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New Q on the Block

Razzle dazzle drazzle drone, Motorola's (MOT) got another wonderphone.

After more than a year of tantalizing introductions, including three different names and at least one last-minute delay, Verizon Wireless, co-owned by Verizon (VZ) and Vodafone (VOD), will start selling Motorola's thin Q phone next week.

Initially dubbed RazrBerry by mini-keyboard phone fans, the Q's features and price ($200 with two-year contract and data-subscription kickback) put it somewhere between a $400 PDA phone and the latest $100 cell phone -- it's a Treo-Lite for the masses.

The Q is a slightly dumbed-down smartphone that manages to rival the Razr in coolness.

When it comes to winning phone designs, slim carries a lot of weight, and at 12mm thick, the Q is twice as sleek -- or half as bulky as rivals like Palm's (PALM) Treo and RIM's (RIMM) BlackBerry.

Compared with the rest of the field, there's every reason to think Motorola's Q will reign as the style-setter for keyboard phones, just as Razr started the slimming trend in flip phones.

The Q, in hand, feels solid at 4 ounces. And measuring 2.5 inches wide by 4.5 inches tall, it is a natural fit for a shirt pocket. Though tiny, the keyboard is hugely capable. Typing on a mini-QWERTY soundly beats all other phone-pad alternatives.

To be sure, the bright 2.5-inch diagonal screen is a pleasure. But why not go the full 3 inches wall-to-wall? And while they're at it, why not throw in a touch screen? The reps at Motorola and Verizon Wireless said customers preferred regular screens. (Sure they do.) And, they added, touch screens are expensive. (Translation: a higher price or narrower profit margin.)

But the thumb dial, justifiably beloved by BlackBerry fans, offers some compensation for the lack of a touch screen. With the ability to thumb scroll and click, most of the phone's functions can be handled in a liberating, one-handed fashion.

To make this phone nearly affordable, Motorola and Verizon Wireless obviously had to keep the bells and whistles to a minimum.

Though it's a total BlackBerry imitation, the Q does not work with the BlackBerry office email system, though the companies are in talks. Verizon Wireless has chosen the less expensive routes with Microsoft (MSFT) Outlook and Good Technology as its email partners. Web mail like Yahoo!, Hotmail and Gmail is easy to fetch.

Another big Q shortcut is the Windows Mobile 5 operating system for smartphones. Unlike the version for Pocket PC used in PDA phones, the Q does not come with Word or Excel for creating documents. There is, at least, a read-only application that allows you to view email Word attachments.

This being Windows, the phone is prone to freezing -- about twice a day, on average.

And this being Verizon Wireless, there is unfettered Web access, but you have to work for it, by navigating around all the MSN and Handango kiosks. And forget AOL Instant Messenger -- the Q is stuck with MSN Messenger for your IMing.

Sounds and images come through shining on the Q. The speakers provide ample stereo sound, and calls were crystal clear. The 1.3 megapixel camera is very easy to use and videos aren't too shabby.

Motorola's Q Phone

There's no Wi-Fi, but for $50 a month you can use Verizon Wireless' EV-DO fast wireless data network. The EV-DO coverage is still spotty, though overall the Net access was reasonably fast -- it took less than 15 seconds to load most Web pages.

The Q comes with a 64 MB internal memory chip and 124 MB flash ROM or flash hard drive. There's also a mini SD side slot for removable memory. The Windows Media Player works with multiple formats, including iTunes. There's also Bluetooth for earphones.

A big plus is the USB cable connection that hooks into your PC. The cord does double duty as a power recharger and synchronization with some of your Windows programs.

The Q is likely to be a hit on looks alone, but there's just enough feature power to make it a big replacement candidate this year as people consider upgrades.

Music, messaging, email, mobile Google (GOOG), all together in a scorchingly cool design -- the diminutive Q holds a lot of life.



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