Editor's note: This review has been updated to include the results of our battery drain testing.
All the carriers (well, except for T-Mobile) are going for their second helping of the Motorola Q. AT&T has its Motorola Q9h; Verizon Wireless has the Motorola Q9m; and now Sprint has its Motorola Q9c. Overall, the smartphone brings some great additions, including Windows Mobile 6 and built-in GPS. It also continues to be a strong messaging device and offers mobile professionals the tools to get work done on the road. It's not perfect, of course, and there are things that bother us. For example, the keyboard feels a bit stiff and speakerphone quality could be better. And you get a bit of that sluggishness that seems to plague Windows Mobile devices, but nothing debilitating or there were no crashes during our review period. That said, we think the pros outweigh the cons, and the Motorola Q9c is a worthy upgrade to the Q, especially at its affordable price of $149.99 (with a two-year contract and after discounts).
From the front, the Motorola Q9c doesn't look much different from other Q models and more closely resembles the Moto Q9m for Verizon Wireless rather than the latest Motorola Q9h for AT&T. The mobile sports a classic black casing with a nice chrome accent along the outer edges to give it a swanky look, though we wish we could say the same about the smartphone's profile. Sprint ships the Q9c with an extended battery, which we love and appreciate--don't get us wrong--but it adds an awkward and bulky bump to the backside of the device. It's not going to easily slip into a pants pocket at 4.6 inches high by 2.6 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep and 5.2 ounces, and the wider body and extended battery make the Q9c a bit cumbersome to use as a phone. That said, the soft-touch finish on the back helps when gripping and holding the device, and it's comfortable to use as a messaging machine.
The Q9c has a 2.4-inch diagonal TFT non-touch screen that shows off 65,000 colors at a 320x240 pixel resolution. Images and text looked vibrant and sharp, and the display features adaptive technology that automatically adjusts the backlighting depending on your environment. As with other Windows Mobile devices, you can customize the Home screen with different background images, themes, and layouts.
Below the display, you'll find the same navigation array and full QWERTY keyboard as the Moto Q9m. You get two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, a Back key, a home-page shortcut, and a five-way directional keypad with a center select button. Overall, the controls were easy to use, but as we've noted before, they're slick and set flush with the phone's surface so they're not the easiest to press and don't give as much tactile feedback as we typically like.
The Motorola Q9c's keyboard features large buttons that are spacious enough for even larger thumbs. They have a nice texture to them to prevent any slippage, but that said, the keys are stiff and again, there isn't enough tactile feedback, which doesn't make for the best typing experience. The bottom row does include quick-launch buttons to the camera, speakerphone, and in-box.
On the left spine, there's a miniSD expansion slot and a mini USB port, while there's a scroll wheel and customizable launch key on the right side. The jog dial can be used to navigate through the various menu items; to select an app or option, just depress the wheel. You can also use it to adjust the volume but only when you're on a phone call. We should note that the rolling mechanism is a bit stiff, so you have to be forceful when using this control. The top of the unit holds a 2.5mm headset jack and finally, the camera lens and speaker are located on the back.
Sprint packages the Motorola Q9c with an AC adapter, a USB cable, an extended battery, a desktop software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check out cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Though messaging (whether it be e-mail, text, or instant messages) is increasingly becoming the preferred method of communication, you can't underestimate the value of actually talking to a person and the Motorola Q9c is still first and foremost a phone. Voice features include a duplex speakerphone, voice dialing and commands, smart dialing, three-way calling, and text and multimedia messaging. The Q9c's phone book is limited only by the available memory, and each entry can hold as many as 12 phone numbers, three e-mail addresses, addresses for home and work, a job title, and more. For caller-ID purposes, you can assign a contact to a category or pair it with any of 19 polyphonic ringtones or a photo.
All that said, we certainly don't mean to downplay the Q9c's messaging capabilities, as it's one of the main draws of the device. As with all the latest Windows Mobile 6 smartphones, it ships with Microsoft's Direct Push technology, so you get real-time e-mail delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via Exchange Server. There's support for other e-mail solutions, as well, including Good Mobile Messaging. There is, of course, continued support for POP3 and IMAP accounts, but now you can also view e-mails in their original HTML format, regardless of account type. Sprint also includes its instant messaging package of AIM, Yahoo, and Windows Live Messenger clients.
As for productivity apps, the Q9c goes the way of the Motorola Q9h and opts to go with Dataviz's Documents to Go instead the Microsoft Office Mobile Suite for viewing and editing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. We really don't mind this switch, as the Dataviz suite gives you the ability to create these files, too. Other tools include a calendar, a task list, a voice recorder, and task and memory managers. You can read more about the Windows Mobile 6 operating system in our full review, and for additional third-party applications, check out CNET Download.com.
The Moto Q9c is also an EV-DO handset, which means you can enjoy data speeds as fast as 2.4Mbps, though you'll average closer to 300Kbps to 600Kbps. To make the most of the 3G speeds, you can enjoy Sprint TV on your device, which gives you access to programming from a variety of channels, including CNN, Comedy Central, E, the NFL Network, and Sprint Exclusive Entertainment. In addition, you can listen to live streaming music and talk radio from Sirius, VH1 Mobile, and MTV Mobile. Just be aware Sprint TV is an add-on service with subscription fees that start at $20 per month. Disappointingly, the Q9c does not work the Sprint Music Store, and there are no plans at this time to add this feature in future.
Other wireless options on the Q9c include Bluetooth 2.0 and GPS. The Bluetooth can be used with mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, object exchange, file sharing, and dial-up networking. If you want to use the Q9c as a wireless modem for your laptop, you will need to sign up for the Sprint Power Vision Modem Plan, which runs $39.99 per month for 40MB or $49.99 per month for unlimited. Unfortunately, there is no integrated Wi-Fi, but you can add this capability with a miniSD Wi-Fi card.
The built-in GPS radio lets you turn the smartphone into a handheld navigator, which can be particularly helpful to road warriors who are constantly going on business trips or shuttling to various meetings. With the help of a location-based service, such as Sprint Navigation, you'll be able to get color maps, driving directions, business search, and even traffic data.
For multimedia, the Q9c is equipped with a 1.3-megapixel camera with 6X zoom, flash, and video-recording capabilities. There are five resolution options (ranging from 1,280x1,024 to 160x120), three shooting modes, and brightness and white-balance settings. In video mode, there are only three quality settings, but you can adjust the brightness and white balance, as well. Picture quality wasn't bad. Objects had good definition, though we wish colors were a bit more vibrant. Video quality was also decent.
In addition to the aforementioned Sprint TV, you can watch other video as well as listen to music with the standard Windows Media Player 10 Mobile. There's support for a number of popular audio and video formats, including AAC, MP3, WAV, WMA, MPEG-4, and WMV. If you have TV shows recorded on your Windows Media Center PC, you can transfer them to your device for on-the-go viewing. Finally, there is an Audio Enhancement utility found under Start > Accessories where you can tweak the sound settings for the phone speaker as well as for your headset.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 850/1900; EV-DO) Motorola Q9c in San Francisco using Sprint service, and call quality was decent. In general, we enjoyed clear sound with good volume and had no problem interacting with our bank's voice automated system. Our friends didn't have any major complaints, but they could tell we were using a cell phone and said our voice sounded a bit digitized. Activating the speakerphone produced some bad feedback on our side of the conversation; it was more annoying than crippling, and we do wish there was a bit more volume. We were able to successfully pair the Q9c with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
With about 24MB of available memory and 36MB of available storage, general performance on the Motorola Q9c was OK though not stellar. We experienced brief delays when launching various programs, which became increasingly longer the more applications we had open. We've found this to be typical of Windows Mobile devices, and the Q9c isn't any better or worse than other smartphones. We didn't suffer any system crashes during our review period. Music playback was smooth with plenty of volume, but songs sounded hollow and lacked bass. However, video performance was a bit mixed. Watching a WMV video, there was good synchronization between the image and audio but when we watched a few clips from Sprint TV, there was a bit of a disconnect and the sound was garbled.
The Q9c's extended battery has a rated talk time of 7.2 hours. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get 7.5 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the Q9c has a digital SAR rating of 1.3 watts per kilogram.