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Hands-on with the Motorola Z9

Motorola's new Z9 isn't a big design break from Moto's recent past, but that doesn't keep it from being attractive.

Though Motorola announced today that its Z9 slider phone was going to AT&T, we got the opportunity to examine the Z9 last night before CTIA began. Our initial impressions are a bit mixed (check out our Z9 slide show for more images). The Z9 is certainly an attractive handset with a slim profile and a solid feel, but it doesn't break very much new design ground. For the past two years Moto has been under enormous pressure from many camps (us included) to come up with something completely new, but the Z9 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 AT&T's Razr2 V9, and it shares similar dimensions. It also feels about the same in the hand and the 262,000-color display looks identical. So on the whole, while it is slick and eye-catching, it's also very Motorola.

Fortunately, it does offer a few design changes. Its slider design is completely different from the Rizr family. Moto is careful to say that the Z9 is not a Rizr phone, and that the Rizr name has been retired. The slider mechanism has a sturdy construction with a delightful springy movement. You can open and close the phone easily with one hand and it snaps into place.

Motorola Z9 Kent German/CNET Networks

The navigation array is dominated by a round Razr-like toggle with a central OK button. It's raised just above the surface of the phone so it's fairly easy to use. The remaining navigation controls (two soft keys, a Web browser shortcut, the Talk and End/power controls, and a Clear key) are flush with the surface of the phone 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 keypad buttons have the same design except that they rest on a more reflective surface.

This design left us a bit divided. On the upside, the navigation controls and keypad buttons are quite spacious and the backlighting is relatively bright, But on the downside, the keys felt rather stiff and the slippery surface made dialing by feel difficult. The controls on either side are rather small, but as with the Razr2 V9, they also offer the nifty Haptics vibrating feedback.

The menu interface is standard Motorola but the bright display is easy on the eyes. We noticed that the menu performance was a bit sluggish but we liked the way the menus faded when switching between different screens.

Call quality was decent during our brief test. Voices sounded relatively natural, if a tiny bit harsh, and the volume level was loud. We'll report back with a full review of the Z9 in a few days.