Whether you love it or hate it, the Motorola Q did a lot for putting smart phones on people's radar. Its sleek QWERTY form factor set off a trend with mobile manufacturers, spawning lookalikes such as the Samsung BlackJack and the T-Mobile Dash. In addition, it attracted users beyond the business set; in fact, Motorola says that about 90 percent of Q owners were first-time smart phone buyers, attracting a lot of the younger set as well. Yet, despite the popularity of its design, we know that the Q had its fair share of problems (just check out some of the user opinions), namely poor battery life and sluggish performance. Now, a little more than a year later, the company is hoping to right some of those wrongs with the Q's successor, the Motorola Q9m.
Available through Verizon Wireless, the Motorola Q9m has added some notable improvements, including an excellent full QWERTY keyboard, a sexy trim, and Windows Mobile 6 Standard Edition. Motorola also decided to give the Q9m a heavy multimedia focus, given the Q's popularity with the younger crowd and consumers in general. The smart phone supports Verizon's V Cast Music Store for over-the-air song downloads and even has a dedicated multimedia home screen. However, it seems the company didn't do enough under the hood to keep up with all these capabilities. While call quality was great, general performance was quite sluggish. Such results may be OK for the casual user, but mobile professionals and power users should steer clear of this device. The Motorola Q9m is available online starting today and will be in stores on August 29 for $249.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates and discounts.
The Motorola Q9m is a curvier and sexier beast than the original Q, boasting nice, rounded edges and an attractive black casing with red accents along its outer edges. Motorola has also added a soft-touch finish to the back, so the smart phone is easy to grip and comfortable to hold. That said, the Q9m isn't quite as sleek as the Q, measuring 4.6 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep and weighing 4.7 ounces compared to 4.5 inches by 2.5 inches by 0.4 inch and 4 ounces. It's not a huge difference on paper, but in your hand, the smart phone just feels wider, especially when you're holding it up to your ear for phone calls. And while it is heavier, the phone does have a nice, solid construction.
The Moto Q9m's keeps the same 2.5-inch diagonal TFT non-touch screen displaying 65,536 colors at a 240x320-pixel resolution. A new addition is an adaptive technology that adjusts the backlighting of the screen depending on your environment (for instance, outdoors, in a dark room, and so forth). The feature worked well, as we didn't have any difficulties reading the display even under bright sunlight. That said, the screen still has quite a tendency to hold smudges and fingerprints.
There are some changes beneath the surface, as well. The Motorola Q9m now gives you a choice of two home screens. There's the standard Windows Mobile option or a Multimedia Home screen. By default, the Q9m displays the multimedia menu out of the box. The interface consists of a circular menu system with media player controls on one side and access to your music, videos, images, and camera (see image below). It's really not the most intuitive interface and requires a bit of practice to master the navigation. If you find you prefer the traditional Windows view, you can easily switch to it by pressing and holding the toggle button on the QWERTY keyboard (the last key on the right side of the bottom row). There is also a Personalize My Q folder under the Start menu, where you can program the various soft keys, change the menu views, customize the Home screen with different background images and themes, and more.
Below the display, you'll find a slightly revamped navigation array. You still get two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, a home page shortcut, a back key, and a five-way directional keypad with a center select button. And once again, they're all set flush with the phone's surface, so you'll want to make sure to press each button firmly to register the action. However, after receiving a number of customer complaints about the small size of the Talk and End keys, they are quite a bit larger now. The navigation toggle is also bigger and is made of metal instead of plastic, and even though we had doubts about the smallish center OK button, it was actually easy to use. Despite this fact, we had a slight preference for the old Q's toggle since it offered a bit more control and ease when it comes to moving in different directions.
Meanwhile, the full QWERTY keyboard has undergone a complete redesign. Gone are the bubbly, oval keys and in their place are large, rectangular buttons. There's no spacing between the keys this time, but that's not a bad thing, since our thumbs had plenty of room to type out messages and notes. The keyboard also has a nonslippery texture, so overall, the typing experience on the Q9m was an excellent one. Our only complaint would be that the number keys (located on the left side) are highlighted in a faint red, so they're a bit difficult to see at first.
On the left spine, there is a mini USB port and a Mini SD expansion slot that can accept cards as large as 4GB (if there ever comes a day, Motorola says it can support up to 32GB cards). The right side has a user-programmable launch key and a scroll wheel that you can press to select an item. This helps make one-handed use easier, but it's a tad difficult to perform the latter function since there's a little protrusion on the side that prevents your thumb from easily pushing the wheel down all the way. There's a 2.5mm headset jack on top of the unit, and finally, the camera lens and flash are located on the back of the device, as is the dual speaker system.
Verizon Wireless packages the Motorola Q9m with a travel charger, a USB cable, a Mini SD card that's preloaded with promotional content from singer Fergie and information about V Cast Music, a companion CD, a VZAccess Manager CD, and reference material. A wired headset or a belt holster would have been nice additions, but you can check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page for more add-ons.
As we mentioned earlier, the Motorola Q9m places a heavy emphasis on its multimedia capabilities. It works with Verizon's V Cast Music Store. The service gives you access to major label artists and many of today's popular hits via over-the-air downloads, so you can get songs sent straight to your phone. The downfall is that it costs $1.99 per track, and though this price includes a simultaneous download to your PC as well, Sprint Music Store offers the same for 99 cents with a Power Vision pack. To be fair, you can get the same $0.99 rate with V Cast if you download songs directly to your PC. Of course, you'll then have to go through the extra step of transferring tracks from your computer to the Q9m via USB cable or a Mini SD card. At this time, the Moto Q9m will not support V Cast videos.