Motorola rode high for a while on sales of its slim, stylish Razr phone. When its competitive edge started to dull, the company set its hopes on the Q, a BlackBerry-like e-mail phone, which it initially thought would sell as well as the Razr.
Now, with Motorola's position as the world's No. 2 cell-phone maker in jeopardy, it has brought out a thoroughly reworked Razr, and jazzed up its Q with more music-oriented features.
Unfortunately for Motorola, neither of the new phones feels like a winner that's going to bolster the company's stock price, which is down 35 percent from its high of $26.30 set last year.
I tested samples of the MotoRazr2 and Moto Q music 9m for a few weeks, taking help from colleagues who were or are users of the original Razr, which was launched in 2004. Overall, we weren't seriously tempted with either of the new phones, though some improvements are noticeable.
We started out with one Razr2 from each of the three largest carriers: AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. AT&T charges $300 for the phone with a 2-year contract, the others charge $50 less.
The Razr2 is thinner than its ancestor, but slightly longer. One former Razr user said it felt "too big," but this is mostly an illusion. It's created by the Razr2's sturdy feel, which is reinforced by heavy-duty metal hinge and by its heft. It weighs 4.6 ounces, about an ounce more than the Razr, depending on the model.
Overall, it does feel slightly less pocketable than the Razr, and it's harder to flip it open elegantly with one hand.
The other immediately noticeable difference is the large color LCD screen on the outside of the clamshell. At 2 inches diagonal, it's just slightly smaller than the inside screen. It's not exactly a touch screen, but it does have three touch-sensitive areas, with different functions depending on the carrier-specific model. For instance, the Sprint phone has buttons for the mobile TV, music player and camera functions.
Sadly, the outside screen is a mostly wasted feature, though one of us liked it for controlling music. The touch-sensitive buttons are vexing to use, and poorly programmed. For instance, you can activate the 2-megapixel camera and take pictures, but only of yourself, because both the screen and the lens will be facing you. And then you can't get out of camera mode using the outside screen -- you have to open the phone and hit a button.
And what is it we like about clamshell phones anyway? That's right -- that we don't have to lock their keypads before slipping them in our pockets or bags. With the Razr2, you do have to lock the buttons on the outside screen (by pressing and holding a button), at least if you were playing music before closing up the phone. On several occasions, a closed phone started serenading our pockets before we figured this out.
The rest of the interface is clunky, but works. We didn't really take to the TV and music-downloading features that rely on the carriers' cellular broadband networks. The video clips are still small and jerky, and the music selections hard to navigate.
The best part of the Razr2 may be CrystalTalk, a technology that improves incoming and outgoing sound quality in noisy areas like restaurants and trains. Another nice feature: you don't need to teach the phone to recognize specific phrases for voice-activated dialing -- just read out a phone number or say the name of a contact.
The rated standby time for the Razr2 is 330 hours, or two weeks. That might be true under the best of circumstances -- in light use, we recharged the phones every four days. The Verizon Wireless model, however, wouldn't hold a charge for more than a few hours, so we got a replacement. It only held a charge for 24 hours. This is worrisome, but it appears to be a fluke -- neither Motorola nor Verizon said they had heard reports of power problems. Certainly, if a brand new phone acts like this, return it to the store.
The Q9m is only available on Verizon, and costs $200, though there's an additional $50 mail-in rebate available. It has a very tough act to follow: Apple Inc.'s iPhone launched two months ago and, as far as I'm concerned, slapped the smart-phone category silly with its large screen and fantastic interface.
The Q9m does have three things on the iPhone:
* A good hardware QWERTY keyboard, probably the best I've seen on a smart phone. The buttons are rubberized and gentle on the fingertips.
* Access to Verizon's broadband network, with makes for faster e-mail retrieval than AT&T's poky Edge network from AT&T.
* Since it has Windows software, it's easier to get work e-mail on it. I was, however, not able to test this.
So as an e-mail device, the Q9m is serviceable, but the main reason Motorola and Verizon updated the original Q -- which came out just last year -- is to make it more of a music player. It has access to Verizon's Vcast music store, and there's a choice of two different top menus, one of which is more music-oriented.
I would much rather have had one top menu that worked really well. The Q9m lacks a touch screen and instead relies on a side-mounted BlackBerry-style scrollwheel. Combined with the sluggish Windows Mobile software, this makes the phone just too slow, clunky, and confusing. Important features are hidden and screen space is wasted.
The best I can say about the Q9m is that if I was issued one for work, it wouldn't be much of a burden. But after the iPhone, everyone really needs to work a lot harder to impress with a smart phone.
As for the Razr2, if you're like most people and want a phone mostly to talk on, it's not a bad choice, though it may be hard to justify paying $200 to $300 more than you would for an original Razr.
Associated Press Writers Joe Altman, Barbara Ortutay, Dan Scheraga and Seth Sutel contributed to this report.