Motorola's durable enterprise phone/PDA, the MC35, launched in March is supposed to be a phone for mobile business users, somewhere between the Blackberry-toting exec and the delivery guy with a rugged brick-sized terminal.
It's for users who have to access corporate email and applications on the go, and need a device that can stand somewhat rough treatment, and it's intended to appeal to the IT managers who mistrust the faddy nature of mobiles - Motorola guarantees to have parts and support for at least five more years.
I'm not the target market for all this, as I'm not part of a corporation and I'm not tied to an Outlook or a Salesforce client. But I have been known to damage a phone by breaking it don't, and I like the concept. When Motorola sent me one to review, I decided to try using it as my main phone for a period.
In the end, my feelings are mixed to say the least.
The MC35 comes from Symbol - a past master in completely ruggedised handhelds (see this video of an MC9000 being mistreated for instance) that had already launched the MC50, a less heavy-duty PDA aimed at staff whose reliability demands were lighter when Motorola bought Symbol 2006.
This is the first of those device to include GSM - the first, in effect, to be a phone, not a PDA. It still has a stylus and a PDA style touch-screen, however.
This is not a slim cool-looking phone. It's not as huge as its rugged brothers, but it's an ugly brute, it weighs 185g, and it definitely goes better in a jacket, not a shirt or trouser pocket.
It definitely is durable. I regularly threw it onto the (wooden) floor and across the room, without denting it. I only stopped for fear I might damage the walls or floor. However, although nothing broke, I was surprised to find it very easy to jolt the SIM holder, causing the phone to go offline. This is flagged up on the status bar of the screen, but I tended to notice only after I missed a few calls.
I also lost the stylus while throwing it around.
Without diminishing the positive benefits of the MC35's toughness, it's worth mentioning in passing that other phones can be pretty tough too. I wouldn't mistreat my current phone, a Nokia E65 slider, by throwing it around the room, but a previous phone (a fairly ordinary Sony Ericsson W810i consumer phone) is still going strong after being run over by a car - only needing to have its LCD screen replaced.
I don't like Window Mobile
Ruggedness aside, the MC35 package was always going to have an uphill struggle with me. I am not a fan of Windows Mobile, touch screen handhelds, or qwerty keyboards on handhelds, and this device manages to combine all three.
Using it confirmed my prejudices. The MC35 users Windows Mobile 5, not Windows Mobile 6, and a touch-screen version at that. Windows Mobile is needlessly complex, and never uses one set-up screen when two or three are possible.
Tasks which are easy to do on a "real" phone, like finding the number of a missed call and returning the call, seem to be more complex, but they do improve with practice. To dial a number, for instance, the green key opens the phone dialling screen, and it's possible though fiddly to dial with your fingers on the touch screen.
Down with the stylus
PDA styluses are an ergonomic nightmare which I hope are on the way out. Most tasks on the MC35 seemed to involve several screens and a combination of stylus poking and keyboard pecking, which actually needs three hands to do. I started using the phone flat on a desk, and then spent some time working out how to sidestep stylus use, through the buttons under the screen, eventually approximating the use of a real phone.
By comparison, I don't rave about My Nokia E65's menus, but it is light-years ahead of the Windows Mobile version on this device.