For the past two years, Moto has been under enormous pressure from many camps (us included) to come up with something completely new. So when we first held the new Motorola Z9 for AT&T, we were a bit disappointed that it doesn't stray very far from the company's Razr-heavy past. Indeed, it has a familiar look in many ways. It has the same shiny mahogany color as the Razr2 V9, it shares similar dimensions, and the bright 262,000-color display is almost identical. So while it's all very pretty, it's also very Motorola.
Yet, the Z9 is a phone that warrants a closer look. During the few days it was sitting around the CNET offices, it won praise from quite a few people--even from one of the most serious gadget enthusiasts we know. It also has a solid and comfortable feel when held in the hand, and the slider mechanism is sturdy without being stiff. Inside is a generous feature set including 3G support, AT&T Navigator GPS service, a digital music player, stereo Bluetooth, an Opera Web browser, a 2-megapixel camera, and Moto's nifty CrystalTalk technology. It's somewhat expensive if you pay full price ($399) but you can get it for a very reasonable $149 with service and applicable rebates.
As we said earlier, the Z9 is easily recognizable as a Motorola phone. In fact, it almost looks as if someone took the Razr2 V9 flip phone and squashed into a slider design. Though some have taken issue with the mahogany color, we quite like it. The hue is a nice change from the standard black and silver, and it certainly makes the Z9 stand out in the cell phone crowd. The bright, vivid display is a sight to behold. It measures 2.4 inches (320x240 pixels) and supports 262,000 colors, so it shows just about everything well, from graphics to photos to text. You can change the brightness and the backlighting time. The menu interface is generic Moto, unfortunately. It's fairly easy to use, but we're hoping for an update soon.
The Z9's navigation array is dominated by a large Razr-like toggle with a central OK button. It's surrounded by a tactile silver ring, which makes it easy to use. The remaining navigation controls (two soft keys, a Web browser shortcut, the Talk and End/power controls, and a Clear/back key) are flush, without any clear separation between them. Yet, a closer look will show that they're not touch controls; rather, they offer a tactile "push" feel and a soft "click" sound when pressed. They're also covered by tiny silver bumps that are similar to the Motorola Rokr E8. The bumps are a nice addition as they allow us to use the controls by feel.
The keypad buttons have a similar design except they rest on a slippery, reflective surface. That can be an issue for fast texters, and we would have preferred a brighter backlighting. Another problem we noticed was that the area surrounding the 5 key had a bit of a "bounce" feel to it. It made us wonder about the keypad's long-term capabilities.
Yet, with little plastic in its body, the Z9 has a wonderful, firm feel in the hand. It's particularly comfortable to hold against the ear while talking, and the slider mechanism has a great construction. We could easily open the phone with one hand, and it slid solidly into place on either end. Also, at 4.48 inches by 2.41 inches by 0.55 inch and 4.93 ounces, the Z9 is very portable.
The camera lens and flash sit at the top end of the Z9 on its rear side. Unlike some other slider phones, you don't need to open the handset to use the camera. The remaining controls are a volume rocker and a music shortcut on the left spine and a camera shutter on the right spine. Though the side controls are small and thin, they offer the vibrating feedback that we saw on the V9. Just above the camera shutter is a microUSB port for the charger. Included in the box is an adapter for miniUSB devices.
The microSD card slot is located behind the battery cover. Though that's not the most ideal location, we're glad to see that you don't have to remove the battery as well.
The Z9 is packed with a wide assortment of features that should appeal to basic users and multimedia fans alike. It also offers a couple of firsts: it's the first Moto phone to support not only the
As a 3.5 phone, the Z9 supports AT&T's Cellular Video service and AT&T Music. The former application offers tons of streaming video content, while the latter offers wireless music downloads. Click on the links for full reviews of each service.