Sorry for the lack of reviews, everyone! Have been a bit on the busy side lately but I really wanted to get a bunch of material out before going on a two-week trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in new Mexico. Thus, a first look at some phones. Starting with the Motorola w175g and w260g, showing just how much $10or $15 can get you...
You may wonder why I'm reviewing two phones at once. Easy: the phones, aside from their form factors, are identical. Same screens, same interface, same everything. Though the w260g carries a $5 premium due to the flip versus bar design.
First, the differences between the two phones: the w175g is the typical featureless black bar phone while the w260 is a slightly less featureless black flip. The w175g does have a textured pattern on its back, but since the unit is made of hard plastic it doesn't really help your grip any. The keypad mimics that of the Motorola Razr, albeit at a much lower quality. It's essentially a big piece of rubber with ribbing to differentiate between rows of buttons. It's moderately useable. In terms of size and durability, the phone isn't exactly small or thin, but it's absolutely pocketable and the featureless black plastic probably makes it seem larger than it is.
The w260g doesn't have the textured back of the w175, but it does have a shiny black clamshell front. Similar to the w370, LEDs will light up for incoming calls and messages, and as a low battery alert or when the battery is charging. It's not caller ID but it's cool-looking and shows up better in the sun. Size-wise the phone is aagin not the smallest one out there, with a nearl-suqare, wide footprint, but it is pretty thin for a phone that doesn't have an antenna bulge at the bottom. The keypad on the w260g is quite a bit larger than that of the w175g (you have more space for such things on a flip phone) but it is also made of a single sheet of rubber and is thus not ideal for much more than typing in phone numbers and menu navigation.
Now to the stuff that is the same across both phones...
First off, the phone ringers get LOUD. Not quite as loud as the Nextel phones of old, but you won't be missing your phone ringing if it's turned up on high. However there is plenty of range on the ringer settings so if you want a quiet phone you can do that. The vibrate motor on both models is decent as well. One complaint I have about the ringer speaker is that it tends to distort at higher volumes and there's no bass response, but for $10-$15 I'm fine with ringer quality.
Call quality is decent as well. While in the little bit of informal testing I did actually experienced a cut-out in a good signal area (basically all of town) on the w260g call quality was solid. No call quality problems like the Motorola c155/c139. Voice quality on both ends was fine as far as I could tell, even when using the speakerphone; this is probably due to the CrystalTalk enhancement software on these phones, which I believe first came out for Tracfone on the Motorola w370. Again, no complaints here, though I wouldn't say these phones win any awards for clarity.
I'm not really sure about battery life as I only got the units in Wednesday but this type of phone tends to have really, really long life (a few weeks even) since there isn't much running and GSM is generally (or seems to be) more power-efficient than CDMA.
For user experience Tracfone has added a few more newbie-specific prepaid features. When you turn these phones o, before activation, you get a message telling you to activate, where to activate and the information you need phone-wise to do so. This information has now been whittled down to the phone serial number (no SIM ID anymore), and no code entry is needed. Once you click past the activation instructions you'll get a messag telling you, on the home screen, to turn the phone off and on again. This message disappears once your phone gets activated, the replacement being "You have 60 days until you need to refill" or similar, depending on today's date and the date you need to add more minutes. Nice touches for people new to prepaid, though for old hands a quick trip to the Prepaid menu to turn these notices off may be required.
For the rest of the UI, you're looking at a typical Compal-made Motorola: close to the old Synergy interface but with slightly larger fonts so some options have to scroll, and a menu system where you have to be careful not to press the center button if you think that's "select" (it usually brings up another menu). Since these phones are basic units you don't get a media gallery to play ringtones and view garphics, nor do you get web, multimedia messaging or MP3 ringtones. You do, however, get quick access to most phone features either from the home screen (by pressing the shortcut-triggered softkeys or arrow keys) or the main menu. I wouldn't say these phones are as easy to use as the Nokia models but they're not all that difficult either.
Two things that stick out as user-unfriendly are volume changing and text entry, however. On the first point you don't have a volume rocker on the side of the phone, and neither do you have dedicated keys at the home screen. So it's a trip into Ring Styles (by a shortcut button if you have one set up), then a few more steps, to change ringer volume. There may be a quicker way, but I haven't found it.
For text entry, the problem is that Motorola uses their old iTAP system on everything with their branding on it. This exclused iDEN phones but includes the phones available on Tracfone. The implementation on these phones is particularly clunky; you don't hit "space" to accept a word and go on, you hit the "menu" key. Or something like that; guess I'm much too used to the smooth experience that is T9. The problem is that the alternative, multitap input, is downright arduous on the keypads these phones have.
So that's about it for the Motorolas w260 and w175. They're certainly worth the $10-$15you pay for them if you buy from Circuit City or the like, and they're fine "free phones" if Tracfone feels the need to bundle them with an airtime card or two. You even get a good signal and a boatload of MIDI ringtones in the package. But these phones ahve "basic" written all over them and their lack of any service other than voice and (rather hard-to-use) text pin their value squarely below $20.
Two phones down, a zillion more to go. Up next: the Motorola i425 from Boost Mobile (finally!).