It's here. Motorola's Rokr E1, the long-awaited iTunes handset that was finally announced at the same time as Apple's iPod nano, is now available to buy. The most notable thing is not the oddly spelt name (that's 'rocker' for phonetics fans), but the fact that it's the first handset to incorporate Apple's iTunes software, thereby making it a phone-cum-iPod.
That's the theory anyway, and whatever else this handset offers, the Rokr E1 will stand and fall by its ability to communicate with the desktop version of iTunes, the usability of the iTunes software on the phone, and the quality of the music it delivers.
The Rokr E1 is available exclusively through The Carphone Warehouse with an O2 pay-as-you-go connection for £210. Other operators are set to follow very soon.
As a handset, the Rokr E1 is reasonably well put together. It's fairly small and light, measuring 46 by 108 by 21mm and weighing 107g. It's not going to make a hole in your pocket, but it isn't a featherweight.
Silver and pearlescent grey in colour, the Rokr E1 lacks the visual panache that characterises the iPod. In terms of its styling, it's much more like a mid-range than a high-end handset. That's a good early pointer to the phone's limitations. The Rokr E1 is a mobile phone with iTunes built in, not an Apple-designed music player with phone capabilities added on.
The handset's ergonomics are good. The number pad's keys are ever so slightly curved for ease of use, and well clear of these sits a row containing nicely separated Call and End keys, with a small but usable joypad between them. Above this again is a row of four fairly large keys -- two softkeys, a key for accessing the handset's main menu, and a fourth marked with musical notes that you press to get to the iTunes software.
Walking around the edges of the handset doesn't deliver any great surprises. On the right edge is a button that activates the built-in camera. Its lens sits on the back with a self-portrait mirror and a very tiny flash. The left edge provides a volume rocker and key that acts as an additional softkey -- Motorola calls it the Smart Key. You can use it to select menu options or set it to launch an application.
The headphones connector is on the top of the Rokr E1, making it easy to put the handset in a pocket the right way up and not put any pressure on the 2.5mm connector. Grilles sit to the left and right of the screen. They look like smart design at first, but when a call comes in they give up one of their secrets -- they can be set to flash lights in a range of patterns. Their other secret is that they are stereo speakers. We'll come back to that part later.
The screen is small, but it offers 262K colours and is clear and bright. Overall, though, the general design of the Rokr E1 is on the uninspiring side. It's somewhat clunky in appearance and far short of the classy feel you might expect from a device that allies itself with Apple.