The first phone to run Android 2.0, the Motorola Milestone feels like an evolution of the T-Mobile G1. It's got a funny chin and handy slide-out Qwerty keyboard, but, with built-in Microsoft Exchange support, a stunning capacitive touchscreen and a smorgasbord of smart-phone features, the geeky gadget feels much more polished.
The Milestone is available from eXpansys for £450 SIM-free, or for £50 on a £35-per-month, 18-month contract.
Enter the Android
The Milestone is the first phone to run version 2.0 of Google's Android operating system, and there are a couple of big improvements. The phone supports Exchange email without a separate application, and it does it very well -- we had no trouble setting up our Outlook email.
Exchange email is still handled separately to Gmail, in a different application, as on previous Android phones. Unlike on older phones, however, you can add more than one Gmail account, and they're all shown in the same, combined inbox. We'd rather have Outlook and Gmail work from the same email app, but we can survive without it.
Motorola told us that the official Facebook app for Android should work with Android 2.0 to merge your friends into your phone's address book, but we had no luck getting this specific feature working on our test phone, although the app worked fine otherwise.
This popular feature is available on HTC's Android phones and via the Motoblur feature of the Motorola Dext. There's no Motoblur on the Milestone, so its social-networking features are much more limited than the Dext's, but it's worth the swap to get the latest features of Android 2.0.
Of course, you still get all of the usual Android advantages, like a choice of thousands of apps from the Android Market. Apps are easy to find and install, and still mostly free, so you can add every feature and game you can imagine to the Milestone.
The Web browser has also been improved in the new version of Android, and it does a fantastic job of rendering complex Web sites accurately and clearly. It doesn't support Flash, so you'll miss out on some elements, but this is still one of the best Web-surfing phones out there, thanks to its speed and simple user interface.
The Web browser also shows off the biggest bragging right that we have over the hugely popular US version of this phone, the Droid. Our Web browser has multi-touch zoom capability, so you can zoom in and out on those fiddly little links with a pinch of your fingers. It's a fast, intuitive way to interact with the Web, and we love it. We just wish it were everywhere -- there's no multi-touch functionality in Google Maps, for example.
MotoNav to nowhere
But the Yankees have their revenge -- the most exciting feature on the Droid is nowhere to be found on the Milestone. Google Maps Navigation is a free sat-nav feature for Google Maps that looks simply awesome, and the Milestone doesn't have it. It doesn't have the in-car user-interface option either, which shows simple, big icons in landscape mode for easy tapping when you're on the road.
Instead, the Milestone fobs us off with MotoNav, Motorola's own sat-nav system. After a brief test, we're not huge fans, since it's not easy to use. But it has one big advantage over Google Maps Navigation. Because the maps are installed on the phone, you can use MotoNav without having a data connection, which is handy for avoiding data charges when you're abroad.
Since we've been spurned by Google Maps Navigation, the marquee feature of the Milestone has got to be its stunning screen. Clear, sharp and deeply vibrant, we could stare at it for hours. Maps in particular are wonderfully easy to read on the 94mm (3.7-inch) screen, which packs 480x854 pixels into a widescreen display that's taller and narrower than the iPhone's.
The keyboard hiding underneath is slightly bigger than the screen, so, when the keyboard's stowed away, there's an odd ledge that pokes out below the display. We found the sliding mechanism to be quite stiff on our test phone, so it wasn't easy to pop the keyboard out. To keep the phone slim, the keyboard is almost totally flat, which doesn't make it particularly easy to type on. It's not terrible, but touch typing isn't a piece of cake when there's almost no differentiation between the keys.
Next to the keys, there's a five-way function button, which we found accurate but almost totally unnecessary. Bizarrely, there are also two empty spots in the keyboard. Surely Motorola could have put something handy there?
The five-way function button is a gold colour, and the whole handset is dotted with gold accents. We've heard that some people have fallen in love with the Milestone at first sight, but it's no beauty in our eyes. It's more like a slimmed-down G1, especially since the part of the keyboard that protrudes below the screen is reminiscent of the chin seen on HTC's smart phones.
The Milestone is definitely sleeker and more stylish than the Dext, and it feels solid, heavy and well-made. While we're not fans of its gold-trimmed, angular appearance, we'll leave it up to you to decide if it suits your style.
Take the shot
The Milestone's 5-megapixel camera has two LED photo lights, which do a good job of brightening up dark situations, although their light is harsh. In good light, the Milestone lives up to other camera phones with a similar resolution, snapping decent, but not stunning, shots. The camera will come in handy for spur-of-the-moment photos.
The Milestone's video-recording capability is sound, capturing the moment with decent resolution and accurate colour. YouTube also looks good on the Milestone's gorgeous screen, and videos download quickly, thanks to the Wi-Fi and HSPA connectivity for fast data over 3G.
Like other smart phones that pack in every feature under the sun, the Milestone's Achilles heel is battery life. We had to recharge every day while using it normally. We also found that the call quality wasn't impressive in our tests over the T-Mobile network, occasionally sounding tinny or echoing.
The Motorola Milestone is a fast, powerful and feature-packed smart phone with a stunning screen and great connectivity. The slide-out keyboard is as flat as a pancake, we still pine for the missing Google Maps Navigation feature, and it lacks the style of the iPhone or the Palm Pre, but we can't deny that this is the smart phone for the user who wants it all.
Edited by Charles Kloet