Reviewed April 9, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Motorola hasn't been looking too strong in the news lately, with flagging numbers, possible spin-offs of the phone division and a general heap of negative hype because they've failed to come up with something as wildly successful as the original RAZR phone. Let's face it: a success like the RAZR doesn't come easy or often, and Moto's other offerings including the excellent Motorola Q9 Global and Moto Q9m smartphones, the popular RAZR2 V9 and now the Z9 are good, solid stuff.
The just-launched Motorola Z9 is a high end feature phone with a mid-tier price of $149 after rebates on AT&T's network. It has a compelling one-two punch of stunning good looks and serious features including 3G, GPS, music player, a 2 megapixel camera, Video Share, Cingular Video, stereo Bluetooth and a metal casing. Not bad for a mid-sized slider phone. The Z9 comes in Mahogany, which we'd describe as a metallic warm plum color that's fairly gender neutral and attractive (the color and finish are the same as the RAZR2 V9's). Though the front face is shiny and attracts fingerprints as shiny phones always do, the Moto manages to stay presentable looking between swipes across a shirt tail. The Moto Z9 completes with the LG Shine on AT&T, another elegant and well-featured slider that's just a tad smaller and lighter than the Z9 but lacks the GPS and Video Share features. It actually competes with Motorola's own RAZR2 V9 on AT&T as well, and the phones are similar enough that the choice boils down to flip vs. slider and the Z9's GPS. The Z9 feels hefty at 4.9 ounces and is a bit larger than the original RAZR, but the upside is that it feels extremely sturdy and well made. If you're in the market for a Zoolander phone look elsewhere, but if you're a man with large hands, the Moto will likely feel just right.
The slider is stiff, but we had no trouble opening it with one hand.The phone's keypad and control pad surfaces are completely flat with tiny metal "pin heads" that serve as tactile locators-- they aren't the buttons, don't worry. Each button actually has a normal amount of real estate below the numbers and controls. Given the flat design, you'd think the Z9's front-facing controls are touch sensitive but there are actual mechanical buttons under the flat surface that give a tactile click when pressed. You've got to press firmly until you feel that click -- some of us like this while others didn't, and the pin heads served well enough as locators that we didn't long for traditional buttons when texting one-handed. Though it feels a bit foreign if you're used to a phone with buttons, we found we could text as fast on the Moto as on a buttoned phone. The keypad and controls are backlit.
The side controls are unusual: they're traditional buttons with haptic feedback, meaning they (really the phone itself) vibrates gently when you press them. On the left you'll find the volume up/down buttons and the music player button, and the camera button is on the right. The d-pad is flat though large and easy to use. Overall, the phone feels good in the hand, and the soft-touch back that doubles as the battery cover helps keep it safely in hand. The battery door is easy to remove and the microSD card slot is under the battery door. Happily there's no need to remove the battery to swap an SD card, and it's easy to insert a card though hard to remove it.
The Z9 has a micro USB port and comes with a charger and a short adapter to use mini USB chargers and headsets with the phone. A wired headset is not included and the phone comes with a very compact charger and printed manual.
The Moto Z9 runs Motorola's Synergy OS, as does the RAZR2 V9 (sorry, no Linux here). The UI is easy to learn and navigate and the phone is responsive. The 9 icon main interface covers the address book, music, GPS, AT&T Mall, messaging, the Opera 8 web browser, CV (Cellular Video) and call history. Other applications are nested inside these as more icons or lists of applications including a calendar, alarm clock, world clock, calculator, mobile banking, games, MobiTV (requires a monthly fee), XM Radio (requires a monthly fee) and MusicID (requires a monthly fee).
The phone has 50 megs of internal memory and a microSD card slot that's compatible with SDHC cards up to 8 gigs capacity (that's the largest capacity currently available).
Phone Features and Reception
The Z9 features Motorola's CrystalTalk technology which reduces background noise and improves outgoing voice quality. Whatever that special sauce is, the Moto Z9, like the Moto Q9 Global on AT&T, very, very good. Incoming voice is clear and distinct with above average volume and outgoing voice is landline clear with good volume. If you find most GSM phones too quiet to hear, the Z9 should be on your short list since it's one of the louder phones currently on the market. Voice quality through Bluetooth headsets was good, though not as impressive what we heard when using the handset itself. We tested the Moto with the Plantronics Discovery 655 which has its own very good DSP and below average range with all handsets. The Z9 and Plantronics 655 DSPs worked well together (2 DSPs can over-cancel noise and create artificial outgoing voice) and we got about 15 feet of range which is very good for the 655. We also tested the tiny Jabra BT8040 which generally has clipped and digitized sounding incoming and outgoing voice with most phones. It did better than average with the Moto, sounding a bit clipped at the high end, but female voices were still easily understood. Range with the Jabra was easily 25 feet.
The Z9 has a speakerphone that's loud and clear and Voice Signal's voice command software that offers accurate speaker independent (no voice tags required) voice dialing and commands. Voice command worked well with the Moto itself and and over Bluetooth headsets including stereo A2DP headsets like the Motorola S9. The Z9 has speed dial (1 through 9 with 1 assigned to voicemail), caller photo ID, and you can assign ringtones to individual contacts in the phone's address book (but not to those stored in a SIM card). The Moto Z9 supports AT&T's Video Share feature which allows you to do one-way video calls with other AT&T subscribers using Video Share-enabled AT&T phones. To make a video call, you first need to initiate a voice call, the wait about 10 seconds for the phone to realize you're: 1) in a 3G coverage area, 2) calling a Video Share-enabled phone, then select the video share menu option. If someone calls you and wants to send you video, you'll see an on-screen prompt asking if you wish to accept the video. Only the person sending video pays a fee, currently .35 cents/minute if you don't have the $4.99/month Video Share feature added to your plan that gets you 25 minutes of video (there's also a $9.99 plan with 60 minutes).
The 2,000 record address book has a plethora of fields by feature phone standards and includes multiple phone numbers (mobile, home, work, page, fax, other), email addresses, URLs, street addresses, as well as first name, last name birthday and notes. As you'd expect, there's SMS and MMS support along with mobile email.
The Motorola Z9 is a quad band GSM world phone that will work anywhere GSM service is available. It's got dual band US 3G (850/1900MHz) with HSDPA 3.6 Mbps support, making it a good buddy for tethering to a notebook and also plenty fast for watching CV (Cellular Video, AT&T's streaming video service). Web pages load very quickly using the included Opera 8 web browser, though rendering is still feature phone style, lacking the sophisticated desktop layout of smartphones and the iPhone.
The phone's rear-firing speaker is loud and clear for speakerphone calls and music, though the best sound comes through Bluetooth stereo headsets like the Motorola S9 and Plantronics Pulsar 590 which sound excellent. We were particularly surprised by the S9 whose small earbuds don't generally deliver deep bass and are prone to a bit of hiss with many phones. Paired with the Z9, they were at their best with good bass, pleasing stereo separation and no background hiss. The Plantronics 590 over-the-ear headset does well with most all phones and sounded great for music playback with the Z9. Given the Moto's ability to use high capacity microSD cards up to 8 gigs, the phone could become your mobile music player. The moto has flight mode so you can use it for music and gaming in-flight.
The music player supports most popular music formats, including unprotected iTunes format files: MP3, WMA, AAC, EAAC+, Real and WAV. Music playback controls appear on the circular d-pad's surface when the music player is running-- very cool. Using the phone, you can download music from eMusic.com and "sideload" music from Napster using a PC. The music player supports playlists (you can create them directly on the phone), background playback and it picks up song details including album, artist genre and title, which means you can select songs in any of those categories for playback. In addition to the magically appearing playback controls in the d-pad, control indicators appear on the phone's homescreen along with "Stop Music" assigned to the left softkey. Strangely, if you choose to view song properties of the song currently playing, the music pauses, but otherwise the player operated as expected.
Music playback controls appear in the d-pad when a song is playing.
The phone's large 2.4" QVGA 240 x 230 pixel display is gorgeous-- sharp, glossy, vivid and very bright. It's perfect for video playback and viewing photos taken with the camera. It's readable outdoors with some glare thanks to the glossy finish.
The Motorola Z9 handles AT&T's CV streaming video service with aplomb. CV is included with AT&T's $15/month unlimited MEdia Net data package and offers content from CNN, ESPN, The Weather Channel, Sci-fi channel (including full episodes of Battestar Galactica and Ghost Hunters) and snippets of content from other major networks. HBO streaming episodes are available for an additional monthly fee and full episodes are broken down into 5 to 10 minute segments so you'll need to stream 5 or 6 segments to see a full hour show. The Moto plays CV in a window, and the full screen option looked quite good though buffering became an issue during the first 20 seconds of playback.
The Z9's large d-pad works well for games and we tested a variety of titles all of which played easily and ran well on the phone. AT&T offers a good selection of downloadable games for those who like interactive entertainment during downtimes.
GPS was once the province only of smartphones on AT&T. The Moto Z9 is AT&T's fist feature phone to offer AT&T Navigator (formerly called TeleNav and still powered by TeleNav) with a built-in aGPS. AT&T Navigator is a Java application that offers maps, directions (on-screen and spoken), traffic alerts and POIs (points of interest). The service costs $9.99/month, billed to your AT&T account and maps and POI data are downloaded over the MEdia Net data connection, so a data plan is required. The Z9 typically got our location within 30 seconds on a clear day outdoors and in a car (the first fix took about a minute) and was accurate within 40 feet. Directions were clear and accurate from the female voice and there are options for travel via the shortest, quickest, pedestrian or traffic-optimized routes among others. The application has 2D and 3D moving maps, voice guidance in English and Spanish, traffic alerts and the ability to route to typed addresses or spoken (via a toll free call-in number, not voice recognition). We like TeleNav: it's accurate, easy to use and the maps are up-to-date. If you travel to unknown territory frequently and don't own a dedicated GPS, it's worth the $10/month.
Motorola's cameras weren't among the best once up a time, but recent phones like the Z9 have changed our minds about Moto's camera phones. The Z9's 2 megapixel camera takes really nice shots that are at the top of the 2MP crop. The imaging software does a good job of sharpening photos without oversharpening and colors are generally accurate and well saturated. Exposure is balanced and we were particularly impressed with low light indoor shots that came out well lit with relatively low noise. The Moto can take photos at a maximum resolution of 1600 x 1200 and offers 3 lower resolutions as well. There are relatively few settings and these include resolution, shutter sound (including no sound), save location, flash and a self timer.
The phone takes photos in portrait orientation when the slider is open and landscape when the slider is closed. It can also shoot video up to QVGA 320 x 240 resolution at better than average quality with relatively little ghosting, good color and low noise.
The Motorola Z9 comes with a 950 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's user replaceable. That's a good amount of power for a feature phone, and the Z9 needs it to power the large display, 3G radio and GPS. Battery life is average for a feature-rich 3G phone, and the Moto lasted us 3 days of light use and 1 day of heavy use which included 40 minutes of CV, 40 minutes of GPS use with AT&T Navigator and 1 hour of talk time. Claimed talk time is 3 hours which is on target in 3G coverage areas (3G uses more battery power than GSM and EDGE) and claimed standby is 12 hours which seems accurate.
The Moto Z9 is a hard phone to not like. It's got great looks, a sturdy build with metal casing, it feels good in the hand and has a wealth of useful features. As the first GPS-enabled feature phone on AT&T, the Moto Z9 will be on your short list if navigation is important but you don't want a smartphone. The haptic side controls, music playback controls that appear when a tune is playing are not only cool but useful and the keypad and controls are roomy enough for even the largest-handed guys. While the RAZR-esque flat keypad isn't as easy to use a a traditional button keypad, we didn't have much trouble texting or sensing when we'd moved from one number to another thanks to the metal stipples. Music playback quality is very good, especially over A2DP stereo Bluetooth headsets and the camera is one of the better among US 2MP camera phones. Most important: call quality is excellent, reception is good and call volume is loud enough for a busy mall. Our only complaint? The microSD card is very hard to remove.
Price: $149.99 with a 2 year contract and ATT online discounts
Display:2.4" QVGA 240 x 320 pixel resolution with 262k colors.
Battery:950 mAh Lithium
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Claimed talk time up to 3 hour. Claimed standby is 12 days.
Performance:Approximately 50.7 megs of internal memory.
Size:4.48 x 2.11 x 0.55 inches. Weight: 4.9 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band with dual band 3G HSDPA (3.6 Mbps) for the US on the 850/1900MHz bands. Speaker independent voice dialing. Has speakerphone and vibrate mode. Address book can hold 2,000 records.
Camera: 2.0 MP with flash and fixed focus lens. 1600 x 1200 max photo resolution. 8x digital zoom., can also shoot video up to QVGA resolution (MMS length and length limited only by available storage options).
GPS:aGPS that works with AT&T Navigator's subscription mapping and navigation service.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.
Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR, supports headset, handsfree, A2DP Bluetooth stereo with AVRC, printing, DUN, GAP, Object Push and file transfer profiles.
Software:Synergy OS. Software: address book, music player, GPS, AT&T Mall, text and MMS messaging, Mobile Email, web browser, CV (Cellular Video) and call history. Other applications include a calendar, alarm clock, world clock, calculator, mobile banking, games, MobiTV (requires a monthly fee), XM Radio (requires a monthly fee) and MusicID (requires a monthly fee).
microSD card slot supporting SDHC cards. Micro USB 2.0 port with mini USB adapter included, compatible with Motorola Phone Tools.