The Motorola Milestone ($199 on a three-year contract with Telus) is much-needed and welcome competitor in the fight to dethrone the iPhone from its dominant position in Canada’s smartphone wars.
The Milestone is the same phone sold as the Droid south of the border. This naming confusion is symbolic of Motorola’s failure in fighting the iPhone. They are fighting one of the most powerful brands and iconic devices ever, but they make the awful decision to market the Milestone under different names in different markets. It’s a lot harder to build worldwide momentum for your product if you’re trying to sell something called the Droid in the U.S. and the Milestone in Canada and Europe.
Naming issues aside, Motorola has a great product on its hands, mostly thanks to the quickly improving Android OS.
The Milestone’s big selling point is its operating system, Google’s Android OS. The review unit I have is running the 2.0.1 variety of Android. After two-and-a-half years of iPhone use, it was liberating to use something that could do things not approved by Apple headquarters. Android 2.0, while not the slick, user-friendly experience the iPhone offers, is a completely acceptable operating system for techies and advanced users who can live with a few kinks. It’s a shame the upgrade process on the Android side isn’t simple. 2.1 seems to be a faster, better, snappier Android, but Milestone users in Canada have no way of know when the will get that update on their phones. Google seems to be favouring the HTC-made Nexus One for updates, which isn’t available in Canada.
Searching (Google’s advertising-based bread & butter) is unsurprisingly awesome while using Android. It’s exponentially better than on the iPhone. The Android OS is able to search for websites as you type a query, allowing you to reach online destinations that much quicker. The web browser is a capable one. While it may not be as fast as the iPhone, at least you never want to throw it against a wall while surfing, as is the case with Windows Mobile and BlackBerry smartphones.
There are bugs with Android, the scrolling is no where near as smooth as the iPhone and the OS doesn’t seem to be as responsive to your touches, but it works. Because there are so many phones that run Android, sometimes 3rd party apps seem like they weren’t designed with the Milestone in mind. That’s the price to pay for a fragmented market.
Is there an app for that?
The Android Marketplace, while missing some great titles found in Apple’s App store, is not anemic. There are a ton of good and bad apps to fill your time. Yes, it’s disappointing that some of my iPhone favourites, like Yahtzee! or MLB’s AtBat app aren’t there. Hopefully that will change with time. On the flip side however, some Apps are better on Android, like Photoshop. This is because Google allows apps to work better with each other within Android.
As well, Google obviously favours its devices, as shown with by the recent launch of an app called Gesture Search. The app allows you to search your phone by writing with your finger, and is only available for Android phones. This favouritism, coupled with Apple’s draconian app approval process when it comes to things like Google Voice, means a better experience if you want to use Google’s tools and services.
The Milestone is a pretty sleek device. It is however just a tad too thick, making me long for a physical keyboard-less model like the still unreleased-in-Canada Nexus One. Speaking of the keyboard, it’s really bad, and I didn’t use it unless I had to. Some apps had a glitch where the virtual keyboard covered up options on the screen, so I was forced to use the slide-out keyboard in those instances. While I’ve used several gummy smartphone keyboards before, this one was worse because the keys are particularly undefined. Luckily Android’s virtual offering is pretty even with the iPhone’s.
Overall the styling is industrial yet pleasing to the eye. Although I will say I like the Milestone’s backside styling better than its front. The screen is big and bright. Really big and really bright. I holds up extremely well outdoors, and the auto-brightness feature worked very well. Paying with that 3.7 inch touchscreen is a pleasure.
Battery life seems to be better than average when it comes to traditionally juice-draining 3G devices. While you’ll have to recharge every night if you’re a heavy user, you’ll get to the charger with a little more green displayed in that battery icon.
Other points in point form
– Multi-touch pinch and zoom does work while surfing the web and navigating maps, but it doesn’t feel as awesome as the same function on the iPhone.
– The location of the lock/sleep switch is somehow difficult to press. I suspect this has to do with the thickness of the device. In fact, I find all of the button placements slightly off, ergonomically speaking.
– The camera, both picture-quality and software wise, are exceptional.
– I was able to sync music just fine to the Milestone from my Mac by using doubleTwist, a free application that tries to fight the shackles of iTunes.
– The Milestone’s speakerphone is quite loud but a little hollow-sounding.
– The Gmail app should be better considering it’s a Google-powered OS.
– One other nice touch about this phone is that it like an Apple product, it does as little as possible to remind you of your carrier. You won’t find a Telus logo upon starting up the phone or any branding on the device itself. In fact the only time the word “Telus” appears is on the lock screen. Awesome.
– Telus’ 3G network was fast and stable when I used it, so take that anecdotal evidence for what it’s worth.
I admit I love my iPhone. It’s still my phone of choice, thanks to its smooth graphics and ease of use. Having said that, the Android OS on the Milestone was a complete breath of fresh air. I enjoyed having a device whose limitations are based on what developers can do with the hardware and software, not on decisions made in an office in Cupertino. I eagerly await the next OS update from Apple. If it doesn’t do much to open up the experience on the iPhone, my next smartphone purchase may very well run a flavour of Android.