Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Can Someone Please Put the "Smart" in SmartPhone?

Almost nothing aggravates me more than people who feel it necessary to read e-mail on their Blackberries while retrieving their bags from the overhead compartments and blocking the aisle at the same time after a 5 1/2 hour transcontinental flight. Is it THAT important that you can't wait until you're not blocking the other 150-some passengers? Surely whoever sent the e-mail doesn't know the exact time that you landed...

I've always swore to myself that I will not become one of those people.

Well, I'm closer than I ever feared, as I am now the owner of a Motorola Q - a so-called "SmartPhone". I guess calling it a "DumbPhone" may be more accurate, but a heck of a lot harder to sell to people.

The Q is not on the list of supported devices that iSync works with. That should have been more than enough of a warning sign to me that getting this thing to work with a Mac was not going to be easy.

In order to get the Mac to talk to it, you have to buy a piece of software called the Missing Sync. Cute name. Initially I thought that this piece of software was just plain missing itself, as it was quite a challenge to install & configure. However, after playing with the Q for a while, I realized what a temperamental little device it is.

Case in point: I figured that since the Q has Bluetooth, I could use that to synchronize with my Mac, saving the hassle of lugging an extra USB cable with me. Well, what I didn't realize is how poor Bluetooth is implemented on the Q. (Another hint I missed - the #1 support topic on the Missing Sync's support page is "Information on the Motorola Q and USB and Bluetooth connectivity")

If you do end up getting a Q, don't leave the store before buying the extended-life battery if you plan on using Bluetooth. Again, this piece of technology is mis-named, as if you're running Bluetooth on the Q, it's more accurately described as the "barely make it home to recharge" battery. Again, a bit of a marketing challenge.

Second, don't really expect Bluetooth to work. The Q has some known issues with it, and I could get it to sync about 1 out of 4 times that way. I finally gave up and switched back to USB, as at least it's about 90% reliable that way.

Another thing to consider if you're looking at the Q: Since the Q runs Windows Mobile, add a few minutes every couple of days to re-boot the phone. Mine just seems to stop working after about 2 days, and removing the battery is the only remedy. That wouldn't be too bad if it didn't take forever to re-boot. Just the other day, I landed at Dulles, and everyone in my row was up & running with their cell phones or Blackberries, checking messages & making calls while I sat there staring at the screen for at least 3 minutes, watching the elegant yet utterly useless Verizon Wireless & Windows Mobile splash screens play as the Q slowly came to life. I really hope that I don't ever need to dial 911 and my Q is off.

If it were worth waiting for it to boot, then I may be able to forgive the aforementioned issues. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The UI is 100% Windows - or what I like to call a "partially completed thought". Admittedly, there are a ton of features available on the phone. You can take a picture, record some video, play a game, listen to an MP3, store contacts, heck - you can even edit the phone's registry!

Rather than specialize and make a few features rock-solid, Microsoft chose to make a large number of features mediocre. The most annoying lack of a feature is when someone calls you from a number that you do not have stored in your address book. In most cases, you want to add that number to that person's address card. Well, someone forgot to add a search capability to this feature, as you literally have to scroll through every contact to get to the one you want. Many of the other shortcomings are similar - not show-stoppers, but clearly if someone sat down and thought the 10 most popular use cases through, they would have been remedied.

The other thing about the Q which drives me mad is that I can't for the life of me figure out how to turn off all sounds except the ringer. I've painstakingly set each sound option to None, and without fail, each night the e-mail sound goes off at least once, as that's when the best spam messages arrive. Thus, I'm forced to put the Q into Silent mode each night, which does silent most of the sounds, including the new e-mail sound. The problem arises when I forget to put it back into Normal mode the next morning and miss calls until I realize my blunder.

I could go on and on about the small little things that make the Q just plain quirky. Many of them I can get past, but it's the compilation of them that make it just a spot annoying to use on a daily basis.

This all goes back to designing a device or program to solve a problem which exists, rather than solving non-existent ones. The Q is a broad-stroke attempt to solve a bevy of problems, any of which someone may possibly have. The result is a device which in my opinion, just does too much with a lack of focus on any one thing. The fact that I need to reboot it almost 3 times a week alone is proof that not enough time was devoted to basic system stability.

So until Apple comes out with the iPhone - if the rumors are true - I'll keep on keeping on with the Q. It does get the job done most of the time, as I am able to check messages from the road, synchronize contacts & calendar with my Mac, and if push comes to shove and I can't get a signal, browse & edit the registry.