If you had asked just a couple of years ago, we never would have believed that square cell phones would be a trend. Early attempts at a square phone typically fell flat, so we couldn't imagine that manufacturers would seriously consider such a design. Yet, after the LG found success with its Lotus, Motorola went square with the Hint QA30. It's now available with Cricket, MetroPCS, and Alltel. For this review, we examined the Cricket version.
Like the Lotus and the Samsung Gloss, the Hint gets its square shape from its full keyboard. It offers a slider, rather than a flip, design, but it is just as geared for texting. Performance-wise it works, but some serious design concerns kept us from loving the Hint. This is one handset that you should test before buying. Cricket's Hint is $229 with a $20 rebate. Though that may seem expensive, keep in mind that Cricket does not require contracts.
The Hint isn't a perfect square (3.32 inches by 2.43 inches by 0.6 inch), but its distinctive shape is unmistakable. Granted, it is a little weird, but you should get used to it over time. At 4.13 ounces the Hint has a comfortable, weighty feel in the hand. The slider mechanism is sturdy, and we liked the red and black color scheme.
The display is attractive, as well. Color support is average (65,000 hues), but the 320x240-pixel resolution results in bright colors and relatively sharp graphics. The menus are easily navigable, but we weren't excited about the fading effect between pages since it appears to slow the interface. You can change the backlight time, the brightness, and the dial font size. Shortcut icons give you instant access to six features, but we'd prefer being able to customize the selection.
Unfortunately, that's where the Hint's good design points end. To begin, no matter how hard we tried we couldn't secure the battery cover. We could get it to a point where it would stay on for short periods, but as soon as we slid the phone into a pocket or set it firmly on a table, the cover would pop off. Believe us when we say that we tried for a half hour to fix the issue, but we were never successful. You may have a different experience with your Hint, but as for as our review model goes, this is a design flaw above most others.
We also weren't crazy about the navigation controls. The toggle is flush and pretty stiff. We had to press down firmly for it to register our choice. The OK button in the middle of the toggle is slightly raised, but it's also stiff and too narrow. The toggle and OK button double as music player controls, but when the phone is in standby mode we'd prefer that the OK button open the main menu instead of the Web browser. To access the menu, you'll have to use the left soft key. And while we're at it, where's a camera shortcut?
The other navigation controls aren't much better. Though the toggle is large, the soft keys, music player shortcut, and back control are tiny. Their size did present some problems when using the phone and we didn't appreciate their slippery feel. As we said before, you should give the Hint a test run. Similar to the OK button, the Talk and End/power keys were too narrow. We think that Moto could have taken better advantage of the phone's real estate by designing a more spacious navigation array.
The keypad buttons also left something to be desired. Though the keys are raised, which is a welcome feature on a slider phone, their peaked shape make them hard to grasp. This is particularly true if you have larger hands. We had to use our fingernails if we wanted to hit each key accurately. And even after we got the hang of it, the buttons were stiff.
The keyboard is rather small, though we realize that a bigger keyboard would result in a bigger phone. Just be advised that most letter keys share space with a number or symbol. The space bar is located just where it should be, though it could be larger. The remaining keys include a symbol/shift control, back and delete buttons, and shortcuts for the messaging folder, the camera, the speakerphone (nice), the camera, and the Web browser.
The volume rocker is located on the left spine. It's almost flush so it's not so easy to find when you're on a call. On the right spine you'll find just a voice dialing button. The camera lens sits on the rear face and the microUSB charger port rests on the phone's bottom end. We applaud Moto for adopting what is supposed to be an industry standard for charger connections. We also like the 3.5mm headset jack on the Hint's top end. Next to it is a handset locking button. The microSD card is located behind the battery cover, though you don't have to remove the battery to access it.
Te Hint has a 700-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, a birthday, URL, a street address, and notes. You can save callers to groups and pair them with a photo and ringtones. That's all great, except for the fact that the Hint comes with just eight polyphonic tones. A MyBackup service lets you secure your contacts with Cricket.
Other essentials include a vibrate mode, a datebook, an alarm clock, a world clock, a calculator, a speakerphone, and a notepad. The Hint also offers a voice recorder, text and multimedia messaging, stereo Bluetooth, and voice dialing. It also promises USB mass storage, though we couldn't get that feature to work. Also, while POP3 e-mail support is onboard, you need to use a Web interface. On the upside, the text messaging is threaded so that you can see a full conversation.
The 2-megapixel camera takes photos in five resolutions, from 1,600x1,200 down to a special size for photo caller ID. Other options include a self-timer, nine frames, five white balance settings, adjustable brightness, a digital zoom, and four shutter sounds, plus a silent option. Photo quality was decent. Colors were a bit dull, and there was some image noise, but they were presentable just the same. Indoor shots looked better than images taken outdoors. Just make sure that you have enough light since the Hint doesn't offer a flash.
The camcorder shoots clips in two resolutions (320x240 and 176x144) with sound. Editing options were similar to the still camera. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 35 seconds or you can shoot for as long as the available memory permits. Internal memory is 128MB of shared space so we advise investing in a memory card if you think that you'll be using the camera and music player extensively. The Hint's card slot will accommodate microSD cards up to 8GB.
The music player supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, WAV, and WMA files. As music players go, it's pretty minimalist, but it offers playlists, shuffle and repeat modes, and a basic equalizer. The Hint doesn't have album art, but you can activate simple video effects. Moto promises that you can transfer music using Windows Media Player 11, but we didn't attempt to do so. You will need a memory card to use the music player--Cricket didn't include a card with our review model.
You can personalize the Hint with a variety of wallpapers, banners, and clock formats. More options, and additional ringtones, are available with the Openwave WAP browser. The Hint offers one game (Bloc Breaker D2) with additional titles available from Cricket.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) Hint in San Francisco. Since the Bay Area isn't part of Cricket's home coverage area we made calls using the carrier's roaming network. Call quality was above average. Though the volume can get loud and voices sounded relatively natural, the signal warbled in and out. It wasn't a significant problem, though, and we realize it could be because we're not on Cricket's home network.
On their end, callers could tell that we were using a cell phone. Most of our friends didn't mention any issues with the reception, but a few reported a slight echo on the end. That could be due to other factors, though. Automated calling systems could understand us, but we had to be in a quiet room. Speakerphone volume was loud and callers could understand us if we spoke close to the phone. We connected successfully to the Samsung SBH-600 stereo headset; audio quality was unchanged from regular voice calls.
The Hint is equipped for 3G (EV-DO) networks, which Cricket operates throughout its home network. We weren't able to test it since we were roaming.
Music quality over the external speakers wasn't so impressive. Though the speakers have decent output, the audio quality is rather flat. It's not any worse than most music phones, but it's not any better either. Headphones will provide the best experience. The music player also plays videos. Clips off a memory card looked quite good, though videos we shot with the phone's camera were jerky.
The Hint has a rated battery life of 4.5 hours talk time and up to 15 days standby time. Our tests resulted in a talk time of 5 hours and 2 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Hint has a digital SAR of 1.40 watts per kilogram.