Review: Motorola Q9h/ Global - A Real Keeper

Available as the Motorola Q 9h in Canada and the MOTO Global in the U.S., this Smartphone's thin Apple-like industrial design makes it one of the coolest-looking PDA phone ever.
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The Motorola Q 9h may be the coolest-looking PDA phone ever. For industrial design, I'd give it an A+, putting it a nose ahead of the BlackBerry Curve - which is saying something. In fact, it gives the Curve a run for its money in just about every category.

A Windows Mobile 6-based quad-band GSM/HSDPA phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, 2-megapixel video-capable camera and built-in GPS, the Q 9h is available in the U.S. from AT&T (as Moto Q Global) for as little as $200 with a two-year contract, and in Canada from Rogers, for as little as $250 CDN with a $75-a-month three-year plan.

What's so appealing about the Q 9h? It's very thin - 11.8 mm to the Curve's 15.5 mm. The QWERTY keyboard features well-marked keys with a roughened surface that prevents fingers slipping off them - a problem with many PDA keyboards.

The buttons and soft keys around the four-way navigator on the front are iPod style: a flat, smooth, flexible surface with buttons underneath. And the whole front face has a nice Euro-style look about it. The screen, a 2.4-inch (diagonal) 320x240 TFT able to show 65,000 colors, is sharp and bright.

It does everything reasonably well, including playing music and videos, taking pictures and video and navigating. And for a cell phone, it does Web surfing brilliantly - when you're using an HSDPA network such as Rogers offers in my area.

Under the hood, the Q 9h features a 325MHz TI OMAP 2420 processor, 256MB of flash memory and 96MB of RAM, plus a MicroSD slot that can take cards up to 32GB - except of course there aren't any cards that big yet. The processor has a slightly faster clock speed than the BlackBerry Curve's 312 MHz Intel Xscale chip. No big advantage there, but the Motorola product also has quite a bit more memory than the Curve's 64 MB of flash.

Even more surprising, the Q 9h beats the Curve on battery life - long a strong suit for RIM. Motorola claims up to nine hours of talk and 30 days standby, compared to four hours and 17 days for the BlackBerry.

The Q 9h is good but it's not perfect. Too bad it doesn't include Wi-Fi, for example. Too bad there's no touch screen or stylus input - but, hey, you can't have everything. And too bad, the Skype client for Windows Mobile doesn't work on this phone, though maybe some future version of the software will work.

The user interface, however, is about as good as it can be (absent touchscreen and stylus). Below the screen, the four-way navigator with center Select button has a nice, positive feel to it. Above it are two soft keys, below it, Home and Back keys. On the outside edges you find dedicated buttons for the Web and Mail, and the green Answer and Red Stop/Power keys.

The keyboard is also about as good as it can be - given tiny, crammed-together keys. All the special characters you need, including @, $, %, &, etc., along with the numbers are visible on the letter keys and accessible using the big function/ALT key. A separate Shift key lets you select upper case letters. There are also clearly marked space and Enter keys exactly where you'd expect them to be on a QWERTY keyboard.

Below the main QWERTY array, flanking the Space bar, are dedicated keys for launching Calendar, Address Book, Music Player and Camera applications, plus a key for toggling the speaker phone on and off.

The only other keys are on the right hand edge: Up, Down, Select and Back. They're convenient for righties to use their thumbs for scrolling Web pages and menus and making selections, perhaps less convenient for southpaws.

As a phone, the Q 9h is one of the best I've tried, although it's always difficult to separate handset performance from network performance. Still, voice quality was consistently good and, always important, loud. The speaker phone was particularly effective - again, clear and plenty loud enough.

The Web surfing experience was also about the best I've tried on a PDA phone. This definitely has more to do with the network. Rogers' HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) service really does deliver near-DSL speeds. Of course, the hardware can't process incoming data as quickly as a computer so overall time to display is still slower. And it's still a pain navigating full-size Web pages on a tiny PDA screen.

The Q 9h is no slouch as a media player either. I tested it with an 11-megabyte MPEG video file rendered for 320x240-pixel displays. It played more or less smoothly, with the odd noticeable jump, and the image appeared quite sharp (although of course tiny).

More important is music player performance as this is a core function for many users. Like some other very thin PDA phones - the BlackBerry Pearl, for example - the Q 9h does not include a standard stereo headphone jack. This in my opinion is a serious design flaw in a device that is supposed to be a music player. You could put it down to a compromise forced by the ultra-slender design - except the even smaller and thinner iPod Nano does have a proper headphone jack.

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Tags: Windows, wireless, RIM, voice, Gadgets

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