The Dext smart phone is no beauty, but it does what it says on the tin, providing a solid Android experience, with some handy social-networking extras, packed up with a full Qwerty keyboard. It has some flaws, like widgets that can't quite get their act together and terrible call quality, but a snappy touchscreen and powerful operating system more than make up for its deficiencies.
The Dext will be available for free on a £34-per-month, 24-month contract exclusively on Orange. We'll let you know as soon as we have a SIM-free price.
It's all a Motoblur
The Dext is a slider phone with a Qwerty keyboard tucked underneath a 79mm (3.1-inch) capacitive touchscreen. It's the first Qwerty-keyboard-toting Android phone to emerge since the T-Mobile G1, made by HTC, and it aims to tempt the social-networking massive. To that end, Motorola's tweaked version of Android, Motoblur, provides some extra features to help bring your contacts together.
For example, sign into your Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm and MySpace accounts, and the Dext will grab all your contacts, including their profile photos, and merge them with your Google account to fill up the phone's address book. We found that it did a great job of linking contacts across accounts, and it was ace to be able to sort our contacts by name or recent updates. We missed, however, a few of the simpler tweaks that make an address book easy to use. For example, when we had a contact with a company name and no personal name, the Dext listed it by phone number. That could be a real pain for business users.
Once you've given the Dext all of your account information, you can update your status in Facebook and tweet at the same time, as well as send messages to your contacts in any one of umpteen ways. Motorola has also created some widgets that display your social whirl on the home screen: you can see your status, your messages -- including direct tweets, Facebook messages, emails and texts -- and 'happenings' (a stream of all your contacts' recent posts).
It's all a big bundle of fun, if you're into that kind of thing, and it's helpful if you don't like to have to check your various networks separately. The widgets are fine but we'd have liked more room for the text, and we found the happenings sometimes strayed out of the correct chronological order.
As well as the social-networking gubbins, Motoblur also includes an online service. It's similar to Apple's MobileMe and Nokia's Ovi, not to mention a host of other offerings, providing a Web-based service that backs up your accounts and messages over the air. You can also track your phone by its GPS signal, and, if it's not somewhere you think you can find it, like your house or your local boozer, you can wipe it remotely too.
Other than the messaging and address-book tweaks, Motorola has left most of the Android user interface alone. That means there's no multi-touch support, so you can't zoom into photos or Web pages with a pinch of your fingers. We really missed this great feature, since it's so intuitive and accurate, especially for zooming in on Web pages full of tiny links. If you've never used multi-touch before, you may not miss it, though.