Exactly one year after we reviewed the intriguing Motorola Ming, Moto finally has brought a variant of the phone to the United States. The new Motorola Krave ZN4 for Verizon Wireless offers the same basic design that resembles a Star Trek communicator, but it adds more features while offering innovative design tweaks to an intuitive and easy-to-use touch interface. We had a few complaints--there's still no Wi-Fi, the camera lacks editing features and the Web browser and keyboard take acclimation--but the Krave remains a sharp and satisfying device that's sure to become a conversation piece. Performance was agreeable and the price of $149 with a two-year contract is reasonable.
Even two years after its predecessor and look-alike emerged from Motorola's factory, the Krave ZN4 still sports one of the most distinctive cell phone designs around. The slim and compact shape (4.13 inches by 2 inches by 0.75 inch and 4.59 ounces), vibrant touch screen, and transparent plastic cover give the Krave a sleek and futuristic look. Though some may wonder why the cover is needed, Moto says it's designed to not only protect the touch display but to also give Krave the aesthetics of a flip phone. That may sound a bit corny, but we ate it up completely.
Yet, in addition to just looking cool, the Krave's cover is also usable. In fact, it is a secondary touch surface you can use to access a selection of features without even flipping it open. You even get a bit of tactile feedback to help you press the right thing. It's all possible thanks to an innovative mesh that is embedded in the cover (the mesh blends in with gray color of the screen so you may have to hold it up to a light to see it). That same mesh also delivers sound to the Krave's speaker, which again sits on one end of the cover.
Moto doesn't allow access to every feature via the cover's touch surface but the company conducted user studies as to which features they should choose. They came up with the music player, the V Cast Mobile TV, the photo folder, and the VZ Navigator feature. That's a useful assortment of goodies; if we had to suggest anything it would be to add a V Cast streaming video option as well.
Unlike the Ming, the Krave allows you to make voice dial calls without opening the cover. Just press the control on the right spine and you can speak the name or phone number of the person you want to ring. What's more, you also phone your voice mail or your most recently called number. Once you're connected, touch controls allow you to mute the call, route the audio to a Bluetooth headset, and end your connection. And yes, you can perform all those commands without opening the cover. Just keep in mind that when you start a call with the cover closed, audio is routed through the speakerphone. To turn the speakerphone off but remain connected, just open the cover.
The display measures 2.8 inches and supports 65,000 colors (240x400 pixels). It's bright and gorgeous with eye-popping colors, sharp graphics and photos, and readable text. You can change the brightness, the backlight time, the clock format, and the dialing font size. In standby mode, you'll notice a shortcut bar with icons for the messaging folder, the dialpad, the main menu, and the contacts list. You also can access the menu by tapping the middle of the display. The display is difficult to see in direct light, but that's not unusual on a cell phone.
Unlike the Linux-based Ming, the Krave doesn't use a third-party operating system, so it isn't a true smartphone. Yet, that's really the whole point since the handset is meant to offer a lot of functionality with an attractive and intuitive interface. We were thrilled to see that the Krave ditches the unintuitive and poorly designed menu interface that Verizon has slapped on almost all its handsets over the past few years. Instead, the main menu shows 12 icons that sit below the aforementioned shortcut bar. We like that you can get to multiple features with a single tap and that all multimedia functions aren't buried under a single submenu. Also, it's easy to move backward through subfolders.
The Krave ZN4's touch interface is accurate and responsive with no lag time. What's more, the tactile feedback and the onscreen highlights that show where you're pressing are helpful. The Krave doesn't come with a stylus but we had absolutely no gripes with navigating through the menus. Like many other touch-screen phones, you can browse through long lists by dragging your finger up and down the screen. The motion is fluid without any jerky movements.
The onscreen numeric dialpad is plain but easy to use. An "Options" button will open your contacts menu and your recent calls. Also, you can program a "favorites" menu of your best friends. The numbers on the touch keys are large but the alphabetic text is small. You'll also find a redial shortcut, and when you're on a call you can activate the speakerphone with one touch. Just keep in mind that closing the cover will end your call.
Though you can tap out messages using the standard nine-digit and Moto's predicative text keypad, there's really no need since the Krave offers a full QWERTY keyboard. It's convenient, to be sure, but we had mixed feelings about its design. It felt relatively spacious--an admirable feat considering the display is rather small as touch screens go--so we never felt cramped when tapping away. But on the downside, holding the phone with two hands feels a bit awkward since you must reach your thumb around the open cover. We got used to it eventually, but we imagine that people with smaller hands may have more trouble. Alternatively, you can tap with one finger and hold the phone with the other hand. Either way, we had no misdials and could type quickly. As you go along, it will suggest words and attempt to correct errors.
The ZN4's keyboard includes three dedicated punctuation keys, an "@" button, a well-placed space bar, clear and return controls, and a shift button. You can access numbers and additional symbols through a secondary keyboard. Thanks to the phone's accelerometer, you can flip between the standard and QWERTY keyboard by rotating the phone.
Above the display are a power control and a "Home" button that will take you to the standby screen. They're a tad small, but they're convenient. Just keep in mind that they're hidden behind the cover when it is closed. On the left spine you'll find a display-locking switch, a voice dialing control, a memory card slot, and a camera shutter. Located on the right spine are a 3.5mm headset jack (yay!), a volume rocker, and a micro USB port. The latter also accommodates the charger. The camera lens, sans a flash or self-portrait mirror, sits at the top of the phone's back side, while a single speaker rests at the bottom.
The Krave's has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers and two e-mail addresses. You can save callers to the aforementioned Favorites list and you can assign them a photo or one of the 24 polyphonic ringtones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calendar, an alarm clock, a calculator, a notepad, a world clock, and a tip calculator.
Beyond the basics you'll find stereo Bluetooth, voice dialing, USB mass storage, PC syncing, and access to Verizon's Visual Voicemail feature. E-mail options are decent, but at the time of this writing they're not complete. The Krave allows access to Yahoo, Windows Live, AOL, AIM, and Verizon.net POP3 accounts. On the whole, it was an easy process since the ZN4 doesn't force you to go through Verizon's Web portal (that option is available, though). Indeed, we opened our Yahoo mail account in just a few seconds. You can access Gmail as well, but you must go through the Web portal. That's odd and a bit inconvenient. Unfortunately, IMAP4 is limited to only accounts with Outlook Web Access (OWA). Moto said full exchange support is coming, but the company didn't set a date. As such, you won't be able to sync contacts and the calendar. That won't be an issue for many people, but at least for now, serious worker bees should look elsewhere.
The Krave offers a ton of multimedia options with the must-see V Cast Mobile TV as a headliner. Unfortunately, we still don't get that service in the San Francisco Bay Area (probably in 2009), but we've seen the application in other cities and have enjoyed the experience. The clips will run in landscape format for a more TV-like experience. And when the cover is open, the Krave will balance on its side while you watch.
As an EV-DO phone, the ZN4 supports Verizon's V Cast streaming service. Options and channels are similar to other V Cast phones, but the Crave offers a tweaked interface to go along with its unique design. You can watch clips in either portrait or landscape mode, and the accelerometer allows you to switch between the two orientations seamlessly. You can pause your clips and skip between videos using the onscreen controls.
Music lovers can use Verizon's V Cast Music with Rhapsody service to download clips over the air. After you download a lot of tracks, the service will recommend more songs based on your purchases. Similar to other V Cast Music phones, the music player's features are limited to shuffle and repeat modes and playlists, but the Krave offers its own take on the iPhone's "cover flow" interface. When you turn the phone on its side, you can flick through the various album icons to choose the song you want. The experience isn't as fluid as on the iPhone--you must tap the individual icons instead of swiping your finger--but it's still cool.
Unfortunately, the 2-megapixel camera was rather disappointing. Not only we were hoping for at least a 3.2-megapixel shooter, but we also were surprised at the total lack of editing features. Your only option is a digital zoom so don't get any ideas about changing the resolution or the color tone. The camcorder is equally devoid of features. Clips meant for multimedia messages are limited to 20 seconds, but you can record for a full hour in standard mode.
On the upside, the Krave takes decent photos with bright colors and little image noise. There's no flash, however, so you'll need adequate lighting. Also, vanity shots are tricky without a self-portrait mirror. On the upside, the Krave offers a nifty slide show option. Just turn the phone on its side, switch the feature on, and you can watch all your shots in succession. When you're finished taking photos, you can transfer them to a computer or printer via Bluetooth or a USB cable, send them in a multimedia message, or store them in an online album.
For the chronically lost, the Krave supports Verizon's VZ Navigator service. You can get audible directions, local traffic and maps, and a searchable points-of-interest database. The Krave also adds an option for searching local movie show times. VZ Navigator uses the accelerometer to work both in portrait and landscape modes.
We were a bit torn over the Krave's Web browser. On the upside, it integrates well with the touch interface and it makes use of the accelerometer. It's accurate, the response time is quick, and we didn't encounter the annoying hiccups we had on Verizon's Samsung Glyde and Sprint's Samsung Instinct. But the Krave offers a unique tool in its browser that we found both useful and cumbersome. When you're browsing through a page, a circular icon with an arrow at its top end appears on the display. The icon is meant to be used as a cursor--not only can you follow your finger around the page, but you also can use the arrow to select links. Most of the time it worked well, and we admit that it is an innovative feature, but other times it made for a clunky experience. For example, it was difficult to select small links on crowded pages. It's not perfect, but we give Moto points just the same. The browser defaults to mobile Web sites, but it can show full HTML pages as well.
You can personalize the Krave with a selection of wallpaper and ringtones and you can type a personalized banner. More options and more ringtones are available for download using the Web browser. The Krave doesn't come with any games but you can buy a selection of titles from Verizon.
We tested the dualband, dualmode (CDMA: 800/1900; EV-DO) Krave ZN4 in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless service. Call quality was excellent. We enjoyed clear conversations with no static, interference, or face-outs. What's more, there was no connection lag and dropped calls were nonexistent. Our only complaint was that when the volume was at its highest levels--and it gets plenty loud--the voices became just a bit distorted. But most of time, voices sounded natural.
On their end, callers said we sounded great. They had no problems hearing or understanding us, even when we were talking in a noisy place. A few people reported a slight background hum, but other couldn't even tell we were using a cell phone. Automated calling systems could understand us, but the quality was best when we were inside. Speakerphone calls were equally good, as were calls made with a Bluetooth headset.
V Cast streaming videos performed well. The video was fluid and we encountered no hiccups or connection problems. Also, videos started quickly and the sound matched the action on the screen. Quick movements were a bit trickier, but that's not unusual on 3G streaming video. Yet, we really love that we can watch clips in a landscape orientation with the phone resting on its side. As mentioned previously, we're unable to test V Cast TV in San Francisco, but we've always been impressed by the high-quality video when we've seen it before.
Music quality was pretty good. The single speaker on the rear face has decent output but the sound lacks warmth and the bass level is negligible. Like many music phones, it's fine for short stints but we wouldn't chuck our standalone MP3 player. You'll get a better experience from headphones. Song downloads were just a bit pokey; it took about 2 minutes to get a 3.7MB track. Otherwise, the EV-DO connection was relatively strong.
The Motorola Krave ZN4 has a rated battery life of 4.2 hours talk time and 20.8 days standby time. Our tests showed the Krave ZN4 has a talk time of 6 hours 6 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Krave has a digital SAR of 1.16 watts per kilogr