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Motorola Q9m (Verizon Wireless) review: Motorola Q9m (Verizon Wireless)

Motorola Q9m (Verizon Wireless)

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
10 min read


Motorola Q9m (Verizon Wireless)

The Good

The Motorola Q9m boasts an attractive design with an excellent full QWERTY keyboard. The smart phone now runs Windows Mobile 6, has integrated Bluetooth with A2DP support as well as EV-DO, and works with Verizon's V Cast Music Store. It offers clear call quality and solid multimedia performance.

The Bad

The Q9m's performance can be sluggish at times, and it lacks integrated Wi-Fi. We also wish Motorola had upgraded the camera to a 2-megapixel shooter, and there's no support for V Cast videos at this time. The smart phone is slightly bigger and heavier, and the screen holds a lot of smudges and fingerprints. Windows Live and Live Messenger are stripped out of the smart phone.

The Bottom Line

The Motorola Q9m brings some nice design and operating system upgrades as well as a more consumer-focused experience with enhanced multimedia capabilities. However, behind all the sexy packaging, the smart phone still feels underpowered. Business users should look elsewhere for a smart phone.

Whether you love it or hate it, the Motorola Q did a lot for putting smart phones on people's radar. Its sleek QWERTY form factor set off a trend with mobile manufacturers, spawning lookalikes such as the Samsung BlackJack and the T-Mobile Dash. In addition, it attracted users beyond the business set; in fact, Motorola says that about 90 percent of Q owners were first-time smart phone buyers, attracting a lot of the younger set as well. Yet, despite the popularity of its design, we know that the Q had its fair share of problems (just check out some of the user opinions), namely poor battery life and sluggish performance. Now, a little more than a year later, the company is hoping to right some of those wrongs with the Q's successor, the Motorola Q9m.

Available through Verizon Wireless, the Motorola Q9m has added some notable improvements, including an excellent full QWERTY keyboard, a sexy trim, and Windows Mobile 6 Standard Edition. Motorola also decided to give the Q9m a heavy multimedia focus, given the Q's popularity with the younger crowd and consumers in general. The smart phone supports Verizon's V Cast Music Store for over-the-air song downloads and even has a dedicated multimedia home screen. However, it seems the company didn't do enough under the hood to keep up with all these capabilities. While call quality was great, general performance was quite sluggish. Such results may be OK for the casual user, but mobile professionals and power users should steer clear of this device. The Motorola Q9m is available online starting today and will be in stores on August 29 for $249.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates and discounts.

The Motorola Q9m is a curvier and sexier beast than the original Q, boasting nice, rounded edges and an attractive black casing with red accents along its outer edges. Motorola has also added a soft-touch finish to the back, so the smart phone is easy to grip and comfortable to hold. That said, the Q9m isn't quite as sleek as the Q, measuring 4.6 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep and weighing 4.7 ounces compared to 4.5 inches by 2.5 inches by 0.4 inch and 4 ounces. It's not a huge difference on paper, but in your hand, the smart phone just feels wider, especially when you're holding it up to your ear for phone calls. And while it is heavier, the phone does have a nice, solid construction.

Motorola Q9m
The Motorola Q9m next to the Samsung BlackJack. The Q9m is a bit heavier and bigger than the original Motorola Q.

The Moto Q9m's keeps the same 2.5-inch diagonal TFT non-touch screen displaying 65,536 colors at a 240x320-pixel resolution. A new addition is an adaptive technology that adjusts the backlighting of the screen depending on your environment (for instance, outdoors, in a dark room, and so forth). The feature worked well, as we didn't have any difficulties reading the display even under bright sunlight. That said, the screen still has quite a tendency to hold smudges and fingerprints.

There are some changes beneath the surface, as well. The Motorola Q9m now gives you a choice of two home screens. There's the standard Windows Mobile option or a Multimedia Home screen. By default, the Q9m displays the multimedia menu out of the box. The interface consists of a circular menu system with media player controls on one side and access to your music, videos, images, and camera (see image below). It's really not the most intuitive interface and requires a bit of practice to master the navigation. If you find you prefer the traditional Windows view, you can easily switch to it by pressing and holding the toggle button on the QWERTY keyboard (the last key on the right side of the bottom row). There is also a Personalize My Q folder under the Start menu, where you can program the various soft keys, change the menu views, customize the Home screen with different background images and themes, and more.

Motorola Q9m
The Motorola Q9m offers two Home screen views, including this multimedia option where you can access all your music, videos, and images.

Below the display, you'll find a slightly revamped navigation array. You still get two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, a home page shortcut, a back key, and a five-way directional keypad with a center select button. And once again, they're all set flush with the phone's surface, so you'll want to make sure to press each button firmly to register the action. However, after receiving a number of customer complaints about the small size of the Talk and End keys, they are quite a bit larger now. The navigation toggle is also bigger and is made of metal instead of plastic, and even though we had doubts about the smallish center OK button, it was actually easy to use. Despite this fact, we had a slight preference for the old Q's toggle since it offered a bit more control and ease when it comes to moving in different directions.

Motorola Q9m
The Q9m's redesigned, full QWERTY keyboard is excellent. The rectangular buttons are large and feature a nonslip texture to make messaging a breeze.

Meanwhile, the full QWERTY keyboard has undergone a complete redesign. Gone are the bubbly, oval keys and in their place are large, rectangular buttons. There's no spacing between the keys this time, but that's not a bad thing, since our thumbs had plenty of room to type out messages and notes. The keyboard also has a nonslippery texture, so overall, the typing experience on the Q9m was an excellent one. Our only complaint would be that the number keys (located on the left side) are highlighted in a faint red, so they're a bit difficult to see at first.

On the left spine, there is a mini USB port and a Mini SD expansion slot that can accept cards as large as 4GB (if there ever comes a day, Motorola says it can support up to 32GB cards). The right side has a user-programmable launch key and a scroll wheel that you can press to select an item. This helps make one-handed use easier, but it's a tad difficult to perform the latter function since there's a little protrusion on the side that prevents your thumb from easily pushing the wheel down all the way. There's a 2.5mm headset jack on top of the unit, and finally, the camera lens and flash are located on the back of the device, as is the dual speaker system.

Verizon Wireless packages the Motorola Q9m with a travel charger, a USB cable, a Mini SD card that's preloaded with promotional content from singer Fergie and information about V Cast Music, a companion CD, a VZAccess Manager CD, and reference material. A wired headset or a belt holster would have been nice additions, but you can check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page for more add-ons.

As we mentioned earlier, the Motorola Q9m places a heavy emphasis on its multimedia capabilities. It works with Verizon's V Cast Music Store. The service gives you access to major label artists and many of today's popular hits via over-the-air downloads, so you can get songs sent straight to your phone. The downfall is that it costs $1.99 per track, and though this price includes a simultaneous download to your PC as well, Sprint Music Store offers the same for 99 cents with a Power Vision pack. To be fair, you can get the same $0.99 rate with V Cast if you download songs directly to your PC. Of course, you'll then have to go through the extra step of transferring tracks from your computer to the Q9m via USB cable or a Mini SD card. At this time, the Moto Q9m will not support V Cast videos.

The Motorola Q9m is EV-DO capable so you'll be able to enjoy faster song downloads with data speeds of as fast as 2.4Mbps, though you'll average closer to 300Kbps to 600Kbps. Bluetooth 2.0 is also on board with support for the A2DP profile, so you can connect to stereo Bluetooth headsets--always a plus, particularly for a multimedia-centric device such as the Q9m. You can also use Bluetooth for wireless headsets, hands-free kits, wireless file transfers, and dial-up networking. Unfortunately, there is no integrated Wi-Fi, but you can add this capability with a Wi-Fi SDIO card.

Of course, as a Windows Mobile smart phone, the Moto Q9m comes equipped with Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, supporting a number of popular audio and video formats--AAC, MP3, WAV, WMA, MPEG-4, and WMV, to name a few. If you have TV shows recorded on your Windows Media Center PC, you can transfer them to your device for on-the-go viewing. Onboard memory is 64MB of RAM and 128MB of built-in Flash memory, but you should be able to carry a nice size library of music and videos by taking advantage of the expansion slot. 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.

Motorola Q9m
Like its predecessor, the Q9m is equipped with a 1.3-megapixel camera, but we wish Motorola had upgraded to a 2-megapixel shooter.

Disappointingly, the Motorola Q9m doesn't get an upgrade in the camera category. It's still equipped with a 1.3-megapixel lens like its predecessor's while other recent smart phones such as the HTC Cavalier S630 are sporting 2-megapixel cameras. If it's any consolation, the Q9m now offers a full-screen viewfinder rather than a small window for capturing your image. There's a built-in flash and a 6x zoom. There are five resolution options, 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 was OK. The images were sharp, but colors lacked richness and vibrancy.

Motorola Q9m
Picture quality was mediocre as image colors lacked brightness.

Now, despite all the multimedia focus, Motorola admits that the Q9m's heart and soul is still in the messaging and voice features. The Q9m now runs Windows Mobile 6 Standard Edition, so it supports Microsoft's Direct Push Technology out of the box for real-time corporate e-mail delivery and Outlook synchronization. You can also access your POP3 and IMAP4 accounts. An e-mail wizard walks you through the steps for configuring the Q9m to retrieve messages from these accounts, and it's really just a simple matter of entering your e-mail address and password. Unfortunately, Verizon has stripped out Windows Live and Live Messenger from the smart phone to cut some costs.

As for other productivity apps, Motorola made the conscious choice to go with DataViz's Documents to Go Office Suite rather than Microsoft's Office Mobile Suite to give you the ability to not only view and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, but to enable you to create them as well. There's also a PDF viewer and Zip Manager. Other PIM apps include a File Manager, a task list, a memo pad, and a conversion tool. Two additional utilities that are quite helpful are the Memory Manager and Task Manager located under Start > System Tools, where you can check the status of used and free memory and close out of running applications to optimize performance.

Last, but not least, the Motorola Q9m's phone features include a duplex speakerphone, voice dialing and commands, smart dialing, three-way calling, and text and multimedia messaging. The Q'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 23 polyphonic ring tones or a photo.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 850/1900; EV-DO) Motorola Q9m in San Francisco using Verizon service, and call quality was generally good. We noticed a slight background hiss on our end, but audio sounded loud and clear. Our friends reported similar results, although they said we were a bit soft. We were also able to interact with our bank's automated voice response system with no problems. Speakerphone quality was excellent--almost better than the regular phone. There was plenty of volume and no distortion or static on either end of the conversation. We were able to pair the Q9m to both the Motorola H680 Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth active headphones with no problems.

Powered by the same 312MHz Intel processor and memory capacity of the original Motorola Q, the Q9m wasn't quite able to keep up with the demands of the new operating system or multimedia capabilities. Performance was sluggish a lot of time; even simple tasks such as switching Home screen views or launching a program took more than a few seconds when we had numerous applications open. . We were able to successfully sync our Outlook information with the Q9m using ActiveSync, and there were no glitches when transferring and working on various Office documents. The Web browsing experience was quite pleasant, thanks to Verizon's EV-DO network, as pages loaded quickly.

Multimedia performance was quite impressive. Compared to other smart phones we've tested, we noticed songs sounded richer and more full, thanks to the Q9m's dual speaker system. We were able to download several tracks from the V Cast service, and once again, the EV-DO speeds helped for a seamless experience. Video playback was smooth, with good synchronization between audio and picture. As one would expect, there was some pixilation but not bad for watching short clips. The only hiccup is that on a couple of occasions, the device could not read our Mini SD card, so we had to reinsert it.

The Motorola Q9m is rated for four hours of talk time and as long as eight days of standby time. In our battery tests, we were able to get eight hours of talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the Q9m has a digital SAR rating of 1.3 watts per kilogram.