Motorola MOTO U9 review: Motorola MOTO U9

Motorola's MOTO U9 would look the part sliding out of a tote bag in an inner city bar, but out of place on the boardroom table. The sleek, smooth finish houses a basic mobile with only a few common phone features.

Joseph Hanlon

Joseph Hanlon

Special to CNET News

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.

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We think it's appropriate to warn you: don't take the MOTO U9 to the beach. Not only is water and sand dangerous components to mix with any mobile phone, but if you were to drop the U9 amongst a pile of well-washed seaside stones you might have a remarkably hard time trying to relocate it.


Motorola MOTO U9

The Good

Sleek design. Funky OLED secondary display. Decent music player.

The Bad

Poorly designed keypad. Below average camera performance.

The Bottom Line

Motorola's MOTO U9 would look the part sliding out of a tote bag in an inner city bar, but out of place on the boardroom table. The funky OLED display on the front looks great, and we love the touch-sensitivity, but its overall lack of features may turn some away.

As is the case with many phones in the sub AU$300 price category, the MOTO U9 is trading on its look and not on its rather short list of included features. By this logic alone the U9 should do quite a busy trade. The smooth edges of the U9, and its sleek, glossy black finish make it a fitting handset to slip out of your evening tote bag at a classy inner city bar.

Yes, that's right, we just went and made this review gender specific. The truth is that while the U9 comes in chic black, the rounded edges make the U9 look decidedly feminine to us; like a woman's press-powder compact. The men in our office seemed to find the U9 attractive but unanimously agreed they probably wouldn't buy one for themselves.

Our favourite feature of the U9's design, as it will be for most people, is the OLED secondary display under the top cover of the phone. In standby mode this display shows the time, reception and remaining battery, but it can also double as a music player controller and a secondary viewfinder for taking self-portraits with the camera.

At the other end of the spectrum, the keypad is below par. The pad is entirely flat with small ridges defining the separation of the different keys, and when you add the fact that the keys are also quite small, you end up with a keypad which is harder to use than it should be.

On paper, the U9 has most of the major boxes checked: phone, music player, camera. The U9 is a quad-band GSM handset, which means no 3G network support, which in turn amounts to dial-up internet data speeds. With higher end phones no 3G would almost certainly be a deal-breaker, but in this price range we suspect the Web is considered overkill by most people.

Above we described the excellent OLED secondary display but saved one important fact. Not only does the secondary display look great (wait till you have your friends cooing jealously), but it's also touch-sensitive, offering basic music player controls without having to open the handset.

The U9 also features a 2-megapixel camera located above the OLED screen on the front of the phone. This means that you can aim the camera towards yourself or away whether the phone is opened or closed, making self portraits a breeze. However, the picture quality is below average, colours appear washed out, and there's no auto-focus to make sure the pics are sharp.

The U9's basic phone functionality is good, though messaging is hampered by the awkward keypad we described earlier. The menus are a bit laggy to navigate, and some applications are laggy when executing, like the pre-installed games.

The music player lacks the visual flare of other music playing phones, like those in Sony Ericsson's Walkman line, but the music hardware seems fine. We tested the bundled headphones playing tracks from Bloc Party's Silent Alarm and found that the music was loud if extremely bass heavy. That said, cheaper music players often fail to produce good bass so we really weren't complaining.

Motorola rate the MOTO U9's battery life at seven hours talk-time and 350 hours standby. During our tests we found it hard to drain the U9 of its battery with average cycles lasting between five and six days with light to moderate use.

Motorola describe the body of the U9 as "metallic gloss jewellery finish" and if this doesn't impress you then we're not sure the rest of the U9's feature list will either. The secondary OLED is a funky-looking addition to an otherwise basic flip phone and its touch sensitivity adds some handy functionality. Attractive design, decent calling and excellent battery life are offset by the poorly designed keypad and how it impacts on most of the major functions of the phone.

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