Technology

Motorola's Quirky New Smartphone


Motorola_q_110x100
Editor's Rating: star rating

The Q is lighter and sleeker than its popular rivals, but its short battery life and complicated e-mail function make it a hassle to use

First off, let me confess: I'm not a mobile e-mail guy. I've never owned a BlackBerry (RIMM), nor a Palm (PALM) Treo. Sending a text message via the phone is nothing but a nuisance to me. My thumbs were built to grip a football or to aid in twisting the caps off beer bottles more than typing on a smart phone's compact QWERTY keypad.

No worries, say Motorola (MOT) designers. They made the Q for people like me. It's not really intended for hard-core mobile professionals, but rather for the masses. That's why, I was hungry for the Q's debut. I knew it would be slim—0.45 inches thick, to be exact—and I prefer phones that slide imperceptibly into my suit pocket. Motorola gets kudos for delivering yet another stunningly sleek device.

Motorola and Verizon Wireless (VZ), the phone's exclusive provider at the moment, also deserve applause for pricing the phone reasonably. At $199 with a $100 rebate and a Verizon contract, it's $100 less than the Treo. If only Verizon would ratchet back the monthly charge for its new swift data service (EV-DO) that the Q operates on. A typical plan costs $110 a month for 1,350 minutes of talking and unlimited Net use.

That said, the Q's runway-model looks might be enough to get you to bite on the service. Almost everything about the Q hardware is spot on. At about 4 ounces, it's remarkably light. So it doesn't feel like a paper weight in your pocket. It's a bit wider than the Treo and a tad longer than most BlackBerry handsets, but it fits comfortably in my hand.

ONE-HANDED WONDER.

That shouldn't be a surprise. Motorola designers wanted people to be able to operate this phone with one hand. And for the most part, you can. It has a toggle wheel on the side that lets you scroll up and down through information on the screen. But it also gives users options. Don't like the toggle? Try the navigation control below the screen.

The thing it doesn't have is a stylus. With the Q, thankfully there's no fumbling around to pull that little stick out to touch and move around the screen. So using the Q with one hand is far easier than manipulating other smart phones singlehandedly.

There's more to this one-handed approach. Motorola designers say it's far more costly to make a touch screen (required with a stylus) rugged enough to withstand the abuse of phone users. The good news is that the Q's screen looks good. Motorola tipped the screen on its side to give it a landscape shape (wider than it is tall). This extra width makes the screen feel spacious, though it's not as tall as, say, a Treo's.

The Q screen's resolution is sharp and colorful, boasting 320 by 240 pixels. You can put it to use by snapping photos with the 1.3-megapixel camera. Strangely, when taking pictures, the image doesn't fill the screen. It's sort of like trying to watch a DVD made for a widescreen TV on your basic, old 32-incher—it's irritating.

FANCY FEATURES.

In addition to pictures the phone shoots and plays videos. That was one of the first applications on this phone to impress me. Motorola CEO Ed Zander loves to show off a video he took of the Chicago Bears defeating my favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers. I was struck by the lack of the herky-jerks in the imagery.

The Q also packs in another fancy feature that makes this gadget far more than a text-messaging device: a digital music player for blasting your MP3 files. Fortunately, Motorola and Verizon decided to include a mini SD card for storing extra data. (Believe me, you'll need that card since the phone only has 60 megabytes of free memory—barely enough to store a handful of songs.)

If you want to slap down another $80, you can get Motorola's wireless stereo headphones. Using Bluetooth technology, they let you start and stop your music and even place calls without ever touching the phone—cool stuff.

All that good stuff aside, I had several problems with the Q. The name Q stands for QWERTY, for the phone's easy-to-type-on keypad. (It's more spacious than the cramped Treo and BlackBerry keypads.) But the phone's name is also a nod to James Bond's gadget guru, who was called "Q." The problem is the phone sometimes runs as if it should still be in Q's trouble-shooting lab—the one Bond always ventured into before going out on a death-defying assignment.

BATTERY BLUES.

The phone is supposed to get four hours of talk time and eight days of standby. I can't tell you how many times the "low battery" warning flashed well before the end of the day—as I was downloading e-mail or trying to make a call from a cab. Nothing is more frustrating.

Almost nothing, that is. To save battery life, the phone's backlight cuts off faster than Bond could get a girl. While trying to show the phone to a friend (who is a BlackBerry user) the light kept turning off. Finally, he asked, "How come I can't see anything?" I often thought about going into the phone's settings to adjust the light so it would stay on longer. But that would have made the battery drain even faster.

So what about the phone's primary application, e-mail? Unfortunately, I don't have much positive to say about it. The Q runs Windows Mobile 5.0 software from Microsoft (MSFT). It's compatible with Microsoft Outlook, so I used the phone's sync software and cable to pull the Outlook mail from my PC each day. (It was too much trouble to get our IT guys to arrange for me to get Outlook mail from our corporate server over the air.) Still, it was convenient to have my mail and calendar info in my pocket.

MESSY WINDOWS.

To get mail wirelessly, I set up a mobile e-mail account using Yahoo! (YHOO). It worked, but getting my mail was painfully slow, like pulling up buckets of water from a deep, old farm well. Even more maddening is when you click to read an individual Yahoo! e-mail. Too often you have to press another button to "get entire message and any attachments." When I clicked, what did it say? "Message and all attachments will download next time you connect and receive e-mail." Sending and receiving, however, is another slo-mo encounter since I have over a thousand Yahoo! e-mails.

Now, you can apparently set this up so the Q works a bit more smoothly. But I'll be frank, this version of Windows needs some work. Motorola opted to use a streamlined version of Windows made for plain old cell phones. This is not the Pocket PC version made for data-centric products. The Q uses the so-called "Smartphone" version of Windows Mobile, which doesn't work well with attachments. You can't manipulate them the way you can on the Treo or BlackBerry. And while you're supposed to be able to view them, I rarely could stand to go through the trouble.

Why did Motorola insist on a truncated brand of Windows? The main reason is that Zander and his team wanted the device to be a phone first. Everyone who has used a Blackberry, for instance, knows it doesn't allow you to make a call conveniently, and the call quality is unreliable.

GOOD START.

Well, the Q is built to talk. Press the numbers on the keypad and it automatically assumes you're making a call, just like a phone does. It even presents a list of possible contacts it thinks you're trying to reach as you dial the number. You can select one and place the call by pressing a single button, or keep dialing.

Need a speakerphone? Just hit a button on the lower right side of the keypad. The keypad, which designers spent months perfecting, also has a few other nifty one-touch buttons. The camera key is next to the speaker button, and the mail key is on the bottom left.

I'm betting that with Motorola's prodding, Microsoft will eventually get Windows to work with a little more one-click functionality. Right now you dig down into menus too much, and far more than you have to with the Treo and Blackberry.

Zander likes to say that this is just version 1.0 of the Q, implying that the next version will be better. If you're not a heavy e-mail user and just need a sleek device to keep your office data in your pocket, try the Q. Serious mobile users might want to wait for version 2.0.


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