By September 17, 2009

T3 review Motorola DEXT

dextr_lead_w300 T3 have gotten their hands on the Motorola DEXT from Orange. This highly anticipated Android phone looks the biz and seems to actually BE the biz. Packing the first qwerty keyboard on an Android device since the G1 read on for the complete review.

It’s a year of comebacks – Steve Jobs, Palm with the Pre, Walkman with the X Series – but few are more startling than the return to relevance of Motorola. Having flogged the dead horse of the RAZR line to a bloodied pulp, then dabbled in Vertu-style phones for bored oligarchs with the overpriced and underspec’ed AURA, Moto’s finally seen sense – and the success HTC has had with the G1, Hero and Magic. It’s thrown its energies into creating a new, Orange-exclusive phone combining Google’s superb Android platform with its own interface, MOTOBLUR.

Watch our exclusive video with the Motorola DEXT

Get closer to the DEXT with our exclusive pics

All Moto’s products need to be in block capitals it seems, but MOTOBLUR is actually worth shouting about. It’s very similar to HTC’s Touch Sense overlay, and also comparable to the 3D S-Class interface ported onto LG’s upcoming GW620 mobile. There are five themed home screens for your favourite widgets. They all update live, and include news apps which pull RSS feeds from various sites – declaration of interest: is the exclusive MOTOBLUR tech site partner. Social status widgets similarly enable status updates to all your profiles or just one. The messaging widgets show the latest emails or texts you’ve received.dextr_side_w500

Perhaps most interesting of all is the “happenings” widget, which is a live feed of all your friends’ activities from whichever social networking sites you’ve registered. Twitter and Facebook statuses blend in together easily, as well as updates about uploaded photos or relationship changes – whatever your friends are polluting Facebook with. Unfortunately, even the “friends” you’ve hidden on Facebook are displayed, meaning you’re forced to read all about Josh’s unfortunate love life and Miranda smarming on about her gap year in the Kalahari helping the Bushmen live more sustainably.

It’s all fully customisable, so you can choose which widgets you want on the default screen, allowing instant access. You can also litter apps including YouTube and Google Maps around the widgets for a more personalised experience.

The phone treats all forms of correspondence the same, whether a friend sends you a reply or DM on Twitter, a Facebook message, a poke, an SMS… even a missed phone call. Motorola claims, you can thus, “focus on what people have to say – instead of how they send it”. It stores all forms of interaction in the contact’s history page, and gives you all manner of options when you choose to socialise with them, syncing your contacts’ Twitter, Facebook and MySpace profiles.

As a result, your contact book soon builds up an alarming number of details on each friend. Soon, each friend has an avatar, status updates, birth date, website addresses and related photos as well as the usual phone number, email address and postal address. When someone calls you, their avatar is visible, along with their latest Facebook and Twitter statuses, so you know instantly whether to ask them about their first day at work, or perhaps avoid answering their call.

Possibly the best thing about Android is just how easy it is to set up email accounts. Type in your email address and password, and that’s it – you instantly start receiving mail.

Beyond the slick of MOTOBLUR, the five-meg camera doesn’t do anything special, or especially bad. You can geotag, do some basic image editing shoot video and upload to various photo sites. Picture quality is on par with the HTC Hero, with the autofocus proving adequate although the lack of flash is a big loss for night owls. The digital zoom is a bit unreliable but then purists will tell you that you shouldn’t be using that anyway…

Although Motorola’s used the same Qualcomm processor that’s in the other Android mobiles, the DEXT appears less sluggish and less prone to crashing. Whizzing through applications and from screen to screen was the fastest we’ve seen since the iPhone 3GS, although it does lag behind Apple’s handset overall.

Internet browsing, YouTube and Google Maps all worked efficiently with fast internet connectivity over Orange’s network. Voice calls were okay but had an oddly synthetic quality, as if Daft Punk had been consulted on this important element of the DEXT.

The capacitive, 3.1-inch, 320×480-pixel touchscreen is a mixed bag. Colours are bright and YouTube videos watchable and typing is no problem on the virtual keyboard, but pulling the notification curtain down, or launching the app-filled “drawer” required two jabs of a finger at least thanks to a certain unresponsiveness.

That’s odd because the virtual keyboard is very good – certainly better than the HTC Hero’s. We preferred it to the slide-out QWERTY, which felt too cramped vertically, leading to us constantly pressing keys above and below instead the one we were after. Keys also don’t have enough spring in them, as on the T-Mobile G1, and we weren’t mad about the arrangement of the all-important delete and return keys, which kept resulting in us sending half-finished communiqués that made no sense. We’ll stick to the virtual version.

Elsewhere there’s a proper 3.5mm headphone jack and micro USB port. There’s next to no built-in storage but it’ll take microSD cards “up to 32GB”. With a 1400mAh battery, it’s one of the longest-lasting Androids, nominally giving up to six hours talk time. However we’d still bolt it to the power point every night as a matter of course – this kind of always-on, app-heavy communication plays havoc with battery life.

One disappointing aspect of the DEXT is its appearance. There are some flashes of flair – the circular ‘grip’ elements on the battery cover for example. That said, it has the look of one of Nokia’s less memorable smartphone efforts. We know Moto’s been accused of putting style over substance, but we’d like to have seen some of the genius of the RAZR make its way into the DEXT.

That aside, the DEXT is a rock-solid performer from the long-serving Motorola. The fast processor means jumping from widget to widget is smooth as you like, with only the odd touchscreen issue to slow you down, while the connectivity is second to none. Heavy social networkers armed with a Gmail log-in should definitely consider the DEXT. You’ll need to put in some hours to master the mass of options on offer but it at least feels worth the effort. When was the last time you could say that about a Motorola phone?

Original review T3

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Seasoned tech blogger. Host of the Tech Addicts podcast.
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