The Motorola Rokr E8 is a mobile phone that excels at music playback, but usability issues plague it in other areas.

The Motorola Rokr E8 looks vaguely like an iPod: glassy, slim, and dark, except for a thin circular metal strip in its middle. The resemblance is probably not coincidental, given that the device is a cell phone intended for music lovers. The 10mm-thick candy bar phone boasts good looks - and isn't half-bad as an MP3 player - but its usability shortcomings in other areas disappoint.

The Motorola Rokr E8's sexiest attribute is its touch-sensitive surface's ability to change interfaces depending on what you use it for. When you power it on by sliding a silvery hardware button on its right edge, a virtual phone keypad lights up below the metal circle; when you switch to music player mode (by pressing the musical notes above the green dial control), a few simple MP3 controls replace the virtual keypad.

Regardless of which way you use the Motorola Rokr E8, a 2in LCD occupies the upper half of the unit. Tiny raised glass dots and haptics feedback (vibrations) help confirm your fingertip touches, and the silvery metal strip acts as a touch-sensitive navigation wheel for scrolling and clicking through menu options using your thumb.

Unfortunately, we found the Motorola Rokr E8's wheel difficult to control. All too often we overshot or undershot our target as we scrolled through the rather long main menu, or even through a short list of contacts. And the menu structure itself, especially for adjusting settings, isn't intuitive: we waded through several levels of options before giving up on finding the Motorola Rokr E8's phone number. In addition, the glass-covered touch controls required fairly firm touching-with no way to adjust touch sensitivity.

Voice quality on our T-Mobile test unit was fine. We haven't lab-tested the phone's talk-time battery life yet. Check back for test results for the Motorola Rokr E8 once we do.

The Motorola Rokr E8 defeated all our efforts to use the carrier's web-based contact manager to import Outlook contacts in order to sync them on to the E8.

Although the Motorola Rokr E8 provides predictive text entry support, using its touch keypad would be even more annoying than using a mechanical phone keypad to compose a lot of text. And the small screen is not optimal for web browsing.

But we did enjoy listening to music on the Motorola Rokr E8's surprisingly robust built-in speakers, and the standard headphone jack is conveniently located on the top of the unit.

The Motorola Rokr E8 comes with a capable music-syncing app that's easy to use when you connect the phone to your PC with the included USB cable. The unit has a generous 2GB of on-board memory, and you can add up to 4GB more via microSD media.

The Motorola Rokr E8 supports a good variety of music formats (MIDI, MP3, AAC, AAC+, Enhanced AAC+, WMA, WAV, AMR-NB, Real Audio 10 Microsoft music ecosystem).

OUR VERDICT

The Motorola Rokr E8 makes most sense for customers seeking a stylish handset that excels at music, and not much interested messaging or web applications.