Review posted November 10, 2007 by Lisa Gade, Editor
We go a long way back with Motorola smartphones. From the MPx200, the little phone that introduced the world to Windows Mobile Smartphones in clamshell format back in early 2004 to the MPx220, the more feature-rich but bug-laden update that we nicknamed Chucky because its quirks left us with a touch of dread as to what it might do next. Then came the MPx300 Pocket PC phone never made it to the US (and barely made it overseas) which was even more possessed than the MPx220 and earned the nickname Seed of Chucky here in our office. Whew! Well, Moto knew their first ventures weren't up to their usual excellent cell phone standards and they abandoned the MPx name and line. The re-birth was the James Bondian Motorola Q line, and things were looking up. The first US Motorola Q phone appeared in Verizon's line in early summer 2006, and Sprint picked it up a year later (hey, it took even longer for Sprint to jump on the RAZR bandwagon). The Q was sexy, well-made and had a very competitive feature set. Life was good, though there was room for improvement. Poor battery life and occasional sluggishness despite a fast CPU held it back from being a raging success (it was a moderate success). A bit more than a year later, we're onto a new crop of Q phones, this time the Motorola Q9 line. Once again Verizon was first with their Motorola Q9m, launched in September 2007. The GSM Q9h out-spec-d the Q9m, though, which left us feeling a bit let down by the Q9m. Thankfully, AT&T has given us that GSM version and Motorola has made the 3.5 year journey to an excellent smartphone.
Features at a Glance
The Moto Q9 Global is a Windows Mobile 6 Standard Edition smartphone with a landscape QVGA non-touch screen, a 2 megapixel camera, GPS, Bluetooth 2.0, 325MHz TI CPU, 256 megs of flash memory and 96 megs of RAM. A tad wider than the Moto Q9m and the original Q, the Global also adds more memory, a better camera and GPS, so we'll easily accept a millimeter or two. In the Moto Q tradition, The Q Global is exquisitely thin at 0.47" and is a middleweight at 4.73 ounces. AT&T and Motorola include a standard and extended battery in the box (and the extended battery door), a microUSB to standard 3.5mm stereo headphone adapter, charger and USB sync cable.
The included headphone adapter.
Design and Ergonomics
The Q9 Global is a slim, slab design phone with a QWERTY thumb keyboard. RIM originated the basic design years ago with their BlackBerry smartphones, but Motorola was the first to slim it down and add a bit of sex appeal with the original Q. RIM has always has the best keyboard, with the Treo trailing, but this time Moto takes the lead: the Q9 series keyboard is wonderful. Though the Q is wider than the Samsung BlackJack with which it competes, this affords extra room for a wider keyboard that's much easier to type on. The large keys are square and domed for good tactile feedback and control. Though the key surfaces aren't quite as rough as the Motorola Q9m's, they have enough texture to prevent finger slips. The blue backlight is adequate for night typing, but not annoyingly bright, and the number keys have a bar above for easier dialing.
Several dedicated application keys mean you can avoid Windows Mobile's sometimes ponderous navigation: there are dedicated keys for calendar, contacts, Windows Media Player Mobile, the camera and voice command along the bottom row. Press and hold the Home button to bring up the profiles manager which also handles keyguard, power and wireless radio management.
The large circular d-pad is easy to use one-handed and the call send and end buttons are large and in standard locations. Buttons for the web browser (Opera in the Moto Q9's case rather than IE Mobile) and email flank the d-pad. Like the call send and end buttons, these are actually flat surfaces separated by ridges that give a tactile click when pressed. The call send and end buttons as well as the separator lines backlight in blue, but the browser, email and softkey buttons do not light up.
Gone is the first Q's jog dial, replaced with up/down rockers on the smartphone's right side. These navigate icons and scroll pages and there's a center action button to launch a highlighted application or open a link. Below these is a back button, again easing one-handed operation. Motorola's "Personalize my Q" application allows you to reassign the right softkey to the application of your choice, change the start menu view, set home screen shortcuts and change themes. Though you can do many of these things on all Windows Mobile devices, we like that Moto has put them all in one place.
Phone Reception and Data
The Q9 is a quad band 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM world phone that will work anywhere in the world GSM service is available. Voice quality was excellent in terms of clarity and earpiece volume in our 3G coverage area. This is one of the better AT&T phones in that regard, and volume is louder than average. The Moto has Voice Signal's voice command software that does true speech recognition (no need to record voice tags). It's accurate and works over Bluetooth headsets: a definite thumbs up. You can start voice command by pressing the dedicated keyboard key (far right, bottom row). The Q9h has speed dial and smart dialing (type the first few letters of a contact's name to bring up a matching list from which you can dial). The rear-firing stereo speakers make for an excellent speakerphone that's loud enough for noisy environments and doesn't distort wildly at high volume.
Fast data in the form of HSDPA means fast web browsing and email downloads. The Q has a dual band 850/1900MHz 3.5G radio that supports both US bands used by AT&T, but not overseas bands. Connections were fast, reliable and we found it a pleasure to browse the web using Opera and IE. For those who wish to tether and use the Q9h as a wireless modem for a notebook, the phone supports DUN and we got a fast connection averaging 900kbps in our strong HSDPA coverage area. Setting up the connection with a Fujitsu U810 Windows Vista "micro notebook" was simple enough, and you need not enable DUN (dial up networking) on the phone, simply discover the phone using a PC, pair and the PC should find the DUN service. We did have to use a fairly common initialization string in the wireless modem settings under Windows Vista (Toshiba Bluetooth stack) to get things working: +CGDCONT=1,"IP","WAP.CINGULAR" (if you have a PDA data plan rather than a MediaNet data plan use ISP.CINGULAR instead of WAP.CINGULAR).
Side view with standard battery.
Side view with extended battery. While it looks somewhat ungainly, it feels good in hand.
Horsepower, Performance and Multimedia
The Q9h is smarter than the average Windows Mobile smartphone thanks to its 325MHz Texas Instruments OMAP 2420 CPU (most WinMo smartphones have a 200MHz processor). It also ups the ante on memory with 256 megs of flash memory rather than the usual 128 megs and 96 megs of RAM (used like RAM in your computer) rather than the standard 64. This means the Q9 Global is less sluggish than the T-Mobile Dash and Cingular 3125 for example, and the phone won't run out of memory when several applications are running. This is commonly a concern on WinMo phones because they are multitasking and most apps have only a minimize function rather than exit, so once you start them up, they keep on running unless you resort to Task Manager to manually kill them. 96 megs of RAM with 66 megs free at boot means never having to say you're sorry for running several apps at once. With 135 megs of flash memory available for storage, you can install plenty of 3rd party apps, email attachments and documents on the phone.
For your music and perhaps even video collection, get a microSD memory card. The Q Global can handle cards up to 32 gigs capacity (there are none on the market yet though, 8 gigs is the biggest as of 11/2007). Still, 4, 6 or 8 gigs puts you in iPod nano territory and unlike an iPod, the phone can play music wirelessly to Bluetooth headphones and stereo headsets. Unfortunately, Windows Media Player Mobile isn't nearly as nifty and capable as a dedicated MP3 player in terms of features. Why must we manually tell the program to look at the storage card instead of internal memory for example, when most phones do this automatically? You can however sync playlists from Windows Media Player 10 on the desktop to the phone, copy tracks using Media Player or just drag them to a card using a card reader on your computer, and get basic track info such as artist name, album and length. Moto and AT&T include an adapter for 3.5mm standard stereo headphones and the audio quality is indeed excellent. Likewise, when we tested the phone with the Motorola S9 stereo headset and the Plantronics Pulsar 590, sound quality was very good. We heard less hiss than usual from the S9 and got good bass and great range with the Pulsar.
The Q's bright and sharp landscape QVGA 320 x 240 display makes it an excellent vehicle for video playback. AT&T's CV (now called Cellular Video, formerly called Cingular Video) works well on the smartphone, bringing you free content from CNN, ESPN, Disney, The Weather Channel, Fox news, MTV and more as well as subscription content such as HBO mobile (full episodes of some HBO shows). Playback is handled by Windows Media Player Mobile and the transition is smooth going between the browser and the player. CV video quality is excellent-- sharper than Verizon and Sprint's streaming services, though the video fills only a portion of the screen.
Pocket PC phones (aka Windows Mobile 6 Professional) are generally better suited to video playback of burned media from DVDs and the like thanks to their generally faster CPUs and some even have graphics chips. The Moto does better than average among smartphones though; we usually find anything encoded above 300kbps doesn't play well, while the Q9h managed to play WMVs encoded at 500kbps.
AT&T bundles their music mall (links to buy music online from various partners), and MusicID which can identify songs played back in range of the phone's mic (this is a pay-for service however). There's also XM Radio Mobile for those with an account and a link to get MobiTV (also requires a monthly fee).
The Moto has an internal GPS, though we doubt it's a SiRF III. It was slower to pick up satellites on a cold start (first time using GPS after booting up) than the Tilt, and took about 45 seconds to a minute. Thereafter it hung onto 3 satellites indoors near an exterior wall and behaved well in the car. When using the included TeleNav GPS Navigator, it sometimes complained that the GPS signal was weak, but it never lost the signal nor did it get us lost. TeleNav is an excellent subscription-based mapping and navigation package that does some of the best routing and prompting in the business. It has a very good POI database, up-to-date maps and traffic checking with re-routing. The only thing it doesn't do is contacts integration. The Q9 Global has a link to download TeleNav and there's a free trial, after which you'll have to pay $9.99/month for unlimited routes or you can buy a pack of 10 routes for $5.99 if you don't need the GPS frequently.
For those who prefer the free route, Google Maps smartphone edition works fine with the GPS-- just select Track Location in Google Maps to turn on the GPS and find yourself in the world. Windows Live Search works well with the GPS as well, and offers some cool extra features like finding gas stations or movies playing nearby (movie theatres can even be called directly from with Live Search).
We don't usually dedicate a section of our Windows Mobile phone reviews to software because there's very little variation from the basic Microsoft standard issue applications. Motorola has taken a different route and we applaud them. As mentioned earlier, Moto adds the capable Opera web browser, and they also include Documents To Go rather than Microsoft's basic mobile Office suite. Docs To Go is more capable and can create, read and edit Word and Excel documents and view PowerPoint presentations. It also includes a PDF reader and a zip manager. Personalize My Q is a handy app that lets you customize various aspects of the home screen including right soft key shortcut and on-screen shortcuts to applications.
Side view of the Moto Q9h and the Samsung BlackJack.
Motorola's cameras once were below average. But in the past year they've gotten their act together and the Q9 Global's 2.0 megapixel camera is decent. Colors are reasonably accurate, there's plenty of image data to make for a sharp, but generally not over-sharpened image, and saturation is good under indoor low light.
Software is no-frills: Motorola uses Microsoft's standard bundle Pictures and Videos application as the camera software. You can adjust resolution (max is 1600 x 1200 and there are a variety of lesser resolutions suitable for caller photo ID and MMS), adjust brightness, set white balance from a list of presets, turn the flash on or off and use burst mode or timer mode. There's 8x digital zoom and the camera can automatically save images to a storage card.
The video recorder can record video with audio at an uninspiring 176 x 144 and 128 x 96 at 15fps and has 4x digital zoom. Those are postage stamp sized videos, but quality is decent. The fixed-focus lens manages to keep things relatively sharp for both still shots and video, and as with most camera phones, the flash helps only when the subject is close.
We always worry when a standard and extended battery come in the box. Yes, it's great to have them, but it sometimes indicates that battery life isn't very good. Like the Samsung BlackJack which also comes with 2 batteries, and like the original Q, battery life isn't this smartphone's strong point. However, it is better than the original Q and it's as good as the BlackJack's, if not a bit better. Our BlackJack required charging every other day with light use and the Q9 Global manages 3 days with the standard 1100 mAh Lithium Ion battery. The AT&T Tilt required charging every 1.5 days for comparison and the Cingular 3125 lasted 3-4 days, but it's not 3G so we expect better battery life.
The extended battery increases battery runtimes by about 70% as we'd expect from the 700 mAh of additional juice. The 1800 mAh battery is the one to take on a business trip when you won't be near an AC outlet for a 12 hour day if you use the phone heavily and turn on MS Direct Push email. We got 3-4 day on a charge with the extended battery with light use and over 2 with moderate to heavy use (Direct Push turned on, talking on the phone 1 hour/day, surfing the web over HSDPA for 45 minutes/day and watching CV for 40 minutes/day).
We like it, yes we do. The phone is smart looking, slim and packs quite a bit of power. The ample memory, faster than average CPU and great software bundle put the Motorola Q Global ahead of the pack, and the GPS competes with the BlackBerry 8800 and 8820. The keyboard is one of the best we've used, the camera is decent and HSDPA performance as well as call quality are excellent. We like that the extended battery is included in the box, and we're not too down on the Q9's battery life overall. We do wish the GPS was quicker to pick up satellites but once it's locked on, it did work well for us.
Pro: Slim, great keyboard, plenty of flash storage and RAM, supports SDHC microSD cards (large capacity cards), fast HSPDA, has GPS that works with both the bundled TeleNav and 3rd party navigation and mapping applications, excellent software bundle. Plays CV for downtime amusement and supports XM Satellite radio. Good voice dialing and mapped keyboard keys speed up access to commonly used applications. Customizable home screen means you can put your favorites apps there for fast access.
Con: GPS is slow to get a first fix and TeleNav complains about signal strength under open skies, though this hasn't effected GPS performance so far. We wish there were a way to remove the XPress Mail item from the home screen without using a registry editor or switching to a more basic Today Screen.
TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 2.4". Resolution:
320 x 240 pixels, landscape orientation.
Ion rechargeable. Two batteries included: standard 1100 mAh and 1800 mAh extended battery.
Performance:325MHz Texas Instruments OMAP2420 processor. 256 MB Flash ROM with ~135 megs available for use, 96 megs RAM with 66 megs free at boot.
Size:4.65 x 2.63 x 0.47 inches. Weight: 4.73 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band 850/900/1800/1900MHz with EDGE and dual band 850/1900MHz US 3.5G HSDPA and UMTS.
Camera:2.0 megapixel. Max still image resolution: 1600 x 1200 pixels, less resolutions available. Can capture video at 15 fps t 176 x 144 and 128 x 96 resolutions.
in stereo speakers, mic and Motorola micro USB stereo headphone
jack (dongle adapter to use 3.5mm stereo headphones included). Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included.
GPS:Yes. TeleNav trial included (subscription-based service). Works with other GPS apps including Google Maps and Windows Live Search.
Mobile 6.0 Standard Edition operating system (aka Smartphone edition).
Microsoft Mobile versions of Internet
Explorer, Outlook and Windows Media Player. other MS standard software includes Pictures and Videos, Modem Link, Voice Notes, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker (game) and Calculator. Additional applications:
VoiceSignal voice recognition, Speed Dial, ThumbSpeed IM client, Memory Manager, Storage Card format utility, Task Manager, Camera, Wireless Manager, McAfee VirusScan, Java Runtime, CV (AT&T streaming video), MySpace Mobile, Notes, Documents to Go (view, edit and create MS Office documents, view PDFs and unzip files). Though usually standard on Windows Mobile 6, Mobile versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel are omitted since Docs To Go does the same things and more.
ActiveSync 4.5 and Outlook 2007 trial for PCs included.
microSD slot supporting
SDHC (up to 32 gigs capacity).