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What to choose: Motorola Milestone or HTC Desire?

We’ve finally got our hands on Motorola Milestone, first Android smartphone with physical keyboard we have tested. For those of you who still don’t know it, Milestone is European/Asian/Canadian version of immensely popular Motorola Droid. There are some differences between those two versions, though. Milestone supports multitouch out-of-the-box, has “only” 8 GB microSD card shipped with phone, and is bundled with slightly different software than its USA  sibling.

Motorola Milestone

In continuation to our “What to choose?” series, we’ll compare it to HTC Desire. But, we’ll only run comparison on them. For a full Desire review, go here.

Specifications:

  • Screen: 3.7” TFT LCD capacitive touchscreen, WVGA resolution (480×854)
  • Processor: Arm Cortex A8 600 MHz (underclocked to 550 MHz), PowerVR SGX 530 for graphics
  • Memory: 512MB ROM, 256MB RAM, expandable via microSD cards (up to 32GB)
  • Camera: 5MP, Auto Focus, dual LED Flash, geotagging
  • GSM: Quad-band GSM support, dual-band 3G with HSPA
  • OS: Android 2.1 (Éclair)
  • Battery: 1400mAh Li-Ion, up to 6 hours of talk time, up to 350 hours of standby
  • Other: GPS receiver, digital compass, accelerometer, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 + Enhanced Data Rate + A2DP, microUSB, 3.5mm stereo audio jack, QWERTY keyboard

First impressions:

Even though Milestone is almost exactly the same to Desire in terms of physical dimensions, it is heavier by 34 grams, and you can certainly feel it when you take it in your hand. Milestone’s casing is made out of glossy plastic on some parts (which is quite a fingerprint magnet), and some kind of rubbery plastic on other parts.

Motorola Milestone

Default screen orientation is portrait, but, if you slide out the keyboard, it automatically switches to landscape. Keyboard doesn’t slide out easily, but, it doesn’t wobble during that process, and it secures itself with a firm click at the end.

Android works very smoothly and without hiccups, even with live wallpapers turned on.

Second impressions:

The phone feels great in hand, both in portrait and landscape mode with slid-out keyboard. As with Desire, some will probably have trouble with navigation buttons in portrait mode, as they are simply placed too low on the device. Navigation buttons are touch sensitive, with backlighting, so you won’t have trouble finding them in the dark, but you’ll probably have trouble finding them without looking. Direction pad is placed on right side of the keyboard, and you can’t use it when the device is in its closed-up form, of course.

Motorola Milestone

As we have previously said, keyboard locks tightly in place once it is slid-out. Keys are of adequate size, and they are backlit for darker environments. Average user will type faster with these keys than with its software counterpart (without 3rd party add-ons). But, first row keys are hard to press for those with bigger fingers (because of their proximity to screen), and keyboard has only four rows, without dedicated numeric row. Every time you have to enter some digit, or number, you have to press one of the ALT keys, and then use top row. Milestone doesn’t have possibility of entering digits with long press on one of the letter keys from the top row like Desire, both on physical and software keyboard.

Motorola Milestone

If you place phone in portrait mode, power button, and 3.5mm stereo audio jack are placed on top, volume rocker and camera button are placed on the right, and microUSB connector is placed on the left.

Battery is of exactly the same capacity as the one on Desire, but you’ll squeeze more juce out of it because of Milestone’s less power hungry CPU. With average use, full charge can last for about two days.

Motorola Milestone

Both the Milestone and Desire have the screen of same size (3.7”), but on Desire it is made in 16:10 ratio (480×800), and on Milestone in 16:9 ratio (480×854). Because of Desire’s AMOLED screen, there are differences in sharpness between two of them. Desire’s is sharper in closed environments, of course, but both screens are equally readable in direct sunlight. Both screens are fingerprint magnets, like all capacitive screens.

Like the Desire, Milestone too has 5MP camera. But, Milestone packs additional LED on its flash for improved quality of photographs produced in environments with lower ambient lighting. Maximum picture size on Milestone is 2592×1456 pixels in widescreen mode, and 2592×1936 in large mode. On Desire it is 2592×1552 in widescreen mode, and 2592×1952 in normal mode, like we have said before. To shoot the picture on Milestone, you can use either D-pad, or separate camera button if the device is in its closed-up form. Milestone’s photos seem a little bit grainier than those produced by Desire, but that’s only our thought.

Motorola Milestone

We must mention some problems we’ve had with Wi-Fi radio. It is certainly weaker than Desire’s, because Milestone couldn’t connect to some low signal networks that Desire could. There were also problems connecting to some WPA/WPA2 PSK encrypted networks that Desire had no problem connecting at all.

When we look at the software that is running under the hood, that’s where the huge differences show up. Like HTC with its Sense UI, Motorola is sporting its custom interface called MOTOBLUR. Milestone comes without the Blur, but with something closer to stock Android, modified with a lot of small changes to ease up your experience with the platform. First thing you’ll notice is landscape version of home screen, present only when the keyboard is slid-out. There are 5 home screens in total, comparing to 7 on Desire. There is no indicator that shows on what home screen you are until you start to switch them. Another major difference is lock screen, on which Motorola added volume control button. This way, you don’t need to unlock your phone to turn on or off all sounds, which is really convenient. When you are starting some application, there is fade in / scale up combo effect, and when you go back to home screen, application fades out / scales down.

Like all other companies, Motorola replaced stock icons to all default applications, as well as some of their look and feel. But they have added complete out-of-the-box support for drivers. With Moto Car Home application, you can easily access your music player, contacts, map, Bluetooth devices and voice commands during your driving. With voice commands, you can dial someone, send them text message, check you voicemail, phone status and much more. Bundled in, you get Motonav for your offline GPS navigation. Keep in mind that you only get 60 day trial version, but fully functional in trial period. Motonav is deeply integrated in OS, and you can for example easily place a navigation request from contact’s address, or geotagged photo. Navigation is excellent, with clear voice instructions, good road coverage and a lot of POIs (at least in Serbia). For car usage, it is best to buy car holder which can hold Milestone in landscape position (which is why microUSB connector is probably placed on left side of device), but you’ll be satisfied with the one that can hold the device in portrait position only.

There is one more rather interesting application. It is called Phone Portal, and when you use it, you can browse your phone from any PC that has some browser installed via Wi-Fi connection. From your browser, you can save or delete photos from gallery, change contacts, export or import whole contact list, read and send text messages, and change your phone settings. Application is superb solution for organising your phone.

Milestone lacks Adobe Flash support that Desire has, but you can watch videos from YouTube.

Summary:

We liked:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Inclusion of physical keyboard
  • Battery life
  • Bundled software
  • Car integration
  • Connectivity
  • GPS
  • How it fits our hand

And didn’t like:

  • Occasional problems with Wi-Fi
  • Fingerprint magnet surface
  • Keyboard is a little bit hard for our taste, and with no dedicated numeric row

To sum it up, we liked Motorola Milestone. We think that physical keyboard could be softer and maybe bigger, and bundled software a bit more polished. With those changes, whole experience would be excellent for us. But those of you who do a lot of typing on your smartphone, or constantly use your phone in your car, should definitely check out this model.

 

Motorola Milestone Screenshots:

[nggallery id=15]

Phones courtesy of Telenor


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