Sony Ericsson's Walkman handsets may be something of a household name when it comes to music phones, but as they consistently lack standard headphone sockets or support for common music file formats, it shouldn't be too difficult for another company to leap ahead.
Motorola's Rokr E8 is pitched -- purely and simply -- as a phone for music and a phone for the style-conscious. It's available for free on a monthly contract from O2 and Orange.
When it's switched off, you'd be forgiven for thinking the E8 is simply a large, black slab. With its lights switched off, the handset appears to have no buttons and few controls.
The haptic keypad is pressure-sensitive -- sort of a cross between a physical button and typical touch-sensitivity à la iPhone. It mimics a physical keypad really well, making speed texting reasonably easy.
We were thrilled to see a 3.5mm headphone socket, meaning any decent headphones you have will work fine. There's also no unsightly slots dotted around; the microSD slot sits next to the SIM slot inside the handset -- good for aesthetics, bad if you swap cards a lot.
We initially took issue with the screen, as at 51mm (2 inches) diagonally, it's hardly huge. But it's very crisp, very bright and extremely pleasant to read.
This isn't a 3G handset, so if you plan on browsing the Web, either don't buy this phone or be prepared to browse very slowly. Alternatively, you can install Opera Mini. It works with EDGE and GPRS, plus quad-band compatibility makes this a good phone for use around the world.
A 2-megapixel camera sits on the back of the handset, though it's not backed up with any flash. Inside, you'll find 2GB of onboard memory, which could be better, but it can be expanded with microSD up to 4GB in capacity.
Even better, these two pools of memory are automatically combined, meaning music stored in the phone's memory is combined with music stored on microSD within the main music library, itself accessible with a dedicated music key.
Compatible music formats include MP3, AAC, WMA and WAV, but the E8 doesn't support protected WMA/AAC from the likes of Napster or iTunes. What is supported can be played through headphones or wirelessly via stereo A2DP Bluetooth.