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Motorola Milestone Review, Part 5.
The Motorola Milestone runs the latest version of Android, and by all accounts this is a useful (but not huge) upgrade to the original version of the operating system.
The default "home screen" is pretty minimal, with just a small selection of icons. You can scroll the whole screen to the left or right revealing two extra panels, and of course you can customise this with additional shortcuts or widgets.
Pressing the "app tray" control brings up all the applications installed on the phone, in a rather messy interface that basically lists everything en masse.
Scrolling through apps, and indeed scrolling through anything is a little strange at first. Touch any part of the screen and slide your finger, and the contents slide up or down.. usually a short tap on an icon or option followed by a slide is not enough to trigger it, you need to be a little more determined to run something. The Milestone uses kinetic scrolling, so the screen has some "momentum" and keeps scrolling when you remove your finger, so the faster you scroll, the more momentum it retains.. this is another feature that takes a little getting used to, but it is a good idea.
The Android interface seems to use a combination of long presses and short taps to activate items, which often seems inconsistent. Third party apps have a habit of doing their own things altogether, but then this slightly chaotic arrangement with developers is one thing that gives the Android platform such a rich variety of applications.
The keyboard is a bit of a contrast to the joys of the touchscreen - it consists of a tiny set of keys in a fairly conventional four-row layout. Each key measures about 6mm x 7mm, they are very flat with only a tiny amount of spacing, and as a consequence they are rather difficult to use with any accuracy. Some practice with the keyboard improves matters, but if you have pudgy fingers then you may struggle with it.
The keyboard is made more cramped by the inclusion of a retro-looking navigation pad. Just how useful this pad will be is questionable, especially when you consider that when the rival Nokia N97 was redesigned as the N97 Mini, the navigation pad was removed.
Motorola bills the Milestone as the "phone without compromise", but the keyboard is definitely a compromise as Motorola have tried to fit maximum functionality into a space that's just a little too tight for it.
Running along the bottom side of the screen are four touch-sensitive keys for "back", "menu", "home" and "search". These are all pretty essential to the functioning of the Milestone, but unfortunately they are very easy to press by accident when using the phone. The "home" key is especially annoying to touch as your application vanishes into the background.. and since by default there's no task manager on the Milestone, it can be difficult to get back to where you were.
There are hundreds or possibly thousands of applications in the Android Market, many of them are free. The Market icon has a prominent position on the home screen of the Milestone, and it's just as well because the installed application set is a bit sparse, especially when it comes to utilities and productivity tools. Most apps in the Market are free, and installation is incredibly easy - one good feature is that each application tells you of the privacy implications of installing it in plain and clear terms.
It must be said that the Market application seems to be quite buggy, often not responding properly to keypresses. It is possible that these issues are caused by a loading issue on the back end servers, in which case Google needs to add more capacity.
Connectivity and call quality
It's easy to forget that the Motorola Milestone is actually a phone, and it certainly makes phone calls. The on-screen dialler is easy to use and has all the functions you'll need. Contacts can synchronise with Google which makes it easy to keep track of names and numbers. Call quality is good, and we had no problems getting a 3G or 3.5G signal with the phone where coverage allowed.
WiFi connectivity is also on a par with devices of a similar size, although remember that a little handheld device is only going to have a small wireless antenna.. don't expect the same performance that you'd get from a notebook.
Shockingly, the Motorola Milestone doesn't support tethering, so you can't use it as a modem for a laptop or connect through it from a GPS device or other Bluetooth connection.. but as you might guess, there's an app in the Google Market that might help fix this called PDAnet (video here) but this only works for PC and Mac clients.. if you want to connect anything else (such as a SatNav) then there's a good chance that it won't work. There are rumours that tethering will come to the Milestone and DROID sometime in 2010, but as it is, this is a serious flaw in the Milestone.
We've only really covered the major features of the Milestone in this review, there are other interesting applications such as Google Mail, support for corporate Exchange servers, Voice Search, a Phone Portal that means you can access the Milestone over WiFi, Google Talk and a dedicated YouTube application. And as we said, if want you want isn't installed when you get it, then there's a good chance there's an app for it in the Android Market.
The Motorola Milestone is easily one of the most powerful phones on the market, and the software is every bit as good as the hardware. Integration with Google is excellent, the web browser is first rate and the software is easy to add to. There are some problems with video playback on higher-resolution clips, and the keyboard is a little cramped, and you need some practice to avoid the touch-sensitive keys on the front. More seriously, that poor camera and lack of tethering let the Motorola Milestone down somewhat.
Although the Milestone has flaws, then so does the competition. We think that the Milestone is an excellent choice if you are looking for a high-end smartphone.. although it is still very expensive!
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