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Motorola Karma QA1 (AT&T) review: Motorola Karma QA1 (AT&T)

Motorola Karma QA1 (AT&T)

Nicole Lee Former Editor
Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.
Nicole Lee
8 min read

It seems that PCD isn't the only manufacturer making square messaging phones. Indeed, the Motorola Karma QA1 for AT&T looks a whole lot like PCD's Verizon Wireless Blitz and the more recent Cricket TXTM8. However, the Karma QA1 is a step above those two in both design and features. It has 3G speeds, a full HTML browser, and quick access to social networking applications, making it more than just a normal messaging phone. The Motorola Karma QA1 is available for $79.99 with a two-year agreement with AT&T.


Motorola Karma QA1 (AT&T)

The Good

The Motorola Karma QA1 has a great keyboard and a wide array of features like 3G speeds, a full HTML browser with Flash Lite support, GPS, stereo Bluetooth, and more. We also like the 3.5-millimeter headset jack, the quick access to Facebook and other social networks, and the excellent call quality.

The Bad

The Motorola Karma QA1's photo quality could be improved and we weren't pleased with the streaming video quality.

The Bottom Line

The Motorola Karma QA1 belies its cute appearance with high-end features that put it above just an ordinary messaging phone.

If you look at the Motorola Karma QA1 next to the Cricket TXTM8, you would think the two are almost identical. They're both square with rounded corners and both have a similar black and silver color scheme. However, the similarities end there. Measuring 3.42 inches long by 2.52 inches wide by 0.7 inch thick, the Karma QA1 is a tad smaller than the TXTM8. And while the TXTM8 seemed to us like a plastic toy, the Karma QA1 has a far more professional feel with its tempered glass display and soft touch textured back. Weighing 4.97 ounces, the Karma QA1 also feels sturdier than the TXTM8.

The Motorola Karma QA1 has a square design.

We're quite impressed by the 2.5-inch display on the front. It boasts 262,000 colors and 240x320-pixel resolution that results in crisp and vibrant images and text. The grid menu interface is really easy to use, thanks to the big icons and large font. You can adjust the wallpaper, the screensaver, the "skin," the greeting text, and the display theme, but not the backlight time or the brightness. Along the bottom row of the home screen is a launch bar that consists of four user-defined shortcut icons, which can lead to either applications on the phone or browser bookmarks. This is especially useful when you add a shortcut to a site like Facebook or MySpace, thus giving you one-touch access to your favorite social network. You can hide or show the launch bar by pressing the down or up direction key on the navigation toggle.

The Motorola Karma QA1 has a 3.5-millimeter headset jack on the top.

The navigation array underneath the display consists of two soft keys, a square toggle with a middle confirmation key, a dedicated messaging key, a Clear/Back key, and the Send and End/Power keys on either side. The center navigation keys felt a bit slippery and flat, and we didn't like that the Send and End/Power keys are skinny, but they were still very usable. On the left side of the Karma QA1 is a "smart key" that can be mapped to any phone function. On the right is the volume rocker, while the charger jack is on the bottom. A 3.5-millimeter headset jack sits on top of the phone, which is great if you want to use your own headphones. On the back of the phone is the camera lens and flash LED. There's also a microSD card slot but it's inconveniently located behind the battery cover.

The Motorola Karma QA1 has a full QWERTY keyboard.

Slide the phone open and you'll see a full QWERTY keyboard. Not only is it roomy and easy to use, but each key is also raised above the surface and has a nice rubberized no-slip texture that makes it easy to thumb-type and dial. The number keys are highlighted in blue. Aside from the typical Function and Backspace keys, you also get a dedicated Caps Lock or Shift key, a dedicated browser key, and a Symbols or punctuations key.

The Motorola Karma QA1 has a generous 1,000-entry phone book with room in each entry for six numbers, three e-mail addresses, a Web URL, three postal addresses, a birthday, and notes. You can also assign callers to categories, and pair them with a photo for caller ID, and any of 25 polyphonic ringtones, eight alert tones, and five vibration patterns. Basic features include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging with threaded conversations, a calendar, an alarm clock, a world clock, a calculator, and a voice recorder. You can read the latest incoming texts and messages on the front screen while the phone is closed. You can also multitask with other applications during a call or while surfing the Web by selecting the "Swap" option in the Options menu.

More advanced users will like the full stereo Bluetooth, voice dialing, instant messaging (AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo), and A-GPS with support for AT&T's TeleNav service. You also get mobile e-mail from a variety of e-mail providers such as Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, AIM Mail, Windows Live Hotmail, Comcast, and more. However, you don't get POP or IMAP access, so you can't add an unlisted e-mail provider.

A surprisingly nice feature of the Karma QA1 is that it has a full HTML browser, which goes hand-in-hand with the phone's support of 3G speeds. Because of the small screen size, though, we found that we had to do a lot more scrolling than usual, especially in large Web pages. Still, you can zoom in and out of pages, and fit the pages to screen. The browser even supports Flash Lite, so you can watch streaming videos from YouTube or CNET TV. You can access the browser's history, clear the cookies, reset the cache, toggle JavaScript and images on or off, and even save an entire Web page for later viewing.

As we mentioned, you also get quick access to social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Bear in mind that these aren't really native applications per se--these quick access icons are really just shortcuts to the mobile versions of the Web site. Included in the phone are quick access applications to Facebook, MySpace, and JuiceCaster, which is a social broadcasting tool that lets you upload status updates, photos, and videos to a variety of social networks including Twitter and Flickr. You only need to log in once to use any of these services.

As a 3G phone, the Karma QA1 also gives you access to AT&T broadband services like Cellular Video, which lets you watch streaming video clips from content providers like CNN and CBS, AT&T Video Share, which lets you stream one-way live video calls to a Video Share-compatible phone, and AT&T Mobile Music, a music portal with an online music store. You can purchase and download songs from Napster and eMusic from that store, and you also get access to XM Radio Mobile, Music ID (a song ID service), music videos courtesy of MobiVJ, and several other music-related applications.

The music player on the Karma QA1 has a very simple interface. You do get the basic player controls, as well as repeat, shuffle, and the capability to create and edit playlists. You can also toggle on spatial audio and bass boost to make the songs sound better. You can send the music player to the background if you feel like multitasking, and you can send songs to your friends via Bluetooth if you wish. If you don't want to download songs from Napster or eMusic, you can load your own songs to a microSD card. It supports MIDI, MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, RealAudio, and XMF audio formats. The Karma QA1 has 100MB of user available memory, but it also supports up to 16GB microSD cards.

The Motorola Karma QA1 has a 2.0-megapixel and flash LED on the back.

The Karma QA1 comes with a simple 2.0-megapixel camera. It can take pictures in four resolutions and three quality settings. Other camera features include five color effects, an exposure setting, six white balance/lighting modes with a night mode option, up to 8x digital zoom, a flash LED, a self-timer, and five shutter tones plus a silent option. Photo quality was average. Images looked blurry and the colors appeared washed out. There's also a built-in camcorder with three quality settings, four resolutions, the capability to toggle the sound on or off, and similar settings to the still camera. Video quality was not the greatest--videos seemed jerky and pixelated for the most part--but they're good enough for sharing with friends via MMS.

The Motorola Karma QA1 takes average photos.

You can personalize the Karma QA1 with a selection of wallpapers, screensavers, and alert tones. You can download more via AT&T's Media Mall. The Karma QA1 also comes with several games and applications like Super Jewel Quest, Yellowpages, Scrabble Blast, WikiMobile, Mobile Banking, The Oregon Trail, MobiTV, Where (a location-based application that lets you find the nearest local business and so forth), and Zuma. Again, you can download more from AT&T's application store.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1,800/1,900; UMTS/HSDPA) Motorola Karma QA1 in San Francisco using AT&T's service. We were very pleased overall with the call quality. Incoming voices sounded natural and we experienced little to no static.

On their end, callers said we sounded very good, with very little background noise. The Motorola Karma QA1 uses Motorola's CrystalTalk noise-canceling technology, so that is perhaps why our callers could hear us loud and clear. Automated calling systems could understand us with few issues. As for the speakerphone quality, it had plenty of volume, though callers did sound a bit harsh. Callers said we sounded quite good, almost as if we weren't using the speakerphone at all.

We had a little bit of trouble with the data connection on the Karma QA1. Though the QA1 is a 3G phone, we sometimes had trouble getting a 3G signal. When we did though, pages loaded very fast. A full HTML page like that on CNET loaded in a mere 15 seconds or so. We also downloaded a 3MB song in around 35 seconds.

We didn't have such a pleasant experience with streaming video, however. The buffering was intermittent and didn't happen too often, but the video quality was really quite awful. There were lots of pixelation and blocky images, even with relatively still shots. Music quality is better, though the speakers do make the songs sound rather harsh and light on bass. We would recommend using a stereo headset for better audio.

The Karma QA1 has a rated battery life of 5.2 hours talk time and 14.5 days. We were highly impressed with the tested talk time of 13 hours and 20 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Karma QA1 has a digital SAR of 0.55 watts per kilogram.


Motorola Karma QA1 (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8