre-installed. You have to buy them from Bell, paying not only about $5 per game, but also wireless browsing access fees to download them. Not such a huge deal if you have a plan that includes data, but we don’t. I don’t know what went wrong with cell phone companies and games. The first phone I remember having games was Dan’s old Nokia, which had 4 or 5 actually fun games preinstalled (snake for sure, and I think it had asteroids too). My old phone came with 3 games on it, and they were all slightly different versions of the same “automatically scroll sideways and dodge crap” game. One was a “run for cash” game where you had to run down the road, grab cash, and dodge cars. Another was the exact same thing, except on a motorcycle where you grabbed gas and had to avoid rocks, too (they move slower than cars). The last one was in a plane, and you had to not only avoid whatever random crap was in the air, but also had to worry about the ground contours taking away your “lanes”. The big problem with that phone though was that no matter what the volume was set at for calls, the games played at max volume, no matter what. So you could never play them on the subway or in a waiting room, making them useless (like I’m going to play my cell phone when I’m at home and can tolerate the noise?). But now, to have to pay just to get some of these crappy games loaded on to a $300 cell phone is nuts.

A Crippled Phone

So, to sum up, the Razr V3C has some pretty decent hardware on it, which is completely crippled.

However, there is hope. The games that you could buy from Bell for the phone are simple Java games: the phone has a Java engine, and should play a variety of compatible games, if you can just get them on there. As I said, I found drivers for it online that get rid of the prompts Windows throws up for the new hardware wizard. In addition to those were some instructions and tools for flashing the firmware to restore functionality to the USB port. However, the problem is that most of these tools are for the V3 (note the lack of “C”), which is the more popular version. It’s the black one (mine’s grey), and runs on a different type of cell network and has a number of other differences, which makes the hacks for it not work with the V3C. Furthermore, different carriers sell different versions of the V3C. For example, Bell and Verizon sell very crippled ones: you can’t even do file transfers with bluetooth, let alone USB. Reportedly, the ones sold by Telus aren’t quite so crippled. This is of course complicated by the fact that the information you need to get this stuff working again is scattered all over the internet. Nobody wants to host the files needed, so they tell you to “check Google or Kazaa”, which is not terribly helpful.

So, with all of this misinformation and conflicting reports and different models, it’s hard to figure out just how to hack your Razr. It took me hours and hours to do, most of which was spent in trial-and-error with some of the programs, and even more spent reading all kinds of forums. Here’s what I figured out:

1. Bell has removed the “Java App Loader” from the phone entirely, so even hacking the configuration files won’t help you turn it back on. While it looks like a straightforward way to load games onto your computer, any guide suggesting you edit a “seem” file to enable it and then use a program such as Midway to get your games on your phone just won’t work. If you’re with Telus, it might…

2. The one use for editing seem files that did work for me was adding the menu option to turn the “camera shutter” noise off entirely, instead of just choosing how I’d like to be annoyed. For reference: seem file 2742 page 0001, offset 005e, enable bit 6.

3. You’re going to need at least 4 seperate pieces of sub-legal software to do anything with this phone. The first is the driver set, which is still kind of buggy. The second is the Product Service Tool from Motorola. I first got this as another way of trying to enable the Java App Loader (apparently, you can send your phone to Motorola to have them enable it for you at significant cost… all they do is load the phone into this program and upload a profile). Since it’s a Bell phone, this program actually did nothing for me, however, it appears to stabilize the USB connection for the other programs you have running. The third program is one called P2KCommander (often bundled with P2kSeem). This is a very basic data transfer program to move data between your phone and computer. It’s how the games and other things go on (I haven’t tried custom ringtones yet, but I might), and how the pictures come off. Lastly, you’ll need the “710 Game Editor” program to create the configuration files the phone needs to run the Java games.

It’s really annoying, but even with the PST program running, the phone’s connection to the computer craps out after about a minute, making any transfers painful at best. Some important notes about P2K: I saw it mentioned elsewhere that you have to set the file retrieval limit to “unlimited” for it to work with the Razr. More importantly, and not something I noticed anywhere, is that the default “slow/safe” data transfer rate doesn’t work at all. The connection seems to crap out before it even finishes handshaking. Use “normal” and you should be able to work with it, though it is sill annoying. Every time the connection dies, you’ll need to reset the phone. Also, it seems to work much better if you plug in the USB cable with the phone initially off — plugging it in will turn the phone on, but it won’t connect to the network.

So, what have I gained from my hours of tinkering? First, and most importantly, I got Tetris, which was $6 from Bell (plus approx. $3 to download it). I’ve managed to take pictures with it and get them off the phone without paying Bell for the data transfer over their network (and, if you don’t have data transfer as part of your package, it’s billed at 5 cents/kB, so each picture would run at about $11). And, I have the theoretical ability to take any MP3 file I have, convert it to mono sound (reports say that stereo-encoded MP3s crash the phone), and use it as a ringtone (I haven’t tried this yet… I don’t usually care what noise my phone makes as long as I know to answer it and it doesn’t send shards of glass down my nerves).

In conclusion: 5 cents per kB, holy shit. What are they smoking? Hopefully, providers and cell phone manufacturers will stop selling crippled phones and let us actually use them (especially when they cost so much, even if you do commit to 3 years).

Comments are closed.