When Verizon introduced its V CAST video download service almost three years ago, the deliverable content revolution launched a full-scale sortie on our mobile devices. With the new MOTORIZR Z6tv, Motorola's first U.S. phone to include V CAST Mobile TV, the revolution is not only televised; it's in real time. While viewing and listening quality were impressive, the vastly varying reception gives a whole new meaning to "location-based services." (View Z6tv photo gallery.)
The latest phone in Motorola's RIZR brood, the Z6tv retains the same sturdy slider design as former Z3 and Z6 models and keeps its V CAST music and video download services intact. The phone's sleek finish is classic, albeit pretty smudgy after we held and fiddled with the unit to watch TV. It's still light and slim enough to fit unobtrusively into a pocket or a purse, and the firm keys offer that cool blue Motorola glow that gives the Z6tv a modern edge.
Unlike previous generations, however, the Z6tv offers Mobile TV. Powered by the FLO TV service from MediaFLO USA, Mobile TV lets NBC News junkies, American Idolizers, and Heroes worshipers watch real-time television programming on the Z6tv any time of day. For now the service offers live television shows and content from CBS Mobile, Comedy Central, ESPN Mobile TV, Fox Mobile, MTV, NBC 2GO, NBC News2GO, and Nickelodeon. And the shows look really good, too-most of the time. But if you're going to spend the monthly $13 to $25 it costs to use Mobile TV service on the Z6tv, you better make sure you live in one of the few cities that actually provides the service.
For right now, the V CAST Mobile TV service is available in 23 states and in an ostensibly arbitrary collection of cities therein. Subscribers in Corvallis, Oregon, and Brownsville, Texas, can watch Dora the Explorer on a Z6tv, but if they try to tune in to 24 in San Francisco, or CSI: Miami in Miami, they're out of luck because Mobile TV service is not available in those major markets. Verizon has plans to expand to more service areas (its Web site offers an e-mail alert system to tell users when their city comes online). But in the indefinite meantime, buyers of the Z6tv who live in Houston, San Diego, or Boston will have to wait a while to watch Mobile TV.
Luckily for us, the service is available in New York City. One Wednesday night at 9 p.m., we tuned in to watch Bionic Woman, NBC's moody reboot of the hit 1970s series. The show's broadcast was steady and continuous for its duration, and the hour of viewing used only one bar of battery life. The sound was also surprisingly crisp (and was even better when we wore headphones). At one point, we could clearly hear simultaneous squealing tires, explosions, and crashes through the Z6tv's speaker.
Areas of darkness didn't show up well on the phone's two-inch screen. Scenes shot in shadow looked muddy and blurred, and we found ourselves trying in vain to angle the phone to be able to keep up with the show's action. On the other hand, when we switched to a brightly lit episode of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, we had no problem seeing the image. We even read baseball scores scrolling across the bottom of ESPN's Pardon the Interruption.
One thing we like about Motorola's interface design on past RIZR phones is its economy in keypad designation. The Z6tv is no exception. Access to the camera now shares button real estate with Mobile TV on the left side of the sliding face. Tap once quickly to access the program guide, or hold it down for a second to snap pictures or record video with the two-megapixel camera. The Z6tv also has the ability to take and view photographs and videos in portrait or landscape mode-a nice touch that, combined with the very good image quality of the camera, makes picture-taking with the Z6tv superior to many other midrange camera phones (with the exception of the Sony Ericsson W580i Walkman).
The Z6tv comes with other nice features, including the optional VZ Navigator service, with access to over 14 million locations; and stereo Bluetooth support for wireless music and video enjoyment. Another sweet design perk is the Z6tv's button lock, which prevents unwanted tune-skipping and video-stopping while on the go. The Access button for downloading V CAST music has also been relocated to the Z6tv's left side next to the volume control. Text messaging, instant messaging, and finding and dialing contacts are all still easy to do using the main menu and keypad. All of our test calls connected quickly, sounded clear, and remained sharp.
We think users (within available service areas) will be jazzed about the overall high quality that V CAST Mobile TV has to offer on this slider. There's enough variety in the programming on the few channels currently available to satisfy dial-flippers, and the Z6tv's other features round out the phone's profile nicely. In the end, this is probably a device best suited for parents and domestic travelers. Being able to soothe restless youngsters in the minivan with Nickelodeon or getting breaking news from MSNBC while stuck in traffic make the V CAST Mobile TV capability worthwhile. But if soccer practice isn't in the service zone and your travel plans take you out of range, you'll need to find some other form of entertainment.
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