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.