Motorola Krave ZN4: Design Review
Motorola has lately been in a bit of shambles lately, with intentions to sell of their handset business, and no handsets in the market. That sentence, would of course, be an awesome introduction to the dramatized sentense, “Well that has changed.” Here I address the question. Has it?
I’ve taken the Motorola Krave for a bit of a spin these past couple days, eager to see whether Motorola’s design team has stepped onto the treadmill for a bit of training, or slouched on a couch. Hit the break for more.
The quick answer? No. The long answer? No, nothing has changed. In short, Motorola’s design department fancies the quick copy-paste-and-throw-in-something-cool combo. That’s what happened to the ROKR (threw in iTunes), that’s what happened to the RAZR2 (threw in a bigger screen). Here, they threw in a Verizon face with VCast splattered everywhere, all over a Ming-like handset. It’s a sequel and it’s new for America, but slack, those folks did. Granted, they DID drop the vowel dropping. I guess KRV makes less sense than RIZR.
Five Word Review
Unworthy attempt at touch market
Aesthetics and Action
For what it’s worth, the Motorola Krave is not a bad looking handset. It’s a tad thick and rounded around the edges and the ports sort of stick out, but the real meat comes when the phone is flipped open. First, I’m a total fan of the dropped hinge style that’s being deployed on everything, and this is no exception. It’s a great look. Of course, one of the “cool features” of the phone is the seemingly wireless earpiece that is deployed on the cover. This is implemented by a nigh-invisible (you can see it if you look closely enough) mesh coating that provides power and signals to the ear piece. Great technology and it works fantastically, but a tad old for the educated crowd. Nevertheless, it attracts and rightly so.
Motorola implements a capacitive screen here, and it generally responds quite well. Note to Motorola engineers: the adhesive protective covers that come with it cause the screen to be a tad sticky at first – use STATICLY CHARGED ONES. Admitedly, scrolling with gestures on the phone (similar to the Apple iPhone) doesn’t feel too satisfying, because there aren’t any long menus to scroll through. In menus where it applies however, the screen responds decently well. That is definitely an improvement and a thumbs up for the design crew.
The final, big feature of the phone is definitely innovative; however, I wouldn’t really call it pleasant to use. The Motorola Krave has the ability to use the touchscreen while the phone is closed, which would have made it a great music player, if it were not for the horrendously integrated VCast Rhapsody synchronization. Essentially, the capacitive touchscreen is able to sense your finger through the plastic material (minimal k factor! for you Elecs), which allows you to press on items through the cover. The sliding lock mechanism on the side allows you to control when you want your touch-cover-screen to be used. Unfortunately, not only is the music playback hindered by its forced Rhapsody integration, the limited use of the phone is also a pain. With the cover closed, the menu limits you to use of Music, VCast TV, My Pics, and VZ Nav. Furthermore, you can’t even change the icons. VZ Nav stays on the screen even if you don’t have a subscription.
Aesthetics and Action: 7.5/10
Fabrication and Flavour
Build quality is fantastic. The hinge on the flip portion of the phone feels solid, and flipping it is quite a pleasure. The design of the phone feels very closed due to its near-buttonless nature, which bodes well for the build quality of the phone, since there doesn’t have to be many moving parts. The touchscreen has a very slight give to it and the clear plastic cover is just a tad unresistant to torsional force, but the phone feels rock solid in general. The back of the phone is composed of a texturized plastic material that gives it two advantages: structural strength and a great texture to the phone. Honestly, the back feels great to hold, which is especially important, since all your phone calls will be held holding that portion of the phone.
On the other fronts of the phone, the touchscreen looks great, although its limited resolution and small real estate hinder its capabilities. The screen is pretty much right on the surface and its bright enough to use in the sun. Verizon really needs to change their red themes however, as it makes the interface seem all dull and gloomy, when it definitely has the ability to be bright and shiney. (Side note: BlackBerry seems to have gotten it, with its new dark themed but sharp interface). Unfortunately, the ports stick out of its rounded shell, but I’m willing to forgive that since it enables access some important innards. A MicroUSB port, MicroSDHC port, dedicated camera button, and sliding lock mechanism reside on its side.
In terms of tactility, Motorola implements a haptic vibration everytime an item is selected, which takes heart after Samsung’s haptic feedback implementation. It’s exactly the same, and some like it; I don’t. I still feel like I’m being punished every time I press a button. My biggest beef with haptic feedback however, is it causes the interface to feel laggy, since the vibrations have a lag time.
Fabrication and Flavour: 8.5/10
Interface and Interaction
Here is where Motorola totally blows it. And I’m not going to beat around the bush: the phone sucks to use for anything other than a phone. First, the interface isn’t a very pretty one – mostly due to Verizon’s blasted colours and forced features. Although with its limited screen real estate (elongated 2.8″ screen with 240 x 400 resolution), the phone actually does a decent job handling icons and menus for most navigational purposes. They’re fit for finger use and the highlights respond well.
Second, typing on the phone isn’t well thought through. In order to type with its virtual QWERTY keyboard, the phone needs to be tilted in landscape mode. However, with the cover open, your left hand is put in an awkward situation. It’s not difficult to reach the characters, but it becomes VERY difficult to be accurate. The right hand side is standard touchscreen fare, with haptic feedback. I just found myself correcting my left thumb by over-extending my right thumb to reach those characters. This totally contradicts my ergonomics lessons.
The typing annoyances are quite a shame, because this phone employs great communication uses like standard text messages, mobile IM, E-mail and even a chat utility. They’re great to use and to read, but you definitely can’t crank up a long email without trying to twist off that dreaded plastic cover. I’ve actually reverted to its T9-like numeric pad choice, which it calls iTap. Works well, and good enough to use for short messages.
Third, the browser works alright for most uses. It employs a funky cursor utility that highlights links and whatnot. Generally, it works well, but in a cluttered website, it’s a bit difficult to get it to click the right link. Formatting seems okay for most websites; better than the Instinct, worse than other typical smartphone browsers.
Interface and Interaction: 5.5/10
Performance and Pacing
Its processor (Qualcomm 6550 – unsure of its clock speeds) is able to handle most tasks, but really lags when something out of the ordinary occurs. For example, media transfer from its MicroUSB port cause it to lag like crazy when its disconnected. I wish I could get some processor benchmarks, but I don’t have this ability at the moment. In any case, for a non-smartphone, the phone runs decently.
EVDO runs great over here in San Jose, CA, and I’m constantly getting full bars. Actual throughput on its WAP browser, however, is worse than most phones I’ve played with. If I can, I’ll get a side-by-side comparison video later on with an Instinct. It could be the darned Qualcomm processors hindering browser performance, but I’m not entirely sure.
One separate annoyance with this phone is that its able to transfer files through a USB 2.0 interface, but the cable must be bought separately for $19.99. I guess this economy just favours upselling way too much now. In any case, drivers are not even included, which forces you to go to Motorola’s website to download and install a driver package. This package then installs (yes, 2 installs) the drivers into your computer. Syncing with Rhapsody works fine, and data transfer is actually surprisingly fast. I’ve benchmarked this phone against the N78 I reviewed last time and the results are pretty surprising. Motorola is able to blast its data at a very decent 5.2 MBps compared to the N78′s 3.0 MBps.
Performance and Pacing: 8.0/10
Tracking the Trends
With the launch of the Krave, with moderate amounts of buzz around the blogosphere, Motorola seems to be attempting its stab at the Western touchscreen market. They definitely have experience in the touchscreen market (mostly in Asia where handwriting recognition is quite paramount), but its stab at the multimedia market and thumb/gesture-based motions leave us in a relatively frustrated mood. Furthermore, I wag my finger at Verizon for imposing its themes and applications on its phones. They don’t provide a very good experience, and I’m REALLY hoping this doesn’t occur on the soon-to-be-launched BlackBerry Storm.
This brings us to this phone’s X-Factor: that gosh-darned slick earpiece. It’s old, but its still cool here in the States, because the Ming isn’t sold here, so having clear plastic to put against your ear feels pretty good. The earpiece sounds great, with minimal distortion. Wireless is awesome, and this phone basically achieves the feeling of a wireless earpiece. Great implementation and all around good X-Factor. I’m just not sure there’s too great of a market for it.
I will admit. I have a bit more appreciation of the phone after writing this review. This doesn’t discount the fact, however, that Motorola hasn’t really provided an enticing phone for everyday use. At $150 on a two-year contract, it’s actually veering close to the hallowed iPhone territory. In terms of hardware, Motorola has done fairly well. It’s a tad bulky, but feels great. The Verizon-imposed themes and the general OS and interface lack the same feeling however, and I definitely don’t feel the urge to continue using it. The fact that software is most of what you see and tinker with during the day definitely hinders this device from what it seems to be capable of.
Motorola Krave Design Obsession: 6.5/10
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