The Motorola Q Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone Review

Not long ago I was asked to review a few Motorola Q cases for Vaja; the only problem was that I didn’t actually have a Motorola Q! It was no problem to put in a request for a review unit and one was sent very quickly, but there was one potentially major caveat – the device I received did not come with local service. I had a signal but I could not make calls or use the data services. While it would technically have been no problem to simply write the case reviews and then send the Q back, it just seemed wrong. How could I possibly pass up to opportunity to talk about a swank piece of hardware?

Of course I couldn’t.

The solution to my quandary came from Chris Spera, a Gear Diary contributor. He agreed to help comment on the service end of this review since he has access to several Motorola Qs through his day job. For reference: My remarks will be in the regular page colors, and Chris’ will be in blue and italicized.

Well actually, I have access to people who have Q’s; but I’m very familiar with the Q and its features.

My first introduction to the Motorola Q Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone was at the 2005 Mobius in Seattle. At the time I was impressed by its thin body and sleek looks, but I thought that it was a bit wide for a phone. I liked the integrated keyboard, but I thought that the keys felt “plasticy” and a bit stiff. I still wanted to have one in my hands without a company representative anywhere nearby; I wanted a chance to load some programs on it, and see how I might like living with a non-touch screen WM5 device. But before I get into that, let’s first cover the specifications and hardware.

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The Q measures 4.55″ tall x 2.58″ wide x 0.46″ thick and weighs 4.2 ounces. Although its body is made of painted silver plastic, the Q feels very solid in hand, and it does not creak or flex when torqued. While it’s design definitely has a cutting edge appeal, it almost seems as if the design is too “sharp”. The Q is not too wide for my hand, but it almost feels like it is because there are no friendly curves on the sides for my hand to naturally wrap around.


The sides are abrupt and they dig into my palm when my hand is wrapped around the phone, making the Q feel separate from my hand. In other words, unlike some smoother-edged PDAs and phones I’ve held, this is not one that feels like an extension of my hand; I would not want to walk around while holding it, I wouldn’t gesture with it, it doesn’t feel “right”.

Does that make it a bad Smartphone? Maybe not. I guess that would depend upon what else it has to offer.

Battery Type: 1130 mAh Lithium Ion user removable / replaceable
Battery Life: According to Manufacturer – Talk time is up to approximately 4 hours (voice and data); standby time is up to approximately 212 hours. My standby time was significantly less at approximately 20 hours.
Measurements: 4.55″ tall x 2.58″ wide x 0.46″ thick (made with a micrometer)
Weight: 4.2 ounces (on a postal scale)
Processor: Intel PXA27x 312MHz
Wireless: Offered only by Verizon, Dual-band 800 and 1900 CDMA 1x-EVDO/aGPS, Bluetooth (supports Headset/Hands-free and Stereo Profiles), IrDa (infrared)
Platform: Windows Mobile5.0 OS for smartphone
Expansion Card: miniSD
Memory: 64MB RAM / 128MB Flash, 64MB end-user memory
Screen: 2.4″ display (320×240 pixels, 65K TFT)
Audio: “Dual Stereo-quality speakers”, Speakerphone
Camera: 1.3 mega-pixel camera, Video capture with sound and playback

Let’s make our way around the hardware…

The left side of the Q has (from left to right): the Infrared port, the miniSD bay, and the mini USB port.


The miniSD card bay is behind a stiff rubber door. Opening it can be a bit tricky and requires a strong thumbnail or other thin pointy object; it really doesn’t seem to want to release. When shut, it is firmly snapped in place.


The top of the Q holds the headset jack, which is also covered by a stiff rubber door. This door has a fingernail-friendly well next to it and is much easier to open.


The right side has a jog-wheel and a Back / Undo button.


The face of the Q has two ear speakers on either side of the M logo, and a beautiful landscape oriented 320×240 QVGA screen.


Directly under the screen is a key cluster that includes the left and right soft keys (represented by the dots under the screen), the Power /End Call key (in red), the Back key (an arrow), the four-way directional pad with center select, the Home key and the Call / Answer key (in green).

The keyboard keys are oval domed plastic, and they feel like hard little Chiclets under my thumbs. While I feel that the keys have decent tactile feedback, they are placed so tightly together that it is very easy to hit peripheral keys while entering information.

My experience with the Q’s keyboard wasn’t very positive either. I type a LOT of e-mail on my devices. I live and die by e-mail; and unfortunately, I had a hard time getting mail accurately typed with the Q’s keyboard. I disagree that the device has decent tactile feedback. The biggest problem I had was that the feedback on the keys wasn’t strong enough. I had a lot of double typed letters, as I felt I had to press a key more than once.


The letters highlighted in black, which include W, E, R, S, D, F, Z, X, and C also function as the Q’s dial pad; or you can start tapping out a contacts name which will allow a call to be made from filtered choices. The key with a half-filled oval is the ALT key, which calls up the alternative printed choices on each particular key. The bottom row has several special function keys including (from left to right) the Message / Display Off key, the wide space bar, the camera launch button and the speakerphone / voice recognition button. The microphone is the hole on the bottom left.


When a key is pressed, the keys will glow with a soft blue light. The usually silver keys will glow blue with black letters, and the black keys stay dark with glowing blue letters. This is not a bright light, but it is sufficient for a quick text message in the dark.


The camera is as shown below, 1.3 megapixels with a 6x digital zoom.


Here are some examples of pictures taken with the Q’s camera. All three were taken with the camera in 1280×1024 resolution. The first is the typical shot of our upstairs deck, the second shows the regular 1x zoom, and the third shows the 6x zoom. This level of zoom might be a really nifty feature, if the camera were just better. 😐

gear_diary_motorola_q_snapshot_01?? gear_diary_motorola_q_snapshot_02?? gear_diary_motorola_q_snapshot_03
Click the thumbnails to make the photos larger

The battery cover on the rear is held in place with a pop-catch. The door itself is very flimsy, but it stays in place well and never accidentally popped off during my testing. Overseas users will note the absence of a SIM holder, there is none because this mobile phone operates on the CDMA network exclusively. At the bottom of the rear are two grilled stereo speakers, which operate when playing media or when in speakerphone mode. I found that the speakers were quite adequate – certainly loud enough for alarms, music and videos to be comfortably heard.


Speaking of the battery compartment brings up the subject of battery life…which I found to be severely lacking. Bear in mind that I did not have local service to make any calls or do any surfing, but I did have anywhere from two to four bars on the Verizon 1x Network at all times. On a full charge, with minimal usage, the battery of the Q lasted less than twenty hours. That’s less than twenty hours from a full charge to completely dead…hardly any fiddling with the phone – so screen off, zero phone calls, zero wireless usage other than just having the phone turned on. I don’t think I have ever got such poor results from any mobile phone, much less a PDA; my first thought was that this particular Q must be defective. A late night chat with Clinton Fitch and Mike Temporale brought this forum thread to my attention. Evidently it would be best to purchase the extended battery and make sure that the Q is always plugged in to a charger when possible. Clinton and I found that rather ironic, since we have seen this phone highly touted in the DFW Airport’s wall advertisements as a road warrior’s device.

I would have done more specialized battery benchmark tests, but evidently there are no tests that are made for this particular OS. 😛

Ok.. I guess I’m on. 😛 I’ve spoken with a number of different Q users, and their experience has been exactly the same. My personal time with the Q indicates that while the battery drain doesn’t happen so much with 1xRTT coverage, like the Palm 700w, the Q bleeds power like running water through a sieve. The extended battery is almost mandatory to get any kind of normal use out of it. If you put even moderate use on the Q, you’ll be searching for an AC fix in as little as 90 minutes. The more you use the device, the faster you run out of power.😛

That just about wraps up the hardware, now lets take a look at the software side of things.

Because this is a Smartphone, and not a Pocket PC, there is no interaction through a touchcreen or stylus; instead all commands are carried out by pressing keys or using the jog-wheel. This takes a bit of getting used to, but it soon becomes second nature.

Not for me. Smartphones are great for people that want more phone than PDA. I want more PDA than phone. That’s a Pocket PC. I want a touch screen, and all of the abilities that come with it. I kept on doing the same thing with the Q that I do with every device…tapping the screen; and all it did was go, “thunk…”

This is the Smartphone Today Screen, it is similar to the Pocket PC Today Screen, just remember to use the jog-wheel and soft keys instead of a stylus…


Here’s the start screen, once again – using the jog-wheel to move between the various program choices. Everything can be opened by clicking with the scroll wheel.

The Smartphone Today screen isn’t bad, but I have never been a big fan of it. I’m not even happy with the normal Today screen on a PPC. I always install Snoopsoft Dashboard on all of my Pocket PC’s. It gives me more information than the standard Today screen does. Like PPC’s I wish I had more descriptive information here. I also found the lack of a touch screen very limiting when trying to configure the display.


This is the Agenda view in Calendar…


I’m not crazy about Calendar in Smartphone. I find it difficult to work with, especially with a regular cell phone form-factor. T9 input stinks. However, the Q’s keyboard made it much easier.

…and the way people and companies are displayed in Contacts.


A phone call can be initiated from the Contacts view by pressing the Call /Answer button, pressing in the jog-wheel, or by pressing the first few letters of a contacts name; one handed operation is quite simple.

Yah. Contacts was very simple and easy to use. I haven’t had any problems with it.


There is also the option of using Voice Recognition to place a call. I did my typical test, which is to say “Call Sarah”, and each of the three times the Q was unable to understand me. “Call Claire?” it would ask, “NO, call Sarah.” grrrrr!

My experience was a little better. I didn’t have the problems with the Voice Recognition that Judie did, though one of my two other Q users did. I’m convinced this is got a lot to do with accent and environment. My contacts down South didn’t have as much success with VR as my Chicago contacts.

Ha! You say that like I might have a Texas twang or somethin’! 😉


As with most Pocket PC devices, multiple applications will be running in the background until they are manually shut down. When I opened this window, I was actually surprised by the number of running programs; the Q didn’t seem as bogged down as might have been expected.

I will say this for Smartphone OS, it does seem to be better with memory management than Pocket PC OS. However, according to Dave Ciccone, part of the problem with the Q’s battery life is traceable to the way Windows Mobile manages memory. Too much of the device’s resources are spent in managing what the device does with its RAM. As a result, the battery drains quickly.


The Q does not have built-in WiFi, but it does have Bluetooth. This allows the user to connect with a BT headset or sync wirelessly. Did I miss WiFi? Yes. Is it a deal-breaker? For me, yes. And there is no way to easily add a WiFi card to the Q even if I wanted to.

I don’t miss WiFi at all. With the unlimited EDGE/GPRS that I have on my GSM based devices, I never use WiFi at all, as its only good when in the range of an Access Point I have the security credentials for.


Even though I couldn’t use the Verizon network to surf, I was still able to get internet screen shots while connected via ActiveSync.


This is normal sized text in the PIE browser…


…and this is the smallest. Obviously surfing on this size screen is possible, but like surfing on any sub-4″ screen, it’s not altogether painless.

I agree. getting PIE to display text in a size I can read without grabbing my glasses isn’t always easy.


The pictures and video application allows you to see pictures and video captures by the Q. Pictures may be taken in 160×120, 176×144, 320×240, 640×480 and 1280×1024. Video may be captured in 128×96, 160×120 or 176×144.


Pictures and video may be sent to others via Bluetooth, text message, Outlook E-Mail, or MMS.


Outlook Email is the standard Inbox Pocket PC users are used to seeing. It’s very cool how these type applications translate so easily to the Smartphone platform. I’m telling you – a few soft keys, a jog-wheel and a keyboard…it’s all you need.


This is where I live. Inbox on the Q was very easy to use. Honestly, this is probably the best feature of the whole device in my opinion; but like Judie says below, its not all sunshine and daisies…

Here’s where things get weak. One of the email attachments was a .pdf form. Using the File viewer, this is what was seen…


Zooming did not help the focus.


One way that the Q’s beautiful screen excelled was while reading eBooks. I liked having the jog-wheel available, but its being on the right side made it uncomfortable for for my intended use. I would have much preferred a jog-wheel on the left side, but being on the right would probably be perfect for a lefty! :-) Even so, scrolling through pages was very easy by using the directional pad.


Even though I am used to the full features of the Pocket PC OS, I could probably “get by” while using a Smartphone as my main PDA. The major consideration would be the device’s hardware; unfortunately, the Motorola Q is not the device that could get me to make the change. It’s too uncomfortable to be my phone, and too crippled to be my main PDA.

The Motorola Q is available directly from the manufacturer as well as from other retailers.
MSRP: $299.99, substantial discounts are available from Verizon
What I Like: The solid feel, bright screen, jog-wheel, directional pad
What Needs Improvement: Battery life is poor, keys are “plasticy” and too close together, no WiFi, uncomfortable in hand

Categories: Reviews


14 replies

  1. It should also be noted that Verizon’s service in both the Nashville and Chicago areas is top notch. I was never without enough signal to do the things I needed (take/make calls, check e-mail, surf the Interne, etc.) Verizon has the best signal strength in [either] town. However, with the Q, that advantage comes at the expense of shorter battery life, and more expensive costing services.

  2. I have read a number of reviews of the Q, some positive, some critical like this one, and some downright dismissive (like Walt Mossberg’s in the WSJ). What I find is that what I like (the size, the keyboard – yes, the keyboard! – the screen) is often of no importance to others. The main drawback, without a doubt, is the poor battery life, but as for the rest, frankly I don’t get it: you, Chris, complain about the keyboard, saying there is too little tactile feedback and the keys are too close together, so that I ask myself, what is it that you do like? The Treo’s keys are even closer together, but since the unit is much thicker (and in my opinion clumsier to hold) the keys have more travel. Judie, do you really find the Q harder to hold than the heavier and bulkier Treo? I don’t. This is what I call a tradeoff: if the key travel is more important, then you accept the greater weight and thickness, but if slimness is more important, then you live with the shorter travel. In this morning’s NYTimes, David Pogue calls the Q one of the “turkeys” of the year. (Pogue actually went wild over the Bang&Olufsen $1200 phone, which uses a wheel similar to the ipod’s without pointing out the difficulty of navigating such a thing one-handed, something crucial to a cellphone user). I have run into people in NYC who hate Treos and Q’s, and also plenty who love them (apparently, you have not). I think the only way to choose is actually to try one out, if possible. For the record, my wife bought Q’s for herself, our daughter and me: my wife and I use our Q’s daily (I have Goodlink for push email, and we both get EVDO),my daughter hated hers and returned it for the 700W, which she loves. Is either device better?, no but each “suits” the user.

  3. Let me see if I can address you questions in order:
    -“so that I ask myself, what is it that you do like?” – I like that it even has a keyboard. Many Smartphones rely upon a numeric pad and T9. Having a full keyboard, even if I think it is tightly packed together and even if Chris doesn’t like its tactile feedback, is still better than nothing. Remember that I am coming from an HTC Universal Pocket PC Phone, so I have grown accustomed to a very large & comfortable keyboard. I will be reviewing a Palm 700p in the next month, so I will then be able to better respond regarding which keyboard of the two I like better.

    _”Judie, do you really find the Q harder to hold than the heavier and bulkier Treo?” – It’s not that the Q is harder to hold, it’s that I do not like how it feels in my hand. You are right about trade-offs: I would accept a bulkier and heavier device if it felt better in my hand and got great battery life.

    You bring up a very important fact: there is something for everyone.

    Thank you for commenting. :-)

  4. No note-taking capability out of the box, and no document editing capability. I like Chris’ comment, “more phone than PDA…”

  5. Gee Motorola really dropped the ball on this one. All the hype, and then Samsung got in first with a better product!!

  6. Regarding voice recognition: Judie has reported that she has had great success with her HTC Universal, and I concur. This is noteworthy in that Judie is a Texan, and I am nasally Connecticut Yankee; the fact that both of us get good success is a testament to the software, in my opinion (and I use my Cardo bluetooth headset for voice dialing most of the time). So I would say that if the Q has a lot of trouble because of accent, that doesn’t reflect well on the software.

    Just one man’s opinion.

  7. I have little trouble with voice dialing, either from the Q itself or my bluetooth headset. It certainly is not perfect and sometimes I must repeat the name, but I don’t see that this is any different from my two partners who both use Treo 650’s. A lot of the problem (especially on the street here in NYC) is a matter of ambient noise and, at least where the headset is concerned, wind. Question for you all: is there a perfect phone? Please let me know, I will buy it immediately.

  8. Smartphones are great for people that want more phone than PDA. I want more PDA than phone.

    Alas, this seems to be a major problem in the land of convergence devices…..I am waiting for my 5th 700w to arrive from FedEx in order to PERHAPS use both a PDA and phone. As I live in Central Illinois, the Treo is terrible as a phone. I have found out if one lives in the fringe area of a carrier, the Treo cannot cut it. The norm is dropped calls, missed calls, and inability to make calls. The problem is not carrier specific, the 650 on Cingular and the 700w on Verizon both have the same characteristics. However, the Motorola Q does everything the Treo cannot or does not, phone wise; but not nearly as good as a PDA.
    While those who live in Metro or Suburban areas, this may not be an issue but in the hinterlands it most certainly is. The Treo is a great PDA but not a very good phone; and the Q is just the opposite, it can make calls anywhere but its PDA functions and poor compared to the Treo. The Treo has good battery life, the Q is terrible. One can edit spreadsheets on a Treo, no such option on the Q….
    Other devices such as the 6700 do work but one cannot use the functions with one hand….Oh well, perhaps the next iteration of Windows Mobile 5 will bring better things…


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