Motorola's Krave ZN4 puts a new twist on touch. This unique clamshell, available from Verizon Wireless for $149, lets you operate the phone through the clear lid, although you can do much more with it open. And this device supports the stellar V CAST Mobile TV service and offers very good call quality. The on-screen keyboard is awkward, though, making the ZN4 a poor choice for messaging, but otherwise it's a solid, value-priced multimedia handset for Verizon Wireless customers.
A descendant of the Motorola Ming, the ZN4 is beautiful. It looks like a concept phone come to life. At 4.6 ounces and 4.1 x 2.0 x 0.8 inches, the device was comfortable to hold, but when we placed it against our ear, the flat base of the unit felt a little awkward against our face, since the lid's drop hinge rests directly on your cheek.
As with all clamshells, the ZN4's earpiece is built into the lid. Because the lid is transparent, when you open the phone the earpiece looks like it's floating, a feature that's visually arresting. Upon closer inspection, we could see a small wire mesh running up the lid to the earpiece. That mesh also enables the lid to be used as a touchscreen for controlling the display beneath it. Unfortunately the lid recognized our key presses about two-thirds of the time.
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With the lid closed, the touchscreen's effective size is a 2.4-inch, 320 x 240-pixel area; open the phone, and you're treated to a beautiful 2.8-inch, 400 x 240 LCD touchscreen, surrounded by a reflective smoky gray border. Arrayed around the sides of the Krave ZN4 are volume controls, a 3.5mm headphone jack, mini-USB port, microSD Card slot, camera button, and phone lock.
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The ZN4's UI starts out with a home screen, to which you can apply a custom image background. On the top are four icons for accessing your messages, the dialpad, the main menu, and your contacts. The date and time are stamped at the bottom of the screen. The main menu is straightforward: 12 icons represent the usual applications, such as VZ Navigator and Media Center, and it's simple enough to use when the flip phone is open. Navigate through menus is intuitive, and you never need to dig much to get to the important stuff such as music or the Web; those icons are right on the home screen.
Too bad the UI is a bit sluggish. When we clicked a menu it would take about a half second for the phone to recognize our input before opening that directory. If you tap the screen too gently, nothing will open. This was frustrating; when trying to switch songs quickly, we had to give a firm press to switch between album and artist lists.
Click to enlargeWith the lid closed, you can use the touchscreen to play music, watch TV, view pictures, and access VZ Navigator, but you can't access the keyboard. That means you can't type in directions for VZ Navigator, and you can't search for music by typing in an artist or album name. If you get a text message, you can view it, but you need to open the phone to respond.
The ZN4's QWERTY on-screen keyboard is one of the worst we've used. Trying to type on the display with the phone open--which requires you to turn the phone on its side--is awkward at best, as the open lid makes it difficult to comfortably use your left hand. Not helping is the fact that the touchscreen sometimes didn't recognize key presses.
When we pointed this out to Motorola, company representatives told us to use our index fingers, an uncomfortable and impractical technique in an age where thumb-typing is standard on just about every mobile device.
Thankfully, the alphanumeric dialpad is easier to use, because the numbers are large and clear. However, when we typed quickly, the keypad didn't recognize every number, resulting in repetitive presses of the CLR button. You can switch between the alphanumeric pad and the QWERTY layout by flipping the phone; the ZN4's accelerometer automatically adjusts between landscape and horizontal mode.
Music and Video
The ZN4 is a very good multimedia device. We added some music by plugging in a microSD Card, and our tracks sounded crisp and full. Verizon Wireless doesn't include headphones, but you can easily plug your own set into the 3.5mm jack or use a stereo Bluetooth headset. Tracks downloaded from the V CAST Music store ($1.99 each) arrived quickly, and the phone also supports the Rhapsody to Go subscription service for unlimited music ($14.99 per month). Well, not completely unlimited; the ZN4 supports microSD Cards with up to 8GB of storage, which equals about 2,000 songs.
The V CAST Mobile TV service looks stellar on this phone. The picture was clear and fluid on all ten channels, and audio was perfectly in sync while we watched Comedy Central. But this service is available in only 64 cities, and generally not in the surrounding suburbs. You'll want to check to see if V CAST Mobile TV is available in your area, given that it costs $15 by itself for the Basic package and $25 for the Select package, which also includes unlimited video-clip downloads, mobile Web, and e-mail access.
The ZN4's browser is powered by Verizon Wireless' Mobile Web application, a common feature on the carrier's phones, and it defaults to the VZW Today screen. The browser is as basic as they come, and you're limited to the simplest mobile Web sites. Even selecting a link is harder than it should be; you have to use a large pointer that resembles an oversize cursor and position it on the link before pressing down. While the browser is normally oriented in portrait mode, it automatically reorients into landscape mode whenever you want to enter a Web address, which was annoying.
In our office, we had a fluctuating EV-DO signal ranging from 1 to 3 bars of service where the two other Verizon Wireless phones, theLG Dareand theBlackBerry Curve, had full signals. With two bars of service, we were able to load ESPN.com in 15 seconds, NYTimes.com in 10 seconds, and CNN.com in 13 seconds. The Dare loaded CNN.com in 4 seconds and NYTimes.com in just 5 seconds with a full signal.
The ZN4's touchscreen works well with VZ Navigator, which looks to be specially formatted for the device. You can use VZ Navigator for local search or for voice-guided directions, and it also supports traffic updates. It placed us half a block off from where we were actually located in Midtown Manhattan, but the service updated itself once we began walking downtown.
Click to enlargeThe ZN4 lets you choose between Mobile E-mail and Mobile Web E-mail: The former launches Verizon Wireless' own e-mail application, which allows you to add either a AIM Mail, AOL Mail, Windows Live Hotmail, Yahoo Mail account, or Verizon.net. You can also log into other services, including Gmail. The Mobile E-mail system is the same as what you'll find on many other Verizon Wireless phones; it's just as easy to use and will alert you of new messages.
Mobile Web E-mail launches the Verizon Wireless browser and lets you access AOL Mail, Gmail, Windows Live Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail through the Web. This mode doesn't alert you when new messages arrive. Ultimately though, both e-mail apps are hampered by the poor QWERTY keypad.
The 2-MP camera on the ZN4 was good. Shots indoors in our office were large and crisper than we've seen from most camera phones, but they're still best suited for sharing online, not printing. Videos taken with the ZN4 were very pixelated and poor quality. While you can take pictures with the lid closed, opening it gives you access to additional options, such as the ability to zoom or view thumbnails of recently snapped photos.
While we didn't always have a full EV-DO signal indoors, we still had a full four bars of 1X signal for voice calls, and conversations with friends were crystal clear. We also left a voicemail on our landline phone, and not a single word was lost.
The ZN4 features Visual Voice Mail, which lets you manage your voicemail inbox quickly and play back messages from the phone without having to call in and navigate through annoying phone subsystems.
Over the course of one day, we used the ZN4 to listen to music, watch TV, and make a few phone calls to and from work during our commute; the battery was nearly empty as we arrived home that night, likely due to the display being on while we were watching TV. When we left the phone idling for five days after a charge, it had lost only one quarter of its battery life. If you're using the device more for multimedia, you'll want to bring a charger along; otherwise the ZN4 provides
Click to enlargevery good endurance.
Motorola Krave ZN4 Verdict
In multimedia and call quality the $149 Motorola Krave ZN4 doesn't disappoint. The clamshell design is pretty compelling, but we were let down by the awkward on-screen keyboard and the inability to access more functions with the lid closed. Those who plan to do a lot messaging should opt for the identically pricedLG Voyager, which shares many of the ZN4's features (including Mobile TV) but sports a more comfortable QWERTY keypad. But if you're intent on getting a touchscreen-only device, the Krave ZN4 is worth a look.
See the eye-catching transparent cover and beautiful touchscreen of the Moto Krave ZN4 in action.
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