Motorola C139 (AT&T) review:

Sometimes you want a cell phone that’s just a phone with no camera, music player, or fancy offerings to take the attention away from making calls. That’s where handsets like the Motorola C139 come in. Simply crafted and built solely for performing a cell phone’s intended function, the C139 is a solidly uncomplicated and user-friendly handset for Cingular’s Go Phone prepaid service. The C139 is a very reasonable $29 with service.

Though the C139’s design is basic and functional, it does have a bit of style. We like the basic black color scheme and the rounded corners that give it an aerodynamic look. While compact and easily portable (4.0 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches), it also weighs a bit more than we thought (3 ounces), which gives it a solid and comfortable feel in the hand. Other good points include the rubberized sidings that line each spine and the absence of an external antenna.

The C139’s display is small at 1.25 inches diagonally, but it’s nonetheless bright and colorful, with support for 65,000 hues. You can change the backlighting time and the contrast, and though the menu font may be a bit small for some users, the dialing font is rather large. And speaking of menus, it’s worth noting that the C139’s interface is simple and utilitarian. Beyond the simple animation, don’t expect any flashy graphics or a choice of menu styles. You can, however, change the order of the menu choices.

Our only real complaint concerns the navigation array. Though the controls, which include a five-way toggle, two soft keys, and the talk and end/power buttons, are tactile and well-sized for the C139’s small form factor, an annoying quirk made them less intuitive. For example, while the button in the middle of the toggle opens the main menu, you must then shift your finger up to the left soft key to select certain menu items. Though we got used to the constant finger switching eventually, the reasoning behind such a design choice baffled us. We think it would be easier if the menu button doubled as the OK key (as is the case on many cell phones). Still, we like that the toggle is raised above the surface of the phone and that it’s covered in a rubberized material. Only the two soft keys and each numeric button can be set as user-defined shortcuts while the up and down directions on the toggle open the phone book automatically. There’s no dedicated back button, but the right soft key serves that purpose when in a menu.

The backlight keypad buttons are easy to use; as well as being large, they’re covered in rubbery material and raised above the surface of the phone. The only other features on the exterior of the C139 are a headset jack on the left spine and a charger port on the bottom end. Since there’s no volume rocker on the C139’s spine, you have to remove the phone from your face and change the volume via the navigation toggle.

The Motorola C139 has a simple yet attractive design.

The C139 comes with a tiny phone book that holds just 100 contacts. Though that may be sufficient for many prepaid users, it’s pretty small if you’re popular, particularly since each entry holds just one phone number. The SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts, but we were hoping for more space since many people have multiple phone numbers. There are no caller groups, and you can’t assign individual ring tones to specific callers. Other features were minimal, but you get most of the essentials, including a vibrate mode, speed dialing, text messaging, a calculator, a currency converter, a stopwatch, a calendar with a day and week views, and an alarm clock. The only thing we really missed was a speakerphone, which is an increasingly common feature even on the most basic phones.

You can personalize the C139 with a small selection of wallpapers and screensavers. There’s no wireless Web browser, so you can’t download any new options if you tire of what comes on the phone. Yet you can compose your own ring tones if you want more choices beyond the included 20 monophonic melodies. Surprisingly, the C139 comes with three simple games (Spring Ball, Soccer, and Maze) but gameplay can be a little tedious on such a small display. A final offbeat feature is that you can use the display as a light for moments when you’re lost in the dark.

We tested the dual-band (GSM 850/1900) in San Francisco using Cingular’s service. Call quality was decent overall with few patchy moments and little interference. We also had no trouble getting a signal. Occasionally voices sounded a bit echoed and the volume may be too low for some users. On their end, callers could understand us plainly, and they could hear us in a variety of environments.

Motorola promises length battery life with the C139: up to 11 hours of talk time and up to 18.75 days of standby time. In our tests, we managed to get an astonishing 11.5 hours of talk time. According to FCC radiation tests, the C139 has a digital SAR rating of 1.45 watts per kilogram.