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Motorola KRZR K1One of the most popular mobile phones of all time, the Motorola RAZR V3 was originally announced in 2004 and has since become ubiquitous in the hands of users all around the world.  Nicknamed RAZR (razor) for it's groundbreaking slim profile, the clamshell V3 originally sold for upwards of $500 - even with carrier discounts - and soon became a status symbol much like Apple's iPod in the hands of the style mavens and techies alike.

Two years later, Motorola has released the first significant redesign to the RAZR line, the KRZR K1.  While minor upgrades to the V3 - V3i, V3m, V3x - have surfaced over the past two years, none altered the form factor of the original RAZR. The KRZR - pronounced "craze-er" and sure to inspire some, um, crazy marketing campaigns - is just more than half the width of its predecessor and trades the V3's cold steel chic for a rich, mirror-like glass finish and rounded lines.  The result is one of the sexiest mobile handsets ever produced.  It would shock me if Motorola didn't have another fashion frenzy on its hands with the KRZR.

The KRZR is currently available in two versions - the GSM K1, and the CDMA/EV-DO K1m recently released through Verizon Wireless and Alltel in the US.  While a Cingular-branded GSM version is said to be coming to the US, it has not yet been announced.  The main differences between the K1 and K1m — besides the different radio bands — lie in the camera and music player controls.  The GSM K1 features a 2.0 megapixel camera, while both Alltel and Verizon's K1m models have only a 1.3 megapixel camera but add backlit, touch-sensitive music controls to the front panel below the external display.  The GSM K1 relies on the use of side-panel buttons to control music playback while the flip is closed. This review will focus on the unlocked, unbranded GSM K1 as tested on the T-Mobile network.

Finished in "Cosmic Blue" with gun metal grey accents, the K1 measures up at 103 x 42 x 16mm in size compared to the original RAZR' V3ms 98 x 53 x 14.5.  So the KRZR is significantly narrower, and a hair longer and thicker than the V3m.  At 99g, the K1 is also one gram heavier than the V3m.  The combination of a reduction in size with basically no change in mass explains the KRZR's solid feel.  While by no means a heavy phone, the K1 feels undeniably solid in hand, likely due to the glass finish and sturdy design features (including a rock-solid hinge). 

This phone is flat-out beautiful.  It arrived in one of the neatest - if also most gimmicky - packages I've ever seen, with dual "wings" that pulled out of the main box presenting the phone on one side and accessories on the other.  The phone itself was covered in a plastic protective film on the interior screen and keypad and the exterior glass finish.  Peeling away the protector revealed a gorgeous medium blue exterior with something of a hazy mirrored finish.  Honestly, my first thought was "Star Trek For Fashionistas."

The KRZR is also much nicer to hold and use than the RAZR.  Narrower and longer makes the K1 easier to hold and more balanced in the hand then the V3, and when held open to my ear the handset just feels like a phone should - in place against my ear on one end and near enough to my mouth on the other to inspire confidence that whoever I'm talking to can without question hear me.  The phone also takes a little effort to open and flips shut with a satisfying snap, leaving no doubts as to its construction.  In fact, the deceiving heft of the handset gives it that solid feel people tend to associate with quality - even though it actually weighs only 3.6 ounces. 

The front panel of the phone, done up entirely in hard reflective glass, is particularly chic.  The sensor for the 2MP camera is almost hidden, appearing as a small red dot at the top center, sans flash.  About a third of the way down the panel, there's a postage-stamp size 65K color display.  Again, the Alltel and Verizon-branded K1m models also feature a trio of touch-sensitive music controls beneath this display.  The unbranded K1 lacks these controls.

Opening the flip reveals a keypad on the bottom half of the phone and a display on top.  The keypad is made from etched metal that will be very familiar to RAZR users.  Buttons are primarily white on a blue background, with a silver five-way directional keypad, four softkeys (two of them blue), and green call and red hang up keys above a standard 12-button dialing layout.  The keypad is backlit, and uses a very "modern digital" font that looks especially space-age when lit up in a dark room.  The display takes up about four-fifths of the upper half of the phone's interior, and two circular Motorola logos at the top and bottom of the handset are done up in grey to match the rest of the trim.

A rocker switch and single button on the left side of the phone serve multiple functions depending on what mode the phone is in, including volume, camera access and zoom, and music track select and play/pause.  A sole button on the left panel is used to access voice command functions, and a covered USB port on the bottom of the left panel connects to the included AC adapter or a PC data cable. The back of the phone is finished in a soft-grip blue plastic that's easy to hold, and a silver button releases the portion of it that serves as the battery cover.  Beneath the cover are slots for the included battery and SIM and microSD memory cards.

Where the RAZR was groundbreaking in its thin profile, the KRZR is more evolutionary in terms of overall design.  Corners are rounded, lines are sleek, surfaces are inviting to touch.  Motorola did a marvelous job in designing the successor to their most inconic handset since the StarTac.  While I do worry about the K1's exterior scratching over time, it certainly is a gem to behold fresh out of the box.


Features

The K1's feature set is an upgrade from that found on the RAZR line, placing it comfortably amongst today's mid-range handsets.  Motorola's user interface is solid if unremarkable, but the clean layout and easy to read fonts get the job done.

The address book offers slots for multiple phone numbers and email addresses as well as URL, IM, postal address, and birthday for each entry, and contacts can be organized into groups for easy search and usage.  Caller ID and ringtone ID are supported, and along with a host of pre-installed 72-chord polyphonic ringtones (many of which actually sound quite good), AAC and mp3 ringtones are supported. 

An alarm clock, calendar with alarm reminders, notepad, and world clock round out the standard set of organizer applications, and the K1 also supports voice dialing, voice commands, and voice memo recording.  Syncing is supported over USB and Bluetooth, and J2ME applications may be downloaded directly or installed from a computer.

Motorola has also built support for its Screen3 "zero-click access to your favorite news, sports, and other premium content" into the KRZR K1, though this feature was not supported by T-Mobile during my testing.  The Verizon-branded K1m supports their VCast broadband media service with access to text, graphic, and streaming audiovisual programming as well as downloadable content.

The K1 I tested included a single pre-installed game, Platinum Sudoku.  Motorola's take on the popular number puzzle was well-done, so far as I could tell (I couldn't find an English language option).  The phone was built in Hong Kong and featured support for multiple languages.
Motorola KRZR K1 camera
Motorola built the GSM K1 with a 2.0 megapixel camera.  Curiously, the Alltel and Verizon-branded CDMA K1m models only have a 1.3 MP camera.  The camera sensors on both versions are mounted at the top-center of the front panel, and lack the logos or "camera housings" found on most cameraphones.  Instead, an unmarked dot of red light is the only indication of the optics beneath the surface.

The camera on the GSM K1 performed very well under optimal lighting conditions.  However, the lack of a flash or any sort of flash-assist light made for sub-par photography in anything less than great light.  Photos shot in everyday conditions, particularly those taken at night or in dimly lit indoor spaces, tended to suffer from a lack of detail, sharpness, and color clarity - common complaints with cellphone pics.  These problems weren't always so readily apparent when pictures were viewed on the K1's screens, but transferring full 2MP photos to a PC for viewing or printing revealed the flaws. Comprehensive exposure control and image editing features built into the KRZR's sofware helped somewhat, whereas overuse of the 8x digital zoom tended to make matters worse.

The K1 can also record MPEG4 video with sound at up to 15 frames/second using resolutions as high as CIF (352 x 288).  Video quality was pretty good; again, the less digital zooming is used, the consistently better the overall results.  While videos intended for MMS messages are capped at 14 seconds in duration, the length of other video recordings is limited only by the amount of available memory space in the phone or on an installed microSD card


Display & Audio

Motorola KRZR K1Two displays are present on the K1: an internal 1.9" TFT screen and an external STN screen.  The internal display supports 262,000 colors at 176x220 pixels, while the external display supports 65K colors at 96x80 pixels.  Both displays get the job none, though neither can be considered earth shattering by today's cell phone standards.  Note that the internal display on the K1m is listed at 65,000 colors, not the 252K of the unbranded GSM K1.

The internal display is clear and bright, with good detail and vividness of colors.  However, it's not particularly large or high-resolution, so it can't display the same number of characters per line or lines at a time as the current crop of phones QVGA screens.  Really, this was only an issue when using the WAP Web browser or browsing the messaging or Email inboxes.  Inboxes, in particular, suffer as they only display one line of information per header - as opposed to the two lines (subject and sender) common on handsets with better screens.  Alas, there are always tradeoffs to be made when trying to combine form and function.

Though small, the external display is quite handy.  The screen shows a scaled-down view of the internal display during standby mode, providing time, network status, and messaging info along with whatever wallpaper image is currently in use.  Relative to its reduced size and resolution, images displayed on the external screen are crisp and clear.  The external display also doubles as a viewfinder for the camera, allowing for photo and video taking while the phone is closed, and it also displays current track and playlist information when the handset is being used as a music player.  I particularly like this last feature, as it - combined with the phone's externally-mounted buttons - lets the user select and listen to music without having to open the phone up.

Call quality on the K1 was excellent. The quad-band 850/900/1800/1900 MHz GSM radio performed well on T-Mobile's network in the San Francisco Bay Area, pulling in reception and carrying calls as well as any other phone I've tried. Voices were clear and loud and callers reported no trouble hearing me on the other end.

Quality was also good, if not outstanding, using the built-in speakerphone.  Somewhat strangely for a top-of-the-line phone, the K1 did not come packaged with any sort of hands-free headset.  While compatible stereo headphones with an in-line microphone are available from Motorola, no mention of them was made in the "MOTOmanual" packed in the box (wireless solutions were mentioned).  As a single mini-USB connector is the only accessory port to be found on the K1, a wired headset cannot be used while the phone is also charging or connected via USB to a PC.

The manual does include instructions for pairing the K1 with a Bluetooth headset, and A2DP stereo Bluetooth is supported.  Apparently Motorola plans to promote the use of its wireless stereo headphones with the KRZR, which seems appropriate enough given its futuristic styling.  I tried the phone with a (mono) Bluetooth headset, and it paired easily, yielding good audio.

The built-in audio player worked fairly well, though its features are rudimentary when compared to the more advanced music players found on current Nokia and Sony Ericsson handsets.  Track titles were displayed, but the phone was unable to read artist information from either AAC or MP3 files I'd encoded using iTunes software on my computer.  I experienced lags when switching between tracks, and while playlists are supported, overall music management features are minimal at best.  Audio quality was decent, relatively speaking, over the built-in speaker.  As no headset was included with the K1, I could not test the quality of stereo audio playback.

 


Messaging, Internet & Connectivity

Messaging
Messaging features on the K1 are standard, if pretty comprehensive.  The phone supports SMS, MMS, and Email but not IM.  Messages can be stored to a SIM card and also transferred via Bluetooth to compatible computers and printers.

The built-in Email client supports POP3 and IMAP4 protocols, and while the low-resolution screen doesn't make for easy scrolling through loaded Inboxes or lengthy messages, the client works simply and effectively.  Motorola's enhanced predictive text input system works quite well (though pressing the right directional key can be tricky if you have big thumbs) and practiced mobile messengers should have no problems using the K1 to write acronym-laden SMSs with one hand.  "KRZR" and "K1" are, of course, already in the phone's dictionary.

While a smartphone would be the mobile communicator of choice for the businessperson who needs "always-on connectivity," the KRZR's messaging and Email capabilities are better suited to someone who occasionally needs to field a few messages on the go, but is happy to wait until returning to a PC to fully manage his Inbox.

Internet
Similar to its messaging capabilities, the K1 is a functional but not spectacular Internet client.  While Verizon is selling their K1m with VCast broadband service support installed, the unbranded GSM K1 features a standard WAP browser that I easily configured to work with T-Mobile's TZones service.  

The K1 did well with basic WAP websites as well as navigating the largely text-based TZones site.  Again, simple information retrieval works well on the K1's smallish screen and standard keypad.  If you need to look up the occasional movie time, restaurant address, or sports score, the KRZR will do you just fine.  Extreme users in search of full HTML browsing, on the other hand, should perhaps look elsewhere in Motorola's lineup - say in the direction of the Linux-based MING A1200.

Connectivity
Motorola built the GSM K1 with support for class 12 EDGE high-speed cellular data transfer.  The phone also features a single mini-USB port for file transfers and syncing with a PC via an optional data cable.

Bluetooth includes support for mono and stereo audio devices as well as file transfer and syncing with other devices.  I had no trouble pairing the K1 with a mono headset or my computer, though I did not have access to a stereo Bluetooth headset for this reveiw.  Note that the Alltel and Verizon-branded K1m models have limited Bluetooth support - as of my writing this, Verizon was supporting headset and image transfer, but not full file transfer (i.e. You can't install your own ringtones via Bluetooth).

The K1 also has a microSD removable memory card slot tucked in behind the back panel and literally on top of the SIM card slot.  No microSD card shipped with my K1, but the phone recognized a 1GB card I installed in it, and was able to read music and image files I'd transferred from my computer. 


Conclusion

Motorola's K1 KRZR is a looks-first mobile phone with a solid, mid-to-upper end feature set.  While the unbranded GSM version of phone lacks the advanced messaging, Email, and media player functionality found in phones currently available at the same price point, a 2MP camera and support for stereo Bluetooth, EDGE, and basic Email and WAP browsing keep the KRZR competitive when it comes to tech specs.

Where the KRZR shines, however, is in its look and feel.  Whereas its predecessor, the iconic RAZR V3 was razor-slim and full of hard edges and boxy corners, the KRZR is long, lean, and carved from sensuous curves.  From its narrow profile and deep blue glass finish to the solid flip hinge and deceptive heft one feels when holding it, the KRZR is a beautiful piece of technology to look at and touch. 

Bleeding-edge tech enthusiasts may scoff at the KRZR as yet another case of form needlessly trumping function.  Everyone else is more likely to see the K1 as another trend-setting style in mobile phones from the company who brought us the RAZR and the StarTac before that.  The K1 is a solid performer with good features and looks to kill.  Looks like Moto's got another WNNR on its hands.
Motorola KRZR K1


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