First Impressions: Motorola Milestone

31 Mar

Motorola is back in India with its first Android smartphone and I have been using it for the past couple of days (I returned the unit to Motorola today). The Milestone (the GSM version of the Droid) is at the moment the only Android 2.1 device available in India (HTC tells me that the update for Hero is about a week away).

Being an early Android adopter here in India – I had earlier used the HTC G1 and the Magic and bought the Hero the day it was launched – it is very difficult for me to be impressed by an Android device that does not have a custom UI. Surprisingly, the Milestone has not only managed to impress me but also left me drooling over it. (No wonder I found myself unwilling to part with the device so soon.) Considering that I could not use it for a longer duration, I don’t consider this as a review but just my first impressions. (For the record, I usually use a phone for at least a couple of weeks before penning a review.)

The Good:

The first thing I noticed about the phone even before powering it on was its build quality. The Milestone has an all metal finish with a rubbery (if I may) coating on top of it. The result being a sturdy, reassuringly heavy and non-glossy chasis unlike other plasticky Android phones doing the rounds these days. The sliding mechanism is smooth, which reveals a flat four row QWERTY keyboard. I was sceptical about the keyboard as it seemed to lack tactile feel but I was proven wrong the minute I started typing on it. Yes, you would have to use the ‘ALT’ key a lot as almost every button represents two characters (notice that all numbers are secondary characters). But that’s managable.

Then comes the massive 3.7 inch display with its rich 480×854 pixel resolution. I won’t be exaggerating if I say that this is the best screen I have ever seen on any phone out there and it does multi-touch too. It is among the brightest ones too and even when I set it to the lowest brightness level, it was bright enough for indoor usage. I notched it up a couple of levels and it worked fine under sunlight. Here’s a quick tip that I figured out – go to display settings and turn off auto brightness. Then set it to the middle level if you are outside or the lowest level for indoor use. You’d end up saving a lot of battery juice. To make things easier, add a power widget on the homescreen from which you can toggle the brightness level on the fly.

Even though the Milestone runs on a Cortex A8 processor clocked at 600 MHz, it is zippy. Had I not known better, I could have assumed it to be running on a Snapdragon 1 GHz processor. Everything seemed to run faster, much faster, when compared to my HTC Hero. Probably keeping things simple does help at times.

The Milestone in India comes bundled with turn-by-turn navigation thanks to maps for most Indian cities from MapMyIndia preloaded on the bundled 8 GB microSD card. I have not tried the feature but it is good to have it straight out of the box.

Then comes the benefit of running Android 2.1. I could configure multiple e-mail accounts without having to rely on third party solutions (like HTC’s mail on the Hero). The live wallpapers is an interesting feature but that’s about it, nothing worth writing home about.

The Not-So-Good:

As smartphones become smarter with more features and prettier with bigger displays, the battery life becomes the first casuality. I have faced this problem with all high-end touchscreen smartphones these days and the Milestone is no different. Yes, I couldn’t condition the battery (Motorola recommends that you charge it for eight hours for the first three days) but still I’d be surprised if it could see anyone through a day with two push e-mail accounts, a Twitter account set to ping every hour and an hour of calls and Internet browsing. Yes, I end up doing lot of things on my phone but that’s what smartphones are meant to do, aren’t they?

My second grudge is with its 133 MB of internal storage. Yes, there is an 8 GB memory card bundled with the phone but Android, at the moment, does not allow users to run applications from external storage. You have to save and install them on the phone memory, for which 133 MB does not seem enough.

Thirdly, there is very little bundled with the phone. The least Motorola could do was include a carrying pouch and a screen protector and at the most a dock. I’d hate to see the display or the chasis getting scratched and the preinstalled maps don’t really help if one cannot find a car dock for it.

I would save my verdict till I get to use the device for a longer duration but for the moment, the good aspects of the device seem to weigh over the not-so-good things about it. And if you see, the negative aspects are not exclusive to Motorola but just about every Android phone available in India at present.

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