As the Milestone, or Droid in the US, Motorola has firmly established itself as a serious player in the world of Android. Now the latest model ups the performance even more.
Android phones, in the US at least, really took off with the launch of the Motorola Droid. Suddenly Google’s phone OS had officially arrived and the Droid brand was enough to inspire plenty of websites and app reviews. Some analysts said that Android had reversed Motorola’s sickly fortunes.
Anyway, the handset soon hopped across the pond, getting renamed the Milestone along the way. It was praised for its great-looking 3.7-inch screen but had a disappointingly awkward keyboard. What’s more, it used pure Android software, even though Motorola’s MotoBLUR software, found on other Motorola models was a very powerful addition to the mix.
So with the arrival of the Milestone 2, it was important for Motorola to make things even better.
The design is largely similar, though it thankfully eschews the ugly bump which distorted the bottom of the extremely rare XT720, which gave way to the keyboard for the sake of a better camera.
The XT720 promised a lot, especially with its Xenon flash and a software update to improve the performance over the original Milestone, but it never really got taken seriously.
Getting rid of the keyboard was probably a big mistake, and now it has been improved immensely. The first iteration of the Milestone had a strange-looking direction pad squeezed in, which has now been ditched for traditional cursor keys. This is better in itself, but also means the letter keys can be bigger and better-spaced. What’s more, the first Milestone had hard-to-read secondary characters (like @, punctuation and numbers), especially when you had to squint at them in darkness, relying on the backlighting. This time around, these are much simpler to identify.
The keys were nearly flat before but now they’re gently rounded, though they still slightly blend into each other. Improved, yes, but not quite up there with a BlackBerry keyboard. But, RIM doesn’t make Android devices so if that is what you want, it’s one of the best – matched only by the HTC Desire Z.
And the other new addition is MotoBLUR social aggregation service that was part of the very first Motorola Android phones, but removed from the Milestone 1 to keep it as a native ‘With Google’ device. It didn’t help that Motorola had the first Milestone down as a phone solely for business users, completely ignoring the fact that just about everyone is interested in a phone with a physical keyboard.
Blurring into one
When it first launched, MotoBLUR was ahead of its time – only webOS on the Palm Pre performed similar tricks by combining contacts from different sources like your address book, Facebook friends and so on.
This kind of data combining has become much more common, so it’s no longer cutting edge, but it is worth noting that the Motorola method works by gathering data remotely – even when your phone is out of coverage or switched off – and then pushing it to the device in a stripped-down, compressed file that speeds up the data transfer and reduces the amount of data sent.
As more tariffs come with data caps, it’s good to be able to place some controls on the amount of data that could be flowing with other apps that aren’t so bothered. What’s more, the integration in the phone is pretty minimal and most of the data is viewed via an alternative messaging app, or widgets.
It’s just as easy to switch it off as set it up, and there’s no compulsion to use it if you don’t want to. Another feature of MotoBLUR is the ability to trace your phone and remotely wipe the data if the phone is lost or stolen.
As each manufacturer is free to customise their version of Android, Motorola has changed its highlight colour to a deep blood red. It looks nice, having first appeared on the Motorola Droid, so well in fact that it may not be much of a coincidence that Motorola has now adopted the same shade of red for its corporate logo.
But a stand-out colour alone doesn’t make a great phone. Luckily, the Milestone 2 has other tricks. For a start, as well as gathering your social networking contacts, it also backs up key data to the cloud – ideal if you lose your phone and you’ve been forced to wipe the data.
As for Android, the Milestone 2 comes with 2.2, which will hopefully be upgraded to 2.3. However, even if it doesn’t it already has Adobe Flash compatibility out of the box. The phone also has Internet tethering via USB and Bluetooth, or can act a wireless hotspot to share data with other Wi-Fi devices.
Motorola’s home screen has up to seven panels, and there are a bunch of exclusive widgets to accompany the standard Android ones. The LCD screen is also a delight for watching videos and looking at pictures, or just surfing the web.
Motorola’s problem in the UK has been the networks not taking its products seriously – and the Milestone 2 is no exception. It’s hard to find, but if you make the effort then it is an excellent mix of a slim touchscreen with a decent keyboard.
Motorola has a raft of Android phones, some of which have unique attributes, like the ruggedised but still smart-as-a-smartphone Defy. That lacks a keyboard, though, and if you’re a QWERTY fiend then this phone has one of the best keyboards outside BlackBerry. There’s decent connectivity with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and HSPA for fast 3G data. The Milestone 2 retains the stylish good looks of its forbear, but given a bit of a tweak here and there. With Android 2.2, more RAM and a faster processor, it will seem like an all-new phone even if it does look rather familiar.
Ratings (out of 5)
[wpgalleryimage title=”Editors-Choice-4Star” float=right]Performance: 5