Motorola's music phones have never really been the last word, but there has been an evolutionary arc of sorts, with a pretty consistent range of improvements from the E1 to the latest ROKR E8.
But as is often the case, with one hand Motorola giveth, and with the other they taketh away.
Ultra slim design
First, the giveth. It looks pretty cool, in an moody kind of all-black way. It's thin, at 11mm but perhaps a bit unnecessarily wide at 53mm. In repose it's a glossy black monolith, distinguished only by the batwing logo at the top and the navigational FastScroll touch arc, of which more later.
Rub your thumb across the front though and the backlit keypad springs to life with soft keys, shortcuts for music and return, plus call start and end. This layout changes depending on which mode you're in – phone, music player or camera – offering dedicated buttons for each.
In use, each of the touch-sensitive keys has a tiny central bump to help your thumbs find the optimum pressure point. Pressing the keys gives a short haptic buzz so you know you've pressed them, and just inside the FastScroll arc is a hidden four-point D-pad which offers four shortcuts from the home menu – contacts, messages, Bluetooth and Google.
The slider on the side acts as the power button and also locks the keypad to avoid accidental in-pocket button presses.
FastScroll - friend or foe?
The FastScroll navigation arc is certainly eye-catching. There's nothing else that looks like it, though its functionality is clearly inspired by the iPod. It dominates the front of the handset, squeezing the 2in screen up to the top and offering a silver line arc when the rest of the keypad is hidden.
In practise though it's not that easy to use and we found ourselves consistently over-flicking on our way through the menus.
There's also that non-intuitive gap as your thumb describes a circle, so the cursor pauses on the missing bit of the ring.
Some of the menus feature a carousel layout of icons but others require you to use the D-pad just inside the arc, and we found this is just too close to the call start and end buttons, which led to a few problems too.
The bottom line is that the system looks great, but doesn't measure up to expectations.
Plenty of storage
Pressing the music shortcut key offers a completely different view of the E8.
The numeric keypad vanishes to be replaced by a set of backlit music player controls, including shuffle and repeat. The rather pokey screen meanwhile shows track details and cover art if there's any available.
Copying tracks by dragging and dropping from your computer via the USB connection is straightforward enough and there's a fairly decent 2GB of storage on board which can be beefed up with a 4GB MicroSD card (not supplied), though you'll have to remove the battery to install it.
Usefully, there's 3.5mm jack plug so you can use your own headphones but Motorola has made a bit of a meal of it by having it stand proud of the case, plum in the centre at the top, and covered by a gromit.
Just as well it's there though since the supplied headphones, as is the norm, aren't great, sounding a bit too 'shut-in' and compressed, with an unpleasant tendency towards sibilance. It's nice to know it's easy to upgrade them to a better wired pair or even a wireless stereo Bluetooth type.
There's an FM radio with automatic scanning and nine presets though you'll need to access it from the main menu, rather than the music menu – which seems a bit counter-intuitive. The headphones act as the aerial, and the good news is that any headphones will do the trick.
There's also a track ID service that uses a web-based version of Shazam to identify any tune off the radio or elsewhere. Seems to work quickly and efficiently too.
The 2 megapixel camera is accessed by the button on the left beneath the volume rocker.
With most cameraphones offering their shutter button on the right for use in landscape mode, this feels unusual, though it does get you into camera mode very quickly (around a second) so it's good for quick snaps.
With the camera button pressed, the front of the phone changes again offering camera options including digital zoom (up to 8x), gallery and video/stills camera.
There's no flash or autofocus and you can't flip the screen so you're stuck with the landscape view on the small 41x27mm screen. Imaging quality isn't bad exactly, but it certainly isn't distinctive, even in good light, and it drops a notch further in video mode.
You can add tag info to your pics and there's a self-timer and a multishot option (up to eight), plus there's a limited suite of editing options, including rotate, crop, mirror, resize and style (negative, sepia etc).
Basically, the camera performs well enough as a quick snapper, but if photo quality's an issue for you, this won't be the phone for you.
Lacking in features
Internet browsing is only 2.5G with GPRS so you're better off sticking to WAP rather than full internet pages, which in any case don't display well on the cramped screen. There's no way to speed it up either since there's no Wi-Fi.
The lack of fancy functions had a positive effect on battery life, which gave us about three days of average use with Bluetooth used only occasionally.
This looks like it could be a good, music-centred handset with funky controls and a cool look. But as happens all too often with Motorola, the concept hasn't been seen through to the end.
There's no 3G for downloading tracks over the air (yes, you can use GPRS but life's too short) and the headphones virtually beg you to replace them. Even the radio only offers a paltry nine presets. With its undersized screen and barely average camera it doesn't do itself any favours in other departments either.
If you like the look it's worth considering, but there are better phones at this price from other manufacturers which can do all the MOTOROKR E8 can do and more.
Network availability: O2, Orange, T-Mobile
Ease of use: 3.5/5
Call quality: 4.5/5