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Review: Motorola Q9h Global for AT&T

The Motorola Q9h (see our Video First Look Here) is clearly an improvement over its precedessor, the Motorola Q. It's more than just an “improvement,” though, it's an incredible improvement. Motorola has replaced what I considered to be probably the worst Windows Mobile Smartphone on the market with a model that seriously contends on the other end of that spectrum. Even though Motorola has essentially turned lead to gold, they've managed to hang on to what was actually good about the original Q.

The Q9h isn't all wine and roses, though. There are a few issues that, though not deal-breakers for me, might be deal-breakers for you. Read on for the full review.

Form Factor

The Motorola Q9h has the standard form factor that I like to refer to as YAQKWMS (Yet Another QWERTY Keyboard Windows Mobile Smartphone). Which is to say it's a thin, flat slab with a full, front-facing QWERTY keyboard underneath a set of main buttons, which is in turn underneath a 320x240 landscape (non-touch) screen. It's the form factor shared by the T-Mobile Dash, the Samsung BlackJack and BlackJack II, the original Q, and several others.

However, the Q9h differs from its YAWKWMS brethren in that it's significantly wider than most. It's wide to the point of feeling awkward in the hand and very awkward when being held up to your ear. At first, I seriously questioned this design decision -- I thought it was a continuation (an exacerbation, really) of a bad design choice made with the original Q. However, the width of the phone begins to make perfect sense when you start typing on the keyboard. Although I generally prefer the Treo's keyboard to the Q9h's (see When Thumbboards Attack!), I very quickly became used to this keyboard. The extra width makes is very nice to people with large thumbs.

Basically, once you realize that the Q9h is designed to be a powerful email and typing machine, you quickly forgive its added width when you're holding it up to your ear.

Staying with the keyboard for a moment, it's “smile-shaped” and the buttons have just the slightest matte-texture on them, to help with “gripability” for the keys. Each key is rounded horizontally, resulting in a very nice feel. Though the keys are placed directly adjacent to each other, the rounded shape makes it easy to hit the key you're looking for yet still feel like it's not some tic-tac sort of thing. Definitely a huge improvement over the original Q.

Generally speaking, the Q9h feels rock solid in the hand. There's absolutely no flex whatsoever, it's a solid slab of a device in both the good and the bad senses. The back of the phone has a “soft touch” finish, the edges are a metallic-colored hard plastic, and the front has a glossy plastic screen and the aforementioned keyboard. The main button board does tend to be a fingerprint magnet, but that pain is offset by the fact that the keys are well-separated with little rubber ridges.

There are all sorts of nice design touches throughout the Q9h. There are ridges at the top of the device that are designed to be locked into Motorola's belt holster. There's an ambient light sensor on the front to automatically adjust the screen brightness. On the speaker grille on the bottom rear of the phone there are two small “nubs” that stick out just enough to ensure that the bottom of the phone won't be flush with your desk, thereby muffling the speaker.

About the only complain I have is that the little rubber flap over the microSD card slot quickly lost its tab and would flap around. It was only a matter of time before I got sick of the thing and just yanked it out completely. Having a memory card slot I don't need to remove the battery cover to access is very nice, having a little rubber gee-gaw flopping around isn't.

Rounding out the device, there are a few nice extra buttons at the bottom of the keyboard for Calendar, Contacts, Music, Camera, and even a dedicated speakerphone button (long-press for voice-activated commands). I thought that last was a waste of space at first, but I came to like having that button there. I ended up changing what all these buttons point to, I just wish I didn't have to resort to a registry hack to do it.

On the right side Motorola has ditched the scroll wheel on the Q9h in favor of Up, Down, Select, and Back. You can hold down the select button to turn the Up/Down into standard volume buttons (they switch automatically to that during a call) and the back button to switch to adjusting the ringer volume. In practice, I almost never used these buttons for navigating the phone, it was just too wide and too awkward to get a thumb or finger over there.

The Q9h uses Micro-USB for connectivity, though there does seem to be the same “standard but not standard” thing that I experienced with the original Q; namely, the phone seems to only want to charge properly with Motorola branded chargers (or chargers specifically designed to work with it). Once nice touch is the Q9h comes with a tiny Mini-USB to Micro-USB adapter.

A couple nice touches that I'll toss in this section: you hold down the home button for the quick list (much better than reaching to top of a device for a power button) and you can easily lock the keyboard by hitting Home + Space. Many devices make you go though hand-contortions or umpteen button presses to lock and unlock keys.

Specs

Let's take a quick look at the specs before we comment on them in detail:

  • Weight: 4.73 ounces
  • Dimensions: 4.65 x 2.63 x 0.47 inches
  • Talk Time: Up to 9 hours
  • Standby Time: Up to 30 days
  • Bluetooth® Wireless 2.0 with stereo headset support
  • Quad-band world phone - 850/900/1800/1900 MHZ
  • Dual-band domestic UMTS/HSDPA
  • Powered by 325 MHz processor
  • Micro USB 2.0
  • 256 MB Flash ROM plus 96 MB SDRAM
  • MicroSD(TM) removable memory expands up to 32 GB

When comparing the Q9h to the BlackJack II, the thing that gave the Q9h the edge for me was the processor. It's fast for a Windows Mobile Standard device at 325MHz and it feels like its even faster. The OS is very responsive overall. The downside to a speedy processor is that it sucks down the battery life very quickly.

Using the standard, slim battery I was generally only able to eke out about 20 hours, in which span I would talk for about an hour, get email pushed (and checked hourly on my personal account), do a couple hours of web browsing and general fiddling around, and finally maybe 45 minutes of music. With much lighter usage I could maybe push it to 30 hours. Using the hump-back extended battery about doubled the above results.

How Motorola can claim the battery life results they do simply boggles the mind. I use EDGE in my area, making my results all the more disturbing, although I do think it evens out because the phone often had to work harder to get signal because of near-dead zones in my home and office. Still, the Q9h's battery clocks in at just over what I consider to be the absolute minimum acceptable level.

The Q9h has copious amounts of storage and program memory - I very rarely had to jump into the task manager to shut down programs in order to keep things snappy. Additionally, I never bothered storing anything except photos and music on the MicroSD card, the 130 or so megs of user-accessible storage was more than enough.

The Q9h is also called the Motorola Q9 Global, because its radio is a Quad-Band world radio. It will work anywhere on the planet. It supports EDGE and also the faster, 3G UMTS and HSDPA. In my testing the Q9h had significantly better reception than most of the other phones sitting on my desk. Whoever designed the radio antenna for this puppy did an outstanding job. Ditto for the on-board GPS, which was able to get fixes on satellites in under a minute almost without fail. There is no WiFi, unfortunately, but AT&T has 3G in most large areas and they're currently expanding their 3G network very rapidly.

Finally, the 2 megapixel camera on the Q9h is very good. Below is a picture taken under not-ideal circumstances - low light, no flash, and an angry, fidgety, super-unhappy cat. LOLCat Captions are welcome in the comments. ;)

There is also a LED flash on the Q9h that is wickedly strong. You do have to manually turn it on and off via a menu (bummer), but it works very well as a camera flash and also as a flashlight (and heck, as a morse code device!). Rounding out the hardware, there are two (count them - two!) speakers on the rear of the phone for ringing, speakerphone, and music. These speakers have the best quality sound I've ever heard on a smartphone.

The Q9h also happens to be, you know, a phone. As I mentioned, the phone has very good reception, which means that call quality is very good. The speakerphone is loud and works very well.

Software

Of course, the Motorola Q9h runs Windows Mobile 6. This being WMExperts, I'll not say too much about WM6 except that it's the best mobile operating system ever and it may be responsible for bringing peace to the middle east in the near future.

In all seriousness, though, the nice thing about the Q9h and Windows Mobile is that it really shows that Windows Mobile can compete head-to-head with BlackBerrys. I prefer the WM system of email to BlackBerry, of course, but there's more to it. What's amazing is that in a form factor that's nigh-indistinguisable to the layman from a BlackBerry Curve you have two completely different devices. While both operating systems will allow you to do the basics of email fairly well, the Q9h absolutely is capable of better web browsing, document editing, games, you name it. With Motorola's relatively thoughtful integration of the hardware buttons into the Windows Mobile system of doing things, it only loses to the BlackBerry in “ease of use” by a few points.

I've often said that with Windows Mobile devices, the devil is in the details. You can take two Windows Mobile smartphones with nearly identical specs and form-factors and still have radically different experiences based on how much work the manufacturer has put into making the operating system and the hardware work well together. Add in the fact that Windows Mobile's default suite of apps has some very large gaps (Memo pad and a decent alarm clock app, for starters), and you quickly find that the quality of the device has very little to do with what the spec sheet tells you.

In this regard, the Q9h is a champ. We start out noting that Motorola chose to eschew two core apps in Windows Mobile: Pocket Internet Explorer and Office. Although the Office apps on Windows Mobile are pretty good (especially in Windows Mobile 6), they still aren't nearly as good as DocsToGo, which is the Q9h's default office suite.

But the biggest software advantage on the Q9h is that it uses Opera Mobile as its default browser instead of Pocket IE. Opera Mobile does, admittedly, have a hefty load time (around 10 seconds if it's not running in the background, instant if it is), it's well worth it. Opera mobile renders pages more accurately and also more legibly than Pocket IE. Although Opera Mobile 8.65 ain't no Safari (or SkyFire, or Opera Mobile 9.5, or even NetFront), it's currently the best browser available right now for Windows Mobile. Kudos to Motorola for including it by default on the device.

Other than those big two items, the software on the Q9h is a bit of a wash. You have, of course, the default AT&T applications that come on all their Windows Mobile devices, including download links to Music ID, XM Radio, TeleNav, MySpace Mobile, MyCast Weather, etc. Of those, only TeleNav is notable because the Q9h has built-in GPS. I've actually become a TeleNav convert after using the Q9h, I find it to be much more convenient than card-based GPS systems because I switch devices so often. If you're going to be sticking with the Q9h for awhile, though, I recommend you give On Course Navigator 6 a try (check out our review here).

Another built-in app is OZ Messenger (it's called simply “IM”). OZ Messenger is used for IM on AIM, MSN, and Yahoo, and it works very well. They've also bundled downloads for Xpress Mail (AT&T's push-email service based on Seven's software) and Good's push email service as well. I like the idea of Xpress Mail quite a bit and use it whenever I can -- which was sadly not very often because the service seemed to be down so often.

In addition to the bundled apps, Motorola has tried to tame some of Windows Mobile's most arcane and annoying settings with their own custom preference apps. The first is a suite of Bluetooth control applications (which are all hidden away under the “Applications” submenu instead of the “System Tools” submenu, where you'd expect them). These apps offer quick on-off for Bluetooth and management of various Bluetooth devices. Since I use an A2DP device for music in the car and a separate, standard Bluetooth headset for phone conversations, I really appreciated this setup.

Under System tools, there's a nice Quick Start Guide, a couple different options for resetting the phone, a task manager that's fairly decent, and a couple other apps. There's also a “Personalize my Q” directory that contains shortcuts to changing ringtones, shortcuts, wallpapers, and more.

All in all, these extra added apps are very nice, but their placement in the Start menu seems haphazard at best. I would often find myself having to hunt around for this or that app, only to find it in a place I didn't expect. You can, of course, “app-unlock” your Q9h and move stuff in the start menu around, but it seems strange that Motorola put so much thought into the hardware and software integration yet completely dropped the ball on organizing their apps in the start menu. My guess is that, as usual, AT&T muscled their way in to foreground the stuff they make money off of and hide the stuff that's actually useful.

Comparisons

BlackJack II

We've already published a fuller comparison of the Motorola Q9h and the BlackJack II. Here's the short version: except for battery life and width, the Q9h beats the BlackJack II in every way.

Still, though, everybody loves comparison shots:

Motorola Q

Comparing the Q9h to the original Motorola Q is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. The original Q was never made available on AT&T (or any other GSM network for that matter). A more apt comparison would be to compare the original Q to its direct successors, the Q9m and Q9c. What's more interesting, though, is that the Q9h and the CDMA Q9c/Q9m are actually completely different phones. Although they share similar keyboards and roughly similar form factors, they are in fact very different. Where the Q9h has a wedge-shape, the CDMA versions are squared off. The CDMA versions also kept the original Q's scroll wheel as well.

We'll do a fuller smackdown between the modern Q9s in a later post. For now, the really interesting thing is what I mentioned in the introduction -- that the Q9h keeps some of the original Q's good qualities while completely excising the bad ones. The speaker is kept in the same spot (and still has great volume), but there's no “hump” on the Q9h. The main button bar on both phones share some design cues, but the tactile feel on the newer Q is much improved. The Q9h also keeps that speakerphone button, but adds on several more for faster navigation.

Conclusion

The Motorola Q9h is the most powerful non-touchscreen Windows Mobile device available today, bar none. It's fast, it has a very capable web browser, and with its capacious keyboard it's the best email machine I've ever used. Add in on-board GPS and some other nice built-in software and you're looking at a real winner. The fit, finish, and overall quality of the hardware is second-to-none, as well.

There are downsides, though, two of them to be precise. The first is battery life. Motorola does include an extended battery, but it adds an ugly hump to the back of the phone. Unfortunately, the slim battery will last but a day for even casual users. Power users will need to either plug in or swap batteries at some point during the day.

The second downside is price -- the Q9h is currently $150 after rebates, $499 without. Compare that to the BlackJack II's $100 after, $349 without, and it becomes pretty difficult to justify.

Still, though, if you're in the market for a slim smartphone that rocks at email, the Motorola Q9h is my favorite choice.

Ratings (out of 5)

Fit and Finish: 5Connectivity: 5Software: 5Battery Life: 2

Overall:

Pros

Excellent keyboard.On-board GPS and 3G connectivityOpera and DocsToGo Standard.Very high quality hardwareExcellent speakerphoneFast and Powerful

Cons

Battery life is barely enough to get through a single day.More expensive than the competition.
22 Comments
  • Good review, DB. I just got a Q9c and like it a lot. About the only thing I think I miss between the H and my C is the fact that Sprint did not pre-load Opera Mobile.
    Also, does the H have a contiguous clear cover over the softkeys and the screen? On the old Q, the screen was exposed glass and never seemed to scratch. Now there is this thin clear "film" that covers the softkeys and the screen on the 9c and that stuff scratches. I already have little nicks in the screen cover. That is a bummer. Also, the 9c seems to have a "dust under the screen" problem and mine already has some after only 10 days. Might have to swap out a few if it gets worse.
  • I'd def. swap it out. It seems counterintuitive, but I like using screen protectors on these devices even more than I do on touchscreen devices.
    But on the H, yes, it is contiguous.
  • I love my Q9h, I was talking to someone in a store and he had a Blackberry.
    for some odd reason, the conversation became a competition between blackberry and my Q9h.
    I was not comfortable as to where this conversation was heading.
    but I just went with the flow.
    it came down to a huge problem with blackberry that I threw as a final blow to the guy.
    every time their servers shuts down and people can't log in, and alot of the times they lose their Exchange accounts and their administrators have to reconfigure the blackberry all the time.
    I am also not saying that Q9h does not have its own flaws of its own.
    like taking that grey ring around the screen out and making the screen bigger to take up that room where the grey ring is at now.
    Also, Intel made a a really tiny processor for apple that is a Pentium 4 duel core processor, why not place this in the Q9h.
    also Motorola should of place a SUPER TALENT Solid State Flash Drive
    SATA25 128gig drive within the device.
    I payed 380 dollars for the Q9h, and for that price their should of been a Super Talent Hard Drive inside of it.
    As far as the applications, AT&T locks down ALOT of the applications,
    and you have to pay 10 dollars a month for most of them.
    Like the TeleVNAV, XM, MySpace Mobile, MobiTV,
    MyCast Weather.... not counting other hidden software that AT&T hides from us within the device.
    And now that we all figured out how to activate or use WIFI, because Rogers devices of the Q9h has the abilities of using WIFI for their version of their Q9h Global.
    It's been all over the news., they say that customers are going to Starbucks and buying coffe, and using WIFI for free, on a cell phone that AT&T is missing out, and now wants to charge customers per minute for usage of WIFI minutes.
    AT&T now says that it will charge its users for using WIFI per minute.
    They know that WIFI is FREE, and now they want to charge the customer for using something that is free - our WIFI...!!!!
    NOT FARE AT ALL......
    and the thing is, everyone does not do anything about it, like protesting about it.
    we just sit back and keep paying for this and many other things that we know we are not suppose to pay or being taken for a sucker for.
    The Q9h device is AWeSOME, But the chain around my neck by AT&T really sucks.
    Also, why we have to pay for Messaging, and DATA, this should be part of the 59.99 cell phone service we pay each month......
    THIS REALLY SUCKS.
    again we do nothing about it, and keep paying for it and go along with it.
    I bet if all their customers would protest and complain about this, and not pay for services or become customers until they change things,
    it will hurt their pockets and earnings and they will have no choice but to
    change.
    WE THE PEOPLE CONTROL WHAT HAPPENS, NOT CELL PHONE COMPANIES.
    WITHOUT US AS CUSTOMERS , THEY ARE NOTHING..........
  • Also, the 130 megabites of Internal drive space on the Q9h REALLY SUCKS.
    at this day in age, year 2008, Motorola should of known better and at least
    placed a internal 500-MB to 1 GIG drive space as a standard.
    If Apple company can fit 32 gigs on a iPhone and ITouch, then Motorola
    can also place at least a 1 gig standard internal drive space inside.
    Also, the internal memory is SHOCKINGLY HORRIFYING , with a 60 mb
    of memory this is really not fair, this should of been at least 500 mb as standard.
    At least either Motorola or AT&T should of made the ability of letting users (customers) purchase and
    place another SIM Card CHIP inside next to the Cell Company sim card chip that expands the Internal memory.
    thats my gripe so far.
    remember:
    WE THE PEOPLE CONTROL WHAT HAPPENS, NOT CELL PHONE COMPANIES.
    WITHOUT US AS CUSTOMERS , THEY ARE NOTHING..........
  • It would of been SWEET if we had the ability to change the color
    of the keyboard light to what ever color we want.
    Yellow, Green, Pink, Orange, White, Red, Purple, etc etc...
    in stead of just blue.
  • Hey Wave -
    Yeah, it does seem silly that internal memory is so limited - next generation, maybe.
    I agree that AT&T has put a lot of garbage on there - I most just ignore or delete that stuff, never use it (except telenav, that it).
    ....have you actually managed to activate WiFi??!
  • Will the MediaMax 200 plan work with the Global?
  • @Cascade
    Yes, it should work just fine, but that doesn't necessarily mean that AT&T would be happy about it. They're pretty persistent about pushing their PDA unlimited package.
  • @Dieter Bohn - I have a friend who has a device and has the Windows Mobile Professional v6.0
    And he was shocked at all the extra features he found within that Professional version compaired to my Standard version of Windows Mobile.
    I never knew that Windows Mobile came in 2 versions,
    Standard and Professional
    I would love to find a ROM and actually test it out to see if its the actual OS that triggers the WIFI hardware to turn on.
    My belief , and I say again my Belief is - I think that if you swap out the operating system to a higher version from Standard which is in the Q9h phones, and install the Professional version of the OS,
    I think that would turn on all kinds of hidden extra's that AT&T don't want people to know about.
    Because my friend has the PRO version and I just play with all sorts of new applications I have never seen before inside my Q.
    there is about 14 different features just in the connectivity section alone and in the WIFI section as well.@Cascade, I highly suggest you get the Personal DATA Plan if you are on AT&T. - its the Unlimited version of the plan which cost only 30 bucks a month, and for another 20 dollars by doing this -->
    TEXT - GO to 3717, and you get the Unlimited Messaging Plan for only 20 bucks.
    And get the 39.99 400 minutes monthly plan.
    All this will bring the bill to 79.00 dollars a month for everything PLUS TAXES
    to uncle SAM the thief........
    Who does not work for anything, he just sits there and takes your hard earn money like a LAZY BUM. -
    GET OFF YOUR BUTT UNCLE SAM AND EARN YOUR OWN WAY>>...lazy bum...
    I AM STILL UPSET:
    to the fact that AT&T keep trying to RIP customers off every chance they get.
    Now they want to charge Minute by Minute FEE's for usage of WIFI on their network.
    Which really sucks because as we ALL know, WIFI is FREE.
    Now they want to charge for it.
    I really wish millions of people would protest about the charges these cell phone companies are doing to us.
    We should not have to pay more than 50 dollars per month for cell phone plan,
    and thats including DATA, WIFI and Messaging as part of that Price.
    But we don't do anything about it, we don' say anything about it.
    nobody wants to group up and get these prices down.
    YOU WATCH by year 2010 we ALL are going to start paying at least 200 per month for cell phone services.
    this will happen because people don't do anything about it,
    and just go along.
    I am so MAD about this.
    Let me stop here, because I can go on and on about this crap.
  • nice review, I had the same conclusion when I got it in late Jan this year, and you can see my personal review of the gadget here
    One thing I have observed recently is that the broadcom bluetooth is really superior, at least on a bluetooth handsfree carkit set, Moto Q9 excel over other smartphones that I have owned that's based on the generic Microsoft Bluetooth stack. I think this is really the way to go, and I hope the new Q10 will be sporting the same as well!
  • I'll send someone 20 bucks via paypal if they would tell me how to enable wifi. Its the only thing missing from this device.
    Thank you, Celsius Vaughn
    Phoenix, Arizona
  • You can, of course, ?app-unlock? your Q9h and move stuff in the start menu around,
    Good review (I wish I had seen it before I bought the device, because I kind of agonized between the Q and the BJ, bought the Q and love it for all the reasons you stated). After such a great review, I was surprised to see you said it was hard to justify the cost difference between the Q and the BJ -- at $50, I think it's easy to justify!
    Anyway, I wonder if you can explain "how" you can "app-unlock" and move stuff around in the start menu, because I completely agree with you about the illogical locations of various items.
    Thanks!
  • I have found your reviews very informative. Although, I get a chuckle out of it when you say that the Moto Q and other similar form factors like the Treo, etc. feel awkward because of their width or weight. You are too young to remember the days when cell phones were just about the size of a real brick! Now that was AWKWARD. Believe me when I say, a Moto Q is a breeze compared to that (and perhaps that makes a lot of difference). :-)
    Thanks for your great reviews!
  • Save your battery!!!! Switch your Moto Q9h to GSM (no 3G) when you're not using the internet. Go to: Start > My Stuff > My Device > Windows > bandselect.exe > select band(US) 850/1900(GSM)! I don't care if I am 3G unless I am actively using the internet. I do care that my battery life is over two days a charge and I am still playing with my phone A LOT! Remember to cycle your batteries all the way charged to all the way beeping at you low (1st 3 times) times to condition the battery. When you want internet at 3G, go to the same place and back to automatic.
  • @Dieter BohnI never knew that Windows Mobile came in 2 versions,
    Standard and Professional
    I would love to find a ROM and actually test it out to see if its the actual OS that triggers the WIFI hardware to turn on.
    My belief , and I say again my Belief is - I think that if you swap out the operating system to a higher version from Standard which is in the Q9h phones, and install the Professional version of the OS,
    I think that would turn on all kinds of hidden extra's that AT&T don't want people to know about.
    Windows Moble 6 Professional is for phones touch screens. Windows Mobile 6 Standard is for phones without a touch screen. That is directly from Microsoft's website.
  • Yep.
    You can put windows professional on a non touch screen device.
  • I have a grey q9h and i cant seem to keep my keyboard lights on when i text any suggestions i have looked at the phone options and the getting started guide...
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