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The Q Review

Recently, the Palm Treo has been the product of choice in high-end smart phones. The Treo can not only make phone calls, but also send and receive e-mail, surf the Web, play music, take pictures and handle Microsoft Office documents, with the aid of a small built-in keyboard. The latest Treo 700 models are more capable than most of Research in Motion’s BlackBerrys, which many companies dole out to employees. But the Treos are fairly bulky and pretty expensive, often costing $400 apiece, depending on the carrier and the service plan.

Now the Treo has a new high-end competitor from Motorola and Microsoft that’s much thinner and cheaper, yet promises to match it feature for feature. It’s called the Motorola Q, and it’s popping up in the hands of more and more power users, intrigued by its stylish looks.

I tested the Q, comparing it mainly with the newest Treo, the 700p. I loved the Q’s hardware design and its price. At $199 (with a two-year service plan), it’s half the cost. And while a little wider, the Q is just half as thick as the Treo 700p and more than one-third lighter. It’s a heck of an engineering achievement by Motorola.

However, the Q’s beautiful hardware is dragged down by poor software. The Treo 700p uses the tried-and-true Palm operating system, which was overhauled a few years back to turn it into a phone-oriented interface you could control with one hand. But the Q is burdened with Microsoft’s Windows Mobile system, which hasn’t been fully converted to quick, one-handed phone use. The result is that it’s much more annoying to use the Q than the Treo, especially if you are a heavy mobile e-mail user. For too many functions, the Q requires more steps, more clicks and more opening of menus than the Treo 700p. (The Treo 700w, which uses Windows software, has many of the same software flaws as the Q.)

Despite being eye-catching, the Q’s design has a few drawbacks as well. Its screen is smaller and has 25 percent fewer pixels than the Treo’s, so you see less of e-mails and other documents, and photos are more squashed. And unlike the Treo’s display, the Q’s isn’t a touch screen, so you can’t use a finger to tap icons for quick results. The Q also has less battery life than the Treo, and while its keyboard is roomier, I found typing on it to be a tad more difficult.

Like the Treo 700 models, the Q works on Verizon’s broadband — like EV-DO data network, so it does a good job with both Web surfing and downloading large e-mail attachments. In my tests, the Q typically reached speeds of between 200 and 500 kilobits per second, only slightly slower than most wired low-end DSL connections at home.

Voice calls on the Q were also clear and strong, better in some cases than on the Treo. But unlike the Treo 700p, the Q can’t be used as a modem for a laptop, at least not out of the box. Neither phone has Wi-Fi wireless capability. Both have cameras with resolutions of 1.3 megapixels.

Many tasks took more work on the Q than on the Treo, even such basic things as muting the phone and locking the keyboard. Deleting e-mail requires two steps on the Q, one on the Treo.

The Q does have one nice navigation control the Treo lacks — a scroll wheel and back button on the right side, like what a BlackBerry sports. But the Q is more limited than the Treo in the way it handles Microsoft Office documents and PDF files. On the Treo 700p, Word and Excel files can be edited, whereas on the Q, they can only be viewed.

Still, the Q should sell well because of its price, speed and svelte appearance. It makes the high-end smart phone much more accessible and much more pocketable, which is no small feat.

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