TELUS Motorola MILESTONE Review

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It’s been out in Canada for a little under three weeks now, but the Motorola MILESTONE has already proven itself to be quite the popular handset thanks in part to all of the Canadians watching American TV and witnessing Verizon’s huge media blitz for the DROID. For a device that has been on sale in one form or another for many months, we have to wonder — is the MILESTONE still worth it? Put on your reading glasses, sit back and relax, and join us after the jump for our hands on the the TELUS Motorola MILESONE to find out.OS

Seeing as this is a hardware review we decided we’d bypass once again dissecting Android because everything that needs to be said about the Android OS has already been said by BG in his epic Android tirade post. If you’re seething at rage just thinking of what it is he said or simply as the prospect of reading well over 1,400 words then let us quickly catch you up to speed: Android, while a damn fine OS that has all the promise in the world, has “practically no human emotion with Google when it comes to technology. Everything is statistical and analytical.” On we go.

Tech Specs

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When its EV-DO counterpart came out late last year, it was easily the most advanced Android handset to come to market. Quite a lot of things have changed since that time — what with the release of the Nexus One and the announcing of the Desire — but as it stands, the MILESTONE is still no slouch. Here are some key specs to keep in mind before you go on:

  • Android 2.0.1
  • 550MHz OMAP3 processor
  • 256MB RAM / 512MB ROM
  • 3.7″ WVGA capacitive touchscreen display
  • 5 megapixel camera with dual-LED flash
  • aGPS with MotoNav pre-loaded
  • Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
  • 10.2Mbps UMTS/HSDPA
  • 6.5 hours talk time / 380 hours standby (3G)
  • 60mm x 115.8mm x 13.7 mm, 165g

Build Quality

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As far as build quality goes, it’s pretty hard to fault the MILESTONE. On the top half of the device we have the display, encased by a metal bezel, and made up of a sturdy slab of plastic that does a more than admirable job of resisting scuffs and scratches. Underneath this is a fairly unique sliding mechanism that relies not on an easily breakable spring but a simple and unseen rail system. When pushed open or closed, it locks itself into place with a delightfully reassuring “click”.
On the lower half of device is where we see the plastic components come out of hiding. But fear not because they’re amongst the best we’ve ever encountered. The bezel immediately surrounding the keypad and d-pad is matte black while the entire backing of the device is made up of rubberized plastic save for the rectangular piece directly below the camera module that bears the “with Google” mark. Your average hardware-related creaks and groans and nowhere to be found on this device.
The only real concern we have with the hardware is the volume rocker/camera zoom because it’s looser than… well, we’ll let you fill in the blank. All of this high quality fit and finish means that the MILESTONE weighs in at an incredibly hefty 165g but oddly enough it feels great in the hand and surprisingly light in pockets. Bonus: This weight equals crime deterrent.

Display

It’s not an AMOLED nor is it even Super AMOLED, but for the life of us, we haven’t come across many screens that have wowed us like the 3.7″ WVGA display on the MILESTONE. Popping to life with rich color, easily viewable from all angles and bright enough to overcome direct sunlight, this display is also very accurate making things like web-browsing and typing on the virtual keypad all the easier. How would we rank it overall? Second only to the iPhone, but just by a few hairs because of the slightly better capacitive factor.

Keyboard

We know it looks like it might be nightmare to type on what with its lack of very flat surface, lack of major definition and overall footprint, but the QWERTY keyboard on the MILESTONE is actually quite nice. Okay, it doesn’t even come close to anything RIM makes and could definitely have used a bit more refining before the design was finalized (who in God’s name thought the tiny spacebar, two blank keys and non-sensical punctuation layout was a good idea?), but after a few days we think most people will be rather happy with it. And let’s be honest: with the stock Android virtual keypad being as bad as it is (who actually likes it?) you’re really going to want to use the real deal as much as possible. Or get Swype.

Camera

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The MILESTONE’s 5 megapixel auto-focus camera is barely passable as a camera on a modern smartphone. It boots up in an acceptable amount of time, but the saving of images consistently took 4 plus seconds. The worst part is that after going through the whole boot up, focus, snap the pic and save it routine, any special moment you had hoped to capture forever will invariably come out looking like they were taken on a VGA webcam in a dimly lit room way back in the early 2000’s. Just in case you were wondering, the dual-LED flash seems to be as effective as the goggles Radioactive Man once infamously wore. Yeah.

Multimedia

Simply put, Android needs some work when it comes to multimedia. It can do everything you want reasonably well, but the interface feels rushed and incomplete and, what’s more, is quite clunky and cumbersome. We did find ourself enjoying videos if only for the screen, but things like the music player might prove to be a cause for concern for those hat refuse to carry a phone and a dedicated MP3 player. Nonetheless, it still manages to do an admirable job given what we honestly feel is a lack of effort on Google’s part.

Browser

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Thanks to the MILESTONE’s snappy processor, awesome display and a little thing called multi-touch, the web experience on the MILESTONE is fantastic. We hate to do it, but for the sake of a benchmark that everyone can understand, we pitted the device against an iPhone 3GS (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), the de facto standard for mobile web browsing. Speed wise both devices loaded up content-heavy sites within +/- 2 seconds of one another over 3G and 1 second over Wi-Fi. What sets them apart, however, is rendering. We really appreciated how big everything seemed on the MILESTONE and how easy it was to read even the tiniest text, but overall the  iPhone 3GS did a much better job of accurately and properly rendering websites as they’d appear on a desktop. But again, it’s a very close call.

Email Support

Being a product of Google, Android naturally has great Gmail support built into it and supports all of the goodies you’d expect like labels (sadly you cannot create, edit, or remove them), stars and search so we’ll leave it at that. The thing we really want to talk about is Exchange. Yes, the MILESTONE supports it, but we use the word support loosely. We hooked up one of our Exchange accounts to the MILESTONE and, truth be told, we wouldn’t count on Android for our BGR email if you paid us. Here’s a few reasons why: On several occasions the notification panel let us know we have a new Exchange email only for us to find it actually hadn’t been downloaded by the Email. This either led to us having to wait 5 seconds (!) while a sweet and simple text email was downloaded or manually hit Menu > Refresh. No doubt this is a bug and will likely be addressed in a future update, but the reality is we have no idea when an update is coming and have no guarantees it will completely fix the issue. Another fatal flaw with Exchange is folders because you can’t actually place an email into a folder of your choosing. To make matters worse, you can’t look at emails that are already in folders that are older than the maximum length you set up for synchronization (it caps out at one month). Add to this the fact you cannot even do something as basic as search for messages and the picture is quite clear: business users stay the hell away, get on board with Google Apps, or use one of the hideous looking but very function third party clients like Touchdown.

Telephony

We don’t often use our cell phones for actually calling people any more thanks to things like email, IM, BBM and SMS, but when we do we demand excellence, and thankfully the MILESTONE delivers. Calls came in loud and clear on both ends, and a few of the people we spoke to made a point of mentioning the lack of background noise.

The Network

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Reality check: TELUS’s HSPA+ network is brand new and most of its customers are still milling about in the land of EV-DO. Because of this we think it would be unfair and inappropriate for us to compare its network (or Bell’s, for that matter) to Rogers’s which has been at the GSM/HSPA game for years. Having said that, commenting on it in and of itself is fair game. So how then would we summarize the network? Mind-numbingly fast. In fact, we ran speed tests on a daily basis and not once did we see speeds drop below 4Mbps.

Two Huge Issues

So far most of what we have said about the MILESTONE is positive, so naturally it’s time for two huge drawbacks.
The first is that paid apps from the Android Marketplace are unavailable in Canada. So unless you want to be greasy and get into pirating apps, you’re just going to have to make do without. Hope might be on the horizon considering it was just this week a spokesperson for Google mentioned the possibility of an announcement related to paid apps in Canada as early as next week, but this wouldn’t be the first time we’ve heard such a thing.

The second major drawback won’t hit everyone like the lack of paid apps, but it will sting the keeners. As you no doubt know, one of the greatest things about Android devices past is the ease in which users can root, hack, and load custom ROMs. Unfortunately when it comes to this particular device, Motorola has made what we consider to be a very weak move in locking up the bootloader. It doesn’t mean hacking is forever out of the question, it just means it’s going to be tough and take some time (odds are someone ends up gaining root access not too long after the first software update is issued). Nonetheless, we can’t help but think such a move violates the spirit of Android and is just plain odd considering the DROID does not have this restriction. “Smartphone Without Limits”? our asses.

Overall

There’s no denying that we’ve had some pretty uncomplimentary things to say about the MILESTONE, but it must not be forgotten that we’ve also given it a lot of praise. As we sit back and try and think of how to sum up our thoughts into a few sentences, we can’t help but come to the inevitable conclusion that, despite our perceived flaws, we think the average consumer who is out for a smartphone will really enjoy the MILESTONE provided they’re okay with dedicating some time to what is for some a bit of a difficult learning curve. As for the nerds, it’s really hard to say. If you’re not totally put off by the lack of paid apps and the fact that rooting is presently an issue then we say give the MILESTONE a shot. After all, we like it.

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