Motorola used to launch UIQ phones in Europe almost every year around this time. They were bulky but they were some of the first 3G smartphones and had many features that were ahead of their time. But after limited success, the new models stopped coming.
Then Monday Motorola surprised everyone by revealing that their new slider, the RIZR Z8 was running a new version of UIQ: a new user-friendly version that no longer requires a touch screen. Even the Symbian world barely heard wind of it before Sunday.
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The Z8 (pronounced "zed eight" in Europe) is just slightly wider than the other RIZRs, but otherwise about the same size. Unlike other RIZRs, the Z8 is tapered at the bottom to look more like the RAZR / KRZR than previous sliders, with a perforated grill on the bottom part below the slide.
The slide is definitely unique. There is a hinge about 2/3 of the way up the back of the phone. As you push the slide up, the back part bends at the hinge, tilting the top of the slide forward. When the phone is open it is more like a clamshell than a slide, so it is comfortable to hold to your ear while talking.
The slide mechanism is firm and solid. in part due to the unique hinge and slide system, and also because the bottom of the slide is rounded so that it fits in the crease created by the hinge perfectly. Because the keypad is under the slide, this also means the keypad is rounded, with the bottom half coming towards the user. We were worried this would be more difficult to use than a flat keypad, but that is not the case at all. The keypad is easy to use and the curve actually means your thumb travels up and down it less.
This new implementation of UIQ might just be the most user-friendly software Motorola offers. It has many of same improvements Motorola added to the Linux-Java platform, but has additional ones as well.
For example, the Z8 features a new home screen with all sorts of status plug-ins. A large number will be available, but the user will only be able to pick 5 because that's how many fit without any scrolling off screen. Each plug-in provides direct access to a function like calling, email, texting or the music player if nothing is going on. But if you have a missed call or new text or a song playing, the plug-in will display that information on the home screen and one click quickly takes you to whatever is new.
The first day we played with the Z8, we were worried it wasn't ready for prime time - the menus were slow and navigation was buggy. But by day 2, the software had been updated and was running fast and smooth. By fast we don't mean lightning fast, but it was at least as quick as any Linux-Java or even S60 phone we've tried. Fast enough to playback full-screen movies at close to 30 frames per second.
About the only thing that wasn't finished was the camera, which manufacturers always seem to leave for last. However we were shown that when the phone is closed, the main camera is used with the phone in landscape orientation like a standalone camera, and when the slide is opened, the front-facing camera is used and the phone is held vertically.