We loved the Motorola Milestone, thanks to its no-nonsense Android power. The Milestone 2 freshens up the keyboard, trims down the weight and boosts the power, but it also gains Motorola's custom skin, Motoblur. Motoblur has some fun features, but we fear it's to blame for the Milestone 2's occasionally irritating slowness, which left us pining for the untouched Android goodness of its forerunner.
We're still waiting for any of the big networks to add the Milestone 2 to their shelves, but, in the meantime, you can pick it up SIM-free and unlocked for around £380.
Feel the blur
The biggest change from the first Milestone is that Motorola has slapped on its own Android skin, Motoblur. That's right -- rumours of the death of Motoblur have been greatly exaggerated, because it's alive and kicking on the Milestone 2.
That means all your data gets backed up to the cloud, which is handy if you're switching from another Motorola phone, or you need to restore your handset to its original settings. Motoblur also serves up a platter of social-networking features that aim to help you merge your Facebook, Twitter, email and other updates from around the Web.
Motoblur has definitely improved since we first saw it on the Motorola Dext. For example, the widgets (little tiles on your home screen that automatically display your social-network updates) are better. You can filter them to see updates from certain services, like Twitter only. You can also customise your view to only see updates from certain people or groups in your address book.
We're also happy that the profile pictures that illustrate people's updates in the widgets are of a higher resolution that better suits the Milestone 2's sharp, 3.7-inch screen. They used to be inflated-looking and jagged. On the downside, the text area seems wasted by displaying a few paltry words, rather than the full updates.
The address book is another treat, since it brings in your contacts' pictures and updates from Facebook, Twitter and plenty of other services.
But, despite these improvements, Motoblur definitely has its downsides. The biggest one is updates. Motorola is slow to bring Android updates to its phones, and having to further tweak each update with so many Motoblur customisations will make the process slower still.
This means that, when the currently fresh 2.2 version of Android on the Milestone 2 starts to go stale, and the rest of the Android-loving world is bragging about the features of the latest version of the operating system, you'll probably be unable to update -- at least for a while. Like most other manufacturers' attempts at polishing Android, we don't think the features Motoblur offers are good enough to warrant waiting around for updates.
We also think the user interface is ugly in places, with overwrought icons taking over from the default ones. Android's bog-standard skin isn't the most gorgeous thing in the world, but it's better than Motoblur's. For example, the icon for voice commands has been changed from a simple microphone to a green and white grid covered by a green handset and a red-and-black microphone. We don't think this design is suitable for the small screen.
Leaving the handbrake on
Another problem with Motoblur seems to be speed. The Milestone 2 has a 1GHz processor, but it doesn't feel very fast. Apps take a moment to open, and occasionally the phone hangs, even when you're doing simple things like unlocking the screen.
We found this slowness very annoying at times -- such as when we had to wait a moment for the on-screen keyboard to recognise our touches after opening a new text message. But the on-screen keyboard itself isn't bad, if you don't fancy using the slide-out Qwerty keyboard. You have the choice of the virtual Swype keyboard, an innovation that we love, or a more typical touchscreen keyboard.
Bigger, badder keys
The Milestone 2 also features a refreshed version of the original Milestone's full Qwerty keyboard, removing the disco-tastic gold navigation pad and using the extra room to make the keys bigger. The keys have also been plumped up to make them less flat, which was one of our complaints about the first phone.
The keyboard is still fairly flat, though, and doesn't have clearly defined space between the keys, so it's not the most comfortable to use. But we're happy to see that it ditches the original Milestone's blinging, gold, five-way function button and blank spots for a simpler design. There are still four direction keys, to help you navigate through fiddly text, but the keys are laid out to take advantage of all the space.
Overall, we're unsure about the Milestone 2's keyboard. If you prefer to get your fingers on some real keys, it's handy to have. But it doesn't offer the depth or separation of the keyboard on the HTC Desire Z, for example. If such a sacrifice made the Milestone 2 super-thin and light, we could accept it, but it's still something of a beast.
Nevertheless, the Milestone 2 is trimmer and lighter than its predecessor. The odd little shelf that sat at the bottom of the Milestone's screen has been rounded off, and the gold-toned accents are gone. The result is an attractive, if sober-looking, phone that will please people who are bored of copy-cat iPhone designs.
The Milestone 2 is runs the latest version of Android, 2.2 Froyo. We raved about this incremental update when it came out, because it brings Flash Player 10.1 support with it. That means Flash games, BBC iPlayer and the wonderful world of Flash-based adverts are all yours as you surf the Web. It also makes Android phones faster, which prompts us to blame Motoblur even more for the Milestone 2's occasional sluggishness.
The phone's live widgets, which are constantly connected, also contribute to the Milestone 2's poor battery life. As with most smart phones, we struggled to get more than a full day of use out of the handset.
But we think carrying a charger around is worth it when you consider the wealth of features on the Milestone 2. The Web browser is fast and accurate, and, combined with the physical keyboard, it makes the phone a mobile computing powerhouse. Multi-touch support means you can zoom into Web pages in a fast and intuitive way, and the feature has been added in more places than on the first Milestone, such as in Google Maps.
The Motorola Milestone 2 offers some tempting tweaks to one of our favourite Android phones ever. But one of the things we loved about the Milestone was its pure, untouched Android goodness, and the Milestone 2 has ditched that in favour of Motoblur.
Motoblur adds some handy features, but we blame it for making our review sample annoyingly sluggish, and you probably won't get Android updates as quickly as with rival phones. Overall, then, despite a trim body and an improved keyboard, we don't think the Milestone 2 is an improvement on its predecessor.
Edited by Charles Kloet