Welcome to the Hell-O-Moto!

Motorola is commonly known for using GNU/Linux on some of its telephones and some vague statements of planning to use Free Software centrally in its technology stack. This had me leaning towards Motorola. Also, the hardware design of the folding phones is dramatically cool, in my opinion. So when offered a Motorola V3x as my new mobile phone in Switzerland, I immediately agreed. What a mistake.

Firstly: Contrary to what you can find in some internet fora, this telephone is NOT Free Software based. It runs some proprietary Motorola operating system, which may have been built with a Free Software toolchain, but is entirely proprietary itself. No joy here.

Indeed, as Harald Welte explained to me, this phone is essentially also what is inside the GNU/Linux phones of Motorola, which themselves are like two devices integrated into one: a PDA and a telephone. The PDA is running GNU/Linux, the telephone is running that very same proprietary operating system, all communication happening over the USB bus.

Indeed, that USB bus can be used to connect the phone to the PC, and theoretically, the software running on the PDA should also run on other GNU/Linux platforms, allowing to have the same level of integration with — say — a laptop.

Noone has however done this job, and I am not convinced anyone ever will, as the other problems of the telephone are too annoying for anyone to invest that much time.

Here are the problems that I found impossible to resolve, some of which made me think that I seem to be the first person to ever have used this phone:

  • Unwilling to communicate: The USB connector can operate in two modes, as a USB memory stick, or a modem. When connecting it as a memory stick,
    • the memory of the phone is invisible, only the memory card can be read.
    • reading from the memory card works, writing to the memory card brings massive synchronisation issues with the Linux kernel.

    Consequently I cannot do any of the funny and wasteful things like playing with ring tones or graphics.
    Indeed, I urgently want to delete the crappy pre-installed ring-tones and graphics, because they suck. This unfortunately is not possible through the menu (option does not exist) and the memory of the phone cannot be mounted.

  • Unwilling to learn: The Motorola iTAP mode is clearly the superior spelling mode, I have to say. I really like its completion. Or so I thought until I wanted to enter a new word. I could not believe it: iTAP mode has no way of learning new words!
    If you want to enter a new word, you have to go into Options, go to Text Setup, select Primary Text, go to TAP extended, select, and then go back into the text.
    You can then enter the new word with the old, “press each button a million times” approach, and then repeat all the steps above to back to iTAP mode. It will then have learned one new word. Hooray.
  • Alarm hell: But it gets better — here is my favorite: Since I travel a lot and do not feel like taking an alarm clock with me, I usually have my mobile phone wake me. And since I am a lazy person, I also do this at home.
    If you now think “I know what happened — he set the phone to silent and the alarm was thus also silenced!” you’d be wrong. That prime stupidity was committed by some Nokia engineers, who could not concieve that anyone would want to turn their phone silent to sleep, but be woken up at a predefined point in time. Motorola is more stupid.
    The first times, all seemed fine, until I one day wanted to wake up the exact same time I got up the day before, so I re-enabled the alarm. When the sun woke me up the next day, I was very happy to not have missed a plane or train. My phone still happily showed the alarm clock symbol, promising to wake me real soon. As a good user, I assumed it must have been my mistake and did not further pursue it.
    Two nights later, I manually set the alarm, and once more found the sun do the job that my mobile phone should have done. And once more the alarm symbol was still on the display. Asking myself what was different, I realised that I had gone to bed before midnight for the first time in weeks. And then it made click, both stories connected:
    Motorolas engineers were stupid enough to make the alarm DATE dependent, without displaying it, or allowing to set it explicitly!!!

There are a couple of smaller glitches in usability, most of which would be easy to fix — just like the big ones — if this phone were actually Free Software. But of course it is not, so bugs are impossible to fix. Just like it is impossible to do the obvious and connect USB devices to the phone that could be used by the phone. A USB keyboard, for instance.

And hopefully I’ll be able to work off my blog-backlog in the past weeks.

About Georg Greve

Georg Greve is a technologist and entrepreneur. Background as a software developer and physicist. Head of product development and Chairman at Vereign AG. Founding president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). Previously president and CEO at Kolab Systems AG, a Swiss Open Source ISV. In 2009 Georg was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon by the Federal Republic of Germany for his contributions to Open Source and Open Standards.
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