Motorola V180 GSM worldphone
With the opening of our resident office in China we have renewed our personal interest in international mobile devices, and thought this might be a good time to discuss a newly available choice that we quite like.
To recap, we have in the past discussed the question of GSM frequencies. There are two frequency pairs: 850/1900 MHz and 900/1800 MHz. In most places one or both frequencies of a frequency pair are in use, and in eleven places in the Caribbean and Latin America (Argentina, Aruba, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Netherlands Antilles) frequencies from more than one frequency pair is used.
You would like your mobile device to have access to all locally available frequencies so that, in the case of an emergency, you can summon help. For all but the eleven exceptions listed above, a dual-band handset will meet your needs in order to have maximum probability of being able to make an emergency call.
For vacationers, who tend to be in another country for a relatively long time, it makes little sense to take your own phone number with you. International roaming charges, which you will be paying yourself, will be too high. It is better to get a local SIM to use in a second, unlocked, handset (you can get a dual-band handset with the other frequency pair on ebay for about $30), and simply call in to pick up your home messages from time to time. Having a local SIM will allow you to make local calls for a lot less money.
Business travelers, however, tend to make relatively short trips, and need to be reachable through their home-country mobile number. While you as a business traveler could change from one dual-band handset to another, for members of this group it is more convenient to have a quad-band handset.
The problem with quad-band handsets has been the increasing business requirement to have a handset that does not include a camera. This is because an increasing number of facilities – and one entire country – are restricting use of mobile devices with cameras included. And, until recently, the only quad-band handset without a camera was the very first quad-band camera made, the NEC 515, reviewed in the August 2003 AEGIS.
There is now a second camera-free quad band handset, the Motorola V180. The handset is a typical Motorola clamshell device. The battery life is good by today’s standards, although, as with all current handsets following the obsolete-before-released tri-band Nokia 6310i – probably the last handset to ever be made with adequate battery life – prudence says you should carry a second battery with you just in case.
The V180’s RF sensitivity is good, and it also handles RF anomalies, like driving under power lines, well. Voice quality is very good and headset background noise is extremely low with the bundled hands-free kit.
There is, however, a problem for some users that needs to be dealt with. While the V180 is engineered and built a quad-band worldphone, Cingular and T-Mobile in the U.S. (but not originally AT&T Wireless, nor any other service provider in the world) appear to have gone to some effort to tamper with the software, and have turned this state-of-the-art quad-band device into an obsolete tri-band device.
Cingular (and later AT&T Wireless) offers the V180 as an 850/900/1900 device, with 1800 MHz (implemented in 87 countries and the only band in three) disabled. This means you will get no signal whatsoever in Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. In case of an emergency, you may get no signal in Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria, Cayman Islands, Congo (Democratic Republic of the), Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French West Indies, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Hong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jersey, Kuwait, Laos, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Malta, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Reunion, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Serbia and Montenegro, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan. It is not clear to us whether the new Cingular, which has absorbed AT&T Wireless, will be selling the worldphone version, or the disabled version, but their website show shows the disabled version.
T-Mobile offers the V180 as a 900/1800/1900 device, with 850 MHz (implemented in 19 countries and the only frequency in five) disabled. This means you will get no signal whatsoever in Anguilla, Ecuador, Montserrat, Panama, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. In case of an emergency, you may get no signal in Argentina, Canada, Cayman Islands, Colombia, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the United States.
As you can see, either of these obsolete tri-band incarnations limits the likelihood of your being able to make emergency calls, which we believe needlessly jeopardizes your safety.
We have spoken with customer care representatives at both Cingular and T- Mobile, and in each case their guess as to why this was done was not repeatable. Tri-band devices became obsolete in 2001, with the implementation of GSM 850. We concur with the accepted view that while a dual-band device will make sense if you don’t travel, or a quad-band device (or a second dual-band device) if you do travel, there is no rational explanation for anyone manufacturing, selling, or buying a tri-band device in this quad-band day and age. Put simply, ownership of a tri-band T-Mobile V180 for use in any area where GSM 850 is implemented is a safety hazard. Ownership of a tri-band Cingular V180 for use in any area where GSM 1800 is implemented is a safety hazard.
However, all is not lost. Customers of Cingular and T-Mobile who wish to get full benefit from this excellent GSM terminal can ship their handsets to Mobile Kangaroo (http://www.mobilekangaroo.com/) in California, and for $45 their handset will be unlocked so it can use foreign SIMs, and flashed and flexed to its original quad-band glory! The handset then is safe to use. If you have question about what is done, you can e-mail Mobile Kangaroo at [email protected], or call them at 1-650-965-4252 or 1-415-923-6700.
(As a side note, not all manufacturers seem aware of the existence of all four bands. Nokia, for example, has said:
“Assuming that a traveler who has occasion to visit markets in which they need each of the 4 possible GSM bands, there are really 2 basic solutions.
1) If the user prefers to carry one device, then a quad mode phone may be the best possible option.
2) If the user would rather be able to choose from the much larger universe of tri-mode phones, he could choose to buy a GSM 850/1900/1800 handset along with a GSM 900/1800/1900 handset. For consistency, he would probably want to buy the same basic handset, just in different flavors so as to not need to learn 2 UIs, use common accessories and to facilitate backing up the information between handsets.”
Since Nokia makes no quad-band handsets, of course, would leave the Nokia business traveler carrying two handsets, and, in some emergency circumstances, switching SIMs from one to the other to see if there is a signal on an implemented, but not covered by the tri-band handset in use at the moment.)
Although this handset, whether in full quad-band or deliberately-obsoleted tri-band version is marketed as an international handset, Motorola USA assures us that they only make a 110 volt travel charger (Travel Charger – SPN5093) and a 110 volt power supply (Power Supply – 98248 / SPN4888). This is not correct, as Motorola makes a 220 volt Travel Charger Euro CHA2000 (CFPN1104) and a Cargador de Viaje (98357 / SPN4940). However, they do NOT appear to make a 110-220 volt international charger, which means you will have to take a power converter with you, or buy a 220 volt V180 charger somewhere, or buy a second-party dual-voltage charger on ebay. We no more understand why an international company like Motorola can’t make an international charger than we understand why an international company like Nokia can’t make a quad-band handset. Or why a major service provider – or customer – would put up with this.
Putting aside differences in operations, there are differences in the features offered between the typical Nokia and the Motorola V180, all but one of which are convenience items, rather than critical items. As an example:
• Most GSM handsets allow you to get confirmation of delivery of text messages. While in some cases (AT&T Wireless was one such) delivery confirmation merely meant that the other user’s system had received the message, with well-implemented service providers (like T-Mobile) it meant that the text message had actually been received by the other person’s handset. The V180 did not implement this critical feature.
• For each name in a Nokia, there is a lot of information that can be programmed into phone memory. Thus, using the wonderful Oxygen Phone Manager II for Nokia handsets (http://www.oxygensoftware.com/, discussed in the March 2004 ÆGIS) you can, besides the name, enter one or more general, home, office, and fax numbers. You can also enter one or more e-mail addresses, street addresses, notes, and web sites. With the V180 you can enter a single telephone number or a single e-mail address. There is no facility for street addresses or other information, so you will also need a PDA to go with your V180.
• To locate a name on a Nokia, you enter a few letters of the name to narrow down the search, e.g., entering “jo” would move you past Jack and Jim to Joe. On the V180 you can only enter a single letter, so “j” would take you to jack, and you would have to manually scroll down through the multiple entries for each letter until you finally hit Joe.
These annoying problems aside, and putting aside the minor, correctable, issues of bands that need to be unblocked, and second chargers that need to be purchased, if you are a business traveler who needs a camera-free quad- band worldphone, the Motorola V180 is an excellent choice, and our current recommendation for the international business traveler, with one small caveat. The SAR of the V180 is 1.39, and we would prefer it to be 0.5 or less. So use a headset!