Motorola Q 9m Review

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Motorola is in a bad way. Wilson over at Giz basically tore them a new orifice over the Q 9m and I have always thought they’ve squandered the RAZR good-will on a series of odd products that were either violently crippled or ahead of their time — like the Moto PEBL, for example. That said, they’ve remained in high in the pantheon of phone gods that I have in my heads, up there with Nokia and Sony-Ericsson as companies I love but know need lots of help to catch up in the post-iPhone world.

An so we turn to the Q 9m, Verizon’s music player with keyboard for messaging and email. After launching the Q, Motorola found that many of the users weren’t heavy duty business folks but just regular consumers — teens and soccer moms — who wanted to send messages. After taking the successes and failures of the Q back to the drawing board, the decided to make a more accessible music phone for the general public. Did they succeed?

First, a tour of the hardware and design. The 2.5-inch screen is bright and very readable and the overall design feels more substantial than the original Q and soft-touch rubber on the front and back offer a generally nicer experience than the standard Moto shine-fests that are the RAZRs and KRZRs of the world. It’s a solid phone and the keys are nicely laid out and easy to press.

During the first few days of handling the phone, I found the interface to be a great improvement over the standard Windows Mobile 6 experience. I hate WinMo, and this clouds my judgement whenever I have to use a WinMo device, but Verizon and Motorola have hidden most of the annoying things behind a wheel-like interface that uses the side scroll wheel to its fullest advantage. But, as long-time WinMo users will discover, this also hides a number of important features that the OS usually puts on the screen.

Take, for example, key lock. In WinMo, the combination usually consists of two keys. On other phones, it’s a press of the power button, but this phone doesn’t have a power button, just a hang-up button that doubles as a power button. So I try all sorts of combinations and finally resort to reading the manual. Start and space. That’s the combo. There are no visual cues, no little lock icons on keys, nothing that would suggest to me that you can lock the phone.

The real problem is the default theme Verizon is using in the Q. This theme hides most of the useful WinMo information under a media player which, in itself, is very cool. (N.B. — after switching from the default theme I can now no longer find that cool UI setting, so the phone is stuck in some sort of default start screen. This can be remedied by pressing the little red button in the lower right corner, but it took a few folks doing research to figure that out.) However, the UI is oddly truncated and there are no visual cues as to what it’s doing. There are a series of icons, sure, but the volume icon seems to control media volume, not call volume, so you need to dig in to find “Profiles” in WM6. If you turn off the default theme and use something like Windows basic, things become clearer. If you leave it on, you’ve got to RTFM.

This problem I can live with. The EV-DO is quick and no sane person will spend $1.99 for VCast music when they have a MiniSD card slot on the side. The phone is stereo bluetooth compatible but they included a mini-audio jack, not a standard headphone jack — a huge no-no in music phones and a source of endless frustration. There is standard USB sync and you can put music on the phone using the MiniSD card or ActiveSync.

Email set-up using POP3 was easy with Verizon’s wizards and the browser, while the network did cut out occasionally, was acceptable. There is no VCast video — go figure — and no apparent way to use the in-built GPS system [bloops... only eGPS]. This can be easily remedied with an OTA update. But where is the IM client? I Europe, the kids love them some SMS. Here, the kids love them some AIM. This is a grave oversight and should be remedied.

Overall, I am happy with this new Q. I’ve used it for four days and it’s grown on me. As I’ve said many times, this is the last generation of phones that can use Windows’ antiquated and poorly conceived operating system. Verizon and Motorola tried to add a new layer of interface to this hoary old product, and they succeeded 80% of the time. If you’re looking for a messaging phone and you use Verizon, the Moto Q 9m is just fine. It works well, is fast, and is an acceptable music and messaging phone, which is mostly what folks want anyway.

The phone costs $200 online and requires a 2-year contract.

We will always have a love/hate relationship with phones. We see too many of them not to get frustrated when each one rolls off the truck and doesn’t do what we expect it to do. The Motorola Q 9m may have some flaws, but it is not bad.

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