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Motorola's Revamped Phones

NEW YORK –- The one thing Motorola CEO Ed Zander would not call the wireless device maker's latest multimedia devices was an iPhone killer.

Instead, the world's No. 2 wireless phone maker stuck to its knitting -- and message -- about faster and more compelling multimedia experiences with its latest array of mobile devices. Analysts looked for something new in the latest lines as evidence the company is turning its sluggish sales around.

During a product release event here, Motorola showed off a new, slimmer RAZR2 phone, its ROKR Z6 and Z8 music player/phones and two new Q smartphones for world markets.

"It's not just about form factors and colors and technology, it's about a new way of going to market," with "objects of self-expression," Zander said during a launch event here.

Sleek and slimmer were the keywords.

The latest RAZR2 features a slimmer exterior than its predecessor, and offers new features such as its own CrystalTalk technology for improved call clarity, a video-streaming feature for sending video to other phones called "See What I See" and up to 2GB of on-board memory for holding about 1,000 songs.

It also handles SMS messages with the flip-top closed, and full HTML Web browsing.

Motorola q9
The MOTO Q9.
Source: Motorola

Also on display were the Q8 smartphone for GSM/EDGE networks and the Q9 for the HSDPA high-speed network in use across European markets.

The latest editions follow the release of the MOTO Q, launched in North America in 2006, which has been a big seller, with more than 1 million units in sales since it launched, according to Motorola.

The Q9 3G version with a QWERTY keyboard is based on the Windows Mobile 6.0 operating system and offers a dual-processor HSDPA/UMTS engine. That works out to broadband over-the-air at up to 3.6Mbps, roughly about six seconds to download a music track over the air.

The Q9 is releasing in Italy this week. Versions for North American and other world markets are expected in the second quarter.

"The Q redefines the smartphone category again," Zander said.

Officials here talked more about a suite of products that transforms the Motorola brand, "objects of self expression" that take the best of hardware design and marry it with best of experience design.

But as sleek as the latest designs were, analysts were pressed to find a lot of new features to crow about.

"There's still a lot of work to do," said John Jackson, a vice president with the Yankee Group's wireless division. Take the Q. "There's not much new there," he said of the latest Q lines. All the smartphone and multimedia device makers are beefing up memory, resolution and processors, he added, which is making it harder for phone makers to differentiate their lines. That leaves them to focus on the experience along with sleek forms and lightning-fast performance.

Avi Greengart, a wireless analyst with Current Analysis, agreed, but noted that the CrystalTalk technology for improved call clarity is an improvement that Motorola would be wise to make more of against competitors.

The release comes as the cell phone maker weathers a lowered outlook on sales in its mobile devices division. Zander has also come under fire by investor Carl Icahn over his leadership of Motorola and its ability to find new products to boost growth. The company's price has slid from around $22 per share to just over $17 over the past six months.

Motorola Z8
The Z8 a.k.a. 'media monster.'
Source: Gene Hirschel

"We've been working real hard over the past four months," Zander later told reporters. "We're resetting our strategy, prioritizing our markets and technology investments" in a way that will "put the wow back into what we're doing."

One device it hopes will win some wow is its Z8 lines, which it dubbed a "media monster" that will launch across Europe and Asia in June. It features a "kick-slider" front that morphs from a player device to reveal a dial pad with a "fit to face" form.

The HSDPA-enabled handset boasts song downloads at 3.6Mbps, which Motorola claims is the fastest rate for over-the-air downloads today, as well as ROKR-like music capabilities and up to 32GB of expandable memory.

It's also got enough storage for 12 full-length movies or 70 hours of music on today's 4GB microSD memory cards.

Motorola said all three editions of its latest lines would be available worldwide starting in July, including RAZR2 V8, V9 and V9m in GSM, 3G HSDPA and EVDO CDMA, respectively.

"It's just the beginning," Zander added. "We've got lots of work to do, but stay tuned."