If it is the sound of your phone that you really care about then Motorola has a new handset just for you. The mobile phone manufacturer claims that its E398 is the first handset to feature loud, 3D stereo surround sound. The promise is one of 'total music immersion'. Sounds on the E398 - ringtones, MIDI and MP3 files - play through dual 16mm 22Khz speakers that sit on the side of the handset, either side of the screen. Vibration and lights enhance the base sound. Motorola describes the effect as an 'intense sound experience in the palm of your hand'.

For us, an intense sound experience is something like listening to the helicopter propeller blades played out against Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries at the start of Apocalypse Now. We were sceptical that any mobile phone could compete so we put the E398 to the test.

We played several ringtones and music files downloaded from T-Mobile's Mobile Jukebox. For comparison, we played the same files on Sony Ericsson's K700i. Of the two handsets, the E398 was noticeably better. There was less background noise. The quality of sound from the E398 was better than the noise that comes out of speakers typically built into computers. We liked the weighty, tactile feel of the phone in our hand, especially playing the vibration effect with base sounds in music. Motorola's claim that the E398 is loud compared to other phones is justified but we did wonder when a loud phone would come in handy: maybe as a tiny alternative to a boombox for a few friends meeting for lunch in the park? For listening through headphones, there is an FM radio stereo headset.

We arranged for several people, all interested in ringtones, to try out this phone. Most were using real music clips for ringtones on their own handsets, not polyphonics. Those using handsets with a recording facility, had set music clips recorded off the TV as ringtones rather than paying to download them. The timing of Motorola's stereo speaker phone could be just right if ringtone fanatics are tuning in to real music clips in their millions instead of polyphonics. Will real music as a ringtone last longer than polyphonics? Our testers missed calls because there were times when they mistook their ringtone as ambient music or just forgot that that tune was their ringtone. Having ringtones play twice as loud through stereo speakers should help.

The E398 has a VGA camera that we did not test. Motorola advertises its flash as sufficient for night time close ups. Pictures, music files and video are all stored on a 128mb removable TransFlash memory card. The phone's 176x220 colour display is not the biggest or brightest we have seen. The advantage of this is that the phone manages to stay a fairly handy, slim size. If there was one thing we did not like about this phone, it was the joystick. At first we tried controlling it with our full thumb but found this difficult. Controlling it with the tip of our thumb worked better, but after a while we had sore thumbs.

Verdict

If ringtones are the DNA on your phone then the E398 makes the most of them. The stereo speakers effectively double the sound that comes out of this phone. The downside of playing music a lot is not much memory space: files designed for downloading onto phones are at most 90 second clips rather than full length operas. The problem we found was battery power. If you spend hours playing with music on your phone, by the time you come to use it to make a call at the end of a long day, you may find you're out of juice.

This product was kindly loaned to us by

T-Mobile

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