Motorola has finally given us a European version of the ‘Motoroi’, the Milestone with 8-megapixel camera and Xenon flash. Is this the new king of the cameraphone?
Making good use of a hardware platform makes sound business sense, so when Motorola was working on the original Milestone with its integrated keyboard, it also produced a version without one. However, it was only released in Korea, as the Motoroi.
Earlier this year What Mobile asked Motorola if and when we might see a version in the UK and now we have it; as the Milestone XT720.
Taking away the slide-out keyboard reduces the overall thickness, while the camera has been bumped up from 5 to 8-megapixels, plus there’s a proper Xenon flash instead of LEDs. So, if the Milestone is for messaging, the XT720 has to be the first choice for imaging.
The Milestone does perform well despite its relatively slow 550MHz processor, but given everything else is going to 1GHz or beyond, consumers playing the numbers game will not be too excited to learn that the XT720 is literally the same as the Milestone, which is only two months away from becoming a year old.
There’s the same amount of RAM and the same 3.7-inch screen as the original, which isn’t a fancy AM-OLED affair but a traditional TFT LCD. While this might sound rather old-school, we think it’s actually a good thing, because while it may sap a bit more juice from the battery, you have a much clearer display when reading text.
Because of the ordering of the pixels on the HTC Desire and Samsung’s Galaxy S, both using OLED display technology with interpolation, you can see where dithering is used around text, which reduces clarity. This is most noticeable on text, which means the XT720 is ‘pixel perfect’ and almost as nice to look at as Apple’s Retina Display.
The phone has a true Wide-VGA screen resolution too, so you get 854×480 pixels over the normal 800×480 on other top-end Android devices. This is great for when you watch movies.
With the XT720 the only Android phone currently on the market with a Xenon flash, it’s the feature that could set this apart from the competition.
It’s also nice to see an HDMI socket, so you can enjoy pictures (or video – as the phone captures at 1280x720p) on a big screen.
The camera itself is easy to use, although it takes a while to start up, and the results speak for themselves. We’ve seen and tested 12-megapixel handsets with a proper flash, but 8-megapixels is still more than ample for most situations.
Sadly, there’s no LED lamp, which means no video recording in very low-light, but there is a red light to aid the autofocus.
With a mirrored front, the XT720 looks quite unique. The phone also looks stylish from the back, which includes a powerful speaker that is another big difference over a Desire or Galaxy S.
What isn’t so nice is the part of the phone that sticks out at the bottom right of the phone. It looks rather odd, and is there purely to enable you to see illuminated icons to show what mode you’re in when using the camera; namely playback, still imaging or video.
These icons aren’t touch-sensitive, but controlled with a small button next to the shutter on the side. It’s slow to toggle modes, spoils the overall look of the phone and is therefore rather pointless.
Like the Acer Stream, there’s an annoying cover over the USB and HDMI sockets. Samsung was wise enough to use a sliding cover, and Motorola never thought it was necessary on the original Milestone – which can then slot nicely into the optional docking station. As a result, there is no such dock for the XT720. Another disappointment.
Without the original Milestone’s keyboard, you must use an on-screen version at all times. Because of the long, tall, display, the keyboard is quite narrow in portrait mode. In landscape mode it’s a lot better, but I did miss the physical keyboard.
The phone is also starting to show its age, and the low amount of memory means you will find applications shutting down quicker than they otherwise might on another phone with a more generous helping of RAM.
The native-Motorola homescreen is also extremely laggy, which means you’ll need to add a third party launcher. Launcher Pro or ADW Launcher are my own personal recommendations, which will transform the phone.
Unlike Acer’s Stream, the rest of the phone is pretty much native Android OS and all the better for it. Although the inclusion of Android 2.1 allows for live wallpapers, running them seems to slow the phone down too much to be recommended.
Motorola has also added a range of power management options to improve battery life. You can also adjust the HDMI output resolution, and use apps to allow access to corporate email and contacts (using Microsoft Exchange). There’s also a portal app that allows you to access the phone over Wi-Fi and manage the content on the phone, from text messages to photos and video.
As Motorola has confirmed the original Milestone will get an update to OS 2.2, it seems inevitable the XT720 will do so too, but until it’s officially confirmed we can’t say for definite.
With the hardware being almost identical, it’s a case of deciding whether you want a better camera experience or the hardware keyboard. It’s a tough decision, and with the Milestone 2 on the horizon, it’s a shame Motorola couldn’t combine an improved keyboard with the improved camera. It’s a good offering, but it seems like an improved successor is probably just months away.
Update – increased speed for XT720 after firmware update
Since this review was published in What Mobile magazine, Motorola has issued a firmware update that increases the clock speed of the XT720 to 720MHz, from its original speed (550MHz). Visit the Motorola website for information on how to do this update. The update also offers support for sharing media with DLNA-compliant devices.
It is worth noting that it is also possible to overclock the XT720, unofficially, to 600, 800, 1000 or 1200MHz using two individual applications (search for Milestock Overclock and Universal Androot) but this could potentially invalidate the warranty and be unstable at higher speeds.
We’ve been waiting ages for an Android phone with a high-quality camera and Xenon flash. And now, thanks to Motorola, we have one that captures HD video too. The problem is the phone is a re-branded version of one on sale in Korea since the start of 2010, and the processor performance and memory is looking a bit dated. That said, the phone isn’t slow and it has a display that can stand its own against OLED displays favoured by the competition. If you want a quality camera and smartphone combination, it’s a worthy consideration until something better arrives.
Ratings (out of 5)