Feels Like the First Time

hintIt’s almost over. The long anticipated acquisition of BubbaNet by LeviathanCo will be completed on Friday, January 9th, marking the end of an era. Granted, it was largely an era of frustration and uncertainty, with shades of unreliability thrown in for good measure, but ’twas an era nonetheless. Kind of like the Inquisition. Without the confetti.

To commemorate the passing of yet another regional carrier into the calloused clutches of communications homogenization, me and BubbaNet went for one more spin on the scruffy, run-down carnival ride o’ ineptitude that is their network. I figured, quite wrongly, that seven months might have been enough time for them to get their shit together, but (as usual) they’ve met my admittedly attenuated expectations.

The Motorola Hint QA30 is a hybrid experience of pleasure and pain, somewhat akin to listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations and consuming a morsel of Valrhona’s finest while a dyspeptic midget head-butts you in the unmentionables for forty-five minutes. It’s an upright qwerty slider, like the Samsung Propel, the UTStarcom-Pantech Blitz, and to a lesser extent the Samsung Blast (though the latter employs a SureType keypad, which technically precludes classification as a true qwerty slider). The upright orientation of the keyboard on this type of slider separates it from its clumsy, bar qwerty slider cousins like the LG Rumor/Scoop and the Samsung Gravity/Messager; due to its inherently extra-wide keyboard, typing a simple text message on the bar qwerty form-factor requires the thumb travel of a disconcertingly eager hitch-hiker and/or proctologist, and as we all know, neither a-them be bons mangers.

Where the Hint smacks itself on the ass and parades across the camp dressed as its own grandmother, bucking for that elusive Section Eight, is in two critically unforgivable areas: The first is its unfortunate shotgun betrothal to the aforementioned BubbaNet, which, everything else being equal, it handles with grim-faced, Victorian aplomb. The second – and in this case most important – is its ergonomic design, which, everything else being equal, sucks.

First, let’s get the tasty bits out of the way right off; the Hint (and a dumber name you’ll not find in your comprehensive telecommunications travels) has a scrumptiously lickable screen, with a good 2.0 megapixel camera and clear, undistorted sound. It’s a competent signal hound, and it’s got a strong, compact, don’t-fuck-with-me build reminiscent of Mary Lou coming off the uneven bars in the summer of 1984. It sports a 3.5mm headset jack, and a revamped UI that’s a refreshing change from the inelegant bloatware that Motorola’s been updating for almost five years now. It also has a nifty, built-in Google SMS template that simplifies one of the simplest text messaging features on any phone, and for you serious tumor mongers, it supports ten different Bluetooth profiles, including OPP, FTP, and BIP. No PBS, though. Sorry, Elmo, you pathetic, third-person self-referencing little bastard.

This is NOT...the greatest phone in the world

This is NOT...the greatest phone in the world

That’s where the love comes to an ignominious end for the Hint. The hardware on the front half of the slider, such as the send/end buttons, the 4-way toggle, and the menu and back keys, all lack the appropriate surface area to provide sufficient tactile feedback; the send/end buttons and the center select key are nothing more than narrow, severe rectangles, thin enough to make Paris Whatsername blush with girlish, curvaceous allure, but not substantive enough to indicate that the Hint is paying any attention whatsoever to you until something changes on the screen. The same can be said for the 4-way button, which offers so little surface area on which to apply thumb pressure that it’s often impossible to feel the travel of the button itself.

The Hint’s qwerty keypad fares no better, as each of its buttons is diagonally bisected with a curious little ridge, the purpose of which I can only surmise is to frustrate the living shit out of anyone whose thumbs are larger than those of the average three-year-old. The “A” and “delete” keys are mosh-pit-close to the phone’s frame, requiring the manual dexterity of an Elven watchmaker to press them with any degree of accuracy. Eventually you’ll learn that it’s just as efficient to smash your face against the Hint’s keypad as it is to use your thumbs; you might not accomplish anything using that method, but at least you’ll provide hours of entertainment for friends, family, and random passers-by.

For all its hardware design shortcomings, the Hint is not a bad phone; it’s got a great UI and superior construction, but the fact that it’s only currently available for Veralltelizon (coupled with a few questionable ergonomic choices) makes it hard to recommend. If your thumbs are no wider than matchsticks, and you’re not too picky about whether your network, you know, actually works, I’d say go for it. Everyone else should steer clear.

(Using the Hint on Alltel U Prepaid has been an exercise in pecuniary prognostication, as the sole means of obtaining my remaining balance – *369 – no longer works at all. On any phone. Ever.) Welco… to Am..ica’s …ost Relia…le Net…rk, A… …oles!

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