The blogosphere and the tech news sites were all abuzz this week after Motorola and Microsoft officially announced the Moto Q -- a razor thin smartphone based on Windows Mobile 5.0. Currently, the prevailing OS for Pocket PC-based smartphones is Windows Mobile 2003. That's what runs on the Verizon Wireless EVDO-provisioned Audiovox XV6600 that I've been testing and it's what really sets the baseline for where Windows Mobile 5.0 will hopefully turn up some improvements in the marriage of Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system to a telephone.
My first question for the folks at Microsoft was "who will be selling one of these?" Unlike with PCs, where you can pretty much buy any PC and connect it to any Internet Service Provider (it's nice how they let you do that, isn't it?), you can't buy any telephone and connect it to any cellular networks. You can't even take an existing device -- say the XV6600 -- and upgrade it to Windows Mobile 5.0. Well, you probably could, but you wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting your cellco to support it if it doesn't work. Regarding availability, the press release says "The Moto Q is expected to be available in Q1 2006. For additional details regarding pricing and availability, please contact your local Motorola representative." Local Motorola representative? I didn't even know there was such a thing. According to the Microsoft spokesperson I checked with, there is no news yet on which carriers might be selling the device.
Just looking at it, you can see why people are excited about it. Aside from the fact that it runs Windows Mobile (which means you can do a bunch of other PDAesque things with it that you can't do with most phones), the Moto Q is a thumbboard-based device that, at 4.6 x 2.5 x 0.45 inches and just barely north of 4 ounces, is tiny for what it can do (assuming it can do all that Windows Mobile can do). Motorola boasts that the thumbboard, at 11mm, is the thinnest QWERTY device in the world. But will the Moto Q (along with Windows Mobile 5.0) live up to the hype?
According to the fact sheet, the Moto Q comes with a Bluetooth radio so it can take "advantage of Motorola’s line of Bluetooth accessories." My hope is that it will support other "standard" Bluetooth functions (by way of Bluetooth profiles) such as dial-up networking. Unfortunately, remarkable size normally comes at the expense of something and in this case, my guess is that one of those somethings will be battery life. Unless Motorola has redefined battery technology with this offering and if my experience with the larger XV6600 is any sort of a benchmark (larger means it probably has a bigger battery that should last longer), taking full advantage of two radios (Bluetooth and the radio for your cellular carrier) will mean one of two things: frequent revisits for battery refueling or needing to keep some spare batteries on hand. Thankfully, judging by the other photos of the device, it the designer had the foresight to make the battery removable (I never could figure out why those earlier Treos completely blew this design principle).
Some Windows Mobile devices (like the XV6600) have an internal backup battery, the job of which is to keep all your data from vanishing into the ether should you run your main battery dry (this was a major problem with earlier editions of Pocket PC). Windows Mobile 5.0 theoretically overcomes that problem as well but I'm one of those who always thought a backup battery was a good idea. Not just to keep volatile memory from proving to us how volatile it really is, but also to keep the phone alive while we switch main batteries. This, however, is not a function of the backup batteries that I've seen (like the XV6600) and I think it should be.
According to the product sheet, the Moto Q's 2.4-inch display has a resolution of 320x240. This, as it turns out, is the same resolution that many Pocket PCs have -- the ones with the more rectangular display (including the Audiovox XV6600). Originally, I was looking at the Moto Q and thinking that I'd much rather have the larger display like the one I have on the XV6600. But, when I saw that the resolution was the same, I started to wonder how differences in perceived aspect ratio will get resolved. For example, I've been playing around with Microsoft's Photo Story as a way to tell a story about software that may include more than just screenshots. Photo Story puts out WMV files (Windows Video) and one of its output options is for display in a 320x240, which looks perfect on the XV6600 when it's in landscape mode (the wide mode). So, I'm curious how that will look on this display (if it's truly 320x240) since, at the very least, the width must be compressed (the pixels must be moved closer together). If the vertical distance between pixels is also changed accordingly (preserving the perceived aspect ratio), then wouldn't some of this nearly square screen end up not getting used? (please comment below if you know).
Another test of this device and Windows Mobile 5.0 will be how well the keyboard actually works with everything that you can do on the display of the device. Pocket PC was originally designed to be stylus-driven (much the way Palm devices were) and keyboards were largely afterthoughts that work in some situations, but not all. For example, as much as I love the tuck-away thumbboard on the XV6600, I hate how difficult it is to move between tabs (on software that's tabbed), activate or deactivate radio buttons on certain displays, and tell when I've got the shift key pressed (or I'm using shift lock or a special keyboard function).
Another welcome addition is the thumbwheel on the side of the device (at least it says it's a thumbwheel). One of my biggest complaints about scrolling documents on a Pocket PC-based device is how it's nearly impossible to scroll in very granular increments the way you can on the thumbwheel-enabled BlackBerries. You can do it with the "rocker panel" underneath the display (it always moves in increments that are too large) and you can do it with the "joggers" that are on the side of some Pocket PC devices including Dell Axims. These sort of get the job done, but again, offer very limited granularity. So, if you want to scroll just a bit on a page, you end up scrolling too much and, eventually, you have no choice but to take out the stylus.
Speaking of the stylus, my sense is that all we need is a few more keyboard-saddled devices like this and pen stroke recognition technologies like Graffiti that enabled the PDA category to take off in the first place will finally be a thing of the past. Good riddance. I've never liked using the stylus and declared it dead when I laid hands on my first BlackBerry. We'll still have styluses for when we want to scribble things down. But the era of stylus-required will be gone and the result -- because of the way they'll be more easily used by the masses for text messaging and e-mail -- may be a serious uptake in handhelds. (Right now, shipments are apparently tanking.)
Anyway, stay tuned to this channel. The folks at Microsoft said they'd get a device into my hands for review as soon as one is available.