For the past week I’ve been test driving Motorola’s Milestone and devouring of all its nutritious Android goodness. Here’s the lowdown...
Aesthetics & Build
The first thing that strikes you when you take the Milestone out of the box is the weight. As one of the heavy weights in the Android market, the Milestone weighs in at 165g but it only takes you a second to realise that this is down to muscle rather than blubber. The cold smooth metal casing and robust pull-out QWERTY keyboard may add weight, but are also a reflection of the top-notch build quality. And besides, it’s hardly fat at 13.7mm thick. Suddenly that 165g is a sturdy reassurance that the Milestone is going to take all the Android abuse your nifty thumbs can throw at it.
The overall design is a mix of austere industrialism and 80’s retro, which won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but perhaps a smart move on Motorola’s part, capturing the love of all things 80’s that pop culture is awash with today.
The 3.7"; WVGA (480 x 854 pixels); 16:9 widescreen TFT dominates the front of the phone, the only other features are 4 touch menu buttons and a somewhat peculiar overhanging lip on the bottom or right hand side, depending whether you are holding the handset vertically or horizontally. Visually it looks a little strange and you do wonder why it’s there; a design decision or a hardware necessity? On closer inspection the “lip” does actually contain the microphone, so one assumes it was a brains rather than beauty feature. Still they say beauty is based on symmetry and if that rings true for you, the Milestone’s off-kilt lip may be a turn off.
Well being an Android handset, the real selling point is the wonderful world of widgets, apps and games that are only a click or two away. But for those not wanting to compromise on traditional phone features, the Milestone doesn’t disappoint here either. In terms of messaging, the Milestone will happily text, email and voicemail. Entertainment is fully covered with the Media and Music player supporting all the usual suspects i.e. MP3, WAV, MPEG-4. Imaging whilst not the best spec on the market, will still be perfectly satisfying for all but the keenest photographer, with a 5MP camera, 4x digital zoom and video capture of DVD quality up to 24fps ; D1 (720x480) resolution. For the more pragmatic amongst you, there’s an alarm clock (featuring the most alarming noises I’ve heard in a while, perhaps translating that functional requirement a tad too literally), a calendar and flight mode. There’s built in GPS, Google maps and direction support for those of you prone to getting lost. Oh, and did I mention you can use it as a phone too (tongue now in cheek).
The availability of the Android apps really is the winner though. Literally hours of fun (I would highly recommend a healthy dose of nostalgia in the brilliant ConnectFour). Social Media addicts will love the Tweetcaster and Fbook apps.
The Milestone uses Android 2.0, Google’s operating system for mobile phones. Apart from the 4 permanent touch buttons on the screen casing, the majority of the navigation and menu options are controlled through the touch screen. This can take a little bit of getting use to, especially to newbies. Whilst you are finding your touch screen feet, it can be a little frustrating when you intend to scroll but accidently open a menu item. Zooming in and out of browser windows and maps with a “pinching and expanding” motion is quite nifty and makes for quick and easy browsing.
The general premise of the menu system is that you have a “home page” on which you can make short cut icons to your favourite/most used menu options. Then there is a swipe out menu containing all your menu items (which can get quite busy depending on how many apps/games/widgets you have downloaded from the Android market place). You tap the menu item to open it, then hit the menu button (one of the 4 permanent buttons on the screen casing) to open the sub menu, or options. Generally speaking the interface is intuitive however there are instances where it can be tricky. For example, if you want to send a text message to a contact in your phone, you need to go to “Contacts” and not “Messages”. If you go directly into messages you need to know the recipients number off by heart as there isn’t a link to your Contacts that way round, which isn’t all that logical at first.
When on a call the touch screen can be a little annoying as if you are not careful your pesky cheek can push buttons on the screen such as “put on hold” or “hang up”. This does make it somewhat irksome as a phone as you have to be a little too delicate – forget trying to hold the phone between your cheek and shoulder to free your hands up for anything.
The handset can be used vertically or horizontally, depending on personal preference/what you are doing. The screen is motion censored to adjust depending on which way you hold the handset, which works pretty well without too much lag.
The pullout QWERTY keyboard is a nice addition, though I feel it’s a little let down by the keys as there is very little to differentiate between the feel of individual keys and it’s very easy to press the wrong one by accident. Strangely, I actually found the on-screen QWERTY a bit more reliable to use. However the pull out QWERTY does have a D-Pad, which makes scrolling and selecting a cinch.
Despite having a fairly slow start up, the actual response speed of the OS and functionality is pretty good. A full battery charge lasted just under 48 hours and that included about 45 minutes of ConnectFour, a 15 min phone call, and general messing around with various features for over an hour or so. A handset with a 3.7” TFT screen is never going to compete with “old-school” phones, but the Milestone isn’t too bad considering.
The video playback is occasionally a little pixelated, especially with the built in BBC iplayer app, but in general it’s not too bad. What is impressive though is the speaker quality and volume level. Even if you are not using the 3.5mm headphone jack, the speakers on the Milestone actually outperform those on my Toshiba mini laptop, so was quite impressed there.
The one thing I was underwhelmed by was the quality of the camera. The photos appear grainy with washed out colours. When taking photos in poor light i.e. indoors, the image on the screen is very dark, the actual photo brightens up with the flash but this does make it somewhat hard to frame your subjects as you only really see them after the photo has been taken!
In the Box
Other than the handset itself, the box has a few other goodies. There’s obviously the manual (very small, not very detailed), and also the CD for installing Motorola’s Media link to your PC. Quite pleased to see the charger is USB adaptable so can either charge straight from the mains or via a PC/Laptop (With the shorter battery life on these large screen phones, I assume this is a must functionality). There’s also a pair of in-ear headphones/ hands free.
For more information check out Motorola’s website