Motorola ROKR E1 review

The world's first iTunes-compatible mobile phone

Looks-wise, it lacks the distinctive design vision usually associated with products linked to the iconic Apple/iTunes brand

TechRadar Verdict

In the end, it doesn't quite live up to the considerable hype, but future iTunes phones could be worth waiting for


  • +

    First iTunes-branded phone

    Links effortlessly with iTunes

    Good onboard sound quality


  • -

    Slow to copy tracks

    No over the air downloads from iTunes

    100-track limit

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After all the virtual drum-rolling beforehand, with internet speculation and mock-ups of what it might look like, the eventual unveiling of the 'iTunes phone' turned out to be less of a sensation than some had expected.

There was much shrugging of shoulders both from the consumer technology press and gadget-hungry mobile trend-setters alike.

At first glance, it's easy to see where the indifference comes from - make no mistake, the ROKR may be marketed as a music phone, but it's very much a phone that includes Apple's iTunes software, rather than an iTunes device with phone capabilities.

Looks-wise, it lacks the distinctive design vision usually associated with products linked to the iconic Apple/iTunes brand.

The handset is very much a Motorola product, being very similar in appearance to Motorola's E398 music-capable phone which we saw last year (on which chassis the ROKR has been created), and besides a token effort at iPod whiteness (actually, it's sort of pearly off-white) it doesn't have the instant cool factor of the iPod, or even Motorola's own RAZR series for that matter.

There are some flashing lights on the side that can vibrate in time to the music, but even that youth-friendly touch is less than cutting edge iPod style.

There's no click wheel but there is a dedicated key on the front to access the iTunes music player, which is then navigated using the stubby joystick. It will display cover art on the 262k-colour screen where available and allows you to group tunes by song, artist, album, genre or playlist in the usual manner.

The all-important shuffle option is there too, allowing you to mix up your collection at random, although unlike the iPod Shuffle, you can also load multiple playlists.

It plays MP3, WAV, and AAC file formats (including DRM-protected tracks purchased from the iTunes music store, but not Apple Lossless files), it remembers podcast bookmarks and any ratings you give to songs can be transferred to iTunes on your computer.

Songs can only be downloaded from a PC or Mac, and not directly from the iTunes shop over the air, however.

Even if it could, doing this via a standard GPRS connection would take an unseemly amount of time. Regular iPod users in a hurry will also find that downloading isn't as quick as they're used to, since it can only cope with USB 1.1, considerably slower than the now standard USB 2.0 connection used by most MP3 players.


As a music player, take away the iTunes name and the ROKR seems averagely specced. There's no hefty internal hard drive, but the meagre 5MB onboard memory is augmented by a miniature 512MB TransFlash (microSD) memory card, which is crammed in next to the SIM card under the phone's cover and battery.

It should be enough to hold around 100 tracks, though the decision to limit it only to this number means some will miss out. Our first download, which included some lengthy jazz and classical numbers, managed to squeeze on just 68 tunes.

But if you're keen on short 'n' snappy pop, or a fan of hip-hop albums, frequently padded out with 'skits' lasting a minute or less, you're going to fill up your quota all too quickly.

Even if you upgrade to a more powerful memory card, the software won't allow you to carry more than the 100-track limit. Presumably this feature is designed to stop the ROKR phone competing on yet another level with standard iPods. Still, we'd have preferred an as-much-as-you-can-fit policy - much in the spirit of the original iPod concept.

There's a mini jack plug for the headphones but it's the tiny 2.5mm variety favoured by mobile phone manufacturers, rather than the larger 3.5mm one that you'll typically find on the iPod and other music players.

So if you want to upgrade the supplied earbud headphones (white, natch, like the iPod's), you'll need an adaptor.

But lest we forget, the ROKR isn't just a music player. It is in fact a fairly standard Motorola phone with all the usual features.

There's a VGA quality stills and video camera (just as most phones now appear to be moving into megapixel territory), a WAP browser, a single Java game (2D trench-fighting moles called Crazy, since you ask), calendar, caller ID, email, MMS, address book, alarms and Bluetooth (incidentally, this won't work in stereo, and you can't use it to transfer tunes, it's just for Bluetooth phone headsets).

Perhaps surprisingly, there's no option to use any of the tracks in iTunes as ringtones, though you can download the min the normal way over the air. And while you can operate some of the phone's other features while continuing to play music, you can't choose to play it at the same time as the games.


For all its limitations, the ROKR is actually very easy, and even fun, to use. To be fair, Motorola doesn't claim the ROKR is an iPod replacement, and is pitching it more as a phone with which you can store a decent selection of music for when you're on the move.

And if that 512MB capacity is good enough for an iPod Shuffle... In fact, the ease of use means that you may very well be shelving your 40GB iPod for short trips in favour of the slim, pocket friendly ROKR.

While on paper and even in the hand, the ROKR seems like a missed opportunity, it all starts to make sense once you connect it to your computer. Plugging it into a PC via the supplied USB cable it linked effortlessly with iTunes and selected a batch of tunes at random just like the iPod Shuffle, via the onscreen Autofill button.

Unlike the Shuffle however, the ROKR allows you to view the tracks you're carrying, along with album artwork and other details. It's also very easy to replace tracks with any others you'd prefer simply by dragging and dropping and you can set up playlists to make loading quicker.

The 'quicker' bit however is somewhat relative. Since the ROKR uses a USB 1.1 connection, it's not such a rapid-fire loading beast as the USB 2.0-packing iPod (and pretty much every other dedicated MP3 player out there).

Transferring tracks is slow, especially if you're accustomed to the relative speed of the iPod. To give you an idea, autofilling 68 tracks onto the ROKR from iTunes took a little over half an hour - transferring the same tracks to an iPod via USB 2.0 took less than two minutes.

The speed issue is evident in the controls as well, which seem to have a delay of about a second or so between pressing buttons and seeing them take effect, which makes navigation awkward at best and confusing at worst.

There's a set of stereo loudspeakers on the sides which are admittedly better than most others we've heard, and they're fine for giving a friend a blast of your latest fave track, or perhaps more to the point, for showing off your latest ringtone.

The headphones offer decent sound for earbud types and at least as good as the iPod's. Battery life meanwhile is fairly decent, and we managed to get almost 15 hours of playback out of it (same as the latest iPod) using headphones, although using the speakers seemed to cut this in half.

Considering its lengthy gestation and the amount of speculation that has been circulating about it, it is surprising that Motorola hasn't made sure its first iTunes phone reflects its recent mobile design excellence.

It's an okay phone, and not a bad music player. But Motorola could have made a really huge impact with its first-time association with arguably the highest profile consumer brand of the last couple of years.

There can be little doubt however that the idea of iTunes in a phone is an appealing one for many, so long as it's properly assimilated.

Motorola says the ROKR is merely the first in a line of iTunes-packing products - and we expect that Motorola's next iTunes mobile could be appearing in a more cutting-edge guise shortly. was the former name of Its staff were at the forefront of the digital publishing revolution, and spearheaded the move to bring consumer technology journalism to its natural home – online. Many of the current TechRadar staff started life a staff writer, covering everything from the emerging smartphone market to the evolving market of personal computers. Think of it as the building blocks of the TechRadar you love today.