By August 16, 2010

Motorola Milestone XT720 Review

XT720-main The introduction of the original Milestone brought about Motorola’s resurrection in the mobile world, and now they’re back with their second Milestone, the XT720, to market here in Europe. Ever since that first iteration, Motorola have stuck with Android and to great success so far. It was a pretty large and imposing phone with its sharp edges and lines, and the XT720 is no different. It’s still large and imposing though Motorola have made some changes – the most noteworthy being that they’ve ditched that sliding qwerty in favour of a slimmer slate design, and adding a stand-out camera.

On paper, this really is a Milestone for Motorola as it’s the first Android phone that truly takes image snapping seriously with its proper xenon flash. It may look all well and good on paper, but is the second Milestone in Motorola’s comeback significant enough to cement their place back in the industry?

There’s only one way to find out!

 

The ten Second review:

  • Product: Motorola Milestone XT720
  • Price: £351.33
  • Summary: First truly camera centric Android smartphone, with 2.1 Éclair and Motoblur
  • Best of: Display quality, HDMI out
  • Worst of: Marmite styling, video camera
  • Buy it now from: Clove Technology

 

What’s in the box?

  • Motorola XT720
  • 1390 mAh Li-Ion battery
  • 8GB microSD card
  • 3.5mm earphones with remote
  • HDMI to microHDMI cable (180 cm)
  • USB to microUSB cable
  • USB charger

Also check out Matt’s unboxing of the Milestone XT720.

 

Motorola Milestone XT720 specification:

  • Operating System – Android OS, v 2.1 (Eclair)
  • Processor – 550MHz (some confusion on speed, see here)
  • Memory – 256 MB RAM / 512 MB ROM
  • Display – TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors 480 x 854 pixels, 3.7 inches
  • Touch-sensitive navigation controls
  • Multi-touch input method
  • Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
  • Operating Frequency – GSM 900 / 1800 / 1900 – HSDPA 2100
  • HSDPA 3.6 Mbps
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g,
  • Bluetooth v2.1 with A2DP
  • microUSB v2.0
  • GPS – Yes, with A-GPS support
  • Expansion – microSD, up to 32GB
  • Other- Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • 3.5mm Headset jack
  • Camera – 8 MP, 3264×2448 pixels, autofocus, Xenon flash
    Video 720p @ 20 fps
  • Battery – Standard battery, Li-Po 1420 mAh
    Stand-by Up to 300 h
    Talk time Up to 4 h 30 min
  • Dimensions – 116 x 60.9 x 10.9 mm
  • Weight – 140g
  • Warranty – Full 24 month manufacturers warranty

 

General

On the top side, there’s the power/lock switch sitting next to the 3.5mm headphone jack. Under a small plastic cover there is the microHDMI port for video out.

XT720-top

 

On the left, only the lanyard loop and microUSB port are to be seen.

XT720-left

 

There’s absolutely nothing on the bottom edge. Zilch.

Moving over to the right, there is the camera key and the media key sitting on that bulge, and the volume rocker further up.

XT720-right

 

The back has the 8 megapixel camera and its xenon flash (plus a red LED focus light next to it) and the speaker grill lower down. The blue soft touch plastic is darker than it looks here.

XT720-back

 

Flipping over to the front, the 3.7″ screen takes up most of the space, but there are still other features here – the earpiece flanked by the rather obvious trio of sensors and the Motorola logo. Below the screen, there are the standard Android keys; the Menu, Home, Back and Search buttons. To the bottom right of the screen, Moto have added rather unorthodox icons, the view, camera, and camcorder indicators.

XT720-front

 

Highlights

  • Large high res display
  • Camera flash
  • HDMI out
  • Slim design

 

Lowlights

  • Camcorder not great
  • Back feels unfinished
  • Sluggish processor
  • Very reflective screen

 

Review

The XT720 is the second Milestone to hit the UK, and from the front it’s difficult to tell. From the back though, it’s all too obvious where the design cues came from and already we have hit what I see as the first design issue. Some may see it more as a quirk than an issue, but for me it’s certainly the latter. That issue is that the front and back seems to be designed by completely different people, with different design objectives. The front is glossy and looks much softer than the back, which has all the hard lines and edges from the original Milestone.

Personally I don’t mind either design ethic – I just wish that it was one or the other, and not both which gives a rather cut-n-shut look. I quite like the back of the Milestone – it looks very much like a dedicated camera and the soft touch plastic feels very high quality, yet hides fingerprints at the same time. There are still problems though, apart from that mix and match design. The top half is bigger than the back by about half a millimetre in every direction, and although it may not sound like much, it makes the phone feel sort of unfinished. The best way to experience it is to take off the back cover of your phone and use it as if it was supposed to be like that – this is what the XT720 feels like in the hand – it doesn’t feel right. To top it off, the back isn’t flat either – the left side is thicker than the right so it doesn’t sit flat on the table, it actually sits on the camera lens. Despite all this, the design wasn’t as a problem as I first thought it would be. In practical use, it’s not difficult So as you can probably tell, I’m not fond of the XT720’s design, and that view is pretty universal at tracyandmatt.

The XT720 has the same display as the original Milestone which is a good thing – the 3.7 inch screen is 854×480 pixels and is very bright at its highest setting. It may not have quite the pixel density as Apple’s Retina display but all images and icons were very clear and sharp and I certainly couldn’t distinguish between pixels. The viewing angles were also impressive with the colours only being affected at really quite extreme angles. Being capacitive, the display is naturally very sensitive, and so are the buttons below. Usually I’d prefer real buttons but the touch buttons gave me no problems with sensitivity or accuracy – they worked just fine, and give a small haptic vibration feedback. The only thing I’d mark the XT720’s display down on is the glossy coating on the screen. It’s so reflective that in direct light it’s virtually impossible to see anything and I found myself just not using it outside, which is a shame really as apart from the glossiness, it’s a very good display.

The last design quirk you are probably wondering about is that bulge in the side. Well the point is that it makes room for three indicator lights – there’s one for playback, one for the camera, and one for the camcorder. They do exactly what you expect them to – the simple job of lighting up when you’re in the application it signifies. In my view, they’re pretty pointless – it’s quite obvious what mode you’re in, after all. What I did find is that both the lights and the bulge give it that point-and-shoot camera feel, and the bulge wasn’t too big that it got in the way either – after a few days I got used to it being there, and I suppose it does give the XT720 a unique look even if some may hate it. The two stage camera key and the camera mode button sit on this bulge, and it feels quite natural taking pictures with this design.

XT720-bulge

 

On the connectivity side, the XT720 has all the options you’d expect a high-end smartphone to have. It has a quadband GSM radio for roaming just about anywhere, and dual band HSDPA for your high speed downloading needs. For even faster speeds, there’s WiFi 802.11b/g which gets pretty average signal strength – it’s also quick to reconnect after sleeping. Bluetooth 2.1 is onboard too with A2DP for connecting Bluetooth stereo headphones. Of course there’s USB 2.0 for syncing to your computer, and also charging the phone.

The call quality on the XT720 is above average thanks to Motorola’s CrystalTalk technology – it may sound a bit like a gimmick but in practice, it does actually work, especially when you or your buddy are low signal areas. There is virtually no background hiss, and the voice sounds natural. You can alter the settings between normal, clear, crisp, and bright, which I couldn’t hear much difference between; I kept it on normal. Even on speakerphone the quality was just as good, but the speaker grill being on the back means that the phone should lie face down for best results.

The battery life of the XT720 is what you’d expect from a large Android device. Under heavy use, you can exhaust the 1390mAh battery in less than a day, but under my usage (30 mins or so of texting, few calls, and 30 mins of internet browsing and playing around) I could squeeze just under two days out of it.

XT720-angled-back

 

Being an Android phone, the software side of things is just as important, and fortunately Motorola have put 2.1 Éclair on the Milestone XT720. While it’s not the absolute latest version, it is difficult for manufacturers to keep up with Android’s pace so being one behind (so far) is quite acceptable. Motorola have chosen not to put Motoblur on, though they have preloaded some of their own apps which we will look at later. The lack of Motoblur is probably for the better on the XT720 – the extra processing power it requires probably wouldn’t do it any good as the 550 MHz processor can only just keep up as it is. Now we all know that it’s not about pure speed – there are plenty other factors that come into play, but sadly the XT720 doesn’t defy basic logic – 550 Mhz is simply not as good as 1Ghz, in this particular case anyway. That’s not to say it’s slow though; it runs okay, but you never really feel that snappiness that seems to only come from the Snapdragon equipped handsets. Motorola have promised a software upgrade “later” that will boost it to 720 MHz but as of now, the XT720 is lacking in the speed department for a top-end phone.

XT720-angled-right

 

Setting up the XT720 is easy and straightforward – the setup wizard takes you through how to use the keyboard and setting up your Google account with the phone. Afterwards, you are presented with the lock screen, which also gives you the option to mute sounds and make an emergency call.

The homescreen is pretty much standard Android fare – you have five very customisable homescreens which is possibly one of the best parts about Android. You can fill them with app shortcuts, widgets, contents shortcuts, or folders in any way you choose. The app drawer and the call and the messaging buttons are custom by Motorola, allowing for quick and easy access to the main phone functions – sometimes you do forget that smartphones actually make calls!

home

 

The fact that the XT720 runs Android 2.1 is a plus point – many other phones still run older versions that lack some of the new features like built in corporate email support and the new gallery app. Seeing as Motoblur doesn’t feature on this device, hopefully Froyo can be pushed out not too long after Google’s release, due to the fact that less tweaking needs to be done when it’s running a (fairly) stock rom.

So let’s dive in to some of the software applications and features that the Milestone has to offer. And talking of the new updates to 2.1, let’s look at those first. The gallery app is the only one that has been completely overhauled, and for good reason. Older versions of Android were notorious for their lacklustre handling of multimedia. Thankfully, the new Gallery app on the Milestone changes that – it is much more aesthetically pleasing with transitions everywhere. The background changes depending on what content you have, and there’s a thoughtful shortcut to the camera too. Another nice touch that I particularly like is how it disguises the loading of thumbnails; instead of a blank border, it has a space where the thumbnail flies in when it’s loaded. This gives the effect that the pictures are being dropped onto the screen, and waiting for them to display seemed more like a feature than a drag. Tapping on a picture will display it full screen, with the option to tag or start a slideshow. The XT720 is equipped with multitouch so you can pinch to zoom – it may not be quite as responsive as Apple’s iPhone or iPod touch, but it’s pretty damn close. Where it isn’t as close though is swiping to the next picture. Flicking left and right was visibly choppy, no doubt due to the 550Mhz processor speed. Motorola are marketing and have priced this phone alongside the big boys at the top with their 1GHz processors, and flicking through photos is one place where the need for speed is most apparent. However, launching your snaps into a slideshow fortunately was much smoother (but not buttery smooth) and so was the case with scrolling in the Gallery app.

gallery overview gallery pictures

 

Google’s new Gallery app isn’t the only way to show off your photos and videos. Motorola have included their home-grown media app too, perhaps confusingly titled ‘Media Gallery’. It is more simplistic than Google’s take, but functional nonetheless. It’s simple grid of thumbnails on a black background with pinch to zoom on photos, that works in exactly the same way as the stock Gallery app. So why did Motorola add this then? Well, I’m not quite sure really. What was different that I liked was the landscape view. The Gallery app just shows the grid in landscape, but Moto’s Media Gallery morphs into a coverflow-esque view. Tilting the phone also affects the angle at which the pictures stand up at, which is a nice visual touch.

media gallery media gallery 2

 

Another new 2.1 feature I really like is the live wallpapers. From its name, it may not sound like much – and to an extent, you’d be right. Live wallpapers are simply that – wallpapers that are live. Rather than having boring and static pictures, you can have wallpapers that interact with your actions and your surroundings. They range from a hypnotically spinning galaxy to a google maps background that constantly updates and displays your current position. My favourite is still that classic “Nexus” – it’s a grey background that has Android coloured tron-like snakes travelling across the screen when you tap. Some call them gimmicky, but I think it adds a touch of class and sophistication to an otherwise average smartphone. It’s not all happy dappy though. Setting a live wallpaper needs extra background processing power and so it has a noticeable effect on performance. Since the XT720 needs all the power it can get, I sadly had to keep them off. Not only that, but live wallpapers causes your battery life to disappear frighteningly quick. Under my average usage (summarised above) I could just eek out a day’s use. Anyone remotely close to being a power user will likely not get through a work day with live wallpapers. Thankfully there’s a simple but sad solution: turn them off!

home-live live wallpapers

 

A greatly loved feature of Android is its browser – since even the early days the webkit based browser has been praised time and time again, and so it’s the same story on the XT720. All the sites I visited rendered as they should, and thanks to the high resolution screen, text was readable (in landscape) even when zoomed out enough to see most of the page. 2.1 adds multi-touch in the native apps, and it works a treat in the browser. Multi-touch and scrolling were not quite as smooth as other Android phones like the Desire and X10 but they’re good enough. The page load speed also isn’t quite as fast as you’d expect an expensive Android phone to be – maybe that slower processor is the culprit?

browser browser landscape

 

The XT720 isn’t all play and no work though – thanks again to 2.1, you can view exchange email accounts, and sync corporate calendars without third party applications. You can also have more than one; all mail appears in one email inbox, both exchange and other services. Naturally, Gmail integration is perfectly seamless, with the two way IMAP support updating almost instantly. New mail appears in the notification bar up top, and replying is quick and easy with the ability to drag the bar down and tap the new mail to go straight to your inbox. Yahoo users are also welcome here, with full Yahoo mail synchronisation too. The calendar app is pretty standard Android, and shows the month view by default with a green bar giving you an idea when your events are. Of course, tapping on a date brings up the day view, and weather forecasts are handily added too.

calendar contacts

 

Navigation on the XT720 is decent to say the least – Google’s Maps and Navigation apps as well as Motorola’s own MotoNav are here, taking advantage of that built-in assisted GPS. Both use maps and route calculation data through the internet (unlike Nokia’s Ovi Maps) and so a data plan is probably a good thing to have. It allows for more free space on your phone, but when you’re driving to a remote area with no signal and need to recalculate, you’re be pretty stuck. Google Maps is preloaded and in my opinion, its best implemented in Android out of all the platforms it has made its way onto. The interface is simple and quick to get to the Layers and Latitude features, as well as My Location. Pinch to zoom works here and is very responsive, with the Maps rendering fast and with the fade-in effect I particularly like. For when you need to get directions, it opens Google Navigation which needs a separate speech-to-text package from the App Market (which is also free) and once installed, it enables full voice guided directions. It’s quite easy to use – just search for a destination like in Maps and it will calculate a route and show you the way. The map is 3D and the bar at the top shows you the next turning.

gmaps

 

The MotoNav app, after a speedy initialisation, opens to the main menu. This consists of four buttons, which are large and easy to tap, (as is the rest of MotoNav’s UI) a helpful feature when driving. Finding a destination was easy, with no trouble finding even quite new address’s. MotoNav uses its own ABC keyboard, and typing was pretty slow and unresponsive. Although the buttons here are large, most people would be used to a qwerty layout, and the Android keyboard would have been more responsive too. Actually navigating with MotoNav was easy, and you can even set different symbols to represent your car. There are spoken instructions which sounded really quite robotic but at least they are clear and easy to follow. The routes it planned were the same as Google’s although it didn’t seem to know about a particular barrier in Hatfield which has been around for a few years. Overall, MotoNav is very good, but it’s only a 60 day trial – for the full version with maps of Western Europe, you’d be looking at a price of ?99 which I find quite absurd – not only is Google’s Navigation totally free, I’d say its slightly better. Even if it wasn’t, there are many navigation apps on the Android Market that are cheaper than MotoNav so I struggle to see why anyone would buy the full version; and that’s bad news for Motorola.

motonav motonav 2 motonav 3

 

When navigating in both MotoNav and Google Navigation, the XT720 certainly felt the strain – the top half of the back got worryingly hot, worryingly quickly. It is normal for phones to get warm when things like the GPS is in use, but the Milestone got laptop-hot. It didn’t seem to have any effect on the phone, but I’m not too sure about the long term effect if the GPS is used very often.

The final interesting app that Motorola have added is Moto Portal. It is basically just a content manager between your phone and your pc, similar in function to BlackBerry Desktop Manager or Nokia PC Suite. Moto Portal does have one feature that makes it stand out – WiFi sync. When your computer is on, and your phone is in range of your WiFi network, all your new files added on the computer will appear on the XT720 and vice versa. Not surprisingly, the WiFi sync isn’t as fast compared with USB, but it’s certainly more convenient. I bought and added a few songs and added them onto Moto Portal, and it synced across all while the phone was in my pocket!

moto portal

 

The music player is standard Android fair with a barebones app and limited features. You have a simple grid of four icons to choose from: Artists, Albums, Songs, and Playlists. There’s not much more to it than that, with the ability to display album art the only other feature worth mentioning. However the sound quality was excellent, certainly on par with iPods though, as usual, you’ll want to stick a decent set of cans to really get the best out of it. The XT720 also has an FM radio which is surprisingly a scarce feature on phones nowadays, and unusually the XT720 allows you to use it even without the earphones plugged in. However, signal strength without them is next to nothing, and unless you’re into a good bit of white noise, you’ll find yourself plugging the earphones in. The interface is quite nice with both a digital and analogue display of the frequency you’re listening too, above a list of your presets.

music fm radio

 

So you’ve read through this review, yet despite the imaging being the standout feature, not a word has been said about it…well I’ve saved it until last, and it’s fair to say that the XT720 breaks the mould – the one about saving the best till last.

First things first, we’ll take a look at the camera interface. This being a camera-centric phone, it allows pretty decent levels of tweaking, though that doesn’t mean the interface is clunky. Down the right hand side, there’s the scenes, flash, brightness, capture mode and view, all of which are large and easy to press. Capture mode brings up a list of different options for taking pictures. Multi-shot works particularly well, especially for pictures of fast moving objects. The panorama mode allows you to take three pictures and stitch them together for a true panoramic photo, but in practice, it’s very difficult to line them up perfectly at the same time as keeping your hand perfectly still. In a deeper settings menu you can also tweak the resolution, aspect ratio, and image stabilisation. The view button switches to Motorola’s Media Gallery, and so does pressing the mode button on the bulge. Actually taking a picture is easy, and although focusing isn’t slow, it takes a few seconds between pressing the shutter button completely down and it actually taking a picture. This lag would make it hard to quickly snap that special moment, even though the mechanical shutter is designed to reduce shutter lag. Maybe a faster processor would help?

camera capture modes

 

In terms of the picture quality, it’s really quite good. The XT720 has 8 megapixels, and although that isn’t an indication of quality, I’m pleased to report than photo stills live up to the megapixel count. The pictures are sharp and, thanks to the xenon flash, pictures in low light are just as good. In fact, the picture of the tablet was taken in total darkness, and the flash is capable of lighting up a small room. The macro shots are also very good – it had no trouble focusing up close, as the golden pig shows!

Sample 1 Sample 5

Sample 3 Sample 4

Now onto the big meat – yes the photos are good, but is the 720p video recording a match for quality? When I first took a video, though it was smooth, it didn’t look very good at all but delving into the settings revealed that it was set at 480p by default. Cranking it up to 720p HD didn’t actually fare much better. The video itself wasn’t bad in terms of quality but the low frame rate really hurt the overall experience – it looks really jerky. The video of the garden was taken while walking, but another time when I was just panning around standing still, it was just as choppy. In fact, I found lowering the resolution made it much more watchable, though obviously it wasn’t as clear when played back on a bigger screen. Talking of the screen, it was hard to see what you were filming as the screen reflects so much light. Overall, I was expecting good things but the video quality just wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. Disappointing.

 

Milestone XT720 sample video

 

video editor 2 video editor

 

On a more positive note, the included Video Editor app means you can put together a quick movie of your clips to upload and share on sites such as Facebook and YouTube. You can choose between Storyboard, Music movie, and Autocut. Storyboard allows you to select video clips and pictures you want and string them together with effects. Music movie is quite self explanatory – you can add music tracks on top of clips. Although they won’t look as good as say editing on a computer, they will certainly give your videos a more polished feel, and it’s quite quick to do. Afterwards, you can upload to Youtube which is the same application as any other Android device. From here you can see the most viewed videos as well as the most discussed. Of course there is a search button as well, and videos play really nicely.

youtube

 

Conclusion

From the spec sheet of the XT720, it seems like it’s more or less a top notch phone, and at the start of reviewing it, it lived up to that. I admittedly had reservations about the design, but in actual fact I got used to it much quicker than I thought. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I really like its design – the sharp edges on the back makes it awkward to hold to say the least, but this probably isn’t a phone you’d buy to look stylish; one would turn to Apple or HTC for that. However, although the design wasn’t a deal breaker, it just didn’t live up to expectations enough for me to recommend it. Yes the screen is good, the photos look good, and the battery is pretty good, but the bottom line is that you can get all this and more elsewhere. If the XT720 arrived a year ago, it would have really been state of the art, but now there are other options which offer the same headline features in an arguably better package. Take the HTC Desire for example (let alone the rumoured Desire HD) – it also has 720p recording, the same size screen, yet a faster processor and more ram, and a dose of Froyo. The Acer Stream is also another contender – it matches the XT720’s video recording and HDMI output, yet pushes faster hardware. And seeing as these can be had for just £40 or £50 more, the XT720 just doesn’t seem to be worth the money. Android smartphones are pretty level on the software front, so that puts even more attention on the manufacturers and the hardware they produce to differentiate their products, and for me, Motorola haven’t quite cut it this time with the XT720.

 

Review by: Vince

[ Post Tags: Motorola Milestone XT720, Motorola, andoird, tracyandmatt.co.uk ]

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