A few weeks prior to the holidays, I splurged on a Motorola Milestone, which is the european version of the US superphone called the “Droid”. I’ve now had the device for day to day use for a couple of weeks, and I’m now ready to tell you that while it’s certainly a great device, it’s not without its flaws. Which deserves a review. For the remainder, I will be referring to the device as the Milestone, but to my knowledge the only difference between the Milestone and the Droid is that Milestone is 3G, has a different boot logo. Plus, “pinch-to-zoom” works in the browser.
The Milestone is gorgeous. It has a really nice rubbery matte feel on the bottom, and the glass is clear, sharp and totally droolworthy. It’s a quite heavy device, more-so than you’d think, which is actually good; it makes it feel as sturdy as it seems.
Certainly, Google Android, the mobile operating system running on the device, is what propels the Milestone to greatness, and make no mistake, this is a great device. Aside from simply providing a super fast and smooth experience, the Google account integration means after the initial setup phase, you already have your your email and your calendar available to you with no extra work. I upgraded from a Nokia phone that was so old that I had no way to export and import my phone-numbers. Which, as it turns out, wasn’t a problem as Android simply imports your contacts, so most of the phone numbers I’d already entered. Which is so great. So, so great.
The phone was purchased to be a sub-sub-notebook on the road, a place to gather my meeting appointments and todo-lists, quickly access email, calendar and some maps. For all those things, Milestone with Android is incredible. I’ve been positively surprised at every turn; this is built smart. Everything works, everything syncs. You can’t not love this.
Transferring data to the device is as easy as connecting the device it to your computer and copying stuff to the SD-card in the phone. Which is such a hammer-punch to Apples brass ones. The sheer bliss it is not to have to open iTunes just to copy music to the device makes Apples handcuffs seem like a mindbogglingly stupid decision. If you add to that the ability to multi-task, for instance editing your calendar and to-do list while listening to a podcast, you’re really looking at a device that’s gunning for great.
The real question is, whether it’s Android I love, or the whole package.
The Good And The Bad
The really great:
- The Milestone is gorgeous, and not in an “urban hipster” sort of way
- Sliding out the keyboard is a clickety pleasure
- The super hi-res WVGA screen is delicious
- Pinch-to-zoom in the browser works superbly (this is a Milestone-not-Droid feature)
- While Google Maps features turn-by-turn navigation, you also get “MotoNav”, which’ll further make your Garmin and TomTom obsolete
Aside from this bulleted list, there are some awesome apps on the market which I’m told aren’t available on other platforms. Such as Google Sky, which is like an overlay for a starry night, telling you which stars you’re looking at with surprising accuracy. Also, Google Listen, whose mobile podcasting subscription features rival that of iTunes’ (whose podcasting features have been its sole raison d’etre on my PC).
The not so great:
The capacitative buttons. At the bottom of every Android phone you’re likely to find contextual buttons: back, context-menu, home, and search. While useful1, it’s a problem that they’re in a capacitative glass area that’s part of the screen. Which means if you’re holding the phone in landscape mode and navigating or otherwise dragging the screen content, you’re extremely likely to accidentally activate one of those buttons. Which doesn’t happen a lot, but is really annoying when it does.
Another thing is the fact that most europeans can’t yet purchase paid apps / full-version apps in the Android Market. I’m told this has something to do with carrier billing and Google Checkout not yet available in my country, both issues I don’t care about. I can pay Visa, PayPal, whatever — just let me pay damn you! I shouldn’t have to do the Android equivalent of jailbreaking your phone (“rooting it”) just to buy the full version of Robo Defense!
Going on, I know I should’nt expect much from a mobile camera, but this one doesn’t impress me, despite it being a whopping 5 megapixels.
Most importantly, and probably the biggest detraction from the Milestone is the slide-out keyboard itself. Engineering a phone with a slideout keyboard, I assume, is way harder than building one without it; so there had better be a damn good reason to do so. And yes, using the physical keyboard is better than using the onscreen one. But only a little bit. All the buttons are more or less flat, meaning the difference between using the slideout keyboard and the onscreen keyboard in landscape mode is very little. And very sad. Add to this a directional button thingy to navigate, select and click (the gold thing on the image) which simply never does what you want it to. The bottomline is that the decision to add a slideout keyboard seems like an afterthought. Unfortunately, because I’m a big fan of tactile feedback.
Another thing is the fact that when I walk around with the Milestone, the keyboard will more often than not slide out just a little bit, enough to annoy me (and to activate the screen consuming a few minutes of power) — it betrays the feeling of sturdy; something which can also be said of the battery lid, which hasn’t yet fallen off on its own but feels like it could.
It’s Still A Great Device
The best way to describe the Milestone is that it’s my favourite new device of 2009, despite its qualms and flaws. Most of its troubles feel trivial compared to what you do get, and the rest of the issues are software things Google will probably fix, if not in Android 2.1, then in some undecided future.
That said, the recently rumoured Nexus One seems like the Milestone/Droid without the keyboard troubles, which is simply a phone that’s just a little bit better. If it becomes available to me, I’m selling the Milestone and getting one.
Google Android 2.0 rating:
Motorola Milestone hardware:
[Update]: US Droid phones now have “pinch to zoom” as well.
Pressing and holding the “Home” button invokes an alt-tab-like app switcher ↩