So far we've been duly impressed with Motorola's Rizr series. Both the Rizr Z3 and the Rizr Z6tv sported well-made, stylish designs; attractive features; and admirable performance. So it was only natural that we were eager to test the most high-end Rizr yet, the Motorola Rizr Z8. Armed with multimedia features and support for (European) 3G networks, the Z8 also offers a unique slider design that cradles the curve of your head. Though it all sounded very exciting, in reality the Z8 is a tricky beast. Though it certainly delivers in the features department, and it offers satisfying call quality, the characteristic design doesn't always translate to easy usability. Also, its pokey performance wasn't endearing. Although it's a quadband world phone, the GSM Rizr Z8 isn't optimized for North American 3G networks. As such, it's only available unlocked here for around $350. To find accessories for this phone, see our cell phone ringtones and accessories guide.
From the outset it's clear that the Rizr Z8 is a grown-up Rizr. Despite sporting a black skin and casting a larger profile (4.32 inches by 1.9 inches by 0.6 inch; 3.95 ounces) the Z8 looks quite similar to its predecessors when closed. You'll see what appears to be the same navigation array and large display. There's a new camera lens above the display, but otherwise the slider phone doesn't give too much away, at least at first glance.
But for those who are patient, the Z8 holds some a few surprises. Unlike most slider handsets, which do not cradle the natural shape of your head, the Z8 offers something completely new. When open, the Z8 will bend in the middle to form a slight curve that angles inward. The resulting effect is similar to a flip phone or a banana, if you will, where the bottom end of the phone bends down to your mouth while the earpiece is positioned next to your ear. The "kick slide" mechanism (as it is called) has a comfortable and ergonomic effect, and is certainly innovative. Also, it allows you to rest the phone evenly on its side when open.
On the other hand, the opening mechanism is a tad tricky. Though it opens effortlessly thanks to a convenient thumb grip between the toggle and the display, it's not so easy to use the grip when closing the phone. Also, if you try to push down the top end of the phone, you'll need more effort than usual to do so. Both quirks are because of the bending design of the Z8, which makes it difficult to close the handset with a simple push. Instead, you'll first need to bend the top half of the Z8 back until the phone is completely straight. Then, you can slide it down as normal. It's not a huge deal, but it's certainly worth noting, so it's advisable you try the handset first. On the other hand, the Z8 on the whole has a solid construction.
The display measures 2.25 inches and supports a rich 16 million colors (320x240 pixels). It's a bright, crisp display that shows colors, graphics and animations well. Also, we like the Symbian UIQ menu interface, which is a nice break from Moto's traditional design. Some options are organized in scattered places--the wallpaper option isn't under the main settings menu--but otherwise, we had few complaints. The backlight time does not appear to be adjustable.
Unfortunately, we didn't approve of the Z8's navigation array, which consists of a four-way toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a Clear button, a dedicated menu control (called the Home key here), and the Talk and End/Power buttons. Though they have the same basic design as on the other Rizrs, the keys and toggle are smaller and less tactile. All of the controls are stiff and none gave off a distinct "push" feel when pressed. Also, while raised ridges separate some of the keys, it was difficult to navigate by feel. Shortcuts are rather limited. You can designate the right soft key to give one-touch access to a user-defined feature and you can choose from a selection of six predetermined shortcuts to sit permanently on the standby screen.
The keypad buttons are flat with the surface of the phone, though tiny raised ridges give the individual keys some definition. It takes some practice to dial or text quickly, and the keys, like the navigation array, are somewhat stiff. There's a bright backlighting, but we recommend that you first give the controls and keypad a test drive to make sure you like them.
On the left spine of the Rizr Z8 are a volume rocker, the Moto smart key, and the microSD card slot, while a camera shutter, a shortcut to the Media Gallery feature, and the mini-USB port sit on the right spine. Though the controls are large and user-friendly, the card slot and USB port jut out slightly from the side of the phone. It's just a hair's amount but it was right where we rested our finger when we were holding the phone in our hand. As a result, our finger kept rubbing up against the raised area. It's not uncomfortable, but it is something we couldn't help but notice and it breaks the otherwise clean lines of the Z8. You'll have to judge for yourself whether you think it's a problem. On the rear side of the phone are a second camera lens, a flash, and the battery compartment. And in a unique move, the microSD card slot is located behind a separate cover. That means you can swap out the SIM card without removing the battery.
The Rizr Z8 has a phone book with room in each entry for eight phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, three URLs, two street addresses, a job title, a company name, a birthday, and notes. You can save callers to groups or you can pair them with a photo of one of 23 polyphonic ringtones.
The Moto handset's essential features include a vibrate mode, a speakerphone, text and multimedia messaging, a limited world clock, an alarm clock, a to-do list, a voice recorder, a calendar, a calculator, a notepad, and a file manager. On the higher end there's Bluetooth with a stereo profile, PC syncing, and USB mass storage. Voice dialing and commands are lacking, however, which is disappointing.