Motorola Q music 9m (Verizon Wireless) Review

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$249

Pros: Superb keyboard; Excellent call quality; Improved battery life; Documents to Go included

Cons: Confusing Multimedia interface screen; Sluggish when opening/exiting applications; Doesn't support V CAST Video

Verdict: This smart phone knows how to have fun, but it could be more fun to use.

A work-and-play device that wears its dual personalities on its sleeve, the Moto Q music 9m features a unique multimedia-centric Home Screen you can launch with the push of a button. This slick smart phone rocks Windows Mobile 6, over-the-air V CAST Music downloads, and one of the best keyboards we've used. Unfortunately, Motorola's makeover of the Q didn't extend to the processor or Web browsing experience.
At 4.8 ounces, the 9m is heavier than the original Q (4.3 ounces), but the black-and-red paint job helps this smart phone look the part of a hip messaging device-music player hybrid. It's still only half an inch thick, and the soft-touch finish on the back makes it easy to hold while making calls. Navigating menus is simple-if not fast-thanks to the scroll wheel on the right side and the oversized D-pad. Like all Windows Mobile devices, application performance depends heavily on how many programs are open. And this Q sports the same 312-MHz processor as the old one, which doesn't help matters. (View photo gallery)
The star of the 9m's design is the completely retooled keyboard, whose tightly packed layout and excellent tactile feedback enables rapid typing. However, the Delete key is still above the keyboard; placing it with the rest of the letter keys would be far more intuitive. You'll also find two soft Menu keys nearby as well, along with the Send, End, and Home keys. They all lie flat but are large enough to press easily. We would have liked to see dedicated volume controls; simply moving the scroll wheel raises and lowers the volume when you're on a call, but when in other applications you have to press and hold the wheel first to adjust the volume.
The 9m's other most interesting feature is its dedicated multimedia interface. Pressing the Home Screen Toggle key on the bottom of the layout launches a second desktop screen just for multimedia, but takes a sluggish seven seconds to do so. At first it looks like just a skin for Windows Media Player Mobile, but this oval-shaped UI offers one-touch launch keys for V CAST Music, the camera, and your pictures, as well as playback and volume controls. A separate Library icon launches a menu with quick access to your music and videos, as well as the Shuffle mode.
On the other hand, this multimedia interface could be more intuitive. It's not always clear what option is highlighted, and in some cases you have to press the Back key to jump from one side of the oval to the other. We also don't like that you have to update your library with new media manually, whether it's videos you've shot with the 9m's mediocre 1.3-megapixel camera or music you've downloaded from the V CAST Music Store. You can download full tracks over the air-a first for a Verizon Wireless smart phone-but they're too pricey ($1.99 each) and take too long to download (about a minute). And the few Connect Errors we encountered didn't inspire much confidence.
You're better off sideloading tracks to a miniSD card; Verizon includes a measly 128MB card in the box, so we recommend you pump that capacity up to 4GB by purchasing your own card. Tunes sounded good and loud both through the 9m's stereo speakers on the back and through Bluetooth stereo headphones. We like that we could easily hear the music even when the device was lying down on its speakers. The 9m also includes a 2.5mm headphone jack on the top. One noticeable omission is V CAST Video support; with the exception of a few Reuters Top News video clips available two clicks away from the browser's default home page, you're on your own for content.
That brings us to the 9m's second annoying flaw: Web surfing. Even though this smart phone taps into Verizon Wireless' EV-DO data network, Internet Explorer Mobile was notoriously slow loading pages. CNN.com took 15 to 20 seconds to show up on the square screen, versus less than 10 seconds on the EDGE-enabled BlackBerry Curve. Downloading Opera provided better page formatting and improved speeds (about 8 seconds for CNN.com), so be sure to make that your first order of business.
As a productivity device, the 9m offers everything you would expect from Windows Mobile 6, including easily searchable e-mail, a calendar with enhanced week view, and contacts with a smart dial feature. But Motorola went the extra mile by bundling Documents to Go. That means you can view, edit, and create Microsoft Office attachments. You can also view PDFs and decompress ZIP files. And we appreciated the shortcut buttons for messaging and the speakerphone on the keyboard.
The 9m excelled as a phone on our tests in Manhattan and New Jersey. Other callers could tell we were on a cell phone, but they didn't have any complaints about volume or clarity. Calls on our end were always clear with minimal muffling, even on the noisy streets around Times Square. By including a bigger 1170 mAh battery this time around (versus 1130 for the first Moto Q), the 9m offered good endurance on our tests. With light usage, the phone lasted through a weekend without a recharge, so power users should expect to be able to get through a full day.
We would like to see how well the Sprint version of this device performs, especially considering that carrier's cheaper data plans, but overall the 9m is a good messaging and multimedia device with excellent call quality. If you demand snappier performance, want to be able to gab overseas, and don't care about a camera, spend $50 more on the BlackBerry 8830. But if you want quicker access to your media and better Office document support out of the box, you won't be disappointed with the Moto Q music 9m.
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Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier Verizon
Form Factor Candy Bar
Operating System Windows Mobile OS
Data EDGE
CPU 312-MHz Marvell
Internal Memory 50MB (user accessible)
Memory Expansion Type miniSD Card
Display (main) 2.4 inches (320 x 240 pixels, 65,000 colors)
GPS No
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth Stereo
FM Radio No
Camera Resolution 1.3 MP
Talk / Standby Time 4.6 hours/8.8 days
Size 4.6 x 2.6 x 0.5 inches
Weight 4.8 ounces
Company Website www.verizonwireless.com