There are two ways to implement Android; first is to take the base OS and customize it heavily to suit your device. This is done by creating device specific widgets, applications, shortcuts, menu system and theme. This implementation can be successful if done correctly, take HTC for instance with their Sense interface.
The second way to implement Android, is to go stock standard. Have trust in Google and their OS and simply create a device to complement the features already embedded in the OS. This is what Motorola did with the Milestone and I must say I am rather impressed.
The Milestone is a touchscreen device with a slide out qwerty keyboard. To be honest I am not a big fan of this form factor. I find that when typing on the slide out keyboard, to see what you are typing you are forced to position the screen at a rather odd angle. The keyboard itself is not fantastic wither; in fact, it’s odd. It is not in the center of the device and because the device is so thin, the feedback is not very reassuring.
That said, the Milestone is the thinnest QWERTY keyboard slider on the market and the actual build quality, bar the keyboard, is superb. The device has a heft that I find gives it a very solid feel.
The screen is on par with the competition, it’s not as sharp as the Sony Ericsson X10 but it kicks the Nokia X6 in the teeth. The touch screen sensitivity is fantastic; in fact it is so good that I found that I typed faster using the on screen keyboard in landscape mode. Compared to the slide out keyboard.
Where the Milestone really shone was its video recording quality. In my mind that is a rather odd feature to focus on, but you know what, having a good quality camcorder actually made me use it more. Clearly then, the camera then is rather good, again not in the same league as the X10 but certainly better than the iPhone 3GS, the Nokia X6 and most other smart phones in this segment.
Another impressive feature is the in call quality. The voices are clear, signal is never a problem (even in a helicopter mind you) and for our older readers the speaker can go so bloody loud it could wake the dead!
These high-end features do have a slight drain on the battery life. I managed to get around a day with average use (calls, SMS’, apps, email, music), around two days with light (occasional call, SMS’) use and half a day with very heavy use (GPS, SMS’, email, calls, games, music, other apps). This is around the standard for smart phones currently. I did expect slightly better battery life, but it is not any worse than the other options available.
When it comes to recharging Motorola have taken a step above the competition. The Milestone comes standard with a charging dock. When you plug the Milestone, in landscape mode, into the dock a very clever app opens up. This app makes the Milestone your bedside clock. How smart is that? It displays the time, the weather and it gives you the option to adjust the screen brightness so it doesn’t light up the room. There are also shortcuts at the bottom of the screen to the alarmclock, music, photos and the homescreen.
The last aspect with regards to the hardware has to be the touch only interface buttons at the bottom of the screen. I expected them to be a nuisance, yet surprisingly, they worked wonderfully. The response was sharp and consistent, you clicked the home button, and it took you to your home screen no matter what application you were in.
The Milestone is running Android 2.1 (and will soon be upgraded to Android 2.2 that launched on May 20 2010) and is my new favorite operating system. I have always been an iPhone boy but it took Android to show me what I am missing out on!
Multitasking is the first major advantage of Android OS over iPhone OS and I must say, coming from an iPhone – where one application runs at a time – all these apps running at once kind of intimidated me. I didn’t quite know what to make of it; but after about 2 days I got the hang of it.
Hold down the home button and a little bar of icons appear, these are your running apps. Click on any icon to switch to that app, while leaving your current app running in the background – effectively minimizing it.
This has huge advantages, for instance. You received an invitation via email, while inputting the information into the calendar you forget the start time.
Without multitasking, on the iPhone:
1. Close the email client and open the calendar – start inputting the information
2. Forget a piece of info
3. Close the calendar, which results in the loss off all the information you have already added
4. Reopen the email app to find the info
5. From there you would have to reopen the calendar and start inputting your information again.
With multitasking on Android:
1. Minimize the email client and open the calendar
2. Forget the info
3. Hold down the home button to minimize the calendar – which does not effect the information you have already added – and maximize the email app.
4. Find the info and switch applications
There are some issues with multitasking on Android. The most annoying being that most applications do not give you the option to fully exit them. This leaves them to take up memory in the background, slowing down the device and using more battery. There is a way round this, ironically with an application called Advanced Task Manager Free. This app does what it says on the box, it give you the option of shutting down any running app – including itself.
Because this is a stock standard implementation of Android, There are a number of home screen options available. The standard homescreen consists of up to nine pages which you can flick through and place widgets and applications. I am not a huge fan of this but it is functional. What I landed up using as my homescreen is an application called Slidescreen Pro. This app displays all of the most vital information in a list format on the homescreen. It is divided into two sections the top section features missed calls, messages, email and calendar. The bottom displays Twitter and Facebook updates. The two sections are separated by a highlighted central bar, which displays the time, date, weather, battery life and signal. You are able to slide this central bar up and down revealing more of the top or bottom sections.
On the topic of apps, the Milestone comes with a few really great apps preinstalled. Firstly, MotoNav, Motorola’s home grown navigation software. MotoNav is perfectly adequate, it is by no means amazing but it does what it has to do, get you there. Nokia’s OVI Maps is slightly more feature rich offering city guides and better online integration (such as restaurant reviews) but all the core features like walking navigation, MotoNav matches OVI Maps on functionality. Secondly, MotoCar, officially the coolest named app ever. What MotoCar does is present you with six core application shortcuts. So whilst driving (stopped in traffic with the Milestone in its optional cradle of course) you have quick access to Contacts, Phone, MotoNav, Voice Dialing, etc. A very smart little app. Finally, the last preinstalled app which is pretty darn cool is
Since Android is owned by Google search and online integration is top notch. On the main array of touch buttons at the bottom of the device is a little magnifying glass, enabling you to search the web from any application on the device. Integration with twitter, facebook and gmail Android also come out top of the hill. For instance, when in the phonebook, click on the contacts picture a number of options appear. You can either, email, sms, call, facebook message or tweet @ the selected contact. Their latests tweet and facbook status also appear when the contact is selected. This comes in handy rather often.
Multitasking, homescreens and flexibility aside, Android is not as stable as either BlackBerry or iPhone OS. This can be particularly annoying, especially when, say TomTom decide to give you a helicopter ride around Soccer City in Soweto and the Milestones camera application decides to give you the finger and not open. Annoying. Yes android is still relatively young, only on version 2.1, but major system elements like the camera should not be so erratic.
Would I Buy One?
The slight lack of stability was the only real issue I have with the Milestone and it is by no means a dealbreaker. Android takes two minutes to set up, a day to get acclimatized to and offers far more functionality than any other smart phone OS currently available. So yes, I would buy the Milestone, with real hard earned money.