Remember the Motorola Milestone? Of course you do, and so do we -- it was ace, a real return to form for Moto. Which is why we're excited to be giving the full review treatment to this, the Motorola Milestone XT720. This follow-up loses the pull-out Qwerty keyboard, but ups the stakes with 720p video recording, an 8-megapixel camera and the Android 2.1 operating system in its rawest form.
If you were getting sick of mobile manufacturers seemingly copying the iPhone's design with every handset, the XT720 should calm your nerves. Rocking a decidedly angular style, this phone departs from the standard candybar build with an odd and distinctive protrusion on the bottom-right of the device, and a navy blue rubberised finish across the handset's rear. To us, the design has an industrial feel, right down to the black metal grille that sits just under the battery-cover.
Weighing 160g and measuring 61 by 116 by 11mm, this phone feels weighty, and quite chunky. We like a mobile that feels substantial, and the XT720 feels extremely solid -- we certainly didn't feel like it was going to fall to pieces in our pockets. On the other hand, this phone will definitely stretch your trousers, and unless you wear a belt it might just drag your trousers down with its obscene weight.
We can see the XT720's design being extremely divisive. Personally, we love the Robocop-style industrial design, and we like our phones so weighty they could bring down a buffalo if we hit 'em in just the right spot. If you're more into sleek, lightweight mobiles, you'd do better with the Samsung Galaxy S.
Around the edges of the phone you'll find a microUSB connection port, mechanical volume keys, a 3.5mm socket for plugging in your headphones, mechanical camera controls, a lock/unlock button (on the top right of the handset, as has become standard protocol) and -- excitingly -- an HDMI-out port.
This lets you output the phone's display to an HD-enabled telly. That's an exciting proposition for a number of reasons. Firstly, if you wanted to load up some video (streaming or stored on the XT720 itself) you could watch said footage on the big screen, when you were at home. You could also get the whole family round to check out the photos and HD movies you've shot using the phone itself. Annoyingly however, you will have to stump up some extra moolah for the cable required to do this -- there isn't one packaged in the box.
That's right, this phone rocks an eight-megapixel camera with a xenon flash, and is capable of shooting 720p video footage. This is one of the XT720's main selling points, and it's the reason behind that peculiar jutting out chin on the handset's left -- to draw your eye toward the mechanical camera controls.
We're pleased to report that the XT720's camera really is very good. An 8-megapixel snapper is pretty impressive on its own, but as any photographer will tell you, it's not all about the megapixels. What makes this camera far more impressive is the swift autofocus, which made for sharp, clear shots, and a short focal distance -- we were able to get the XT720's camera to focus on objects that were pretty close to the lens, making for some impressive close-up shots.
The flash is bright too, and did a reasonable job of lighting up our images. All in all, we were impressed with this camera, and the quality of shots it produced. We don't think it's any kind of replacement for a proper dSLR or high-end compact, but we're certainly comfortable saying that it's the best camera we've ever seen on an Android smart phone. Only the iPhone 4 rivals this device in terms of camera quality.
Video capture is similarly impressive. Don't expect footage you shoot with the XT720 to resemble a proper Blu-ray movie or anything, but video we recorded using this phone was sharp, colourful and played back impressively smoothly, even when we started waving our arms around like crazy people.
Motorola is making much of the XT720's display -- this phone really needs a display to do justice to the HD video and hi-res snaps this phone is capable of processing. Plus, if it's going to be troubling the iPhone 4 and HTC Desire, it needs a screen to make video look as good as possible.
The XT720 succeeds in some respects, but fails in others. On the one hand, this 3.7-inch display has a maximum resolution of 480x854 pixels, which makes for an unbelievably sharp display, and that's more than enough resolution to make video and hi-res photos look crisp. Additonally, we didn't notice any blurring around the edges of icons or text rendered on the XT720's screen.
On the other hand, this display isn't as vibrant as either the Desire's Super AMOLED screen or the iPhone 4's Retina Display. The brightness similarly doesn't compare -- even with the brightness settings maxed out, the XT720's display feels ever so slightly dim, and a little washed out.
This is compounded by the fact that Motorola has covered this screen in so much gloss that it's more or less a sheet of mirrored glass. A glossy screen isn't the end of the world, so long as the device in question can pump out enough brightness to cancel out the annoying reflections. Sadly the XT720 doesn't have that capability, and as a result viewing anything on this display is completely at the mercy of the light around you.
Motorola has unceremoniously abandoned Motoblur, its proprietary Android skin, and as such the XT720 is running a naked, raw version of Android, specifically Android 2.1. That's not the most recent version of Google's mobile operating system (2.2 at the time of writing) but updates will undoubtedly loom on the horizon before too long.
More importantly, we think it's a great thing that Android has been stuck on this phone without any prissy skins from Motorola. Those familiar with Android will have no trouble jumping straight in, and those who couldn't give two hoots about operating systems and whatnot probably won't ever notice there's anything going on, because this menu system is pretty intuitive.
Being an Android device, you have access to the full suite of Android apps available from the Android Market, which is accessible via the phone's main menu. You'll also get popular Google apps such as Maps, Street View, Gmail, Google Talk, Calendar and YouTube pre-installed.
In typical Android fashion, there are five fully customisable homescreens which you can scroll between by swiping left or right. Addition menu options can be revealed by opening the full menu -- an action performed by pulling up on an arrow located at the bottom of the screen.
While the interface is perfectly comfortable and easy to navigate, there is something that hamstrings the XT720's usability. Namely its processor. This phone is packing an ARM Cortex-A8 prcoessor, which runs at a maximum speed of 720MHz. Presumably in an effort to preserve battery, however, Motorola has capped the processing speed at 550MHz. How much of a difference this cap makes is difficult to say, but what we are sure of is that menu navigation on the XT720 frequently feels sluggish.
It's a problem that mars a great many of the phone's various features. We never found the phone outright crashed or froze up entirely, but the often stuttery performance did grate after a while, especially when we went back to using other smart phones that managed a smoother user experience. It's a minor gripe, but worth mentioning as after a long time the stuttery navigation might start to drive you crazy.
Battery life is exactly what we'd expect from a modern smart phone -- rubbish. Make sure you have charger cables waiting for you in your office, in your home and at the gym, lest you find yourself caught short with no juice.
Connectivity is comprehensive. 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, bluetooth, 3G and GPS are all present and correct. You'll also get an 8GB MicroSD card packaged with the phone to handle storage, though if that's not enough space for you, the XT720'll handle a 32GB MicroSD card.
We think it's great to see more and more Android smart phones entering the higher end of the market. The XT720 has a few too many imperfections (the highly reflective screen, the sluggish feel to the menus) to topple beasts such as the HTC Desire and the iPhone 4, but it comes darn close. We like the design, the amazing camera, and if those are the things you're particularly looking for in a smart phone, we can't imagine you'll be disappointed with the XT720.
Before throwing down your cash, however, we'd seriously recommend you check out the HTC Desire.
Edited by Nick Hide