Review: Mobilicity Motorola Spice

With increased competition and aggressive marketing/advertising campaigns, the Canadian wireless industry has become a struggle between the “Big Three” (Rogers, Bell, and Telus), and any other new entrant (Wind, Mobilicity, Public) looking to attract and sway the public with their low prices and persistent promotions. In order to keep up with their growing line of affordable unlimited plans, as well as other promotions such as their Friends and Family Program, Mobilicity has recently released the Motorola Spice XT300, in the hopes of increasing the amount of new activations, while expanding their Android device offerings. The Motorola Spice sports a 3” capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels QVGA, and can be slid open to reveal a full, QWERTY keyboard, with slightly raised and curved keys. The Spice is approximately 97mm (tall) x 61mm (wide) x 16.8mm (thick) when closed, and expands to around 135mm (tall) when slid open, all while weighing around 145g.

Out of the box, I was immediately impressed with the screen size and housing of this device. I was initially worried that the low cost of the Spice would be apparent in its design, however after handling the device and playing around with the sliding mechanism, I am happy to report that this is not the case. The Spice is encased with a hard, black plastic that seemed to resist scratches and fingerprints quite well. This device fits comfortably in the palm of your hand, and can easily be used with one hand.

SIDE NOTE: As I have stated in other reviews (Alcatel Tribe, Palm Pre 2), this range of screen size (2”-3”) is too small for my liking. However, it was nice to see Motorola recognize the need for constant scrolling on a smaller display, and incorporate their newly designed “BACKTRACK” (see below)

The front of the Motorola Spice houses a 3” capacitive touchscreen with 240 x 320 QVGA. Below this screen are four capacitive shortcut buttons for Options, Home, Back, and Search. The left side of this device sports a microUSB port for charging/PC connectivity, while the right side of this device houses volume rockers. The top of the device houses a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a button for power/lock.

SIDE NOTE: By placing the headphone jack on the top of the device, Motorola has ensured that you can place the Spice in your pocket while listening to music through your headphones, without awkwardly bending/twisting the cord or jack.

The back of the Spice houses a small speaker, a 3.2MP camera (8x digital zoom, fixed focus, video capture), and the newly designed “BackTrack”. This feature consists of a square touchpad (approx. 15mm by 15mm), which allows users to input touch screen commands/gestures (such as panning left/right, scrolling up/down, utilizing on-screen cursor), without having to use the touchscreen. Removing the back panel of this device reveals an 1130mAh battery, which advertises up to 320 minutes of talk time, and/or 180 hours of standby time. It should be noted that a microSD port (up to 32GB support, 2GB card included) and SIM slot are also revealed when the back panel is removed, and are located beside the battery.

SIDE NOTE: Many other websites state that the Spice comes with an 1170mAh battery, however when I removed the battery from this device, it was clearly labelled as 1130mAh (on back, beside barcode). Secondly, I wish that Motorola (as well as other manufacturers) would locate the microSD port in a more convenient and common location, such as the sides of the device. However, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that I could install/remove a microSD card without first removing the battery.

Once you slide open this device, you will reveal a full, QWERTY keyboard, which is composed of plastic keys that are slightly raised and curved. This keyboard is very comfortable and easy to type on, and a large improvement from Motorola’s earlier keyboard attempts on the Charm and Flipout.

SIDE NOTE: The hinge of this device is very critical to its design and seems very strong and durable. Through my various tests of violent slides open and closed, the Spice’s sliding mechanism seemed to handle additional force quite well, and I was unable to produce any noticeable damage.

The Motorola Spice XT300 is powered by a 528Mhz processor with 256MB of RAM, and comes preloaded with Android 2.1. This device is compatible with AWS 1700/2100, and GSM 850/900/1800/1900 frequencies. The Spice is powered by an 1130mAh battery, with up to 320 minutes of talk time, and/or 180 hours of standby time. The Spice XT300 supports GPS, +AGPS, and Bluetooth 2.1 (HK200 Bluetooth Headset included), while housing a Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g card for Wi-Fi support. It should be noted that most new smartphones ship with wireless “N” capability for increased speeds/connectivity and the lack of support on this device is disappointing. The Music player supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, WMA, and MIDI with the addition of a built-in FM radio, while the Video player only supports MPEG4.

As with many of the other new competitors in the Canadian wireless industry, many potential consumers are concerned with call quality and reception. I tested the reception throughout various areas of the GTA including Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Vaughan. I was able to consistently make and receive calls, which sounded average in quality, and was only pushed over to roaming when I reached the edges of Vaughan. The speakerphone sounded loud and clear, and the included Bluetooth headset also provided another nice alternative for hands-free use. Data connections were the most inconsistent as I often found it difficult to regularly load webpages, find GPS location, etc.

Web browsing is average on this device, and was largely hindered by the small QVGA display, as well as lacking Flash support. However, the browser supported full HTML, and the BackTrack touchpad was quite useful when scrolling through webpages on the small screen. This touchpad allowed me to navigate various webpages, without cluttering my view with my hands, smudges, etc. I did have to disable the on-screen cursor, as it proved to be very annoying and difficult to use, especially while browsing text-heavy pages.

The music player was able to handle my daily music needs, and various apps from the Android App Market allowed me to add features for streaming content and lyrics. The video player suffered due to the lack of supported file types, and the small, QVGA display. The camera on the Spice was very disappointing since there were no flash capabilities for low-light situations, while also being limited in picture types/angles due to the fixed focus. Below are a couple pics and a video of the quality:

The battery life for the Motorola Spice was average at best, and I noticed that I had to recharge the battery more often than other devices, due to the minimal standby time of up to 180 hours. With some light browsing, heavy phone calls and text messages, I was able to last around a day and half before having to recharge the battery.

The Spice comes preloaded with Android 2.1, with the incorporation of some Motorola features. The Flashback app, which comes preloaded on this device, provides a scrollable timeline of all calls, texts, emails, and social network updates, while the Moto Phone Portal helps manage phone content on your PC. The Spice also comes preloaded with other useful apps such as AccuWeather, Facebook, File Manager, Gmail, Navigation, Quickoffice, Talk, and YouTube. It should be noted that due to the slower 528Mhz processor, I experienced various instances of lag when opening messages, emails and applications. This proved to become very annoying, and I am curious as to why Motorola did not include a faster processor.

Overall, the Motorola Spice is a nice addition to Mobilicity’s line-up of devices, and increases their Android offerings, which has become increasingly popular over the past year. The Spice parallels the form factor of other popular devices such as the Blackberry Torch, and Palm Pre 2, at a fraction of the costs and contract commitments. Although the OS is out-dated due to the recent releases of Android 2.2 and rumoured Android 2.3, the software still powers a reliable phone and messaging device that will gain popularity for first time smartphone users, who are looking for an affordable solution. The main downsides to this device are the average camera performance, and slower processor, which will be major drawbacks for more avid cell phone users. However, the combination of an affordable, no contract hardware cost combined with a $40/month unlimited plan, 2GB microSD card and Bluetooth headset makes the Motorola Spice an attractive offer that is difficult to pass up.

The Motorola Spice was recently released by Mobilicity under the following pricing structure:
• $199.99 (no term contract)

The Motorola Spice is also available with Videotron under the following pricing structure:
• $279.95 (no term contract)
• $59.95 (3 year agreement with monthly service of $40+)