Motorola Milestone Review

Couple of weeks back I got a Motorola Milestone phone. Finally, a Motorola phone that I can carry with pride. There are lots of things to like about the phone but I will list the negatives first.

Qwerty keypad design is not good. The keys are mushed together and you don’t get good feedback. Compare this with the excellent keypad on the Nokia E61. The phone is not light. When you extend the keyboard, typing is a bit difficult because it is top-heavy.

Quality control: Important issues should have been found and fixed prior to making the phone available for sale. People have reported that the phone reboots periodically. On my phone, I found that it occasionally says “No network. Emergency use only”. I missed important calls because I was wasn’t aware of this. When I power-cycled the phone, the phone was able to connect to network. Sometimes I got a message “No Sim card”. A colleague of mine had similar issues which were resolved when he changed the SIM card. I didn’t want to do that as the SIM card worked fine on my previous Nokia phone.

After a firmware update, I haven’t had connectivity issues so far.

Also, a thoughtful UI designer would have provided audio-visual cues that are not easy to miss when telephone network connectivity is lost: for example, changing the wall paper to red, informing the user in notification window along with vibrate and/or audio alert which the user has to acknowledge and dismiss. Instead we see a very small icon at the top of the screen with a x on top of the signal strength icon. If your phone is in your pocket, you will never know that it has become just a PDA.

The GPS on the phone sucks. I don’t know if this problem is only on my phone (if so, again indicates quality control issue) or if it is more widespread. For a phone in this price range (over 30000 Indian rupees), one would expect a Sirf Star 3 (or equivalent) chip-set. Each time, it takes more than 10 minutes under an open sky to get a fix. While walking outdoors, if you temporarily (a few seconds) lose sky cover, the fix is lost. I hope that this is not an issue with the capability of the hardware but a software issue that can be fixed with a firmware update. Location based applications are very powerful and useful and this requires a GPS that takes less than 30 seconds to get a fix (warm start).

Motorola should be proud of this phone and should have made the logo standout. Instead it is in very small font and with very little contrast. Also, it is not easy for me to tell in the dark which way is up or down as I search for the unlock button.

Inserting the SIM card should be a lot easier. See how the Nokia N95 does this. Also, replacing the battery cover should be lot easier to help spatially challenged people.

When you try to record video while on a call, you will get a message “Cannot record video during phone call”. What is the reason for this limitation? You can, however, take a still picture.

Sometimes I find the display going blank (lock) as soon as I start an application. Strange.

User Interface:

Volume control buttons: For me, the button positions are reversed. The button at the bottom reduces the volume. If you keep reducing the volume, after reaching minimum volume, the next reduction takes it to vibrate mode (phone vibrates briefly) and the one after that the phone goes into silent mode. In both the cases, a pop-up appears briefly and says “ringer volume: vibrate”, “ringer volume x” respectively. Imagine a tv remote where instead of a mute button, you have to press the volume-down button several times until the volume is zero. In my opinion, silent mode or vibrate mode must be selected explicitly by the user. The volume control should be used to set the default volume which should never be allowed to go to 0. With the Milestone, if I use this method of going to silent mode, I have to press the volume-up button several times to get to my desired volume. Of course, the user doesn’t have to use this method to turn on vibrate or silent-mode.

Crystal Talk Setting: Your choices are Normal, Clear, Crisp and Bright. Let me see: Do I want the call to be Clear or Crisp? Or perhaps Bright? They may have as well named them as “Try-and-see-if-you-like-this-1”, “Try-and-see-if-you-like-this-2” etc. Too many choices will confuse the user. Also, an explanation will help the user make the choice. Is one better in noisy surroundings etc etc.

Adding a WIFI network: When adding a WIFI network that doesn’t broadcast the SSID, the entered info is not saved. If it cannot find the network it deletes it. I gave up after trying a few times. Also, when you are prompted to enter a subnet mask, shouldn’t you allow only numbers? Nope, you can enter letters also.

SMS Notification: There is no option to specify “mark as read” so that the notification can be removed. You have to read the SMS.

Battery Indication: A phone with this many features is bound to consume lot of power. When running low on charge, the user will usually turn off unneeded features such as GPS, Wifi and Bluetooth. So, the user interface should provide a very good indication (granularity) of remaining battery charge. If the battery icon is 3 millimeters long how can it do that? There is lot of wasted (blank space) at the top of the screen. It would have been nice if the icon was 3 times as long and/or displayed the battery charge as a percentage.

Closing applications: I should be able to kill apps that I am not using. However, this problem is solved by installing a 3rd party “Advanced Task Killer” application.

MotoNav Application: Free “Turn by Turn” navigation with all India coverage is included. The user interface of the MotoNav application leaves much to be desired. I hoped this is improved in a future release.

Now for the positives:

The display is just beautiful. I don’t have to choose between Clear, Crisp and Bright as I have to for the crystal talk setting! Multi-touch makes it easy to read articles in the browser. The haptic feedback is nice and unintrusive. Using gestures to turn on/off GPS, Wifi, Bluetooth as well as flip through the home screens or item lists is easy and effective. I like the built in magnetometer. The pitch and roll indicators can be used in games and simulations.

The Google marketplace requires a Google account and there are lots of free and paid software. I found it easier to install apps than in my Ipod touch. Also, I don’t get a bill of $0.0 for all the free apps I downloaded like I do from Apple Store. Applications like Dolphin browser, Advanced English Dictionary (offline storage), Compass, Wifi analyzer, Speed test, Scientific calculator, Google Sky Map, Astrid task manager, Sat/GRE vocabulary builders, gstring guitar tuner etc. makes the Android phone a very useful and productive device.

Android Development: Developing apps for the Android platform using Eclipse is a breeze thanks to the SDK and emulator and lots of documentation. In addition, using the Android scripting engine (ASE) you can quickly write 3 or 4 line scripts in Perl, Python, Lua, Javascript or BeanShell to do some simple activities.

However, I didn’t want to write apps in Java. I preferred to use Scala. This took a bit longer to setup but once that was done, it was simple to write apps in scala. I used the android plugin for scala. Of course this is not as convenient as using eclipse.

With all these hardware features, the only limit for creating applications is your imagination. Couple of years back, Google sponsored a competition for the best Andorid app and offered a top prize of $275000. A team of MIT students attending a course “Building mobile applications with Android” got the top prize for their program called Locale.

Recently, MIT media lab developed an optometry (vision check) software — that requires only inexpensive (2$) hardware — for the Android platform. It seems to get results comparable with the expensive aberrometer used by the optometrist.

Milestone’s price has come down by about 10% since launch but it is still too pricey. If the price comes down to say 22000 Rupees (45 rupees to US $) then it will be a compelling buy.

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