Motorola is targeting social media types — that's anyone who can't bear the thought of finishing this review without taking a quick break to check what Stephen Fry is up to — with two new phones, the Dext and the Backflip, running Google's Android operating system.
Both the Dext and the Backflip feature a service dubbed Motoblur that pushes SMSes, status updates, emails, messages and photo upload notifications through to widgets that are pre-installed on the Motorola's main home screen via the Motoblur servers; all one has to do is sign up for a Motoblur account and begin linking in your email, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Picasa (no Flickr we're afraid), MySpace and Last.fm accounts.
Motoblur receives a pass mark, just, if it's restricted to Facebook and email accounts. Add in Twitter, though, and you could be sailing for trouble. If you're following a bazillion twitterers — especially journalists, websites or those with verbal diarrhoea — your Motoblur Happenings screen could soon be deluged with so many news updates, loo statuses and "what type of sandwich?" conundrums that you'll miss the news about Shaz and Baz's engagement.
Those of us who demand instant gratification will be disappointed that there's a delay of anywhere between a few minutes to half an hour before the latest updates appear, with no way of forcing Motoblur's Happenings widget or combined inbox to refresh. A few other quirks abound, for instance Twitter comments made @you don't turn up in either your inbox or your Happenings screen, nor do responses to your Facebook statuses and comments. And while all Facebook status updates have a handy "add a comment" button in the Happenings widget, responding to tweets involves a rather unintuitive green icon and an extra button press or two — or you could just flip the keyboard out and begin typing, a trick that's applicable with almost every application.
All these small failings add up and more often than we cared to count we resorted to using Facebook's official Android app, as well as third-party Twitter apps, to do our social bidding.
The phone automatically aggregates all of your phone, email and social networking contacts; handy for when you're checking up on what everyone's up to, less so when you're trying to make an urgent call. Thankfully, it's easy to restrict the contact list display to, say, just phone contacts, but unfortunately it can't be cajoled into showing a combination of phone, Gmail and Facebook contacts to exclusion of Twitter and MySpace. Over time this may become less and less of an issue as you import contacts from your SIM card and begin linking phone contacts to their social networking selves.
Design and performance
Possibly due to its thickness — the Dext measures 114mm long, 58mm wide and 15.6mm thick — the Dext feels heavier than its 163g weight. The reason the Dext is more Kirsty Alley than Kate Beckinsale is it that has a side-sliding QWERTY keyboard. The raised and rounded keys are easy to tap quickly and respond with a resounding click. The space bar and Alt keys, with their prominent indent and position near the keyboard lip, as well as their lack of positive feedback, slow down the typing rate significantly though.
Letter keys are easy to press and have positive feedback; the space bar not so much.
To the left of the keyboard's keys is a five-way controller that rarely gets used, except to move the text cursor. While the keys on the on-screen keyboard are best suited to the slimmest part of a finger — especially the keys close to the edge of the screen, we're looking at you P — the predictive text usually makes up for this, unless, of course, you're typing "Persephone's pippies are piping hot".
The nice enough 3.1-inch, 320x480 capacitive touchscreen is let down by the rest of the Dext's hardware and operating system package. The underpowered 528MHz Qualcomm MSM7200A processor means that operating the Dext isn't as smooth as it should be, with the occasional bout of serious lag. On top of that Motorola has only kitted out the Dext with Android 1.5, so the latest interface improvements, as well as updates to the web browser, Google Maps and Android Market, are off limits until Motorola sees fit.
Despite Motorola's claim of six hours of talk time and 13.5 days on standby, the best we managed to eke out of the Dext with mild usage — surfing on the 30-minute commute to and from work, plus the odd text message and phone call — was two days from a full battery charge.
Plans and other features
The Dext is currently only available in Australia through Optus; the handset is available for AU$0 when locked for two years into the company's AU$49 "yes" Social plan that includes a more than sufficient 500MB of data per month. Although we had no problems surfing the net on Optus' 3G/HSDPA network, on numerous occasions our photo uploads stalled and status updates were lost in the ether. Turning Wi-Fi on helped alleviate these problems, but made it impossible to download apps from the Android Market.
Photos are decent enough when scaled down; 100 per cent crop (inset).
(Credit: Derek Fung/CNET Australia)
There's 256MB of on-board memory for applications, while a 2GB microSD card comes pre-installed with Australian Dexts, which when combined with the top-mounted 3.5mm jack, it makes the Dext a decent, if not particularly capacious, music player. The Dext's 5-megapixel camera snaps reasonable stills, but the lack of a flash is annoying. It's also able to record quite smooth 3GP wrapped MPEG-4 videos that, given the poor 352x288 resolution, are a detail-free zone.
A GPS antenna is wired into the Dext allowing for Google Maps positioning and photo geotagging, although turn-by-turn navigation requires purchasing third-party software, such as Sygic's Mobile Maps.
A passable smartphone, the Dext drops points for its underpowered processor and its old version of Android. Worse still, the Motoblur social networking software packages fail to live up to their promise and needs further refinement.