There’s a reason why the Motorola Q has enjoyed widespread popularity. With its slim form factor (it’s actually a hair thinner than the RAZR) it is undeniably sexy. But choosing the Q for your Smartphone requires a bit more than aesthetic attraction.
The Q runs Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone Edition software, which is not as fully-featured as the Windows Pocket PC OS found on specialized PDA’s and does not have e-mail functionality as rich as those found on the Blackberry. However, discussing the pros and cons of Smartphone software is best left to another time and another venue. From a purely logistical and ergonomic point-of-view, the Q (available exclusively from Verizon) is, at its primal level, fun. And at $199.99 with the usual contractual strings, its $100 less than the other obvious Verizon options, the Palm Treo 700w and the Blackberry 8703e.
Features and Design
Although the Blackberry is filled with all manner of e-mail niceties, IT managers who hand out the things have eschewed what they consider frivolity, such as a digital camera or multimedia playback. But in the weeks that we have been investigating the Q, with its 1.3 MP camera and Windows Media playback capabilities, we have found that a large group of users utilize it not only as a way of staying in touch, but for multimedia needs such as a digital photo album and home movie viewer. There is also a large class of users who actually need an imaging device, with real estate agents, interior decorators, and insurance adjusters topping the list. Unlike the Blackberry, one gets the sense that Q fans are willing to overlook some of Q’s minor flaws for these multimedia capabilities.
At .45 inch thick and .012 inches thinner than a closed RAZR, Q’s heroin-chic slimness is its primary drawing card. While aesthetically sleek, this thinness offers few advantages. Keeping it in a breast pocket will keep unsightly bulges to a minimum. Its thinness has no impact on the hip holster compared to the Treo or Blackberry. At 4.1 ounces, the Q is also the lightest of the three phones, adding to its tote attraction. Both the Q and the Blackberry 8703e have bright, highly readable 2.5-inch, 320 x 240 pixel screens, but only the Treo’s 2.5-inch, 240 x 240 pixel LCD is a touch-screen.
Functionally, the biggest difference between the Q, the Treo, and the Blackberry is text input and menu navigation. Q’s QWERTY keyboard is comprised of slanted, rice-shaped keys; the keys on the right side— from the Y on over—lean right, and the keys on the left lean left. With this arrangement, the top of the keys slightly overhang the bottom of the neighboring key, which results in more miss-hits than on the Blackberry or the Treo, whose keys are more traditionally rectangular. Plus, the Q’s keys are backlight in a soft aqua blue, making them a bit more difficult to read in the dark. Blackberry’s keys are backlit with a bright white, making them far more readable in any light, or lack thereof.
Both the Q and the Blackberry also offer a scroll wheel and action button array on the right spine. On the Blackberry, this “thumb-able” array works intuitively for every menu navigation and non-text operations, but is awkward for scrolling through text. The Q adds a traditional navigation array as well as a dedicated back arrow and twin soft menu keys. While these extra keys aid text navigation, they complicate everything else.
The Q’s and the Treo’s strength is in their fun apps (a 1.3 MP camera and an MP3 player), which the Blackberry lacks. However, the Q giveth fun and the Q taketh it away. The dedicated stereo headphone jack is of the 2.5mm type, perfect for a wired headset with an inline microphone for plain conversations. But that leaves your music listening options severely crippled. Your first choice (accessory wired 2.5mm stereo earbuds with an inline mic, which are universally awful and are shockingly not even included) is like that old Catskill complaint—poor food and such small portions. You could use your own headphones if you get a 2.5mm-to-3.5mm adapter, but you’ll have to yank them off your head to answer the phone. Since the Q includes a stereo speaker, speakerphone, and Bluetooth, we wish the headphone jack would have been oriented for music listening, especially since the Q is also equipped with Motorola’s mini USB jack that could have been programmed for use as a conversation headphone jack (as it is on the company’s other phones, such as the RAZR).
Unlike the Blackberry, the Q has a miniSD slot for storing your goodies. However, when syncing, a PC recognizes not the Q, but the generic media card. And the rubber gasket covering the miniSD slot is harder to pry open than the hatch on the popular TV show Lost.
Speaking of the mini USB jack, Q also lacks a docking cradle. Since the mini USB jack doubles as both power and PC connecting cable, and since your PC’s USB connection won’t charge the battery, the Q should be fully charged when you sync it and must be fully charged when you update the software (which, considering we’re talking about a form of Windows, will probably happen more frequently than you’d like).
Image Courtesy of Verizon
One of the gear-head complaints about the Q is its lack of WiFi, to which we say, “Big deal.” Verizon’s EV-DO Web service is speedy and reliable and far more accessible than haphazard hot spots.
Where Q falls down is in text input. Predictive text and the default setting on the Q, with a full QWERTY keyboard, is more than just useless, it’s plain annoying. Windows forces you to drill through the settings menus to turn predictive text off system-wide, rather than making the option available through the varying e-mail and text applications.
Windows Mobile 5 and the Q also fail to supply the kind of intuitive text input shortcuts that Blackberry users take for granted, such as automatic capital letters to begin sentences, holding down a letter key for two seconds to change its case, and clicking Blackberry’s space key twice to produce an end-of-sentence period. Further, unlike Treo’s dual “Shift” keys bracketing its space bar, Q’s single “Shift” key is on the right side of the keypad, which is awkward for the predominantly right-thumbed (Blackberry’s shift key is on the left, allowing near-simultaneous shift-letter hits). Also, Q’s “back/delete” key is part of the navigation array, rather than a dedicated keypad key as it is on the Treo and the Blackberry. Minor annoyances, admittedly, but thumb keypads are difficult enough without these extra roadblocks.
The Motorola Q Keyboard
For multimedia, you have to have a miniSD card inserted when you sync it to your PC to upload music and video clips to the phone. Use a 512 MB card or higher so you have the option of both automatic and manual syncing for your music files. There’s a dedicated camera key to the immediate right of the space bar, a dangerous location when inputting text. The camera (which includes a photo light) does take above-average pictures compared to other 1.3 MP cell phone cameras, but that’s damning by faint praise.
Q also offers voice recognition that is mostly spot-on. But one user reported that when he said to dial “Blum” (rhymes with “plumb”), the Q asked if he meant “Bloom” (rhymes with “room”). When Q would not be corrected and would not dial the assigned number, the user sighed and said “yes, fine, Bloom.” We leave the social implications of this concession to a mechanical device for another discussion.
The Motorola Q Screen
Your final determining factor, especially with all the multimedia usage, might be how long you can play before your toy dies. Q sits in the middle with a rated 234 minutes (nearly four hours) of usage time and 212 hours (nearly 9 days) of standby time, compared to Blackberry’s 198 minutes (3.3 hours) of usage and 192 hours (8 days) of standby power and Treo’s generous 270 minutes (4.5 hours) of usage and 360 hours (15 days) of standby power.
In many ways, the Q is a missed opportunity. To really differentiate the Q from other Smartphones, Motorola ought to have included a higher resolution camera, a dedicated 3.5mm stereo headset (or at least included a 2.5mm stereo/inline mic ear set), and/or Bluetooth stereo for music listening. We wouldn’t recommend the Q if your primary purpose is e-mail and texting, unless you really want to save some dough. If money and e-mail are minor issues, we’d recommend the more powerful Palm-powered Treo (700p) or the Windows Mobile version (700w), especially now that they’re on sale. But the Q exudes a lot more fun and style than both the Blackberry and the Treo, which, in our aesthetics-driven, form-over-function society, seems to count for a lot.
• Less than a half-inch thick
• Less expensive than competitors
• Bright 2.5-inch, 320 x 240 pixel screen
• Verizon EV-DO broadband network
• Windows Mobile 5.0 Smartphone Edition operating system
• E-mail with attachments
• Hotmail MSN Messenger compatible
• Digital music/video player
• MiniSD memory card slot
• “Only” a 1.3 MP camera
• Slightly awkward keyboard for text input
• No docking cradle
• No included headset