Motorola’s phones have a well-deserved reputation for sharp looks that are usually matched by sharp performance. But Motorola’s latest sleek slider, the MOTORIZR Z3, suffers from a couple of counterintuitive user interface problems that mar its wireless Web, camera, and music player functions. With a tad more attention paid to nagging usability details, the Z3 could have been a great phone. But you’ll be tempted to overlook these quibbles by T-Mobile’s bargain $99.99 USD price tag (after contract requirement discounts and rebates).
Features and Design
Even though this phone is supposedly EDGE capable, neither the phone nor the T-Mobile website indicates that it is can access this high-speed network. However, we are assured by T-Mobile that it is an EDGE phone.
You’ll be forgiven if you confuse the Z3 with Motorola’s clamshell KRZR. Almost exactly the same size (the Z3 measures 4.15 x 1.8 x 0.63 inches and weighs 4.06 ounces; the KRZR measures 4.05 x 1.73 x 0.67 inches and weighs 3.6 ounces), both phones feature a bright 1.9-inch LCD and similar, by-now-familiar RAZR navigation array and dialpad. But instead of KRZR’s mirrored glass/metal exterior, Z3’s case is the same smooth, rubberized outer shell found on Motorola’s PEBL.
Of course, the Z3 is a slider, which means its screen is exposed to the elements and whatever else is jangling in your pocket. The Z3 has a two-step keypad unlock sequence to keep you from accidentally redialing a number. An exposed screen and a keypad lock are, of course, non-issues with a clamshell.
On the left spine are the volume toggle and a Motorola action button, which is programmed to activate the music player. There are no external music control keys. On the right spine are the miniUSB jack that doubles as a headphone jack, the camera activation/shutter release and the memo record button. As with most Motorola phones, there’s no standard 2.5mm jack. The fancy sliding box the phone is packed in includes loose-fitting, wired Motorola stereo earbuds with extra ear pads with a right-angle miniUSB jack, along with a USB PC connection cable and a 128MB microSD Card.
Backlighting on the alphanumeric characters on the white-on-black keypad is blue, bright, and even, making dialing and texting relatively easy. But the phone’s so skinny that both the dialpad keys and the navigation and function buttons below the screen on the slider top are a bit tightly packed, requiring more attention than usual to avoid errors.
Inside the Z3 is a quad-band world radio (so the phone can be used in Europe and other locales with GSM coverage), a 2MP camera with a bright video light and 8x zoom, 20MB of internal memory, voice memo recording, and voice dialing. The phone book supplies space for five phone numbers per entry, two e-mail addresses, URL, postal address, birthday, and picture CallerID.
The built-in music player supports MP3 and iPod-friendly AAC files and stereo Bluetooth. Unfortunately, the microSD slot is located behind the battery cover. Once inserted, the card is wedged into a small space, making it almost impossible to remove without tweezers.
The Z3 is also a “MyFaves” capable phone.
Image Courtesy of Motorola
Use and Testing
As a phone, the Z3 is above average. Voice volume on T-Mobile’s network is loud, with only minor network warble at both ends. Ringtone volume is about average (which means the Z3 could be louder), and the vibrate function is adequate.
However, while the Z3’s multimedia capabilities are impressive, the user interfaces are not as well thought out as they should have been.
For instance, taking pictures with the otherwise above average 2MP camera, which has an 8x zoom and a video light, is relatively pain-free. The shutter is right under your right index finger when you hold the phone horizontally, and the LCD screen provides a bright viewfinder image, even in the sun. But once you take a picture, you have to go into the “Options” menu under the left soft key to save the captured image, instead of “save” (or “delete”) being offered as an immediate soft key option. And the “Options” list is presented on-screen in portrait mode, even though you’re likely to be holding the phone in landscape to snap pictures.
There’s no flash, but there’s a bright video light. The difference is that a flash illuminates only when the picture is snapped. A video light, which usually provides more light than a plain flash, is continual. Most cell cams with video lights instead of a flash offer “always on” and “on for this shot only” options. But the Z3’s light is always on, which means you have to manually turn it off through the options menu after you’re done shooting.
Picture quality (both indoors and out) is above average in sharpness and color accuracy, but lacks deep blacks or contrast, which is about average for cell cams. There’s a perfect nanosecond delay between pushing the shutter button and the image being captured, just enough time to steady the phone to ensure a clean shot. The video light does illuminate objects up to a couple of feet away, but if you’re too close to your subject, you’ll over-saturate the image.
Adjacent to the navigation array is a direct Web access key, which we’re glad of. There is no Web icon among the primary on-screen menu choices; you have to open the T-Zones folder from the main menu (which oddly opens a “My Album” folder) and choose one of the six options, none of which are labeled “Web.” So, use the direct access button.
The Z3 is both GPRS and EDGE capable, but the T-Mobile website makes no mention of the accessibility of the latter high-speed network. We couldn’t tell if our test model was receiving EDGE, but considering the slow response time, it probably wasn’t. Predictably, Web access using GPRS was herky-jerky. It didn’t help that the screen would only stay lit for 20 seconds, which meant it often went out before a page was filled. It did re-light when the page appeared, thankfully.
Z3’s music player also suffers from some annoying hiccups. The first problem was finding it. Yes, it’s activated by the left spine action button, but we only tripped over this accidentally. Before happening upon this button, we had to drill through the main menu’s “Fun & Apps” folder to the “Games & Apps” folder to find the music player.
Once activated, the player takes around 15 seconds to boot up and pull all the tunes on your microSD card into position (this time may be shorter if you have fewer files on the card; we loaded almost a full 1GB of music). When you pick a song to start playing, soft key controls matched to the navigation array appear on screen. But once you move around the music application (i.e. create a playlist), these soft key controls disappear. With no dedicated music transport keys, you have to go through the options menu to pause a track. Unlike other music phones, the Z3’s navigation array does not default to music controls.
You also have to change the default “slide down/end task” setting to “slide down/continue task.” Otherwise, the music stops when you slide the screen down, requiring you to go back to the music player’s main screen to resume your tunes.
While you can create playlists and play music in true random sequence, there are no EQ settings. Plus, the player freezes out all other functions. If you want to use the camera or run any other applications, you have to turn off the player. Other musical cells like T-Mobile’s Nokia XpressMusic 5300 let you roam around features and functions while the music continues to play.
Thankfully, if a call comes in while you’re grooving, the phone asks if you want to answer or ignore. After a call, you are asked if you want to resume grooving.
Any of your tracks can be applied as a ringtone as long as your microSD card with all your songs is inserted. Not only does this nice touch save you a couple of dollars on downloaded ringtones, it also saves you from the poorly-designed ringtone download application. We downloaded the “anie’s Got a Gun ringtone, but once it was downloaded, we did not receive a prompt to apply it as a ringtone, nor could we locate the download.
Taken by themselves, each of these easy-to-anticipate multimedia miffs can be tolerated. But grouped together, you get the feeling that the designers simply didn’t care enough to do a bit more beta testing, which would have smoothed everything out.
The Z3’s talk time of 3.3 hours is shorter than what we’ve come to expect these days (time that will be cut shorter by music play); standby time of 9.4 days is adequate.
Considering the MOTORIZR Z3’s handsome appearance, it’s a shame someone didn’t spend more time making its varying multimedia applications a bit more intuitive. However, this phone is still a solid device with an above average camera. If you want a music phone from T-Mobile, though, we recommend the Nokia XpressMusic 5300.
• Sleek slider
• 2.0-MP camera/camcorder with video light and 8x zoom
• Quad-band EDGE world compatibility
• MP3/AAC music player
• Stereo Bluetooth
• MyFaves capable
• Counterintuitive camera/music operation
• No standard 2.5mm stereo headphone jack
• Hard-to-reach microSD card slot
• Short talk time