By Gregory Brill
Note to readers from ActiveNick: Since I posted on the Motorola Q two days ago, a real flame war erupted on my blog. As I mentioned there, Infusion's CEO, Greg Brill, bought one and started learning it. Despite the lack of Direct Push, he decided to give it a shot. He is an avid BlackBerry user and asked me to post his review of the Q from the perspective of a BlackBerry user, since my blog is a better forum for such a review than his own blog. The words that follow are all Greg's.
“It is no BlackBerry Killer, More Along the Lines of BlackBerry Fertilizer; it will, if anything, further grow the Blackberry base as the carriers and the phone manufacturers prove once again that they are unable or unwilling to grasp the concept of real-time email.” –me.
As a BlackBerry user of 5 years but a lover (and implementor) of Microsoft technology, I awaited the Motorola Q with some eagerness: maybe this would be the device that could finally stand-in for my BlackBerry. I’d always coveted the Microsoft Smartphone's features. They just lacked two things I needed: keyboard and real-time email. Reading the PR on the Q, it looked the BlackBerry alternative I had been waiting for.
Now, I am in a unique position…as the owner of a consulting firm that actually employs two Microsoft Mobility MVPs, and with the immediate ability to make changes to my infrastructure, I knew I could do a thorough review of the Q. So I bought one. And while I still have the BlackBerry 7250, I am leaving it at home and force myself to use the Q. I’ll have some itemized findings in a bit, but first, here is my general impressions. (NOTE: I am not especially knoweldgeable about this industry sector…I am a business user, not a mobile technophile. These are just my comments and impressions and it could be that I am missing a secret button that turns on all the functionality I want…but I doubt it).
Impression 1: Smartphones, no matter how slick, QUERTY or not, are about PHONES first and NOT about email. The Q is a phone. Not an email device.
It has always been my complaint that the Smartphones always treat email like a second class citizen. But for BlackBerry users, it is the PHONE you can do without. I am text-centric. I hate the phone. Phone is only for immediate communication of something complex where it would take to much time to type. I know my mother, my sister, friends of mine don’t get this. But managers of large enterprises understand; you need a way to codify, forward, retain information and work iteratively with many other people with a sense of history, building corporate memory of the situation as you go. Phone is my secondary use, email the first. This is where the business market and general consumer markets are precisely opposite. For most people, phone is essential, email is nice. For me, other way around.
Impression 2: Q is for general consumers, not business people.
The presence of the camera says it all. This is not a business device. The investment banks I work in certainly don’t want their staff or consultants running around with immediately accessible cameras to capture trade secrets, potential HR violations, and the like. Right there you’d have issue getting this device into most my clients. Consumers love this/demand this, but business people don’t want it. The inclusion of the camera tells me this is for the populace, not the business person. Keep the frigging camera, give me push email please.
Impression 3: Lack of push means Motorola/Verizon are not serious about the business user.
When I first learned that there wasn’t push for the Q, I called the rep. “But we have push! There is the Verizon push application and Good technology does it!” Well, the Verizon app is out because I am not going to leave my office PC on with some lame agent running…that is just a ridiculous proposition for an enterprise user…especially when machines are purged, reset and updated at night by centeralized IT department to keep them uniform with other computers in the firm. For my mom who leaves her Gateway running, yeah, fine. For a business person, you have to be kidding. In terms of Good Technology…that is a whole enterprise server installation on Exchange and a new client. Costs $2000 plus $100 per user or something. My IT guy looked into it and said that the install was a little more complex than he’d like, but doable. So I’ll try it…nice thing about being a business user is that you can afford that kind of thing, the functionality is worth much more to you than the software cost. But I resent that I have to do this step to get what the Q should do natively…and what the Windows Mobile 5.0 platform has built in vis-à-vis the AKU2 update. Curiously absent from the Q’s build. I’ve heard conspiracy theories on the web that Motorola is trying to push Good. Don’t know if that is true, but I can see why these theories began.
Anyway, what lack of push tells me is that Motorolla/Verizon see the business market as a “nice to have” with the Q, but they are focusing on general consumer who is happy with polling. Not having push absolutely *kills* the potential for this device with the BlackBerry market. It makes the Q simply another in a long line of clever phone/PDA gadgets. But a BlackBerry killer? Hardly a killer…more like BlackBerry fertilizer which will, if anything, further grow the BlackBerry base as the carriers and the phone manufacturers prove once again that they are unable to grasp the concept of real-time email.
SPECIFIC FEATURES BLACKBERRY HAS THAT ARE MISSING ON THE Q
- IntelliText is not as good. BlackBerry has an autotext that lets you replace any number of words/phrases/acronyms you define with phrases. Q has something less powerful where you can add and pick from a list of set phrases…but that is not as powerful and it requires you open a menu, look at the phrases, pick one, it inserts it, etc. It is much easier on the BlackBerry to type a collection of letters and have it instantly translate to a phrase of your making. Also missing which drives me nuts is the SPACE TO PERIOD feature on the BlackBerry. When you press space-space on the BlackBerry, it ends your sentence with a period and upper caps your next sentence. I was so surprised how much I missed that and how much time that saves when composing emails. There seems to be no way to replicate that on the Q.
- Keyboard difficult for BlackBerry users: To be fair to the Q, I have worked on BlackBerrys for half a decade. As such, I might just be used to it and I will need time to adjust to a Q keyboard. But I am having a tough time. The keys are raised much higher than a BlackBerry, so I find thumb typing more difficult to do without inadvertainly pressing additions/wrong keys. And when you do type the wong keys BlackBerry users will be hugely irritated that THERE IS NO BACKSPACE KEY ON THE KEYBOARD. To do a backspace, you need to press the <- (i.e. back) button on the top of the keyboard near the screen (it is a Smartphone standard button, not a QUERTY keyboard button). It is hard to press with a thumb because it is a recessed key and somewhat high, so you end up shifting the phone in your hand to do a backspace. The result of all these things is that I am probaby only at 30% of the typing speed on the Q than I am on the BlackBerry. It is a little frustrating but, again, I am giving this time since I might get better at it.
- Clip is awkward: Many people will accuse me of being persnickety, but the clip matters. Let me explain. The BlackBerry clip is a holster, you slide the device in and out of it. When you are at a traffic light, in a dull meeting or something like that, you are sitting down. And you want to easily slide out the device, take a peek at your email, slide it back in. You don’t want to be fussing with the clip. With the Q, it is not a holster, you snap/pop the device in and out horizontally. Damn near impossible to do when sitting down. So forget about stealing a glance at your email while in a meeting sitting down. The other people in the room will think you are having a grand mal seizure as you try to pop the thing in and out of the holster.
- Battery: With the BlackBerry I can talk, do email all day and I typically keep the phone on my holster until I go to bed at night. So, probably 12 hours. Never been a problem, even on an old battery. Q only made it to about 7-8pm with similar use. I have adjusted my POLLING EMAIL to 10 minutes instead of 5. We’ll see if that makes a difference. I sincerely hope that “push” if they ever have it doesn’t result in a 1hr batterly life.
- Screen: The screen of the Q is gorgeous, no complaint there. I just wish it would turn itself on when I took the device out of the clip. For a BlackBerry user it is common behaviour to take out the device many times an hour, and glance at the screen to see if you have any email. Since the BlackBerry has an LCD screen which you can see whether backlit or not, it is always on. You pop it out of the holster, you can see immediately if you have email. Cool. But the Q screen turns itself off. So, you want to glance at your email, you take the device out, you see a black screen. How do you get that screen to turn on? You got to push a key. Which key? Well, any key but beware that the device is on, so whatever key you press will actually cause an action. So, if you holstered the device looking at your inbox, and you take the device out later and press the arrow button or something to turn the screen on, you will no longer be on the email application. I have trained myself to push the ALT key so that the screen turns on where I left it. I just have to remember to push the ALT key again before I type though. What a pain. BlackBerry seems to have a magnetic holster sensor so that when you remove the device, the backlight goes on. Not the Q, though. Goes back to what I was saying…to the Q, email is a second class application, something you will run time to time, not the main thing that should be front and center. Dedicated buttons for phone, nothing for email. It is not an email device.
- Can’t flag email: well, BlackBerry email client can’t do this either. But gosh, all I want in life is to set up a follow-up flag on an email on my mobile device so that when I get back to a PC, I can see what requries action. Best you can do is “Mark as Unread”. Sigh. Maybe someday when the technology is capable of that kind of sophisticated flag-rendering and inter-flag communications.
- Conference Call/Extension Dialer: On BlackBerry , if you have a number in the form xxx-xxx-xxxx ext. yyyy, when you select and dial, the phone will first dial the X part. Then it will pop up a dialog that says, “DIAL YYYY?” Can’t tell you how useful that is. Seems to be missing on the Q/Windows Mobile 5.0. Sometimes…sniff…it is the simple things you miss most.
- Push email: “Jeez, whats the big deal waiting 5 minutes for an email, can’t you wait 5 minutes?” Answer. No. I can’t . My mom can. So can my sisters and young cousins. You can wait 5 minutes to get an email with a subject line of “wuzzup!” But if you manage/deal with many people, with many issues ranging in priorities, you need real-time mobile email to track, remember, triage, reference, forward, and a number of other things. If you do not or have not managed a good number of people you will not viscerally understand this need. Email is not AN application. It is THE application.
Blackberry is the #1 mobile device used by government and large-scale business people. All the investment banks (our clients) use it. The venture capitalists I work with use it. Why do you think that is? Do you think 5 minutes matters when Al Gore got a BlackBerry message about giving his concession speech? (Well, in that case, I guess it didn’t, but you get my point). Do you think a congressman would like to know and query the immediate status of many situation in a crisis? There are times when you need to query and receive information asynchonously from many sources, and you simply can’t just line up 15 phone calls with people.
FEATURES Q HAS THAT BLACKBERRY DOESN’T
- Great Screen
- No Stylus: Thank the heavens. I absolutely hate stylus-oriented mobile devices. If you cant do everything you need to with one hand while driving (I call that “OHWD rated”), it is useless to me. True, the BlackBerry does not have a stylus either, but this is more of comparison with Pocket PCs out there.
- Snappier non-Java performance: I always thought BlackBerrys became dog slow after moving to a Java platform from C++ many years ago. They are still lethargic.
- EVDO browser: High bandwidth-browsing, browsing on the BlackBerry is to terrible to even contemplate…it is that slow. Q does a great job of this.
- Ability to write applications in .NET: I own a software development company, so that is very useful to me. When I need an app, I can write it myself and/or get support from my staff. .NET is a terrific development environment. I find Java too cumbersome comparitively.
- Supposed future ability to operate as EVDO modem: can’t do it today without a hack, but someday, Verizon promises…
- More open Bluetooth: I hear but have not confirmed that this phone opens up Bluetooth to allow the device to do more than just use a wireless headset. It will share your contacts, expose its file system, etc. If true, that’s great. I need to test this. One thing that irritated my about my Verizon blackberry was how limited its Bluetooth was. I was at a BMW dealership looking at a new car. A criteria for me is that my phone has to work with the car…I just do so much business in the car that it is important. The Verizon BlackBerry phone wouldn’t tell my car about my contacts even though the car’s computer has the ability to store these. Verizon had, apparently, crippled that functionality on purpose. Or so the salesman told me.
- Speakerphone: Very cool, always wanted that. The Q also feels much nicer in non-speakerphone mode against your year than the BlackBerry which, opposite the Q, is an email device first, phone second.
- Voice Commands/voice dialing: Very, very useful, always wanted that in BlackBerry.
- Autocomplete: Q attempts to autocomplete words for you as your type. Could be a time saver, but I find it irritating. Again, though, I need to give the Q time…I need to make sure I give it a fair shot given I’ve used bberry for so many years.
- Camera: whoopie. If I get a sudden urge to coral my clients in a cube while I am on-site and take a shot to send it to my mommy, now I can. Or if I see a cute doggie on the equities trading floor. Or if I am ever in the mood to get into corporate espionage. Or develop a fetish. Or steal a lawn gnome and travel with it. I dunno, aside from the reasons I mention I am also reminded of a quote that goes along the lines of, “important people don’t carry keys.” I kind of feel that “serious business people don’t carry camera phones.” Maybe I am just a snob. How about I rip out the camera with a serrated grapefruit spoon, send it to Motorola, and they can send me back AKU2?
So, that’s it. For other BlackBerry users out there who are thinking of the Q, I hope you find this useful. My advice: Wait. Not there yet.