The name Milestone may lack the presence of any of our favourite tech buzz words (Xtreme, Touchwiz, iAnything) but it is one of the most accurate titles for a phone in years. This is a Milestone for mobile phones as it is for Motorola, a company whose days seemed numbered until this phone came crashing down in the form of the Motorola Droid in the US. Now Motorola looks to be beginning a second coming, with the Milestone capturing our hearts and minds the way the Moto RAZR did back in its day.
If you haven't watched the excellent Verizon ad for the Droid (and subtle stab at the iPhone) perhaps you should watch it now, chances are we might refer to claims made by the voice-over more than once during this review. For example, the ad says that "they" don't think phones should be pretty just fast, and this is the first thing most people will notice about the Milestone — it has a great face for radio. It's big, black and boxy, and its golden mechanical are an affront to good taste. Luckily, its sharp, colourful WVGA display makes up for most of its utilitarian design once the phone is powered on.
The screen is fantastic; not only is it easy on the eyes, but it's also very easy to use — the Android OS responds quickly and accurately to all finger gestures. This build of Android features a full QWERTY on-screen keyboard, but for those who shy away from touchscreens for text input the Milestone also has a full physical keyboard under the slider. The keys on the keyboard are fine, but not outstanding. In comparison to other phones with QWERTY pads, the Milestone is about average, it's not the best we've seen but it is large enough to use with a minimum of errors.
The Milestone also has a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash, but as with other Androids, it has no front-facing camera for video calls. There's a 3.5mm headphone socket on the top of the handset, a microSD card slot under the battery cover (our review unit came with an 8GB card) and the Milestone charges using a universal micro-USB charging socket.
The Milestone features the latest version of Google's open-source Android platform to be released to date, version 2.0 or Eclair, as it was affectionately known amongst the dev community. Android 2.0 brings a few new graphics and an obvious speed bump, but overall doesn't offer anything outstanding to the feature set. There's a few neat apps from the Google Labs pre-installed; for example, Places Directory, which searches Google Map business references and lists them instead of mapping them, but overall nothing really exciting.
It has the usual swag of Google apps as well (Gmail, Google Talk, etc) and the browser is as good as we've seen in previous Android releases — the Milestone uses multi-touch zooming gestures , which is the same as the HTC Hero did just before it. There is, of course, the Android Market to dip into when you've had your fill of the phone's basic functionality. The store now has a new, brighter look and is easier to browse, plus the total number of apps is currently over 20,000 which is fantastic news for the Fandroids.
It's a shame that Motorola hasn't pimped the Milestone with a funky new home screen overlay, the way it did with the previously released Motorola Dext in the US. As it stands, the home screen on the Milestone is fine for performing the basic task of housing shortcuts and widgets, but it lacks the wow-factor of a UI shell with live updating social networking streams.
Multimedia has been one area we've routinely criticised when reviewing Android products so far, and while the Milestone is still far from perfect, it is a marked improvement. The big difference is that Motorola bothers to bundle media sync software with the handset, which not only transfers files but re-encodes music and video for optimal playback on the phone.
After watching the ad we linked you to at the start of the review we're sure there is one question burning away at the dentate gyrus region of your brain: is it fast? "Racehorse-duct-taped-to-a-Scud-missile fast?" Fast is the wrong term to use. The real question should be "is it responsive?" Which is a much easier question to answer considering we're not exactly sure how fast a Scud missile goes in computation terms.
The answer is yes, across the board. We have had no major issues with the phone lagging, and where we've had a strong connection our internet experience has been outstanding, at least as good as the iPhone. In fact, we were shocked to learn that this phone runs on a 550MHz processor because the performance compares well to phones with chips that are twice as fast. We know this performance has something to do with a second, dedicated graphics processor, but our hats are off to the Motorola boffins nonetheless for squeezing the juice out of the Android OS.
Battery life has been reasonably good, about a day and a half between charges, but we improved this significantly using two widgets; one that lets you switch off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and automatic syncing with one-touch and another that opens the menu to switch to 2G mode only. The only real disappointment during our review was the truly terrible 5-megapixel camera which failed to shoot anything but noisy photos with weird mixtures of blue and green hues.
The Motorola Milestone is an excellent smartphone and proof that 2010 will be the year of the iPhone alternative. It covers the basics well, it serves up online content like any other phone, and its responsive interface makes it a pleasure to use. Multimedia could still improve and the camera is far from the quality of Nokia and Sony Ericsson, but this should only dissuade you if these features are integral to your everyday phone use. In a year when the iPhone's first Australian customers are looking to sign new contracts, the Milestone gives you something new to consider.
The Motorola Milestone is not yet available through Australia's mobile phone carriers and is only available through online vendors including Mobicity.com.au.