Motorola Hint QA30 (MetroPCS)

Monday, April 20, 2009
di 3:05 PM

The Motorola Hint QA30 ($249.99 direct) is an unusual-looking texting phone for MetroPCS, Cricket, and Alltel. (I tested the MetroPCS version.) It's got some real pluses, such as threaded text messaging and good media players, but its troublesome phone performance leads me to caution you if you want to use this for heavy calling.

The Hint is odd-looking, but not hideous. Closed, the 4.2-ounce phone is very rectangular, measuring 3.2 by 2.4 by 0.7 inches (HWD). It has a 2.5-inch, 320-by-240-pixel screen, a big cursor pad, and several buttons on the front, including a dedicated music button. Slide the screen up to reveal a small QWERTY keypad with extremely pointy keys, like little mountains—designed to help you type in view of the keyboard's reduced size. There are dedicated messaging, speakerphone, camera, and WAP-browser buttons along the bottom.

This isn't an outstanding voice phone. Its reception isn't quite as good as that on the Samsung Finesse. The earpiece gets quite loud, and there's plenty of side tone (the sound of your own voice piped into the earpiece, which many people like). But transmissions, especially from noisy areas, sounded indistinct and occasionally staticky; the speakerphone has the same problem. One big advantage is that you can send MP3s to your phone via Bluetooth from a PC or Mac and then use them as ringtones, which saves you money. The ringer is loud enough for most situations, and the vibrating alert is both noisy and vibrant. Battery life, at 3 hours 49 minutes, is a bit short.

I tested two Hint units and experienced some serious problems connecting with Bluetooth headsets on both. Both units succeeded in making calls using the Motorola H700 mono and the Plantronics Pulsar 590A stereo headsets, but both failed through the Plantronics Voyager 520, the Plantronics Voyager Pro, the Iqua 603 SUN, and the Altec Lansing Backbeat 503 headsets. If you intend to use a headset, be sure to try it with the Hint in the store before buying it.

The Hint is the best texting phone we've yet seen on MetroPCS. The innovation here is threaded text messaging: It groups your messages into "conversations" so you can see all the chatter you've had with a specific person—this is ideal for heavy texters. The Hint also has an IM program that supports AIM and Windows Live Messenger.

For e-mail, the Hint uses MetroPCS's standard Mail@Metro application. This app is much easier to set up here than it is on the Samsung Finesse—it's designed to be used on a phone with a keyboard—but it supports a very short list of ISPs (plus generic POP/IMAP e-mail). I got it working with a Gmail account and was able to view messages in a simple, text-only format without attachments.

There's no real Web browser on the Hint, just Openwave's WAP browser, which can load a limited set of mobile-formatted Web pages. WAP pages, which load slowly, were hard to read because of a very condensed, poorly designed text font. Although the Hint is a 3G phone, MetroPCS has a 3G network in only two cities, Dallas and Detroit. (If you're getting your Hint from Cricket, by the way, it will work at 3G speeds in most Cricket cities. Cricket uses the same WAP browser and text-messaging software but has its own e-mail app, which we haven't tested.)

MetroPCS somewhat compensates for the lousy browser by including a bunch of fun Internet-based applications. Handmark Pocket Express gives you news stories, weather, stocks, and movie showtimes in a relatively efficient, easy-to-use way. Loopt helps you track your friends via GPS location. And the MetroNavigator GPS navigation software properly generated maps and driving directions.

The Hint makes a pretty good media player. You remove the back cover to pop in a microSD card up to 16GB in capacity (I had no problems with my 16GB SanDisk Mobile Ultra card). The Hint comes with a 256MB card preloaded with three Wyclef Jean songs. The phone doesn't play AAC files—so, nothing from iTunes—but MP3 and WMA files played fine. You can navigate by artist, title, and the usual criteria, but you can't easily transfer playlist data from your PC. Video playback was especially good: MPEG-4 videos at 320-by-240 resolution looked fine, and the phone plays 3GP and WMV videos, too. The 3.5mm headphone jack lets you use any standard pair of wired headphones.

The phone's 2-megapixel camera takes rather soft photos, with some blurring in low light and hypersaturated colors in daylight—it's not the best we've seen. The video mode records somewhat jerky 320-by-240-pixel videos at 12 frames per second. You can store your photos on a memory card or in the phone's 154MB of free RAM.

The Motorola Hint QA30 is just the ticket for messaging fiends who want to take advantage of MetroPCS's unlimited plans, and the strong MP3 and video playback features are nice bonuses. But since the Hint isn't a great voice phone, it's more for folks who text more than they talk. If you're looking for an all-around MetroPCS phone with a keyboard, there is the Samsung Messager SCH-R450, which has much better voice performance but lack the Hint's threaded SMS application and video player.

Benchmark Test Results
Continuous talk time: 3 hours 49 minutes