Daniel Bader

January 8, 2012 4:16pm

The prepaid market is one that we don’t really broach too often, but it’s an essential component of everyday life for millions of Canadians. While the penetration rate for smartphones is nearly 40%, it’s still much more common to see someone with a cheap flip phone or aging candybar walking down the street. Smartphones are essential to peoples’ lives, but so is the savings from a $89.99 prepaid phone paired with a $20/month commitment-free rate plan.

The MOTOKEY SOCIAL, hereby deemed Motokey for austerity sake, is an interesting take on the the portrait QWERTY phone. At first glance it appears quite similar to the previously-reviewed Android-powered Motorola Pro+ but for the smaller screen and dedicated Facebook button.

Let’s take a look at this pseudo-smartphone and see if it’s right for you, or your younger sibling.


– Custom Motorola operating system
– 2.4″ 320×240 capacitive touch screen
– 64MB RAM, 128MB ROM (50MB user available) with microSD slot
– 3MP camera
– GSM 850/900/1800/1900, EDGE Class 10, WCDMA 850/1900
– 910mAh battery
– WiFi / Bluetooth, GPS
– WiFi hotspot support
– Built-in Facebook button
– Stereo FM radio
– 87g
– 60 x 105.5 x 9.98 mm

It’s important to note that the Motokey is not, depending on your definition, a smartphone. It runs a touchscreen-“friendly” operating system, but it’s a far cry from the versatility of Android, or even Samsung’s Bada.

This simple Java-based operating system is surprisingly robust, with capacitive touchscreen support and native social networking features. There are smartphone features we take for granted, such as a Java browser (Opera Mobile), Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo and weather applets. I’d be remiss to call them apps, but they perform ably enough.

There are five home screens, each of which is adorned with various widgets and app icons; holding down on one will bring up an ugly prompt asking to change the source of that shortcut. You cannot move an icon, or replace it with a widget, so an icon must be replaced with another, and a widget with another, and so on. The system works quite well, though getting things exactly right is time-consuming and cumbersome. Nevertheless, we have to go back to one thing: this phone provides, for $90, similar albeit vastly simplified functionality as a device three or four times the price.

The hardware is quite hardy for such an inexpensive device. The keyboard is similar to the one on the Motorola Pro+, but adds a dedicated number row in the space where an extra half-inch of screen space would be. The keys are spritely and well-honed, spaced just right for messaging hounds; the number row will appease those with aversions to the “BlackBerry Way” of holding down the alt key for most secondary presses. As you can see, like the Android-powered HTC Status there is a dedicated Facebook button near the bottom left of the keyboard. Such an inclusion leaves no doubt as to whom this diminutive device is to be marketed to.

The 2.4″ QVGA screen is appreciably crummy, but not a write-off. With sufficient brightness, clarity and touch responsiveness, it’s a great deal better than a resistive layer. Viewing angles are pretty laughable though, and you can see the banding in most gradients, owing to the limited colour palette.

Around the back is a 3MP camera, for which the software could be worse: one-touch Facebook sharing, plus decent response time makes for a pleasant enough experience. I foresee many young people pointing the lens at their own faces, friends gathering in the shot for a candid self-portrait. The lack of flash is no surprise, but one can take grainy and low-framerate video at a decent 640×480 resolution.

Though the phone does not come with a microSD slot, the phone supports one up to 32GB, and it’s a good thing too, since there are only 50MB of usable storage out of the box for photos, video and music. There is a decent media player built in, though, to accompany the top-side 3.5mm headphone jack. Indeed, the phone appears to be a smartphone from the look of it: it is charged with an industry-standard microUSB cable (provided, thankfully) and has similarly robust build quality.

The Motokey is ringed by a chrome plastic bezel, to which a sturdy battery cover is attached. Underneath the hood is a 910mAh battery, but I had no issues with the battery. Since I couldn’t perform my usual suite of battery tests (for lack of apps), I merely repeated a short video I filmed until the cell wore to zero. The phone lasted nearly fifteen hours on medium brightness, indicating a relatively mild battery draw under load.

Surprisingly, the Motokey has a built-in WiFi hotspot feature to accompany the HSPA+ baseband inside. Telus offers a wide range of Prepaid Plans, though the base cost is 20c/min with a monthly plan and 30c/min without one. Data can be added, in 250MB/month increments, for $20, though it does not look like it can be combined with a voice plan. One plan, which includes such “deals” as $45/month Unlimited Voice gives you access to 5 numbers, plus evenings after 6pm and weekends and no-limit messaging, are a far cry from post-paid contract rates, but perform the function for those people who want nothing to do with a 3-year contract. Per-use data rates are $3/MB.

Thankfully, like all Motorola phones, call quality is excellent. There is an ample-sized speaker on the back for those tinny music urges, and the device, which is around the same height and width as the BlackBerry Curve 9360, is very comfortable to hold in the hand.

There is no doubt that the MOTOKEY SOCIAL is not aimed at me, nor most of our readers. But I decided to review it precisely because it is the type of phone that parents will buy their kids, or themselves, if cost is important and usage is kept to a minimum. Prepaid costs can add up quickly, but those who will seek one out are unlikely to be the heavy “Crackberry” users who will invest in an expensive handset.

As such, the Motokey gets a hearty recommendation without many of the reservations I usually foist on a smartphone. For $89.99 outright, and a $20/month prepaid plan which comes with no commitment, it’s the most robust and feature-filled fuss-free handset I’ve used.

The MOTOKEY SOCIAL is available from Telus for $89.99 outright.

  • Rich

    I actually won one of these on Motorola’s Facebook contest. I’m still waiting on it to be shipped out, but thanks for the review.

    p.s. Unlock codes are like $12 -> $24… yikes.

  • Terry

    I heard this is a dual core phone.

  • jason

    for the same money you can pick up an lg optimus one prepaid. bought two of those for my kids and they love the apps. can’t see a reason to spend the same about of money on a phone with no app store.

    • Sean

      Agreed i was about to say the same thing for pretty much the same price you can pick up a low (but still pretty decent) android handset

  • Randy

    If I were to choose a phone for me to poop on, this would be it.

  • kevin

    For a social plan my daughter said, you want BBM. Need a Blackberry for that.

  • khota


  • Neeters

    I work for Telus and we cracked one of these out of the box to play with to see and I would give it two thumbs down. I honestly wouldn’t sell this to anyone even as a back up phone, I would talk them into something else. Running an android and blackberry, I found this phone extremely confusing. Hard to navigate, not a very nice screen resolution. Sounds like the only thing it has going is Facebook and the phone quality.

  • Bill1961

    Not a bad phone really. Nice to have buttons and touch screen,nicer than the slide out qwerty keyboards. Simple and easy to use. Sound quality is great. No Android? ,not a deal breaker. Great for texting and phone calls..Size is good too,not supersized like the new RAZR.

  • Rogido

    It would be a decent phone for someone who only calls and texts, and has no use for web-browsing and apps (ie, my wife!). Such a person would appreciate the simplicity and call quality.

    The review says it has no microSD slot, so where the heck is the memory card supposed to go???

    If this thing goes on sale for, say, $49 – 59, I’d pick one up for the Mrs.

  • ashton

    i think this phone is soooooo! awesome im getting it for easter oh ya i love this phone it has a touch screen, facebook, its soo much better than eny slide one.

  • Bill1961

    Works well for me…i really need something with a good strong signal,good call clarity and text message capable.Camera is okay. Never needed a data plan,so I not really missing anything.Touch screen is okay too,not like android,but works okay.

  • jesse

    i do not like this phone. i would not buy another one you cant play games on it, when i sing out of facebook it pops up with a long on screen all the time.

  • Marilyn

    What causes this phone to go into Sim blocked? My phone is stuck and it always goes to Sim blocked no matter what I try to do.

    • Laura

      to Marilyn…. that is what i did. i took it in and had the telus people unblock it for me… they have a 60sec time frame to get to the right area and get it fixed.

  • Laura

    i love this phone!! once i figured it out.. within 24hrs of getting it tho i locked it up tight haha… got it unlocked. telus helped with that. but other than that i have had no real problems with this phone.

  • Keegs

    Piece of s**t phone. I thought the interface was really horrible, it took me days to figure it out. Conversation mode only showed like 30 characters of the message, so you needed to go to your inbox and read each message individually. And after about 8 months my phone just died and i brought it to my local phone dealer and they said there wasnt any damage they could see so they sent it in to Motorola and they said it was water damage? the danm phone never even got near water. the only things I liked about it was the battery life and how light it was. Overall it is a piece of s**t.