Motorola has historically been left behind in the smartphone race, but in late 2009 the US manufacturer decided to storm the market with new devices powered by Android. It effectively solved the biggest problem Motorola has had for years, namely poor software and user interface design.
The first Motorola Android device, the DEXT, was aimed at younger social networkers thanks to the MOTOBLUR interface, with access to all your social networks from the homescreen.
The DEXT isn’t a bad phone by any means, but the Milestone, or Droid as it’s known in the States, has its eyes on the more demanding user.
The difference between the Milestone and the DEXT is that the Milestone is much heavier, with a sleeker, more professional finish. There’s a bigger screen and a higher-resolution display. It feels great in the hand; weighty yet sturdy.
A soft touch
A full keyboard slides out, although it’s not the best on the market. It’s rather too rubbery, with a Mexican wave effect whenever you type a letter; press one and those around will move too. Not a great feature for a keyboard, especially as the keys don’t have any gaps between them.
Anther foible with the keyboard is, as usual with full QWERTY keyboards on sliders, there isn’t enough space at the top of the keyboard to position your fingers for typing along the top row.
The slider is also really quite stiff – there’s no spring mount, so you’ll have to put a lot of effort into sliding the screen upwards.
The screen itself is stunning. Firstly, it’s capacitive and incredibly responsive. Secondly, the display is super-bright and colourful, and it’s hard to make out individual pixels thanks to the 480×854 pixel resolution.
It’s not small either, at 3.7-inches, and makes up the majority of the front panel, with only four touch sensitive keys taking up the remainder of the space below, or to the side of, the display area.
These are shortcut keys for going back a step, accessing the menu, jumping to the home screen and searching the whole device (including files and folders) or the Internet.
Hardware aside, the Motorola Milestone takes Android to a new level. In fact, it’s possibly the best implementation of Android so far, with the only exception being Google’s own Nexus One that we’ll be reviewing shortly.
Rather than use the MOTOBLUR interface from the DEXT, the Milestone is a standard ‘Google Experience’ phone, meaning it retains the standard software and menu system. It’s also the first Android device to use 2.0 (aka Donut), adding some extra functionality to the smartphone. You can now view emails from multiple email accounts in one application rather than each having a different account.
However, you still can’t mix POP3/IMAP and web-based email accounts such as Gmail and your work email account into the same screen.
Make a move
You can move the widgets (which can consist of applications, bookmarks, contacts, a route in the bundled SatNav software MotoNAV, music playlist, Google Mail label, or folders) across any one of the three screens. When this device is upgraded to 2.1 (which is promised for some time in late January or February), it is likely to be extended to five.
A better virtual QWERTY keyboard has also been introduced, which pretty much does away with the need for the physical keyboard at all. As it happens, Motorola has probably thought this too – so a non-keyboard version is due to be announced very soon.
The Milestone also features full Exchange support so you can sync with your work email, contacts and calendars. In terms of multimedia, the Milestone excels. The music player is almost good enough to replace your MP3 player, although more memory would be an advantage. Although an 8GB microSD ships with the device, I’d rather have this as internal memory with the option to add more on top. 16GB cards are currently the max, but SanDisk will have 32GB cards on sale imminently.
The 5-megapixel camera takes pretty decent snaps and the flash is quite bright, but where it benefits over devices like the HTC Hero or the new Nexus One is in having a proper camera shutter button, making it easier to focus and take a shot. Yet it’s still not brilliant; I struggled to get a focus lock in low-light and experienced colour balance issues in the recent snow. For a better imaging experience, you’ll need to wait for the Xperia X10 from Sony Ericsson and its 8.1-megapixel offering.
You won’t find anything missing in the Milestone when it comes to connectivity. HSDPA and HSUPA, plus Wi-Fi, keep everything flying along. Multitasking will keep it syncing data constantly, as long as you sign up for a Google account.
The three-month trial of Moto’s excellent SatNav software is a nice addition, but Google Maps is sufficient for on-foot navigation. The big problem, which comes as no surprise, is poor battery life.
It will need a charge every day, but there are a number of power saving options available.
The new Android Market application is a vast improvement too, with more easily accessible ratings and screenshots, and the number of apps is growing all the time.
The Milestone is a success for both Motorola and Android, and once it gets the upgrade to Android 2.1, there will be almost no difference between this and the Nexus One. What’s more, the price of the Milestone is already falling, making it an even more enticing offering.
The Motorola Milestone is a highly impressive handset, especially when you consider it’s only the second Android smartphone from the US manufacturer. Hardware is good, although the slide-out keyboard probably wasn’t even necessary thanks to the large on-screen version. The OS is speedy, thanks to the ARM Cortex A8 processor, while HSPA and Wi-Fi gives it speedy online access. It’s a shock that no network has officially released this, but with prices falling SIM-free it offers an experience that’s more than able to compete with the Google Nexus One.