Exactly one year after we reviewed the intriguing Motorola Ming, Moto finally has brought a variant of the phone to the United States. The new Motorola Krave ZN4 for Verizon Wireless offers the same basic design that resembles a Star Trek communicator, but it adds more features while offering innovative design tweaks to an intuitive and easy-to-use touch interface. We had a few complaints--there's still no Wi-Fi, the camera lacks editing features and the Web browser and keyboard take acclimation--but the Krave remains a sharp and satisfying device that's sure to become a conversation piece. Performance was agreeable and the price of $149 with a two-year contract is reasonable.
Even two years after its predecessor and look-alike emerged from Motorola's factory, the Krave ZN4 still sports one of the most distinctive cell phone designs around. The slim and compact shape (4.13 inches by 2 inches by 0.75 inch and 4.59 ounces), vibrant touch screen, and transparent plastic cover give the Krave a sleek and futuristic look. Though some may wonder why the cover is needed, Moto says it's designed to not only protect the touch display but to also give Krave the aesthetics of a flip phone. That may sound a bit corny, but we ate it up completely.
Yet, in addition to just looking cool, the Krave's cover is also usable. In fact, it is a secondary touch surface you can use to access a selection of features without even flipping it open. You even get a bit of tactile feedback to help you press the right thing. It's all possible thanks to an innovative mesh that is embedded in the cover (the mesh blends in with gray color of the screen so you may have to hold it up to a light to see it). That same mesh also delivers sound to the Krave's speaker, which again sits on one end of the cover.
Moto doesn't allow access to every feature via the cover's touch surface but the company conducted user studies as to which features they should choose. They came up with the music player, the V Cast Mobile TV, the photo folder, and the VZ Navigator feature. That's a useful assortment of goodies; if we had to suggest anything it would be to add a V Cast streaming video option as well.
Unlike the Ming, the Krave allows you to make voice dial calls without opening the cover. Just press the control on the right spine and you can speak the name or phone number of the person you want to ring. What's more, you also phone your voice mail or your most recently called number. Once you're connected, touch controls allow you to mute the call, route the audio to a Bluetooth headset, and end your connection. And yes, you can perform all those commands without opening the cover. Just keep in mind that when you start a call with the cover closed, audio is routed through the speakerphone. To turn the speakerphone off but remain connected, just open the cover.
The display measures 2.8 inches and supports 65,000 colors (240x400 pixels). It's bright and gorgeous with eye-popping colors, sharp graphics and photos, and readable text. You can change the brightness, the backlight time, the clock format, and the dialing font size. In standby mode, you'll notice a shortcut bar with icons for the messaging folder, the dialpad, the main menu, and the contacts list. You also can access the menu by tapping the middle of the display. The display is difficult to see in direct light, but that's not unusual on a cell phone.
Unlike the Linux-based Ming, the Krave doesn't use a third-party operating system, so it isn't a true smartphone. Yet, that's really the whole point since the handset is meant to offer a lot of functionality with an attractive and intuitive interface. We were thrilled to see that the Krave ditches the unintuitive and poorly designed menu interface that Verizon has slapped on almost all its handsets over the past few years. Instead, the main menu shows 12 icons that sit below the aforementioned shortcut bar. We like that you can get to multiple features with a single tap and that all multimedia functions aren't buried under a single submenu. Also, it's easy to move backward through subfolders.
The Krave ZN4's touch interface is accurate and responsive with no lag time. What's more, the tactile feedback and the onscreen highlights that show where you're pressing are helpful. The Krave doesn't come with a stylus but we had absolutely no gripes with navigating through the menus. Like many other touch-screen phones, you can browse through long lists by dragging your finger up and down the screen. The motion is fluid without any jerky movements.
The onscreen numeric dialpad is plain but easy to use. An "Options" button will open your contacts menu and your recent calls. Also, you can program a "favorites" menu of your best friends. The numbers on the touch keys are large but the alphabetic text is small. You'll also find a redial shortcut, and when you're on a call you can activate the speakerphone with one touch. Just keep in mind that closing the cover will end your call.
Though you can tap out messages using the standard nine-digit and Moto's predicative text keypad, there's really no need since the Krave offers a full QWERTY keyboard. It's convenient, to be sure, but we had mixed feelings about its design. It felt relatively spacious--an admirable feat considering the display is rather small as touch screens go--so we never felt cramped when tapping away. But on the downside, holding the phone with two hands feels a bit awkward since you must reach your thumb around the open cover. We got used to it eventually, but we imagine that people with smaller hands may have more trouble. Alternatively, you can tap with one finger and hold the phone with the other hand. Either way, we had no misdials and could type quickly. As you go along, it will suggest words and attempt to correct errors.
The ZN4's keyboard includes three dedicated punctuation keys, an "@" button, a well-placed space bar, clear and return controls, and a shift button. You can access numbers and additional symbols through a secondary keyboard. Thanks to the phone's accelerometer, you can flip between the standard and QWERTY keyboard by rotating the phone.
Above the display are a power control and a "Home" button that will take you to the standby screen. They're a tad small, but they're convenient. Just keep in mind that they're hidden behind the cover when it is closed. On the left spine you'll find a display-locking switch, a voice dialing control, a memory card slot, and a camera shutter. Located on the right spine are a 3.5mm headset jack (yay!), a volume rocker, and a micro USB port. The latter also accommodates the charger. The camera lens, sans a flash or self-portrait mirror, sits at the top of the phone's back side, while a single speaker rests at the bottom.