I’ve acquired a cell phone, specifically a Motorola E815. I continue to contend that 95 percent of the time these things are utterly unnecessary and more of a hassle than not, but let me tell you, during that 5 percent of the time when you really need one, you really need one. At this point, my mom, my brother, and my aunt are all on Verizon—which means free calls between us. If anyone else out there is on Verizon, let me know and I’ll add you to my speed dial.

The Motorola E815 has the distinct virtue of exceptional sound quality, and were it not for this, I would probably own a different phone. My brother has an LG 7100 and my mom has an LG 4650, both of which I find easier and more fun to use. (In fact I’m really smitten by LG’s EZ Tip calculator, a built-in function to help one determine the gratuity at restaurants.) To my ear, the Motorola’s sound quality is noticeably better than either of those LGs, however, and since a phone is what it is first and foremost, I’ve opted to stay with the E815.

It’s not like the E815, which supports Verizon’s VCast, lacks features. (Though would it have killed them to put in an EZ Tip Calculator?) It’s got BlueTooth, VCast (and VCast games), Voice Recording, Calendar, Calculator, 1.3 Megapixal still and video camera, Alarm Clock, voice-activated commands, and more. Much of that really doesn’t work as well as one might want, but did I mention the sound quality? It’s really quite good.

The first thing I did with the phone was to sync my Mac’s Address Book to its Contacts using BlueTooth wireless technology. This was easily done, but as Motorola’s in-phone Contact list is a confusing mess (LG’s is much more coherent), the post-sync clean-up was a several hour process. That is not to say that entering everything by hand would have been faster, as typing on a phone keyboard is excruciating. But it was no walk in the park, and any contact updates I do, I will enter manually in both Address Book and phone to avoid reliving the nightmare.

Happily, syncing iCal calendars with the phone using Apple’s iSync required much less clean-up. Unfortunately (and you knew that was coming), a bug in iSync makes it impossible to turn off any calendars after the first four when you go to sync to the phone. It should be an active scroll list, but it’s not, and the result is that you must import all of iCal’s information (aside from the aforementioned first four, which you can turn on or off as you like).

So BlueTooth syncing is a mixed bag at best. It’s also proving a bit temperamental with the free Motorola HS 805 wireless earpiece. On my end everything sounds great, as good as listening directly to the phone. On the other end of the conversation, apparently it sounds echoey. I want to do more testing.

The phone plays some neat games, all of which Verizon charges you for. I think it’s worthwhile to have a few games on board just as a ready weapon against boredom, but cell phones are hardly the avenue toward long-term gaming excitement. Most of the stuff I’ve looked at is somewhere between awful and mediocre, to say nothing of the small screen, lousy sound, and incomparably difficult controls. Apparently you can get some VCast games (which in addition to being slightly higher priced in the $10 range, also cost you airtime to play) which are really nifty, but I’m not inclined to do so.

Initially I was very excited about the Voice Recording features of the phone because it seemed very easy to do. It remains for me probably the second most useful feature, but after inadvertently deleting several voice messages I wished to save, I now find myself locking every message after I record it. This is a time consuming step which negates a good part of the ease of use of the Voice Recording feature. Still, Voice Recording is a major productivity enhancer (and something I’ve long wanted in an iPod).

Calendaring on the phone is unhelpful, but only because of iSync’s inability to deselect Calendars I don’t want. For example, I subscribe to a couple of my friend Dave’s iCal calendars and as much I like being able to keep tabs on him, I don’t exactly need to haul that info around in my phone. But without a way to deselect in iSync, I’m stuck with them. Dave tells me there’s a fix, and, as per usual, that I even provided him with the answer a while back when he was dealing with this. So I’ve got some more tech work to do here. I suspect the Calendar bit might prove very helpful if I can get it working properly.

I’ve ranted a bit about the lack of an EZ Tip Calculator, but truth be told, the standard calculator in the E815 is just fine for most things. Certainly, I’ve found it very useful on more than one occasion.

What to say about the 1.3 Megapixel still and video camera except: Don’t. I have no idea what good a 1.3 Megapixel camera does you. Honestly, the quality is so poor that you’ve got to think that Motorola included it just to say that the E815 had one. It’s also highly problematic to get the photos and video out of the camera without spending money since Verizon quite unhelpfully wants to charge you money to send content via phone. All-in-all, a disaster.

I’ve not used the Alarm Clock whatsoever. The built-in clock seems fine. I don’t know if it connects to a network time server wirelessly or what, but it seems to accurate.

Voice-activated commands are really neat. In fact, saying a caller’s name is my favorite way to dial, since I don’t have to remember anything other than their name and whether I want their home, work, or mobile phone. Absolutely cool, to the point I wish my land line phone had this feature. And of course I think Voice Commands on an iPod would be terrific as well.

In sum, the Motorola E815 is a really hit-or-miss affair. The stuff it does well it does very well, and the stuff it does poorly, it really stinks up. Some items like Calendaring we can blame iSync for, but the other stuff really falls upon the shoulders of the phone designers. The phone’s GUI is, on the whole, not very good, and I can’t believe that it’s not possible to design a better contraption. In fact, I hope that Apple’s design team buckles down some day and designs a cell phone, just to show the rest of the industry how to do it.

For the carrier half of this equation, I chose Verizon despite their insanity-inducing “Can you hear me now?” ad campaign. Their coverage map looked the best to me, they had a decent Family Share plan (meaning Mom and I split minutes between our two phones and pay less as a result), and my brother was already on Verizon. (As calls between Verizon customers are free, this was important.) I’m happy to report that despite Verizon’s desire to charge customers for virtually every possible extra from ringtones to games, their basic service has proved terrific. One thing worth mentioning: If you’re going to get a cell phone and a wireless package, ABSOLUTELY shop at Amazon.com. They have far and away the best prices I’ve found, to the point where after rebate my $200 Motorola E815 was essentially free.

[On a final unrelated note, while we were at the Verizon store, I glanced Jonah’s first cell phone, though admittedly his ownership of said phone is some years off.]