Motorola Krave ZN4 Review

Even with music playback that lasts nearly 16 hours, the Krave is still a disappointment.
Even with music playback that lasts nearly 16 hours, the Krave is still a disappointment.
Even with music playback that lasts nearly 16 hours, the Krave is still a disappointment.

Highs

  • Loud and clear sound quality; bright 2.8-inch touch screen; good MP3 player

Lows

  • Restrictive keyboard; OS does not work well with touch screen; poor video playback

DT Editors' Rating

Summary

Motorola has entered the touchscreen market (read: iPhone clone wars) with its Krave ZN4, available from Verizon. The handset’s primary contribution to the cell phone technology war is its “touch cover,” a clear flip-up front protective screen that is also touch-sensitive. Tap the touch cover and the Krave’s actual LCD screen below reacts as if you prodded it directly. The concept’s innovative in theory, yes. But instead of increasing functionality, this touch cover actually gets in the way, especially when you’re trying to use the touch QWERTY thumbboard. All in all, we don’t crave the Krave.

Features and Design

The Motorola Krave is a fully-equipped multimedia device, with a superlative MP3/AAC music player with connections to both Verizon’s V CAST Music store and the Rhapsody music subscription service. You can access the player by tapping the Music icon right through the touch cover. The Krave also includes V CAST TV, the MediaFLO broadcast TV service. Krave’s microSD slot can further accommodate a card of up to 8 GB in maximum size, which will hold around 2000 tracks, and there’s a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack.

What’s more, included are all the bells and whistles you now expect from this kind of multimedia touchscreen device, including an accelerometer which automatically re-orients Web pages, video and photos when you rotate the phone from portrait to landscape (vertical to horizontal) views.

The Krave is additionally an EV-DO Rev. A phone equipped with a WAP 2.0 Web browser and a complete menu of POP3 and IMAP email, messaging, instant messaging and even chat capabilities. Unlike the iPhone and the new G1 Android phone from T-Mobile, you have to pay extra for VZ Nav, Verizon’s navigation program, to take advantage of Krave’s A-GPS capabilities.

Accessories

You get only the phone charger. No other accessories are included. At press time, the phone had not been listed on the Verizon website so we couldn’t check available accessories.

Form Factor

Krave’s touch cover completely covers the front surface of the phone and easily flips up, as with any other flip phone. Since you’ll be touching both the touch cover and the main LCD screen, this means you’ll now have two screens to keep clean.

Even with its innovative touch cover though, Krave looks and acts like a standard flip cell phone. Its long 2.8-inch 240 x 400 pixel screen – most cell screens measure 240 x 320 pixels – dominates its front face. These extra 80 pixels are especially helpful when reading Web pages or scrolling through long contact or song lists. Above the bright and crystalline screen are a white backlit Home key and a red backlit Power key. Both are covered when the touch cover is down.

At the edge of the touch cover is Krave’s earpiece. When flipped up for use during a call, the touch cover seems a little rickety, as if it might snap off if you press it too hard against your ear. It won’t, but you will want to keep a finger or two up to brace it.

Unfortunately, the touch cover obstructs your use of the touch QWERTY keyboard, which can only be used when the cover is open. There’s no way to hold the phone and reach around the cover with your left thumb to tap keys. You’ll have no choice but to tap with only your right fingers.

The slide touch cover lock switch on the right side of the Krave disables touch capability. Since the screen is quite sensitive, you’ll want to engage the lock before you slip the phone into a pocket or bag. The problem is, you’re likely to forget the lock is engaged and start tapping the cover only to find that nothing will happen. More than once, you’ll find it takes a couple of maddening minutes to realize you have to first disengage the touch lock.

The Krave has a microUSB power jack, a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and a microUSB power jack. All are covered with a rubber gasket, which is fine for the card slot, but annoying for the headphone and USB jacks.

Multimedia

With its touch controls, the Krave easily adapts between music and video playback, with a full suite of touch commands offered on-screen.

You’ll have to drag-and-drop AAC and MP3 tracks onto an 8GB microSD card because there’s no USB cable included – Windows’ drag-and-drop Explore function is much faster and easier than using Bluetooth. You also don’t get any free earphones.

Your tunes are delineated just like they would be on an iPod – lists arranged by artist, track name, album, playlists, etc. The Krave is a little slower to load all the music from the card than a standalone MP3 player, however, and you’ll wait another few seconds after you hit “Play All” or “Shuffle.”

All the track data is housed on one screen as the song plays, along with album art and transport controls. Tap album art and you get a scrollable queue of tracks. With the screen open, you also get loop, queue, play option and shuffle touch controls that disappear when you close the clear cover.

On the downside, music won’t play in the background while you’re using other applications. As soon as you exit the music player, the music ends. But the music, which ends when answering a call or responding to message alerts, will restart afterwards.

Even though the touch cover is completely clear, you’ll want to watch videos with the cover flipped up – while transparent, it’s still another piece of glass between you and the image.

Krave’s biggest drawback as a portable media player (PMP) is its 2.8-inch screen – that measurement is misleading. The video viewing area is only 240 x 320 pixels (the equivalent of around 2.4 inches) more than an inch smaller than that found on the iPhone. Most phones in this class have at least a 3-inch screen. As a result, Krave’s video viewing experience isn’t as satisfying as it is on other touchscreen models with larger viewing areas.

Motorola Krave K4N
Image Courtesy of Motorola

Sound Quality

Sound in every usage was loud and clear for voice, music and ringtones. Motorola’s Crystal Talk technology gives voices plenty of landline-like clarity and bass with only occasional cell phone network warble. There’s also a speaker in the Krave’s chin. Even though the speaker is mono, it produces quality and volume similar to that of a cheap clock radio, which actually isn’t a bad thing for a cell phone.

Functionality

Ultimately, the touch cover is supposed to make using the phone easier. It doesn’t.

For instance, you get four on-screen shortcuts – messaging, phone dialpad, menu and contacts – when the touch cover is down, and a different set of shortcuts – music player, V CAST TV, My Pics and VZ Nav – when the touch cover is flipped up. You cannot access any other menu item when the touch cover is down. When the touch cover is flipped up, you have to touch the Menu icon to get the full main menu grid.

It begs the obvious question: Why not just make the full array of shortcuts and menu items visible all the time, regardless of whether the touch cover is up or down?

Calls have to be answered with the touch cover up. Just like the iPhone, Krave’s screen goes blank when you lift the phone to your ear, and its touch capabilities are deactivated. When you bring the phone down away from your face, the screen lights back up but you have to tap an on-screen “touch to unlock” screen button before you touch the “end call” icon.

Entries into the phone book include multiple phone number and email form boxes, but no options to input snail mail addresses. When you add a name, you have to rotate the phone sideways to get the QWERTY keyboard. You don’t get auto caps on first and last names, but the keyboard stays in uppercase instead automatically reverting to lower case after you tap the first letter. The keyboard lacks similar niceties when tapping prose for messaging.

Krave is pre-configured for Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, AOL, AIM and Verizon.net POP3 and IMAP email, and offers mobile POP3 email options for Yahoo! Mail, Windows Live, Gmail and AOL mail so your friends can check their email without creating a permanent account. To activate your email accounts you need only input your name and password – no other SMTP or security settings are required.

You also get AIM, Windows Live and Yahoo! Messenger, MMS and SMS messaging and chat. You move from SMS message to SMS message simply by swiping the screen sideways.

Motorola Krave K4N
Image Courtesy of Motorola

Video

In addition to its music capabilities, Krave includes V CAST TV, the Qualcomm MediaFLO broadcast subscription TV service. V CAST TV can only be activated from the main screen, touch cover up, but once activated can be viewed and controlled with the touch cover down. Video appears quickly when you boot up or change channels; rotating the phone to horizontal fills the 240×320 portion of the screen.

You also can import non-DRM (unprotected) videos to watch, but at press time we didn’t have a spec sheet so weren’t sure which formats the Krave would accept.

Web

The Krave’s WAP 2.0 browser is nearly impossible to navigate. Instead of touching links to move around, the phone has a large ring-like cursor with a small pyramid-shaped gem as the pointer. You move the “ring” cursor around until the tip lands on a link. When the middle of the ring fills in a light blue, you tap it to activate the link. The center of the ring turns red when the link is activated.

The problem being that the cursor ring doesn’t stay put. Lift your finger up, and if shifts a bit. Tap the ring and it moves again instead of activating the link. I just couldn’t get it to work. I’ve never encountered such a maddening Web experience. And this maddening experience doesn’t even take into account the tiny text and graphics, making aiming the ring cursor and reading even harder. Pages took between 7 to 10 seconds to load on the Krave, 2 to 5 seconds slower than most EV-DO Rev. A phones I’ve used to boot.

Camera

The 2MP camera lens is located on the rubberized rear, recessed to avoid accidentally smudging the lens. There’s no flash and no self-portrait mirror.

When you tap the camera screen, gray touch control icons appear. On the right is a +/- 8X continual zoom control. On the left side are a video/still switch icon, a photo gallery icon, and an exit button. When you rotate the phone to portrait mode, the icons automatically switch positions.

Like video, what you’re about to shoot doesn’t fill the entire screen, just the 240×320 pixel section. With the touch cover down, the extra 80 pixels is blank. When the touch cover is up, you get three tappable thumbnails to review the last pictures you took.

Shutter lag is about two seconds – the screen goes blank while the shot is processing. Pictures taken in direct sunlight are filled with popping colors and only slightly fuzzy edge detail. Images lose a bit of their color and depth of field vitality in overcast or darker conditions. Without a flash, you’ll be lucky to get a blur-free image.

QVGA 12 frame per second 3GPP2 videos are barely watchable, which is par for the course.

Conclusion

Even with music playback that lasts nearly 16 hours – eight more than the iPhone – the Krave is still a disappointment. The touch cover is a great technology unto itself, but here, instead of making the Krave easier to use, it’s actually more often a hindrance, both physically and functionally. Many of the Krave’s other functions, especially the QWERTY keyboard, lack the attention to intuitive detail that makes the iPhone such a joy to use. It just doesn’t seem as if the operating system and touch technology are matched very well. I’d love to see this technology better developed and matched with Android or LiMo, the Linux mobile operating system that Verizon has committed itself to. Overall, a shame, really…

Pros:

• Innovative touch-sensitive protective cover screen
• Loud and clear conversation sound quality
• Easy to use MP3-like music player with 3.5mm headphone jack
• Bright 2.8-inch touch screen

Cons:

• Touch cover physically restricts QWERTY keyboard use
• OS does not seem well-matched to touch interface
• Awful WAP 2.0 navigation
• Better for music than video