The speculation is over. Today Motorola announced their first Android Phone, the Motorola CLIQ, running their custom version of Android called Motorola BLUR. After spending some time with the device we have both praise and criticism – which we’ll discuss in depth below – but first we should acknowledge the bigger picture.
Congratulations to Motorola! Speculation set extremely high expectations for this event and although the best case scenario didn’t occur (multiple Androids, Verizon included) – don’t let that detract from this event’s importance. You can critique CLIQ/BLUR all you like, and perhaps the terms “portfolio” and “suite” were misleading, but the fact remains: a Motorola Smartphone that competes with the most elite devices in the industry is a serious discussion. That in and of itself speaks to the occasion’s magnitude and the product’s potential success.
Motorola is back, baby! Neither the hardware or software is perfect, but what device is? Its all about trade-offs and the Motorola CLIQ is an impressive first foray into previously uncharted Android territory. We’ll organize this review the best we can by starting first with the software (MOTOROLA BLUR) and then moving into the hardware and specs.
I love how Motorola didn’t try to do everything with BLUR. They tried to do one thing and do one thing well – seamlessly integrate all your contacts, from all your social networks, and all your communication mediums in one consolidated and easy to use interface. Hmmmm… that isn’t really “one thing“, is it?
It isn’t… and that is exactly why and where Motorola succeeds: they’ve taken all these fragmented sources of external information and communication points and centralized them into what seems like ONE entity – your phone.
I love how BLUR “categorizes” and in a sense prioritizes for you in a completely logical sense:
- You don’t care about seeing every single TWEET or Facebook Status update, do you? Motorola BLUR groups these less important communications together as “happenings”.
- Certain types of “messages” are more important like EMail, Facebook Messages, TXT Messages, Twitter Direct Messages. These have an “escalated” sense of priority so BLUR groups them together.
So basically BLUR is simultaneously consolidating all of your external communication points into ONE central location, then re-separating them by priority level. Great concept. Love it.
Universal Status Updates
I use Facebook because all of my friends use Facebook. But I don’t use Twitter much. Why? It is one more hugely time consuming task in an already time-starved life. As explained above, BLUR has already helped consolidate the consumption of social content by displaying my friends’ Facebook and Twitter updates at one time via “Happenings”. But communication is a two way street.
I’ve got something to say. Rather than telling my Facebook friends and then telling my Twitter friends and then telling my MySpace friends I just say what I want ONCE. And then press to post it to ALL my services or choose which ones to be updated.
The purpose and promise of social networks is to connect you with the people that matter and the information you care about quicker and easier. But the shear NUMBER of them sometimes makes it more difficult than beneficial. BLUR aims to eliminate the irritation and complication… and it is largely successful.
Another awesome feature of BLUR is the syncing of contacts. It takes the information from your various accounts and intelligently combines them into single accounts. Perhaps your Mother is on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and GMail – Motorola BLUR will cross reference the contact info collaboratively and automatically fill in that person’s contact info using these sources.
As you can see from the video still above, some of the accounts you can link are MySpace, Facebook, Google, LastFM, Twitter, EMail, Exchange, Picasa, Photobucket and Yahoo Mail. Question of the day: Why is your mom on so many social networking sites? Anyways…
What happens if your friend Adds/Edits their information on a given site/network? BLUR automatically makes the change and updates for you! BLUR also backs up your contacts and account data so in case something were to go wrong, you can always re-access/download all your info and settings through the Moto website. I was ensured that BLUR errs on the side of caution: they would rather NOT link accounts and allow you to manually (and easily) associate multiple profiles with 1 specific person rather than incorrectly merge them in the first place.
Where BLUR Falls Short
The below video starts off with the Motorola CLIQ freezing. When its clear the phone won’t respond, the guide pushes the device aside and aptly whips out his personal device. Let me be clear – I DON’T think this is indicative of BLUR as a whole and I think this is more likely the EXCEPTION to the rule. I had several different people give me “tours” and this was the first and only time I experienced any lag let alone a freeze.
But it DID happen. I wouldn’t worry too much but it is certainly something to keep an eye on. OTA (Over The Air) updates can often patch up little glitches like this and you’re never going to get an OS that runs flawlessly 100% of the time. I don’t think the “freeze” is where BLUR falls short.
The power of BLUR is in the intelligent assumptions it makes about your communication style, preferences and priorities… but sometimes it assumes too much. For example I want INFORMATION and CONTENT on my home screen but how am I supposed to learn anything of substance when the widgets/boxes are confined to such a small area?
Unfortunately you can’t resize the Messages or Happenings widgets along with some of the other BLUR-specific widgets. What if I want an entire panel (BLUR has 5) to be filled with Messages? Or maybe my top half messages and bottom half happenings? In my mind BLUR should offer the option to resize in addition to the ability of relocating/removing.
Another assumption it makes is that content within a given section (Happenings/Messages) are equally important. What if I want to add a MySpace and Twitter profile because I love the contact sync feature but don’t want MySpace updates to appear in my Happenings?
You’re able to drill down to a particular source and view the updates from that source only, but there is no way to select which sources do or don’t make it into your happenings/messages feeds – they’re all included by default.
This might not be a huge issue right now but I think it will be a growing issue and Motorola would be smart to find an early solution. I am assuming that over time, Motorola will add more social networks and websites to the available options and at some point it becomes information overload. BLUR should allow you to customize and prioritize within these settings.
This is a down and dirty way to view news from your favorite sites directly from your home screen. Again, disappointing they don’t offer multiple viewing styles and sizes, but I’m sure we’ll get there eventually.
You can choose from a set of default news feeds or – my favorite part – simply type in the URL of the website and BLUR will try to figure out the RSS/News feed itself and apply it. Pretty sweet, especially for newbs unfamiliar with how RSS works.
The Bottom Line On BLUR
BLUR on the CLIQ is a GREAT start for Motorola. They chose to focus on the social networking aspect of your mobile device, created something uniquely theirs and owned it. Beyond that, they got out of the way and let Android do the rest of the lifting… and that’s a good thing.
Most of my complaints are trivial – Motorola can fix/improve BLUR over time with additional features and OTA updates. And honestly, even if I weren’t a fan of BLUR, I could put all the widgets in the garbage and pretty much use the device as if it were stock Android. But I’d be willing to bet we’ll see BLUR get better and better and better… especially with Sanjay Jha at the helm of Moto.
So how can you complain?
Motorola CLIQ Hardware Review
Hardware is often reviewed through a distorted lens. We want the best possible specs and the best possible price, demand both but neglect their inverse relationship. Hardware manufacturers usually try to find a healthy balance between options and cost and we can only assume Motorola has done that with the CLIQ. It certainly seems to fit into that “value” proposition.
As a great starting point of reference, check out this chart put together by Ross Miller from EngadgetMobile that compares the CLIQ with existing Android phone offerings:
Assuming the CLIQ is priced competitively, it is arguably the nicest Android on the Market:
- Only the CLIQ and the G1 have a Full Slideout QWERTY keyboard and the CLIQ is by FAR a better looking device, hands down, up, over, around and everywhere else.
- 5MP camera equaled only by Hero and Galaxy
- 3.5mm headset equaled only by Hero/Galaxy/Tattoo
- 528MHz processor – mostly the same as all available Droids
- Weighs 163 grams – definitely the sturdiest feeling Android out there
Do the CLIQ specs blow away the competition? Definitely not… but Motorola never intended for that. Keep in mind that this is ONE PHONE being announced out of a portfolio. They’ll have higher end Android Phones. They’ll have lower end Android Phones. For their first ever Android Phone why WOULDN’T Motorola focus on the meaty middle ground to attract a mass audience and score a sure hit?
After some thought, I’m really digging the hardware choices Motorola made with CLIQ. Let’s take a peek around the device:
A few quick thoughts:
- Overall specs are very nice: 3G, Wi-Fi, 5MP cam, 3.5mm headset jack, MicroSD up to 32GB… you can’t do a lot of complaining unless its overpriced.
- Ringer Silence Switch is a nice touch – love it.
- Call/End aren’t hardware keys and instead are touchscreen options. Ultimately means less cramped navigation and a more clean overall look. Would take getting used to for a G1 owner like me.
- MicroSD slot accessed by removing the cover. A downside? Perhaps… but how often do you REALLY need access to your MicroSD card. Be honest.
I’m a hardware keyboard kinda guy. When I first tested the G1 I HATED the keyboard. A week later I loved it. Now I’m somewhat obsessed. Aside from glaring issues, it’s tough to test a keyboard for a few minutes and make a split decision on the quality. That being said…
The layout appears pretty impeccable:
Doesn’t that just LOOK gorgeous? Everything is neatly in line with the D-Pad, you’ve got 2 shift buttons, a dedicated search key and copying/highlighting text is a breeze. At first I thought the bevel of the keys was a bit too much, but the only thing I can see this keyboard doing is growing on me. In fact, I already can’t wait to try it again!
The buttons are large and although the keyboard lacks numbers 1 to 9, the increased keyboard comfort might be well worth it. No funky angles or weird chin to get in your way here… just straight up, good ‘ol fashion QWERTY typing!
I only had ONE possible concern about the Touch Screen – when you were flicking the screen to the right, would the phone involuntarily slide open? In the below video I’m purposefully pushing kind of hard to see what type of force it would require:
This potential problem could only be analyzed with some extended use, but I don’t see it as a huge concern. The touchscreen is sensitive enough that you don’t NEED to be swiping the screen forcefully but I would still keep my eye on this for future reviews. Given the heft of the phone and sensitivity of the keyboard I would hope it proves to be a non-factor.
The screen itself is made of glass and you can tell – it feels absolutely great to interact with and the phone in general has a good feeling in your hand.
Camera & Image Gallery: More To Blur
After my first guided tour of the CLIQ I thought BLUR started and ended with contacts and social networking… but I was wrong. I asked a different guide if he would demonstrate the camera for me and found out that the Picture Gallery is a custom Motorola BLUR creation:
You’re also able to share your pictures through an expanded number of sources that are inherent to your Motorola BLUR accounts. By the way he really did Email me that picture so we could get an idea of how the 5MP camera with auto-focus performs. What do you think of the below picture quality?
That’s pretty darn good! As for dimly lit areas this phone won’t do so well because it doesn’t have a flash. But whatever, arent’ you up past your bedtime anyways?
Rich Text Emails and Integrated Calendars
Two more features that Motorola has customized as part of their BLUR Android solution are Rich Text capabilities in EMails and the ability to integrate multiple calendars (Google Calendar, Work Calendar) into one view.
White Motorola CLIQ vs Black Motorola CLIQ
Pictures of the White CLIQ with the Black CLIQ… racially diverse Android Phones:
Side note: See the different designs on the back casing in the above picture? Which one do you like more? I’m not sure if they’ll be offering both when launch day comes or not. We shall see!
The Bottom Line On CLIQ
Motorola is BACK! T-Mobile is getting crowded with Android offerings so there is no guarantee the CLIQ will clean up shop, but it clearly illustrates that Motorola means business. Right now Android is the hottest thing on the mobile scene and Motorola just created an Android Phone that sits next to the biggest boys on the playground without flinching.
And if consumers buy logic then the CLIQ should see PLENTY of interest on T-Mobile. It has a better headset jack (3.5mm/ExtUSB), better camera (5MP/3MP) and bigger battery than the G1 and MyTouch 3G which are TMO’s current offerings. But more importantly, the CLIQ represents Motorola’s renewed capability to deliver excitement and innovation as a whole… beyond the CLIQ. I have no doubt they can extend this to the rest of their Android portfolio that will span carriers, form factors, specs and price points.
The CLIQ proves Motorola CAN be a leader in Mobile once again… now we just have to wait for the rest of that portfolio.