Product: Motorola Dext
System Specifications: 3.1-inch touch screen, Android OS, slide out qwerty keyboard, quad band, 3G, HSDPA, WiFi, 2GB memory, microSD slot, 3.5 audio socket
Price: Free on £35 contract
MOTOROLA HAS BEEN somewhat quiet of late, so much so that many had written the firm off and were just waiting for an announcement of the company being acquired by a much larger player in the mobile market. The phone manufacturer famed for its ultra thin RAZR handsets of years ago seems to have turned a corner with Google firmly on its side, with this latest handset running the Android operating system.
The Motorola Dext - or Cliq to our American cousins - is available exclusively on Orange in the UK, and T-Mobile in the states. Orange is famed for tinkering with a phone's firmware to enable its own custom software and features to run smoothly, which can cause issues with the handset's performance. Thankfully Orange can't really drill down low enough on Android to alter the platform or it just hasn't gotten around to reading the manual yet, as the Dext is almost untouched by the network.
Motorola has tinkered around with the platform and customised Android, which in turn has lost it the Google endorsement seen in the HTC Magic. This handset by Motorola's newly found competitor more or less ran with a completely untouched variety of Android, giving it the holy seal of approval by the Internet giant. This must have secured sales in the initial stages of retail, as at the time it was an entirely new untested operating system.
Running on Dext is Motoblur, which is the name the company has used to call its tweaked Android version. It is also the name of the remote access handset software by Motorola and the collective name of the applications on the mobile. It's almost as if the mobile phone manufacturer ran out of names and decided to call everything just one thing, causing confusion along the way.
The HTC Android Magic handset comes equipped with just three customisable home screens, whereas the Motoblur has five which are also configurable to house widgets, applications and frequently used website shortcuts. This is one of the first noticeable changes Motorola has evoked from the commonly available basic Android platform, all of which seems a useful ability if you have the apps and time on hand to fill them up.
The main default home screen that's seen when the handset boots up is one of these very desktops. Motorola wants us to believe the Dext is a smartphone with social skills, with exceptional access to the usually used social networking websites. Motoblur has at its core all the frequently used sites enrolled within the OS, with all the status updates and goings on with them all being referred to as 'Happenings'.
After providing the handset with account access to all of these websites, the updates appear within floating windows on the main Android desktop screen. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, LastFM and even Gmail have been included with all the latest and most frequent updates being presented. Selecting one of these updates goes through to the main application driving the Happenings. This app in turn lists latest posts from all of the sites in an easy to read column format with a threaded view for responses and conversations, all of which can be scrolled through kinetically. An issue we discovered while using this app is that when status updates are shown, the person it is tied to took some considerable time to appear, which proved to be annoying as time wore on. Also posting a status update doesn't seem to work when the phone is only connected to WiFi, as we tried in Airplane mode while WiFi was powered up and we were denied.
On the whole, tying all these social networking sites together under one tidy application is a good idea as it saves running a whole bunch of apps all the time, just to see what's going on with friends, family and colleagues. As the Happenings is intrinsically interwoven into the OS we don't expect it to be seen anytime soon on the Android market place, although it would make a good addition to other Google OS driven handsets from other phone manufacturers.
With the integration of social networking sites on the Dext brings more thorough messaging and contact abilities. There's a universal inbox which contains the likes of text messages, all the Facebook inbox contents and Twitter's direct messages, besides others. All these can be displayed in a threaded format, if multiple conversations emanate from a single message much the same way as the Iphone operates. Also on offer are those inboxes individually, just in case that's a more preferable way of viewing the data. Contact information is automatically pulled from all those social networking sites to populate the address book on the phone. Both of these abilities are a much welcomed addition to the Android OS.
The other feature set that's a notable addition is the phone's backup solution and remote deletion tool. Also falling under the name Motorblur, it's a Motorola website cloud based utility. Once a Motoblur account is set up, all the information on the handset is backed up to the Motorola website and then afterwards, all from an account created when the phone first boots up. If the handset is lost or stolen it can be tracked by Google maps from the Motoblur website account, with an option to have all the data remotely deleted. If found, or when a new Dext arrives, all the data from the phone's settings to text messages and emails can be restored from the Motoblur account to the new handset. All of this is possible with the iPhone and MobileMe, as well as with the new Windows Phone/Windows Mobile 6.5 OS, and it has now been brought to the Android platform by Motorola.
The Google mobile OS on the handset is more or less the same Android 1.5 Cupcake platform found elsewhere, with the same menu structure familiar to most and the way of accessing and launching all that's onboard. This makes the phone easily recognisable by the amount of handsets around running that very OS today, while at the same time Moto is slowly introducing new aspects to the mobile operating system.
The Dext handset does look and feel a cross between three mobile phones, from two different handset manufacturers. Initially the 114mm long by 58m wide and 16mm wide phone looks rather like the HTC Touch Pro from last year, with its capacitive touch screen and slide-out physical keyboard just like the Dext. Next up, the phone has a left-handed cursor navigation button on the keyboard much like the Nokia N97, only it has the smaller size of the Nokia N97 Mini. All of which appears as if Motorola has done its due diligence and brought the best physical slide out keyboard technology to the Dext.
Dext's keyboard is quite compact, much more so than we're used to typing with which took a little longer to get used to. The keys are rather close together, where we found typing with the tops of the thumbs a more preferable way of text entry. The top row of the keyboard is a tad too close to the screen we discovered, where anything less than freshly cut thumb nails prevents access to the whole keyboard as a result of the layout. Although after sometime in use it does become easy and comfortable to operate, where we ended up writing this entire review upon the Dext.
Besides having an actual keyboard, the 3.1-inch 320x480 touch screen has a virtual counterpart. This is very responsive to use as is other aspects of the touch screen for navigating around the OS, making it the best of both worlds with a physical and virtual keyboard. Other niceties thrown in for good measure by Motorola are the 5MP camera, WiFi, and microSD slot just to round off the Dext as an all purpose phone.
Its 1420mAh battery proved to have a decent amount of life within, offering up a good amount of usage before needing to be recharged. In terms of just using the handset for calling, the phone lasted a good seven hours and fifteen minutes before giving up the ghost. In the normal day to day operating of emailing, texting and having the Happenings running the phone lasted around two days with the occasional call. µ
For a first attempt at a new handset from a company most had written off it is a good effort, with some useful additional bolt ons to the basic Android OS. However, we can't help thinking the materials used that make up the Dext are somewhat on the cheap side, especially with the feel of the keyboard. Motorola could have gone with better feeling method for text entry, matching the outer more professional look and therefore creating a more complete smartphone for both the business and consumer user alike.
Keyboard based Android OS with some useful extras
Some aspects of the Happenings application don't work all that well
Keyboard too compact and a tad cheaply made