Cell phones have ushered in a new era of convenient communications – the ability to talk to anyone, any time and anywhere with the push of a few buttons.
How could it be any easier than that?
Well, it’s easier if your phone holster is carrying a Telus Mike phone. Using Motorola’s iDEN technology, the Mike phones make walkie-talkie style communication possible on a cell phone.
It’s a powerful feature that field workers have relied upon for years. The push-to-talk feature isn’t limited by range like a normal walkie-talkie, so you can be across the country and still just press a button and talk to your colleague. Or send them a picture or a short video clip. The possibilities for communication are obvious.
The Motorola Clutch is the latest phone to join the Mike family of phones. A much-needed addition, as these phones are looking more like fossils — many still have small antennae sticking out of the top.
Available for $99.99 with a three-year contract or $299.99 with no contract, the Clutch aims to be a sturdy, reliable and easy to use phone.
ITBusiness.ca got its grip on the Clutch and put it through the paces.
Look and feel
The Clutch is an aptly named device. It’s small and light, and easily fits in the palm of your hand. Its hard plastic exterior feels solid, and the curved edges and rippled grooves along the sides and back provide a trustworthy grip.
The phone is smaller than smartphone devices. It is 112 mm tall, 54 mm wide and 15.5 mm deep. Its weight is 98 grams, and it is built to military specifications to withstand the stressors of shock, vibration, dust and solar radiation.
The screen is functional, but not attractive. It is quite small – barely more than an inch across the diagonal and displays a low resolution of 128 x 160 pixels, at 16-bit colour. That’s good enough to navigate the phone’s features and take or view pictures, but don’t count on it for too much Web browsing.
The button layout on the device is built for ease of use. To the right side of the screen are three short-cut buttons for composing a message, Web browsing, and taking a picture. The phone menus are navigated with a directional pad at the centre of the device, with the “OK” action button in the middle. There’s also a shortcut button to view the phone’s various applications.
Motorola is billing the Clutch as its first iDEN handset to come equipped with a QWERTY keyboard. The keyboard is three and a half rows of keys positioned on the bottom half of the device.
Cramming the alphabet into this small handset was clearly a challenge in designing this phone. The keys are very small and mashed together in a tight space that will make it difficult for your thumbs to move around quickly. But each key is raised toward its centre, shaped like a rounded pyramid. This helps your thumb find its target a bit more easily.
The keyboard is definitely easier to type with than other non-QWERTY Mike phones. But it doesn’t live up to the standards set by the BlackBerry and some other smartphones.
A protective cover shields the micro-USB connector and 2.5mm headphone jack on the left side of the Clutch.
Push-to-talk easy and reliable
To test out the selling feature of the Motorola Clutch, I used the phone to stay in contact with a friend as we drove up to his cottage. We were coming from two different directions and wanted to coordinate our arrival, so we employed the push-to-talk feature available on all Mike phones. While I used the Clutch, my friend was armed with Motorola’s i9.
Overall, the experience was a good one. Voices were clearly audible over both phones and loud enough that you could hear it in a car driving down the highway without straining.
Using the push-to-talk (PTT) feature is as easy as operating any walkie-talkie. Pressing and holding a button on the left side of the Clutch causes the phone to chirp, indicating its time for you to start talking. The message is relayed nearly instantly to the phone you’ve set up a connection with – or the group of phones that you’ve set up to receive your message.
Another useful feature of PTT is the ability to instantly send a picture to your contacts. This was handy along our drive as we were able to take pictures of landmarks and road signs to show my friend our progress. The image quality was sub-standard quality as the Clutch’s camera is only 0.3 megapixels. But the definition was good enough to get the job done..
There’s also an option to send a 16 second video clip using the PTT feature.
We ran into problems when our driving route took us out of the coverage area of the Mike network. As clearly indicated on the coverage map, Haliburton, Ont. (our destination) lies well outside of the serviced area.
This highlights some limitations of Mike’s iDEN network, which is concentrated in the main population belts of each province. For example, in Ontario the network coverage follows Highway 401 all the way from the U.S. border at Windsor up to the Quebec border. It stretches north in some areas, but the most of the province isn’t serviced. This could be problematic for field workers that roam around the province or country.
Outside of the coverage area, it’s not just PTT that is disabled, but normal cell phone calls are offline too.
Within the coverage area, PTT works superbly. When outside of the coverage area, nothing works at all.
Web browsing sucks
Web browsing on the Clutch is a slow and painful experience. After enjoying the instant real-time nature of PTT, trying to load Web pages on the phone is like a stay in purgatory.
The low resolution screen makes it impossible to load any Web pages not formatted for mobile devices. Trying to do so will just result in frustration as links lead to dead ends and you’ll end up navigating around in circles.
Using the directional-pad to scroll through the pages is a poor navigational method. The browser seems slow to respond to your requests and scrolling is accomplished by jumping from one item to the next. Even mobile pages seem to require lengthy loading times. Telus has a Web portal designed for this type of phone that will be your default home page, but even that proves to be difficult to navigate with the Clutch.If you value a stress-free work environment, avoid Web browsing with this phone.
The Clutch is also clearly not intended for multimedia use. You can watch videos, but with the low resolution screen, its only a way to play back footage you’ve taken with the camera. You can also play audio files, but there’s no easy way to load mp3s onto the device and it doesn’t support standard headphones.
The camera itself is also quite poor, offering only 0.3 megapixels of quality. There’s no autofocus and no flash, but you can zoom to 4x. This is barely good enough to be a functional camera. But field workers will still find it useful when they need to share visual information with colleagues.
GPS — a lost cause
The Clutch comes available with an application dubbed “My Location” that doesn’t work. I attempted to use this feature in ideal conditions – outside under an open sky, with the phone not moving – and only received a “signal lost” error.
The handset does come with built-in GPS, but this is not advertised on Telus’ Web catalogue. Likely because it is not expected to work well.
Of course, this could ruin any plans a business might have to use the Clutch for fleet tracking.
As a budget option equipped for PTT, the Clutch gets the job done. The call quality on the phone is excellent for both normal conversations and walkie-talkie style communications.
Field workers who are looking for an easy and effective way to communicate among colleagues will likely find the device sufficient. Typing the odd message when discretion calls for a non-voice communiqué is made easy by the QWERTY-keyboard, and the phone’s design makes its best features very accessible.
Both when it comes to higher-end smartphone type tasks, the Clutch loses its grip. Web browsing is frustrating to the point of being useless, the GPS program doesn’t work, and there’s little multimedia functionality.
In the end, one wonders if it wouldn’t be better to spend the extra money and spring for the BlackBerry Curve 8350i on the Telus Mike network. The phone comes equipped with a better keyboard and an OS that is proven for smartphone tasks.