Motorola phone talks a tough game

February 4, 2009 By Eric Benderoff, Chicago Tribune

For some people, a phone is just a phone. They don't need e-mail, a Web browser or a camera. They just want to make a call. And the last thing they want to worry about is what will happen to a phone that's dropped or gets splashed with a little coffee.

With the Motorola Tundra, you get a "rugged" phone that not only does a very nice job with the basics, but also absorbs the stresses of everyday living. It comes with the extras (such as a decent 2 megapixel camera), if you want them.

"It isn't a sexy phone, but it's proving to be popular," said Kristie Lundgren, a product manager for Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola Inc. She likes to say it's a phone "as tough as your kids, made to sit on the bottom of backpack or a diaper bag."

The Tundra has one drawback: its steep price. It costs $199 with a two-year contract and is available only at AT&T Wireless.

Price aside, here's why I like this phone:

• The keys are big and firm. "It was designed for people wearing gloves," Lundgren said. They also are slightly raised, making it easier to dial without looking at the keypad.

• The sound quality is excellent, thanks to a noise-suppression technology Motorola calls CrystalTalk Plus. In test calls with friends and family from busy, traffic-filled streets and chatty coffee shops, I was heard clearly. The people I called were impressed.

• The Tundra is comfortable to hold, thanks to its rubberized exterior. That tough hide means you don't need a case, either.

The primary market for the Tundra is businesses that work mainly outdoors, such as construction or landscaping. It has push-to-talk features and it can be programmed to prevent employees from using certain applications (such as the Web browser) or to call only numbers from an approved phone book - no phoning home on company time.

I think consumers, too, will like the benefits of using a rugged phone.

You can make a call in the rain (but don't purposely submerge it underwater) and not worry when a toddler tosses the phone across the kitchen.

It's a tough phone that works well. Sometimes, that's all one needs.

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(Eric Benderoff writes about technology for the Chicago Tribune. Contact him at ebenderoff(at)tribune.com or at the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago IL 60611.)

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