License to thrill?
The Q - Motorola's new smartphone - has tons of features and a great price, but FORTUNE's Peter Lewis says that's just not enough.
NEW YORK (FORTUNE) -- There's a scene in the movie "Goldfinger" when James Bond, assessing the passenger ejection seat in his sleek and sexy new Aston Martin sports car, says to the gadget master known as Q, "You must be joking." To which Q replies, "I never joke about my work, 007."
And that's exactly the problem with the new Q smartphone from Motorola (Charts): The phone itself is the sleekest QWERTY-keyboard phone yet invented, slimmer even than Motorola's phenomenally popular RAZR handset, but it's based on an operating system, Windows Mobile, that is stodgy enough to appeal to Q, the technocrat.
Perhaps that's not fair. Let's say rather that Q the phone is a lot like the Walther PPK pistol that Q the quartermaster issued to Agent 007, small and thin enough to conceal without causing unsightly bulges under a tuxedo jacket, giving up a bit of firepower as a result, yet not too small. It's comfortable to hold, well-balanced for one-handed operation on the run, and it delivers good bang for the buck.
Or, more accurately, for 200 bucks from Verizon (Charts), with a two-year service contract. That's half the price of the Palm Treo 700p smartphone I reviewed favorably last month (yes, we're minding our Ps and Qs), and at $200 it's sure to be a popular rival for Blackberries, Treos and other more expensive smartphones.
Users of Windows-based PCs will find the Windows Mobile 5.0 for Smartphone software somewhat familiar, for better or worse. Anyone who has used the Palm operating system, though, will likely be dismayed by the ungainliness of Windows Mobile. It's just easier to accomplish common tasks on the Palm Treo, in part because the Treo has a touch-screen, while the Q does not, relying instead on hardware buttons and a scroll wheel.
If you're trying to delete a piece of spam e-mail - the phone equivalent of ejecting the bad guy from the passenger seat - it's a two-button process on the Q compared to one tap on the Treo. (Can you imagine Agent 007 fiddling with the buttons while bullets are flying? MENU... scroll down ... EJECT BAD GUY ... click! ... ARE YOU SURE (Y/N)? Yes, dammit!)
Similar frustrations arise when dealing with Microsoft Office applications, which, oddly, the Windows-based Q handles less elegantly than the Treo does. Office files are easier to open and edit on the Treo.
Otherwise the Q phone does almost all the little things and odd jobs a good smartphone should do.
For starters, it's a very good mobile phone, unlike earlier generations of Windows-based smartphones that were more like handheld computers with a phone added as an afterthought. Sound quality is excellent, and the speakerphone is loud and clear.
Web-browsing is very much improved, thanks to Verizon's EV-DO high-speed data network. It's not broadband, no matter what Verizon says, but it's way faster than previous Windows handheld Internet solutions. Unlike the Treo, though, the Q can't bridge via Bluetooth to a laptop to act as an anywhere wireless modem.
Browsing Web pages also reveals the weakness of the Q's display screen, which is bright and crisp for most applications, but a tad small compared to the Treo 700p's screen, and lower-resolution, 320 by 240 pixels compared to the Treo's 320 by 320.
Destined to be nicknamed the RAZRberry for its ability to retrieve and send corporate e-mail (assuming your corporation uses Microsoft Exchange Server), the Q can also handle as many as eight different POP and IMAP e-mail accounts, including AOL or MSN Hotmail.
The keyboard makes it easy to compose e-mail or, for instant messaging fans, qwk txt msgs using Pocket MSN Messenger. Receiving mail with attachments seems to work most of the time, but not as reliably as on the Treo.
It's an organizer, too, based on Microsoft Outlook Mobile for on-the-go access to calendar, contacts, and tasks. Synchronizing the Q with a Windows desktop or laptop computer is fairly painless using Microsoft ActiveSync software. (Mac users are better off with the Treo.) Synching can be accomplished with a mini USB cable or via Bluetooth wireless networking.
To be fair, Motorola's Q is more fun than Bond's Q. It comes with Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, which, along with the Mini SD card expansion slot, transforms the Q phone into a serviceable MP3 and WMA music player. (It's especially good with an optional Bluetooth stereo headset.) It also handles video clips and digital still pictures. The built-in 1.3 megapixel camera has a flash and 6X digital zoom.