It seems like the Android OS is the way to go if you are a smartphone manufacturer looking to pull a Lazarus. After seeing Sony Ericsson picking themselves up by the bootstraps with the Android loaded X10i, it’s now the return of Motorola to SA with the Android loving Milestone. Motorola, manufacturer of the first cellphone ever, hasn’t done well for quite awhile now. After the massive success of the RAZR series way back in 2005, they’ve struggled to emulate its success. In SA their phones slowly dwindled until almost nothing was left. Fast forward to 2009 with Motorola releasing the Android-pumping Droid to an adoring American audience, happy to see the US company back in competitive mode.
The Motorola Milestone (MM) is basically the Droid renamed for a European (and South African) audience, and includes everything expected from a good smartphone, including HSDPA connectivity, aGPS and Wi-Fi. The thing that might make the MM more appealing for some is the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. We love physical QWERTY keyboards and this one is up there with the best of them. What we couldn’t understand though is the 5-way rocker placed directly next to it. It takes away space from the keyboard and we can only think that it’s responsible for the MM’s nasty “chin” protruding from the vertical bottom of the screen. Thanks to the fact that the screen is a capacitive touch-screen we hardly ever touched the rocker to move the cursor around.
Not much bulk
Contrary to what we expected, the keyboard doesn’t add much to the size of the device. The MM is still a very thin 13.7 mm, only .7 mm thicker than the X10i that’s keyboard-less. Talking of which, the X10i offered what we thought was a gorgeous 4” screen with a lovely 480 x 854 resolution. Although the Milestone cuts the screen size by .3”, it contains the same amount of pixels, allowing for a beautiful soft-on-the-eye screen resolution, most notable when displaying webpages.
Where is the UI?
The interesting thing about the MM is that there is no User Interface (UI), such as Sense found on the HTCs and Timescape found on the X10i. Motorola does actually have a UI called Motoblur (found on their Dext phone overseas), but strangely opted not to include it, and we must say that the phone feels a bit naked compared to the richness that Sense brings to HTC’s phones.
The good news is that the MM is one of the first phones in SA to include the updated Android 2.1 OS directly out of the box. Included is now five screens to populate instead of just three, animated wallpaper (we like the twirling galaxy) and nicer looking photo browsing. Although the US Droid came without multitouch, the MM works its multitouch magic marvellously. On the other hand the Yanks got voice navigation on Google Maps, while we get Motorola's own Motonav.
Making calls and SMS
Making calls are less of a headache as with the X10i, but it does still feel if your phone is just another app built to run on the device, and not actually the “phone” they are talking about in smartphone. The lack of physical buttons to call and answer with is testament to this, and why the MM doesn’t automatically start searching your phonebook when you start typing a number to call is just frustrating (instead you have to go to search). To make matters worse, when you are composing a text message, one of the hardest things to do is to actually insert a contact to send the message to. That said the integration of your contacts with your Facebook friends is excellent (if the names match). Once synched it pulls in all the info into your phonebook, allowing you to quickly tap your friends’ picture to allow you to call, email, SMS, view their details or view their Facebook profile.
Under the MM''s hood you’ll find the ARM Cortex A8 600 MHz processor, which is not as speedy as Qualcomm’s 1 GHz Snapdragon, but still (surprisingly) got the job done without major hiccups. Motorola included an 8 GB microSD card which sorted out the paltry onboard storage problem. The sound on the MM was excellent with the speakers working marvellously for both calls and music. Battery life though is less than what we received on other Android devices and rather reminiscent of the iPhone 3G S - lasting about a day before throwing in the towel. The onboard 5 megapixel snapper is nothing to write home about.
On the software side Motorolo connects you to Moto Phone Portal every time you connect your device to your PC. Here you can manage content on your phone such as editing contacts, sending SMSs or backing up your phonebook. Handily it can also be done via a Wi-Fi network. Motorola also includes Media Link media management software for your PC, which we recommend you stay away from if your media is already managed by another software package.
We had some problems with the onboard browser crashing, but that’s the beauty of apps – we simply downloaded Opera Mini 5 beta from a well populated Android Market (2nd after Apple App Store). While there, also get yourself PdaNet to use the MM as a tethered modem, since Motorola does not include the option directly. Motorola is kind enough to throw in a cradle for the phone, which comes in handy as a night stand.
The Motorola Milestone is a solid smartphone in most regards and the QWERTY keyboard might just be enough inspiration for some users to go for this instead of the X10i or the new HTC batch. It feels a bit bland though, bereft of any real personality thanks to a lack of a nice UI. And as Samuel L. Jackson so famously said, personality goes a long way. Android once again showed that they can make cellphone Lazaruses rise from the grave, and we are hoping that Android will inspire Motorola to eventually come up with a phone to fill the void left by RAZR''s overwhelming legacy. If the 6 month old MM can handle HTC’s new Desire and Legend is another story.
The Milestone is sold exclusively through MTN via their AnyTime packages, which meant we couldn't get a official cash price on the device, but expect to pay a reasonable R5 500 online.
PROSQWERTY keyboard, excellent screen, stand included, excellent voice quality.
No Motorola UI, battery life is a struggle, SMS problems.
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