Craving Motorola's Krave ZN4 Touchscreen Phone
The Good: Beautiful, innovative design; chock-full of multimedia features
The Bad: Graphics Web e-mails don't open; limited multitasking
The Bottom Line: A cool, functional phone you'll love after mastering its quirks
Motorola (MOT) has made a habit of falling behind in recent years. The money-losing handset maker arrived late to the music-phone craze and camera-phone party. And the Oct. 14 release of Krave ZN4, Motorola's first touchscreen phone for the U.S. market, came more than a year after the U.S. debut of Apple's (AAPL) touchscreen-boasting iPhone. Rivals LG, Samsung, and HTC have offered touchscreen iPhone look-alikes for months.
But I've been testing Krave for the past several days, and I can tell you it's no also-ran. This multimedia phone is the coolest, most creative gadget to come out of Motorola in several years. It reinvents the touchscreen phone as we know it, combining touch-sensitive technology with flip-phone design. "We've kind of put the flip on touch," says Ken Hallman, a vice-president at Motorola and the mastermind behind Krave. "It's a new spin."
Most touchscreen phones are flat, rectangular, and so squat that you have to move them between mouth and ear when talking to another party. But Krave adds a clear screen that contains an ear piece and flips up, making it fit more easily against your face when you're making a call.
Best of all, the screen is touch-sensitive, too, so that when closed, you can still operate the phone's multimedia controls and view a photo or a video on the main display. The phone has two microphones, which allow for taking calls via speakerphone whether the flip is open or closed.
While the phone is likely to appeal to the under-35 crowd, the extra comfort may well be a major selling point with all ages. Flip phones have lost some of their allure with the advent of the touchscreen, but Krave could make flip phones fashionable again.
The Krave is also fairly inexpensive, for all it offers: It's available from Verizon Wireless for $150 after a mail-in rebate and with a two-year contract. The cheapest iPhone, on AT&T's network, costs $199. Krave is packed full of features, such as a two-megapixel camera that can shoot video, a microSD memory card slot for downloading music and photos, an HTML browser, a capable music player, and an accelerometer that lets you view pages vertically or horizontally. The phone also offers a global positioning system and related software that can issue directions and let you share them with others.
Users of older Motorola motorola devices will be impressed with Krave's digital menus. Whereas the once popular Razr required you to touch half a dozen buttons just to dial a contact, the new phone's menus let you make a call with a couple of finger taps. A tap on an empty screen brings up all the icons, such as visual voice mail and e-mail. A text or multimedia message can be easily dispatched by tapping the "Messages" icon on the main screen, from contacts, or from the camera application. The phone understands taps and swipes, and it offers a virtual Qwerty keyboard with tactile feedback. Voice features read menus out loud.
If you'd rather push real buttons, the Krave also lets you enter commands via hardware features. A "home" button under the flip takes you to the main screen. A power button turns the device on and off. A camera button on the side of the device activates camera and camcorder. And you can turn Krave to "vibrate" by simply pressing down volume buttons on the side.
Not everything is smooth sailing. My biggest gripe is that the device doesn't allow for much multitasking. You can't fire off text messages while listening to music or watching a video—capabilities most other multimedia phones have.
A few other quibbles: The phone always chooses mobile-optimized Web pages over HTML ones. That means I couldn't see graphics e-mails that arrived into my Hotmail in-box. The browser's navigation took some getting used to as well. You have to press links using a special virtual mouse.
But once accustomed to these unusual features, I didn't want to put the phone down. After trailing the competition for years, Motorola catches up—and then some—with the Krave.
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