LG's MUZIQ for Sprint

The LG MUZIQ, also known as the LX570, is a recent addition to Sprint's music phone lineup. Like LG's successful FUSIC, the MUZIQ combines a music player and a mobile phone all into one. Specifications for the MUZIQ boast audio features such as Bluetooth stereo, an FM transmitter, background music playback, and dedicated external music keys. With an array of dedicated music features under its hood (and on top), LG and Sprint are hoping to attract the attention to mobile audiophiles.

Giving up the pasty white complexion of the old housing on the FUSIC, the LG MUZIQ sports a new glossy black exterior. Less is more in this case, and the thin and lightweight MUZIQ springboards forward with trimmed down dimensions and Chocolate-like new looks. The MUZIQ flexes its music muscles most with newly redesigned external music controls. The glowing red, touch sensitive buttons on the new player, reminiscent of the LG Chocolate, provide great vibration feedback, and can be adjusted to one's liking. To the player's left is where LG has planted the MUZIQ's single external speaker. Above the music player's d-pad sits the brightly colored external 1.3" TFT (128x160 pixel) display that will show pertinent network and phone information. Just above that is the MUZIQ's 1.3 megapixel camera lens and, directly to its right, hidden until needed, is the camera's flash.

The overall design of the MUZIQ is very clean and simple. The top of the handset has a slightly protruding hinge that works well. The bottom of the device is free of any buttons or holes except for the battery cover release. On its right side is where you will find plastic covered headphone and microSD ports. Also on the right are the device's extremely thin dedicated camera and music access buttons, which are actually located on the flip top portion of the handset instead of the base. The MUZIQ's volume controller and charging port are found on the flip's left side. LG seems to have taken to this scheme of placing dedicated, narrow buttons on the flip portion of the phone but I prefer my controls to be closer to the hand, on the base of the device.

Opening the LG MUZIQ reveals a very large and spacious alphanumeric keypad and the typical controls. Rectangular in shape and covered in thin black plastic, the keypad keys are flush mounted to the phone itself and provide a sturdy click when pressed. The control keys are displayed either with an accompanying icon or name and are easily found. The phone's round d-pad, accentuated with a metal rim, handled well when scrolling through menus and Sprint's seemingly endless supply of media applications. The phone's directional keys can be assigned different shortcuts to suit the user's most common needs. The phone's microphone is well hidden between the number 5 and 8 keys, and the internal speaker is located just above the MUZIQ's large and colorful 2.2" TFT (176x220 pixel) resolution display. The display was decent in general, but direct sunlight could make it a bit difficult to read at times.

RIM's Globe-Trotting BlackBerry 8830

When it comes to physical design, you can think of the BlackBerry 8830 as being a Pearl (8100) that has been stretched wider, given a full QWERTY keyboard, and had its camera removed. While it is no longer black, like the original Pearl and T-Mobile's current 8800, the design is otherwise quite similar. The 8830 is quite solidly built and feels like a device that will stand up to hard use.

The 8830 measures 114mm x 66mm x 15mm (4.5" x 2.6" x .6") in size, which is 7mm longer and 16mm wider than the Pearl 8100. At 134g (4.7oz), though, it is 43g (1.5oz) heavier than the Pearl. The end result is a device that is a bit less pocketable, but one that offers a QWERTY keyboard and a larger, higher resolution display. In fact, I was quite pleased with the display on the 8830. It offers QVGA (320x240) pixel resolution in a landscape orientation and has good color saturation and brightness, even outdoors. The automatic brightness adjustment mode keeps the display readable while conserving battery power. The display measures about 2.4" across the diagonal, which is reasonable for a device of this size.

In terms of tactile feel, the 8830's keyboard is very good. The physical design is also good, with one exception that I will get to shortly. Upon initially seeing that the period (full stop) key required an ALT shift to access, I admit that I was surprised. But RIM thought through this more than I had initially given it credit for: entering two spaces in a row will automatically covert the first space to a period, making the period key needed only for the occasional number. Capital letters can be entered using the traditional shift keys, but are more conveniently entered by long pressing the key. The 8830's AutoText function can automatically change words like "dont" and "cant" to "don't" and "can't", saving the user from a lot of the keyboard gymnastics required by most mobile devices.

There is a major problem with the keyboard, though: the keys are very hard to read - even in ideal circumstances. The issue is the backlight, which is blue (always a bad choice). Uneven lights under the clear number and letter shaped windows on the keys mean that depending on the viewing angle, different parts of the letters and numbers on the keys are lit. It seems that 8830 users will simply have to just get used to typing blind. By comparison, the keyboard on the 8800 for T-Mobile was very easy to read in both bright and dim lighting conditions.

Navigation on the 8830 is handled by the trackball. The trackball makes navigating large menus or emails a snap, and also obviates the need for a separate scroll-wheel. Pressing the trackball will act the same way as the center button would on a typical d-pad. It works very well.

The rest of the controls and features are found on the sides and back of the 8830. The volume buttons are on the right edge, the headphone jack and mini-USB power port are on the left, as is the voice dial button (which can be reconfigured). A power button and a triple-function mute/music player/standby mode button are found on top. The microSD memory card slot is located under the rear cover, but unimpeded by the battery, so a restart is not necessary when swapping cards. Lastly, the 8830 ships with a leather case for your belt. A magnet in the case automatically puts the phone in standby mode when inserted, and wakes it when removed.

Motorola Q 9h QWERTY Smartphone

Gone are the RAZR-inspired looks of the original Motorola Q, and in their place comes something far more sophisticated, albeit not to everyone's taste. The mix of gloss sides and screen and soft touch material on the keypad, as well as dark grey and black colors with brushed aluminum highlights, creates a mix that at the same time looks well designed and haphazardly thrown together. It is a device that appears far different in photos than it does in person, and all I can really recommend is that you view the device in the flesh before a purchase. Overall, however, the device feels quite solid in the hand, and I was pleased with its design overall.

Another styling queue that has disappeared with the Q 9h is the large 'chin' underneath the keyboard. Instead, the device is roughly divided 50/50 between screen and keys, with the keys going almost all the way to the bottom of the device, though a good weight balance keeps this from being a problem. When viewed in silhouette from the side, the device forms a slanted parallelogram look. While this makes it a little different and more stylish, there is not a lot of purpose to it.

The main focus of a messaging-orientated device like the Motorola Q 9h will always be the keypad, and this is an area where it truly shines. Despite there being no space between the keys, their highly convex shape makes it simple to find the correct key. The Q 9h is one of the first devices that I have used that I was able to type on with a reasonable speed right from the word go, with very little in the way of a learning curve. Below the alphanumeric keys and beside the spacebar sit five shortcut keys, representing, from left to right, the calendar, phonebook, media player, camera, and voice commands. These keys can be very handy. There really is only one negative about the keypad on the Q 9h, and that is its finish. It has a rubbery feeling soft-touch material covering, which unfortunately does not aid at all with grip, and looks very cheap.

Above the QWERTY keypad is a huge five-way d-pad that is surrounded by eight utility keys that appear similar to those found on a regular Motorola RAZR. These keys include two softkeys, the call and end keys, the back and home buttons, and shortcuts to the messaging and web browsing applications. Around these keys are electro-luminescent lines that are functional and good looking, and also show the charging status of the device when it is plugged in. The d-pad itself is fantastic, and was big enough to be very easy to use. Like the rest of the keys on the Motorola Q 9h, these utility keys provide great tactile feedback and are extremely well backlit.

Looking to the right edge of the Motorola Q 9h, the manufacturer has shunned the increasingly common scroll wheel in favor of up and down arrow keys around a select button, with a back button found just below. This really is a personal preference, though I tend to like the wheel idea better. On the left of the device is a microSD memory card slot covered by a small plastic door, and found below this is a microUSB port. No, that wasn't a typo, the Motorola Q 9h is the first device to cross my desk with the newer, smaller microUSB port rather than the much more common miniUSB. The microUSB standard is specifically designed for mobile phones and other small devices, and even though I can appreciate the size reductions of the plug, I can't help but feel a little put out by the fact that my army of miniUSB cables and headsets will soon be rendered obsolete. This change also means that you will need to remember a microUSB cable, an adapter, or the Motorola charger when traveling.

The top and bottom of the Q 9h are empty, though turning the device over reveals the 2.0MP camera and flash, and the grille for a large speaker. A silver Motorola logo is found above the removable battery cover, and I am sad to say that this cover's design is completely terrible. A slight bump was all that was needed to unclip it, which was generally accompanied by the battery shifting and the device turning off.

Back on the front of the device, a 2.4" 262k color TFT LCD display with a QVGA (240x320 pixel) resolution provides the gateway into Windows Mobile 6. This display is colorful and bright, but seems to lack a little of the sharpness seen in some other recent handsets. For the average user though, it is almost perfect, with usage even in the brightest sunlight possible. The Q 9h utilizes an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust display brightness to two levels depending on the light level around you; unfortunately, the low level was too dark for my taste, but this is one of the few complaints that could be said about the screen.