Motorola Q Review

by Ed Hardy Reads (195,650)
  • Pros

    • Inexpensive
    • Sleek design
    • Excellent build
    • Good display
    • Jog dial input option

  • Cons

    • Only CDMA at the moment
    • Limited operating system
    • Keyboard presses must be firm
    • Short battery life


It’s extremely thin, not terribly expensive, and brings a nice integrated QWERTY keyboard to the mix. Is the Motorola Q a complete enough package to best the high water mark, AKA the Palm Treo 700 family?

The answer is multi-part and depends entirely on the type of user you are. If you’re at all like me though, you’ll find the Motorola Q to be a complete joy and generally a welcome compliment to your other computing and communication devices.


Design and Construction

By now everyone knows one of the key differentiating factors of the Motorola Q is its size. The highlight is the .45″ thickness, something that’s perhaps hard to appreciate unless you’ve spent time with other smartphone devices. By way of comparison, that’s almost exactly half the thickness of the Treo 700 family. The Q is also a little shorter than the Treo, but loses out in the waistline, coming in at .2″ wider. The other key number is weight; the Q is a full two ounces lighter, coming in 4.1 ounces. Of course, some of these size benefits translate directly into weaknesses as the balancing act plays out; we’ll get into that more in further sections.

Motorola Q
Motorola Q (view large image)

In terms of design, outside of its size, the Q is nothing remarkable. Motorola has followed the generally accepted design for a QWERTY embedded smartphone. This is a new look for Motorola, few, if any design elements from prior smartphone efforts from this company are included in the Q.

The materials all seem secure and strong; I’ve been through a few drops without permanent damage beyond cosmetics. There’s also no squeaking or bend when the device is torqued. While it’s definitely not rugged, it’s put together much better than some other devices in this space.

The front of the Q houses the keyboard, along with the 5-way navigation pad and a set of dedicated keys, including left soft, right soft, make and answer calls, home, undo/back, and call end/power off keys. The bottom of the keyboard also includes dedicated camera and speakerphone launcher keys.

Generally, input on the Q via the keyboard and other buttons is pretty good. I can’t say that I prefer the keyboard over that on the Treo, but they’re very similar and Motorola has nothing to be sorry about with the buttons on its device.

I do like the shape of the Q keys substantially more than the square-ish keys of the Treo, but the Treo keys are more responsive. I found that with the Q I really needed to press down to record the letter. Often times in an email or whatnot, I’d glance up at the screen to see that I’d missed part of a word. The keys light up blue when in use, decent in the dark, but more brightness would be appreciated.

As I noted earlier, though, the keyboard is good, much more of an asset than a detriment.

Motorola Q
Keyboard (view large image)

Motorola Q
Keyboard backlight, taken in the dark (view large image)

Along the left side of the Q are the infrared, miniSD, and charge/sync cord ports.

Between the infrared port and the miniSD card slot is a little notch to open the rubber compartment cover for the memory card. This mechanism is difficult to open at first, but gets easier as the cover gets flexed over time. I actually prefer this to the open design with memory card plug, as it offers better protection for the slot from dust and other alien substances.

Motorola Q
Left side (view large image)

The right side of the Q houses the thumb wheel and an undo/back button.

The thumb wheel is very effective and something that should be standard on any smartphone, especially ones without touch screens. The 5-way works fine on the Q and some may prefer that, but the wheel makes scrolling through emails and even browsing the Web or your installed applications list a little easier.

Motorola Q
Right side (view large image)

The back of the unit contains the integrated digital camera, flash, battery compartment, and speaker.

The camera is a decent resolution 1.3 megapixel unit; we’ll go into its usefulness with sample images below. The flash descriptor needs to be used loosely; it’s really just a light, and not a very bright one at that. It’s probably better used to find a dropped piece of candy under your seat at a movie theater than illuminating the subject of your picture.

The speaker quality of the Q is actually pretty solid, certainly loud and clear; we found it to be noticeably better than the Treo.

Motorola Q
Back (view large image)

Motorola Q
Q camera and flash (view large image)

The top of the Q has a 2.5 mm headphone jack covered with another rubber door. This one’s easier to pry open though. The jack on top is nice; I think that’s much more usable than on the bottom. That way you can pocket the Q and keep the cords coming out of the top, instead of it having to face down in your pocket.

Another note, there’s no external antenna on the Q, another design advantage over competing devices. I have not experienced any better or worse service when compared to the Treo 700w on the Verizon network.

Motorola Q
Top (view large image)

The bottom of the Q is completely naked.

Motorola Q
Bottom (view large image)

The only thing I really wanted to see on the Q in terms of input was a silent mode switch, similar to the one found on the Treo 700. I really like being able to flip a switch without looking to disable the ringer and audio alerts, rather than having to sort through a menu. It’s the small things like this that Motorola will hopefully improve on as they gain more experience with this form factor and product line.


Hardware Overview

Processor: 312 MHz Intel XScale PXA270
Operating System: Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone Edition
Display:

2.4″ 320 x 240 transmissive/reflective LCD

Memory: 64 MB RAM; 128 MB flash memory
Size & Weight 4.33 inches long x 2.52 inches wide x 0.45 inches thick; 4.1 ounces
Expansion: Single miniSD slot
Docking:

Mini USB

Communication: Dual band CDMA/1xRTT/EV-DO; Bluetooth 1.2
Audio: Microphone; speaker; 2.5 mm stereo headphone/headset jack
Battery: 1130 milliamp-hour Lithium Ion replaceable/rechargeable battery
Input: 5-way directional pad; QWERTY keyboard; jog dial, hardware buttons
Other: 1.3 megapixel integrated camera

Performance

The Q leverages an Intel PXA27x 312 MHz processor and 128 MB flash RAM. While not blazingly fast when compared to traditional PDAs, it’s very good for a smartphone. Programs launched quickly, and Handmark’s Pocket Express, my personal benchmark, loaded much more quickly than on the 700w. While I didn’t ask the Q to go very far beyond its intended boundaries, I have been very pleased with its responsiveness and ability to open programs and files with speed.


Operating System

The Motorola Q uses the smartphone version of Windows Mobile 5.0.

The operating system is limiting when compared to the full version found on the 700w. The core differences include interface changes, lack of ability to edit Office files and little things like an inability to synchronize notes from Outlook.

The decision Motorola made to use smartphone edition is better understood when you hear that they see this device as a phone first, data device second, and PDA a distant third.

And while the lack of touch screen might immediately signal the need to use the smartphone version of Windows Mobile, that’s not a given. Palm invested a lot of time in Windows Mobile 5.0 to make sure it was easy to use with one hand. In fact, I could find only one function on the Treo that I couldn’t complete without the stylus.

My point is, I think Motorola could have gone with the full OS but didn’t because of their decision on device positioning and probably a lack of development knowledge and skill.

The operating system choice might be enough to kill the Q as an option for some buyers. As noted, Motorola wants this phone to be about voice first and data second. And in that vein, the OS gets the job done.

Microsoft is aware of some of the shortcomings with smartphone edition and has already addressed some of the concerns by saying the next version will allow for things like editing Office documents. But truthfully, I have a hard enough time reading lengthy documents on this tiny screen, I had zero desire to actually edit anything on the Q.

So while I can see that the lack of such an ability might rule out the Q for some buyers, those who want that type of functionality are probably going to be more attracted to something like the Treo 700p, with a larger resolution and screen area.

I won’t go into a ton of detail on the OS functionality, that’s for another article, but in general it runs very well and reliably. I did not experience any system crashes on the Q and only a few times did one of the programs crap out.

My core issue is getting access to some of the proper settings and options menus is a bit troublesome. Many things like display settings are buried and it takes going back and forth to get where you want to be.

In the end I find the OS choice annoying but not a deal breaker for the targeted user of the Q. Hopefully in the future Motorola will invest resources in making certain features easier to use, along the lines of what Palm has done for the 700w.


Display

The Q uses a 2.4″, 320×240 pixel display. Of course this is an uncommon size, but one that will be more prevalent in devices like this going forward. Developers have to catch up a bit to make their applications not only function with the OS properly, but with the display as well.

Motorola Q
Display in the dark (view large image)

In practical terms, though, the display is bright and clear, very easy to read.

Motorola has chosen short defaults in terms of the number of seconds the screen and backlight stay on after the last input. I left them on the defaults during testing so I could properly gauge the battery life, but have since moved them up a little since I found they turned off the screen too quickly.

Outside the display gets pretty washed out, but it’s still usable. If you spend a good deal of time outdoors, you’re going to want to play with the background images and font to find an optimal solution.

One other note, and there’s no easy way to put this, but the Q is highly susceptible to face goop. You know; the oils and such on your cheeks. And it’s not just that the screen gets messy, all smartphones do that, but the Q is particularly difficult to get clean. They must have some sort of layer or treatment on the display shield that makes it a goop magnet. This is a minor annoyance, but it is a little gross when you let someone else use your Q.

Overall I find the screen to be an asset, even though there is no touch input and it’s hard to clean. In terms of color quality, brightness and color accuracy, it’s on the high end of the scale.


Expansion

Additional memory for programs and data storage can be added via miniSD, something that is quickly replacing the venerable standard SD in tiny devices such as this.

MiniSD is probably the perfect fit for the Q, a good mix of physical size and storage capacity.

MiniSD hasn’t been leveraged much yet for peripherals but the slot being on the side is a potential problem depending on the size of what you stick in there later. A GPS receiver for instance, would be problematic because of the large protrusion form the side and the associated weight imbalance.

The charging port is also listed as a place to connect phone accessories. However, beyond charging and sync products I don’t see anything.

Of course the Q also offers integrated Bluetooth and can be paired with other Bluetooth products for expansion. The Q supports the hands free, personal network, stereo headset, and keyboard input profiles. The latter lets you connect to a Bluetooth-enabled PC to use the Q as a remote control.


Docking

The Q comes with a charging cord and a separate sync cable. Motorola will be offering a cradle for the Q for $30 that charges the device and an additional battery while also connecting to your PC for synchronization. The Q will also sync over Bluetooth though should that be an option.


Communication

At the moment the Q is a Verizon exclusive and offers fast data access over Verizon’s EV-DO network. The communications modem is dual band, 800 and 1900 CDMA. At the moment it’s a U.S. release only with eventual support expected for GSM networks.

Internet speeds and email download rates were speedy; similar to other Verizon EV-DO enabled devices. The only time I was left wanting more was when the browser was trying to render full-sized web pages, something that is best avoided with this device.

The Q also offers Bluetooth, but does not offer Wi-Fi, which will keep some buyers away, but is an understandable omission given many of the core goals were design and size related.

This smartphone also plays well with Exchange, though the MSFP update is not yet available from Motorola. Hopefully this will be out soon to enable features like push email, global address lookup and remote device wipe. Most other competing devices now offer this, so Motorola is a little behind the curve.


Audio

The voice quality on the Q is very good, as you might expect from a company with Motorola’s pedigree. Even the Bluetooth radio seems very strong, use with my headset was dramatically clearer than when used with the 700w. The speakerphone is loud and clear, the best I’ve used in recent memory. Sound quality is a big plus for this little smartphone, unexpected, but we’ll take it.


Camera

The Q features a 1.3 megapixel camera that’s capable of shootings stills and small frame video. As expected, the camera is nothing to write home about – they never are in devices like this.

The usual story holds true, reasonable shots good lighting conditions, but if it’s too bright or too dark, the results aren’t great; certainly not suitable for printing.

The Q does offer a lot of shooting options though, something that is a nice include but these tools effectiveness is up for debate. Settings include brightness, image size, zoom, white balance and flash. Image samples are as follows:


Purple Echinacea auto (view large image)


Same shot with outside white balance (view large image)


Flowers and shrubs (view large image)


Landscape (view large image)


Address stone (view large image)


Indoor shot with good light (view large image)


Attempted close shot with moderate to good light (view large image)

Video clips can also be recorded on the Q. They’re recorded in .3G2 format, which is not directly compatible with Windows Media Player, a bad choice by Motorola. The resolution is a paltry 176 x 144 pixels, enough to catch an impromptu session of Dance Dance Revolution, but not much more.

I intended to upload a 30 second video of my fish tank, which includes a Maroon Clownfish and assorted invertebrates, but converting the video to something usable on the PC failed with two different utilities. 


Battery

Here’s the ugly part. Battery life of the Q just plain stinks. I know, I know, I’ve said all along that a lot of the Q is based on compromises based on the design.

Motorola quotes 4 hours talk time, but that’s full of caveats. In the real world, with moderate phone use and 10 minute pulls from our Exchange server, the battery won’t make it through the work day. Heavy phone users are going to be flustered pretty quickly.

Motorola has an extended battery option, but this of course ruins the lines of the device. So either go that route and give up a little bit on design, or invest in a car charger, backup battery and a charger for your home.

Or, there’s the Treo 700 series, which has quite decent battery life.


Conclusion

I said at the very beginning that the Motorola Q is a great device for certain types of users. When I use a smartphone, I hammer it on the data (email access via Exchange) and phone side. I don’t install many applications or expect the device to do much beyond my data, phone and PIM needs.

I’ve been using the Treo 700w as my personal device since January, but my few weeks with the Q has me converted. It’s officially supplanted the 700w as the best device for the way I work. Of course, the Q has limitations, but aside from battery life, I don’t need the Q to do any more than it does.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the Treo 700w, Sprint/Verizon 6700 models, or any other of the popular smartphones. Those are excellent solutions for those who need more in terms of functionality. If you access and interact with Office documents, browse the Web with regularity, or expect to install more than a few basic applications, such devices with the full version of Windows Mobile are preferred. Anything, including the Q, that runs the smartphone edition of Windows Mobile, will come up short.


Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Sleek design
  • Excellent build
  • Good display
  • Jog dial input option

Cons:

  • Only CDMA at the moment
  • Limited operating system
  • Keyboard presses must be firm
  • Short battery life

Bottom Line:

The Q excels when it comes to performance, price and of course design. It’s definitely worth consideration for smartphone shoppers and for the basic user, might just be a great fit.

Motorola Q and Palm Treo 700w Photo Comparison

motorola q palm treo 700w
(view large image)

motorola q palm treo 700w
(view large image)

motorola q palm treo 700w
(view large image)




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