Australia’s mobile phone market is currently exploding with handsets based on Google’s Android. HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and LG all have devices for sale that rival traditional smartphones from brands like Nokia, Apple and Research in Motion.
Into this crowded market in December came the second iteration of Motorola’s Milestone line, boasting innovative features like a pull-out keyboard and advanced social networking software. But are its features advanced enough to beat the competition, or is will this handset be lost in the Android crowd?
Like most Android handsets on the market today, the Milestone 2 has a dark plastic all-over finish, with a large screen on the front and flat plastic on the back. If you put it next to a horde of other devices, it probably wouldn’t stand out. However, there are a number of nice little touches on the Milestone 2 that we appreciated.
For starters, the device’s beveled edges are easy on the fingers, and we really liked whatever material is on the back of the handset — it’s got a svelte, suede-like feel that’s lovely to touch. The device’s few ports — for headphones and USB/charger connection — are nestled away on the top and sides of the device, and speakers are discretely set into its back.
If you hold the device vertically, the keyboard slides out of its left-hand side easily, and gives a satisfying click when it reaches the end of its little rails. It’s not easy to accidentally slide the keyboard shut again, which we appreciated — although it is easy to *deliberately* slide the keyboard in, if you get our meaning.
The actual keys on the keyboard are nice to the touch, but slightly small for an average-sized male. However, they do include little raised bumps so you know which key you’re touching and won’t stray to the wrong one to either side or above and below when typing.
On the back of the device is its 5 megapixel camera and flash, and there are dedicated volume controls in the usual place, along with a dedicated camera button for when you’re holding the device horizontally. Size-wize, the Milestone 2 is a little over 6cm wide and almost 12cm long. It has a nice depth of 13.7mm and weighs 169g.
Overall the package feels well put together, neat and nice to hold.
The Milestone 2 represents a significant upgrade to the first Milestone, which launched through Optus in July. The new device comes with a 1GHz CPU (up from 550MHz) and a 5 megapixel camera (with flash) capable of filming video at a resolution of 720p. It can act as a Wi-Fi hotspot, connecting up to five other mobile devices to its 3G mobile broadband link.
The device comes with 8GB of internal storage and a further 2GB microSD storage card in the box if you buy it from Vodafone — although it can take cards up to 32GB. It features a 3.7″ screen running at a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels.
In addition, although a number of manufacturers in Australia are currently upgrading their devices to match it, the Milestone 2 is one of the only mobile phones down under to ship with version 2.2 of the Android platform, which at the moment is the most up to date version. Version 2.3 of Android has so far only shipped on one device — the Google Nexus S phone manufactured by Samsung, which hasn’t yet made its way to Australian shores through a carrier, although some retailers like Mobicity are selling the device online.
In terms of network bands, you won’t have any problems getting the Milestone 2 to work on Australian networks — the device supports all of the mobile frequencies used by the major carriers, including on their newer 3G networks.
The phone also comes with Motorola’s MOTOBLUR software pre-installed, which allows users to get a unified interface to their Facebook, Twitter and Myspace networks, as well as email and so on.
Feature- and design-wise, there is no doubt that Motorola’s Milestone 2 is pretty much a run of the mill phone. It doesn’t have the standout features that a high-end model like the HTC Desire HD has, but the actual design of the phone is actually quite nice, and we can think of many people who would probably prefer its svelte form factor and physical keyboard. However, the phone lets itself down when it comes to its actual performance in practice.
Firstly, although the Milestone 2 features a 1GHz CPU and plenty of memory, using its interface can be sluggish at times; the device’s in-screen speed simply didn’t measure up to models with similar specifications from the likes of HTC and Samsung. It doesn’t seem as if it’s the hardware at fault here — more likely a few little bugs in the way Motorola has set up the software.
Secondly, the actual touchscreen of the phone also gave us a little trouble. Although the Milestone 2 is a relatively high-end model, sometimes we had to tap a few times to get the desired result from the handset and get on-screen buttons to function. Your average mainstream user wouldn’t find this annoying unless they’d used something super-sensitive like an iPhone.
But then again; the iPhone is quite popular.
The Milestone 2’s battery life was decent but not outstanding.
The physical keyboard was very satisfying to use, and the little dip between the keys made it easy to keep your fingers in the right place. But we ended up being a little dissatisfied with their size; for a larger male hand, they’re just a tad too small. Your reviewer is a thinnish man above 6″ — for those with larger hands who need a physical keyboard, we’d recommend you look elsewhere.
For everyone else, the keyboard should be fine.
Lastly, perhaps the most annoying feature of the Milestone 2 was Motorola’s MOTOBLUR software. Not only does the software force used to create a MOTOBLUR account when they first turn on the phone (there is no way to skip the process), we don’t quite see the point of having integrated social networking software with limited functionality, when there are already fantastic Android apps for Twitter, Facebook and so on.
Why reinvent the wheel?
Worse, when we did test MOTOBLUR, the software was reliably much slower to deliver messages to and receive messages from the various social networks than existing stand-alone clients. We have to call this one a fail.
There is no doubt that the Milestone 2 is a solid little phone which many middle of the road users will be satisfied with. Solid design, good specifications and keyboard and decent performance? All of this speaks for the handset. Sure, there are a few quirks, but they’re not deal breakers.
However, at the end of the day, we can’t recommend that Australians go out and buy the device, and there’s one clear reason why: The Milestone 2 is already obsolete.
Not only is the Australian market already full of better options than the Milestone 2 (for example, the HTC Desire HD, the Samsung Galaxy S and, of course, the iPhone 4 or even 3GS, which is now damn cheap), Motorola itself has already flagged the launch of its remarkable Atrix 4G handset in the US on AT&T and Orange in the UK.
There’s a strong possibility the Atrix, or a handset like it, will come to Australia and supercede the Milestone 2 in just a few short months.
And that’s just if you definitely want a Motorola handset.
HTC, Samsung, LG and others all demonstrated new high-end flagship handsets at the CES conference several weeks ago, and a slab of new devices are also expected to be announced at February’s Mobile World Congress in Spain. And, of course Apple is expected to announced a new iPhone in mid-2011, a move which will no doubt push the price of the already fantastic iPhone 4 down.
With this many high-end Android and Apple handsets about to flood the Australian market throughout 2011, why would you settle for the Milestone 2, which is clearly a 2010 model? The answer is, you wouldn’t. Motorola took too long to bring the Milestone 2 to Australia after it launched in August in the US. And now it will pay the price for that importation delay as the market waits for the next generation of Android smartphones.
Image credit: Motorola