The Motorola Dext is currently href="http://shop.orange.co.uk/mobile-phones/motorola-dext" >available from Orange. It’s the first ever QWERTY Android handset to cross our desk and initial impressions are good. It seems well build, although the sliding mechanism is perhaps less snappy than the sliding QWERTY HTC phones we’ve reviewed. Inside there’s a good range of specs including a 5 megapixel camera (which is actually very good indeed), 3G and WiFi connectivity, 3.5mm audio jack, GPS, digital compass, voice dialing, accelerometer, proximity sensor, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR plus a microUSB connector for hooking up to your computer. You can also add up to 32GB of storage through the microSD slot (although there’s a 2GB one with this device) and the whole thing runs on Android 1.5.
The screen is a 320×480 touch display with the Motorola “BLUR” interface at the heart. Like the “Sense” interface that HTC generated, this is Motorola making the Android OS into their own experience. It brings all your social networking feeds together on one screen or one bank of screens and pulls your friends into one place.
As usual we like to start the review with a video overview of the handset…
The video above gives you a good look at the outside of the handset, however we’ve also recorded an up-close video to show you the MotoBLUE interface in action. This can be seen below. The interface lets you drag-and-drop icons and widgets around the main screen and there’s several screens to choose from..
The back of the phone and the area around the control keys at the front is a matt black colour. The rear also has a pattern of indents – it’s almost like inverted braille. The battery cover pops off easily by sliding it down. That hole at the bottom is actually a gap for the external speaker which, I have to say, is possibly the loudest and greatest speaker I’ve ever heard on a phone.
Down the left side is something we’re a big fan of – a “kill switch” as we like to call it. On this handset it doesn’t lock the phone but instantly silents it. No more embarassing moments in those work meetings when your funny ringtone blasts our across the desks. Flick it down and an orange mark indicates that the phone is on silent along with a screen prompt, then all goes quiet.
Below this, the volume up and down keys. These will adjust your call volume or media volume depending what app you’re using. Again, I have to point out how LOUD and FANTASTIC the external speaker is. Forget tinny sound, this gives a lot more oomph.
Below and near the bottom is the microUSB hole – you can charge and sync your device from here. Use the phone as a mass-storage device if you want.
On the right side is your power button – you’ll be tapping this to wake the device from it’s slumber (aka standby). Just above it you can see a little picture describing what it does. When you press it with the screen off it’ll show you the time and your chosen backdrop, then you need to press the key with the small squares on to de-activate the lock system that comes on automatically when the screen turns off. Incidentally, we noticed that out-of-the-box the screen blanked out all too quickly. Sometimes, for example, whilst waiting for a web page to load in the browser it went blank. Annoying.
Below is the camera button. Pressing and holding this will fire up the rather wonderful camera application. It’ll detect which way up you’re holding the phone and change the picture orientation to suit. I did find that, just sometimes, it was easy to get the phone the wrong way up and I’d be manically pressing the “volume” button to try and take a photo. This didn’t happen too often, but when it did you’d find that the “all important” shot you were about to take had just vanished.
The camera interface is brilliant and, as you’ll see in these example photos, the pictures produced by the camera were very nice indeed. Low-light shots faired a lot better than the HTC camera we review, and I found that there wasn’t such a big need to hold the phone stock-steady in lower-light situations. Your GPS location gets added to shots and it’ll alter the file-name to show where you took a shot. The whole interface is really nice – checkout the smooth rotation of the on-screen icons when you flip the phone around. Little things like this add to the polished feel of the device.
A zoom function is shown on-screen, plus there’s fast access into pictures you’ve already taken. You can also crop pictures once they’ve been stored.
Now, to open that keyboard. The QWERTY keyboard is always a must to those of you who still don’t gel with the on-screen variety and the keyboard slides open easily. I won’t say it’s loose, but it did have a slightly less snappy feel than the HTC-built handsets we’ve reviewed over the months.
The main keys are domed and easy to locate – they’re very easy to type on and you can get up to a good pace with your thumbs. The problem I quickly found however, was the space bar. For some obscure reason this and other keys on the bottom row are concave instead of convex like the lettered keys. This means that it’s a little harder to push down and you have to adopt a press purely for the regularly-used space key. I found myself using my nail for the most part, which was a little awkward when the other keys were so much easier to press. You can see the concave keys in black at the bottom here. Pressing the “ALT” key lets you click those other symbols on the keys. The “shift” key is at either end of the grey section and is the same size as the other keys.
To the left side of the Dext keyboard is the navigation control, and it did make me want another one on the bottom of the handset. Despite how well the screen performed, I did long for a navigation control of some kind at the base of the screen.
You may also just be able to see a small camera-type object by the earpiece in some of these shots. I mistakingly called this a camera in the video but it appears to be the proximity sensor and does a great job of turning the screen back on when you move the phone away from your ear – this will let you drop a call or use the on-screen numeric keypad without having to fumble around and reactivate the screen yourself. Nice touch Moto.
The main selling point of the Dext, for Motorola at least, is the MotoBLUR interface. It’s a way of bringing all your communication into one screen or one set of screens. You have a few screens to slide through – it’s like having one very large widescreen TV and using your finger to move along it. There’s widgets to choose from and Motorola have already started you off with Twitter, Facebook and other widgets to bring all your commumnication streams into one place. A quick glance at the main screen will show you what everyone is doing, then you can click on the widget to get more information or to go back through older updates from others. It’s also possible to post your own update from this screen too.
The whole interface sits on top of Android 1.5 and, like the HTC Tattoo, we found that the Android Market was fragmented and certain apps that were showing on the HTC Hero didn’t appear here. Google really need to monitor this and take hold of the situation as customers move through Android devices. Another little concern that I quickly found was the browser, which is something I use often. It worked fantastically well and rendered quickly, although not quickly enough for the screen time-out, which – as I mentioned earlier – turned off the screen on most pages before it had finished loading. The lack of multi-touch was a slight disappointment too.
Other little things began to irritate me all too quickly. The MotoBLUR interface is designed to bring your “world” into one screen, so Twitter and other social media sites were blended in, however I couldn’t find a way of uploading images to Twitter – where’s the TwitPic or Twitgoo integration? I couldn’t snap a picture and upload it, and popular sites like flickr.com aren’t included in the list of social media systems, which is a real shame. I did update the Dext whilst reviewing it and the update was rolled out over-the-air in seamless fashion, though it didn’t fix the issues I had.
Unlike the HTC Android devices (like the href="http://www.coolsmartphone.com/article793.html">HTC Hero we reviewed), there’s no real way of sync’ing your contacts from Outlook. It’s a purely Google-based affair and you have to hook into the Google grid to start adding names and numbers to your phone easily. Once you do though it’s simply a matter of logging in online and your details are magically transferred to the phone.
The main screen is similar to the tap-and-slide affair we’ve seen on other Android handsets. Each sheet then has widgets, shortcuts or folders. You get a choice of widgets, although perhaps not as many as I would’ve liked, and you can drag ‘n drop them where-ever you like on the screen. The in-built widgets include Messages, Google Search and Orange map with Google Maps on-board too.
The contacts system is fully integrated with Facebook / Twitter and Google accounts so pictures are automatically pulled in and you end up with a totally seamless experience. This is carried across into the texting / messaging interfce so you can visually see who you’re interacting with – it means that your contacts are more centralised and your interactions with them are all grouped together.
A full calendat system – which integrates with your online Google experience is also available. You can access this online too and it’ll remind you when something is due. The interface is a pleasure to use..
Initially the home screen seems a little crowded and, although the idea of bringing your “life into one place” is good, there seems a little too much – I quickly removed some or shifted them to other screens. I loved the flexibility of being able to move widgets around and you can always keep the less-used programs tucked down at the bottom of the screen as shown here..
The main dialer screen, shown above, is big and finger-friendly, with recent numbers popping up when you beging typing. It’ll also guess who you’re calling based on a number or name lookup – it makes the dialing experience fast and painless, which is exactly what you want when calling someone in a hurry.
The on-screen keyboard (should you choose to use it) worked well and I’m glad – not everyone wants to pop out that sliding keyboard, no matter how good it may be in comparison to an on-screen one..
The Motorola DEXT has just been reduced in price here in the UK on Orange and it’s made it a real bargain. I would’ve perhaps thought twice about recommending it at the higher price but, although it does have faults, it’s worth picking up on Pay As You Go for less than £300. At the higher price, which it may be in the US as the “CLIQ”, I’d certainly advise caution. That space bar was a particular gripe for me, and I didn’t like the fact that my favourite online social media sites weren’t included in the MotoBLUR experience, or that multi-touch was missing.
The camera did well, and the MotoBLUR interface is a decent effort, but for me it fell short in key areas. It’s a very good effort, and at the right price it’s a very useful, fun and entertaining handset to use.