Pros: Crystal-clear receive/transmit quality
Stylish, ergonomic design
Good value for the money
Cons: Dreadful battery life
Sluggish keypad response
Long power-up time
Inadequate instruction manual
Browser button location
I became a big Tracfone fan four years ago after having been gouged by Cingular (now AT&T) for an equal time. My initial Tracfone was a Nokia 2600, which served me well but was starting to look...well...kind of tired. And cheap. It was time for an upgrade.
Lured by the offer of Double Minutes For Life (of the phone, not the owner), I decided to go with the Motorola W376. The price has fallen steadily until Wal-Mart offered it at only $19.88. More recently, I spotted it at Target for under $15. With prices like these, it's almost a no-brainer to switch from a conventional Tracfone to one of these.
The Samsung T301G, also offered by Tracfone and major retailers for five to ten dollars more, looks good but I'm not too crazy about slider-type phones. The stylish, silver appearance of Motorola's W376 appealed to me, and although there's no external display, it does have three neatly hidden indicators for incoming calls, messages and low battery warning.
Having lived with this phone for three weeks, I have very mixed impressions of it. It's a real nice phone, but annoyances abound.
Charge me up
The first sore spot comes in the matter of charging. Or, more specifically, the rapid dis-charging of the battery. The talk/standby times of 6.15 hours and 15 days stated on the package seem like a cruel joke. So far, I have averaged less than one hour of actual phone conversations and messages, with a small bit of web usage and office tool use (calculator, alarm clock, and stopwatch) and I have had to charge this thing every three to four days! Come on, Motorola and Tracfone -- that kind of usage is not "approximately" 6.15 hours and 15 days. On a recent six day stretch with only a couple of 1 minute calls, the battery had dropped from three bars to two by the end of the fourth day. By day six, it was ready for a recharge, and I had been turning the phone off for eight hours at night. What's more, I live in a suburban area with numerous cell towers close by and few obstructions.
That said, this is not the phone for you if you're a heavy user and have frequent long conversations. But then, if you are that sort of user, you probably aren't a Tracfone customer in the first place.
Adding to the annoying need for frequent chargings, the USB charging port is covered by a small, difficult to open plastic flap that requires much more fingernail than I have. Perhaps to atone for that sin, the Motorola designers at least made the charger lightweight and compact. It is one of the smallest such devices I've seen. And that's a very good thing because you're going to need to keep it handy, judging from my experience.
Once you've charged your W376, you're ready to turn it on. Just be prepared to allow plenty of time for the thing to get on the network. From the time I turn this phone on, it takes anywhere from a minute and forty-five seconds to almost two full minutes for it to connect. Again, that's in my home area that's surrounded by cell phone towers.
The keyboard - not exactly the Steinway of cell phones
The keyboard is more of a key pad, with a membrane-type of covering that has an indistinct, squishy feel. Composing text messages usually involves some inadvertent entries that require backing up and deleting. Worse, there's this weird lag between each press of the "key" and the beep that indicates that the character has registered on the screen. I've found a small solution by switching from predictive text entry to one of the other modes. But texters beware: You should probably look at some other phone.
Locating punctuation marks and other symbols requires many multiple taps of the "1" and menu keys. I can't discern any logical pattern to it; it is one thing that makes me long for my previous Nokia phones.
Another keyboard irritation lurks in the browser button, located just below the left soft key. It is way too easy to unintentionally activate the browser, resulting in a wasted half minute. (In fairness, this problem isn't unique to the W376).
The phone's basic mission: Conversation
Here is where the W376 really shines. Compared to my previous cell phones, the W376 can almost pass for a good desk phone. I always seem to have the full five bars of signal strength, I've never had a call dropped and best of all, everyone I talk to sounds loud and clear.
In noisy surroundings, the W376 has a distinct advantage over the "candy bar" phones I've had previously. It's much easier to hear the party I'm talking to and I suspect they hear me better as well, most likely a result of the flip phone design. The surprisingly clear-sounding speaker phone can be accessed easily while in a call simply by pressing the right "soft" key.
Web access: Another bad joke
In addition to the too-easy-to-hit browser button mentioned earlier, Tracfone's idea of web access comes loaded with annoyances. First, it does not allow for unlimited access to any website - you're restricted to those online services offered by Tracfone. News, sports, weather, entertainment and a few other services that can be accessed much more easily on a computer comprise their online offerings. Second, the menus are confusing and require much scrolling. And the web pages load at almost glacial speed.
In theory, you can access Yahoo mail and Gmail, but I've been unsuccessful so far. In the former case, I keep getting bounced out for having entered an invalid ID or password, even though I'm using the correct ones. As for Gmail, I always get some message about an "error in connecting to the server". Sigh. After wasting over twenty minutes of airtime trying to navigate the infuriatingly circular menus I've just about given up on the web access.
Bluetooth and USB...well, sort of
The W376 has received much attention for being one of the first Tracfones with Bluetooth capability. Don't get your hopes up, though. Tracfone has severely limited the Bluetooth capability in this model. About all you can use with it are Bluetooth headsets.
As for the phone's USB port, recharging is its sole purpose. You can't upload anything to a computer with it, nor does it allow ringtones or graphics to be downloaded.
The W376 includes a camera, with up-to-4X zoom, but it's pretty primitive. The pictures I've snapped don't come close to even what you get from a cheap stand-alone digital camera. What's more, the only way to transfer them out of the phone and to a computer is to send them in a MMS-format text message that eats up 1.5 minutes of air time for a single picture, making this another feature for occasional use only.
Following the practice of so many other electronic devices, Tracfone provides a bi-lingual instruction manual that consists of little more than how to charge it up, turn it on, answer and receive calls, and send messages. There's no description whatsoever of the keystrokes required for symbols, punctuation and the like, nor does it provide a "tree" of the menus and sub-menus. There's also no mention of initial setup (ringtones, volume, backlight, etc.) On the plus side, the manual is nicely illustrated. And, naturally, it provides info on how to buy and add minutes to your phone. Tracfone also provides a very brief, one-page manual that describes their various online subscription services, downloadable ringtones and graphics. Again, it doesn't even scratch the surface of what's available.
For a more complete - but still sketchy - description of the phone's features and menus, you can download a .PDF version of the W376 manual from Motorola's website.
A nice phone for those who don't need too much phone
That might sound contradictory, but the reality of this neatly designed Tracfone is that it offers loads of up-to-date features that I'd like to use, yet its incredibly short charge life and cumbersome keyboard discourage me from using them. The much-touted web access appears more costly than it's worth, making for one more disappointment. As it is, I'll probably use this phone much as I used my old ones - mainly for short calls and occasional text messages.
The main attraction with this Motorola lies in Tracfone's Double Minutes For Life feature, a real money saver in what is already one of the best wireless deals around. So despite the annoyances, I'd say that if a stylish no-contract value is what you're after - and you don't mind keeping that little charger close at hand - go for it.