Motorola Q proves how updating a misbehaving smartphone can be daunting

Motorola Q proves how updating a misbehaving smartphone can be daunting

Summary: One of the benefits of doing a long term test with something like a Windows Mobile-based Motorola Q smartphone is that you really get to experience all of its high and low points. Here on ZDNet's Dan and David Show (a weekly podcast), Dan has occasionally asked me why on earth I continue to use the Q given how much I complain about it.

TOPICS: Mobility

One of the benefits of doing a long term test with something like a Windows Mobile-based Motorola Q smartphone is that you really get to experience all of its high and low points. Here on ZDNet's Dan and David Show (a weekly podcast), Dan has occasionally asked me why on earth I continue to use the Q given how much I complain about it. Perhaps indicating that there's a lot of complexity crammed into that little bit of space, it has crashed on me and crashed often. Like a PC, I'm sometimes willing to put up with living on the bleeding edge. But with a smartphone, when the computing side of it crashes, so too does the phone part.  Well, sometimes. I've learned for example that an apparently frozen Q (when no keys work) can sometimes be unfrozen when you call it. But other times, the inability to make or receive phone calls is almost as frustrating as the time it takes to reboot the phone to get back up and running. 

The software on it -- especially third party software that's Windows Mobile-compatible but was really designed for the version of Windows Mobile that uses a stylus (like on the Treo) -- isn't always intuitive. Depending on which app you're in, doing things like backing out of whatever spot you've drilled yourself into requires a different set of button-pushes. It should be consistent. 

The battery life is awesome. As long as all you use it for is a phone. The minute data gets into the game (like for the messaging the device was designed for), all bets are off. Even if you drop some cash for a bigger battery. With the standard battery and with data apps like e-mail, a Q (in my tests) gets you through about 3/4ths of a business day.  With the fat battery (optional), you get about 12 hours out of it before you start wishing you were near a charger, a PC (it can be charged via USB), or an extra battery.  That last approach is one that I've long complained about with all phones. The idea that a phone has to be shut off to replace the battery is, well, a really bad idea. The idea that a smartphone (as compared to a regular cell phone) has to be shut off to make a battery switch is an even worse idea given the time it takes for a phone to reboot.

I could go on and on and on about the downsides, but I'll let the video below speak for the one that really has me wondering if smartphones are ready for primetime. So bad were my problems that Motorola finally contacted me (they were probably tired of all the negative blog posts) with instructions on how to update to the new build of the phone's Windows Mobile operating system. I often wonder how other Q owners are notified of this. Verizon Wireless does tell you to periodically dial *228 to get important updates for your phone. But this new build of the OS isn't one of them, nor did I get a text message from Verizon saying something like "There's a new update from Motorola that you might want to try." 

I heeded Motorola's advice and, in some masochistic way, I'm glad I did. The idea that a device's operating system (any device's operating system) has to be wiped out and reloaded -- as was the case with this new "build" of the Q's OS -- may be OK for some of us geeks and nerds out here in userland. But when we do it to our computers, which some of us do more often than we'd like to admit, we usually aren't doing it very happily. But computers can be cantankerous. They're so easily corrupted and fouled up that it's almost expected that we'll have to wipe them out and start over from time to time. There also isn't much of an act to follow when it comes to PCs. They started out bad and, in the nearly 30 years of PC existence, a lot of effort has been spent on making it possible to dynamically update operating systems in place. It doesn't always work.

Smartphones, unfortuantely, have a tough act to follow. I've never updated the OS in a regular old cell phone. Nor have most people. That's what they're used to. So, now comes along a smartphone and guess what? It isn't as smart as we'd like it to be as the video you're about to watch proves. Even worse, there's no way to make sure that all of your personalizations are reinstalled into the phone. You can back up the data (I have most of mine on an SD card anyway). But third party software, along with a lot of the settings and things you may have saved in that software, must be reinstalled and recreated. It is a major -- and I mean MAJOR -- pain in the you know what and something that no self-respecting phone user should have to go through. Period.

Part of the problem that maybe Apple with its rumored phone can partially resolve is the number of cooks in the kitchen. You've got the hardware manufacturer (Motorola). The software manufacturer (Microsoft). And then there's the wireless carrier, in this case Verizon Wireless, who rules the roost. Who's accountable in the situation? It's hard to tell. With a Q that might eventually have to be updated, you buy it from Verizon Wireless, you update it from Motorola's Web site, which requires Microsoft's Windows and Activesync (which is where things took a turn for the worse in my case). Point fingers? Who cares. I'm tired. I'm not even interested in identifying the culprit. I just want the problem fixed (hello Apple?).

Is the Q all that bad? Well, in answer to Dan's questions, I like it for a few features that are hard to find elsewhere. I like Windows Mobile (WM) but I don't want the Treo's stylus. Why do I like WM? As much as I abhor proprietary stuff, I love the idea that I can playback movies and stereo music on the Q. Microsoft has a cool downloadable app called Photostory that allows you to take a series of photos and turn them into a movie. You can add your own audio backdrop and control transitions and it turns the entire thing into a movie that plays back in the Windows Media Player on any PC and any Windows Mobile device including the Q. When I first laid my hands on the Q, I was looking for something that could do just that, but also be a messaging machine like the BlackBerry. At the time, the BlackBerries had no multimedia features. Now, they do, but a Photostory-created video isn't one of the content-types I can playback.  Ahh, the trappings of proprietary stuff that works.  Anyway, here's the video.

Topic: Mobility

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  • This is not funny...

    well okay yes it is! But seriously if you are in the middle of an emergency (real not perceived... as in someone is gonna die or is dying) and your Windows based phone crashes and locks up... and someone dies, is it really worth having it?

    Personally, it doesn't surprise me that even the Windows mobile OS is prone to "death". Why ANYONE would want to run a technology that has proven time and time again to not be reliable, is beyond me! ]:)
    Linux User 147560
    • I think its very funny

      Here we are with Vista about to roll out and people on these fora tell us how reliable Windows technology is and then you read this! To be fair to Windows almost all these "smartphones" seem to have some kind of issue so I'm hanging on to my plain vanilla (it's only a phone) Nokia 6310i and its 7-10 day charge cycle.

      Slightly OT, I have a Sony widescreen digital TV. If you select a channel which is not tuned in then the TV starts "looping" and you can't change channels properly and the only solution is to turn it off at the switch and turn it on again. I ruefully reflected just how similar to Windows that felt. Recently I have found out that the controlling software for the onscreen display is subcontracted by Sony to Microsoft!

      There's a pattern here.....
  • Ever hear of Backup?

    Well, Microsoft used to know what a backup was, but in their infinite wisdom decided that you don't need to have backup capability in Windows mobile 5. It is in Active Sync 4.2 because when I plug in my Windows Mobile 2003 PDA low and behold, there it is, but if it detects 5.0 then the option is no longer there. What IDIOT at Microsoft decided to do that???? As for locking up all the time, I know exactly what you are talking about. I tend not to blame MS for this though, as it was working fine before I loaded a lot of 3rd party apps on it.
    A. Noid
    • Even if backup worked

      you can't back up the way the apps are installed without backing up other OS stuff as well ... stuff that you wouldn't want to restore if a new build of the OS is put in, no? So, what good would a backup do with your apps and the settings you have in them?

  • Haven't we all learned from out mistakes by now...

    I noticed in the above article you kept saying, "having to wipe out an OS"... you do not have to do this to an OS unless you are running Windows. I have never been forced to reload Linux for reasons where memory leaks and corruption cause my OS to freeze. MS hasn't been unable to get their memory management right from DAY 1.
  • Quit badmouthing Windows Mobile

    Windows Mobile may not be perfect, but I do not have any issues with it running on my Dell Axim x50v. It is perfectly behaved, which is more than I can say for some of the software I have attempted to run on it.
    I had thought of purchasing a Moto Q, but it seems that it has more than a few problems. Don't put all of the blame on Microsoft though - Verizon does limit the capabilities of many of the phones it sells. So, it may be that Verizon is handicapping the Q.
  • Problem isn't smartphones, but Windows

    Just like the crap we have to put up with on the desktop, now M$ is serving up its tainted koolaid in the phone market. I'm not surprised with any of Winmobile's short comings as it is status quo with most M$ products. Shut up, don't complain, its windows so it must be great.
    If you want a smartphone that works, get the palm running palm OS. Its not a full blown desktop system, like win mobile tries to be, but a functional phone based OS that works.
    All you M$ zombies can stick with Redmond's crap, but don't complain when the product is a POS.
  • Same problem with Treo

    I too was on the bleeding edge, signing up for the Treo 600 a couple years ago, figuring it was the end all be all, but my philosophy has changed about combining PDA and phone functionalities.

    Its been my experience that in essence, the PDA becomes yet another "platform" to maintain. (I already have 3 platforms - computers - in my home that required me to establish a "Residential IT Policy" just to keep them running - and the Treo is just one more)

    When you load a new application and it works, life is wonderful. But when it throws your phone into a cyclical reboot.. all you want is a plain ol simple phone again.

    Somewhere in the history of reboots, backups, and firmware updates,I picked up a "feature" that makes the phone randomly lock up for about 6 seconds.. its such a tight "lock up" that it drops the cellular signal. No one knows how to fix, with Sprints only solution - buy a 700p.. more of the same. So I promptly bought a Palm TX, and a physically separate "POcT" (plain ol cellular telephone)
  • Q works well as straight email and phone device

    The Q really works well if you refrain from installing third party apps. We use it for Exchange direct push email, phone, music and browsing. We did install one utility app that closes all running programs. I realize that spoils the fun for the IT oriented :(
  • Moto Q hassles

    Glad to hear a higly visible technical person blow the whistle on the giant. To those who think this is a Motorola problem or a Microsoft problem, think again.

    The problem is, companies are so anxious to get a return on their R&D that they rush a product to market before it is really ready. Before the Moto Q, I had similar problems on Toshiba's e740, the Audiovox's phone/PDA, and a Casiopeia.

    We users have grown used to downloading constant fixes, rebooting, calling tech support, and (most sadly) sending this stuff to the grave yard when the next generation promises the world.

    As much as it angers me, you have to take a step back and think: The other side of the fence is excited about a gadget that can now play songs and movies! They are waiting with baited breath for an announcement that Apple released a device that can now play music, movies or video AND make a phone call, all of which the frequently ragged on Microsoft has done longer than my oldest necktie.

    I just wish the companies that cranked these gadgets out would stop thinking of them as cell phones (worth throwing away ever year or two) and view them as computers. They would not require me to throw away my computer every year or two just because the new ones are pretty cool and fast, and give me the same support with my $400-$600 smart phone. Bios updates that allow me to use a two year old PDA should be automatic, especially since the first year and a half is spent trying to make these things do what the manufacturer said it would do in the first place, but never really did fully.
  • MOTO Q lockups

    About that operating system and who takes ownership of the problems. I have had two MotoQ's fail after working flawlessly for 2-3 days. Both times it has happened while connected to my laptop with USB data cable. Both times Windows Xp reports hardware failure on the USB port "excessive Load draw from device". At that point the Big "Q" locks up and then blank screen, never to return to a functional device, never a display. A third unit did the same thing on another laptop. The folks at Motorola says never heard of it. Sprint says never heard of it. Now they they won't sell me another phone.I am banished from the Sprint Store.

    Goiong back to a standared phone.