Motorola said hello to Linux and goodbye to Apple with its new ROKR E2 phone Tuesday, an update to the first iTunes phone that fixes many of the ROKR's problems — but lacks iTunes.
The ROKR E2 comes in black and white versions and looks a lot like the rounded ROKR E1, which was much-criticized for its slow song transfer speeds, poky interface and artificial 100-song limit.
But it breaks free of all of those limitations. The E2 transfers music at speedy USB 2.0 rates rather than USB 1.1; takes Secure Digital memory cards up to 2 GB with no limit on songs; and runs a new Linux-based operating system.
Motorola has released Linux phones in Asia, but this is one of the first we've seen for the US.
The ROKR E2's other features include a high-res 320x240 screen, the Opera Web browser, a 1.3 megapixel camera with video recording, a built-in FM radio, Bluetooth (including wireless music streaming to stereo Bluetooth headphones) and a standard stereo headphone jack that takes music-player headphones, not cell-phone headphones.
The ROKR E1 had a lower-res screen, no Web browser and a VGA camera.
The big gap: iTunes. The E1 was the easiest-to-use music phone ever, thanks to its seamless integration with Apple's popular jukebox.
But even at the E1's release party, we heard about tensions between Motorola and Apple, mostly surrounding the artificial 100-song limit Apple imposed on the phone.
While the E2 plays "a variety" of music formats, according to Motorola, and you can drag and drop songs to the phone, you lose the effortlessness of syncing your iTunes playlists.
With iTunes absent from the E2, Motorola plans on using the iRadio Music Service to keep the playlists coming.
Motorola says the ROKR E2 will appear in mid-2006. They term the E2 a "mid-tier" handset in their press release, which typically means a price of $199 or $249 with a two-year contract. Motorola hasn't announced a radio technology or carrier for the phone yet.
The ROKR E2 is only one of Motorola's major announcements at CES. They've also let loose with the unusual TXTR, an add-on Bluetooth keyboard that connects to Motorola phones to let text-messagers type more fluently, and a gaggle of Bluetooth headsets.
We'll get a glimpse of all of these gadgets when we meet with Motorola on Thursday, and we'll get you more details.
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