Motorola Milestone 2

4th Jan 2011 | 18:00

Motorola Milestone 2

A thinner and faster redesign of Motorola's quirky QWERTY

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

While the Motoblur widgets mask a strong performer, a little tweaking and you'll find a QWERTY-touch combo to love.

Like:

Rock solid metallic body and keyboard; Great, responsive screen; Good camera, fantastic 720p video quality; Fast, glitch free operation; Some great media and connectivity features via Motoblur

Dislike:

Tatty-looking, bloated Motoblur widgets; Below average battery life; Poor video file support; Keyboard is a little too small for easy use; Terribly clunky Motoblur Facebook and Twitter integration

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Overview and design

This time last year the Motorola Milestone won itself a fair few fans thanks to being one of the few high-spec Android phones to come with a QWERTY keyboard attached to it.

The original Milestone certainly wasn't one of the prettiest or most elegant Android phones, but for those unable or unwilling to adapt to the touchscreen way of life, it provided a rare and welcome QWERTY option.

Things have changed over the last 12 months, with the arrival of Android powerhouse HTC on the QWERTY scene with its excellent HTC Desire Z. Has Motorola's design team got what it takes to compete?

Motorola milestone 2

Motorola milestone 2

First impressions of the Milestone 2 are very positive. The phone's slightly slimmer than the original Milestone, with a nice, weighty, solid feel to it. The 3.7-inch screen takes up most of the front of the device, with only a small bezel and the standard collection of four touch-sensitive Android buttons beneath it.

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Motorola's crafted most of it from metal, so it feels extra tough and solid. There's a thin rubber coating applied to the back of the Milestone 2, so it's nice and grippy, plus the keyboard sliding mechanism is also rock solid with none of the worrying wobble suffered by the HTC Desire Z's bespoke hinge. The Milestone 2 feels heavy and tough in comparison.

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The four capacitive buttons give you a weak haptic response when pressed, and Motorola has also changed the order they appear compared to the original Milestone. It seems to make more sense having the Menu button on the far left, with the Home button next, then Back and the largely pointless Search.

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The QWERTY keyboard's keys are backlit, with Motorola removing the original Milestone's directional controller to free up more room for extra keys – replacing it with the standard four-way cursor key array and an OK button to confirm menu options.

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Around the edges you get the combined power and screen-lock button on the top – which we found a bit too small and well hidden to find without looking for it – next to the 3.5mm headphone jack. The volume up/down toggle switch is to the right and the micro-USB socket (and nice white charging notification light) on the left.

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Inside the box is a 1400mAh battery, an 8GB microSD card, micro-USB cable and plug-in power charger, with some old fashioned foam-covered Motorola-branded headphones. And the box is nice, too.

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Interface

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Interface

The Milestone 2's Android 2.2 OS comes fully skinned with Motorola's Motoblur interface, so Android is almost unrecognisable. The phone arrives with most of its seven Home screens absolutely packed with Motoblur widgets, with the central one bursting with social networking tools.

The touchscreen is very slick. Ultra-sensitive to the touch and quick to scroll, the only lag we experienced was the odd minor jitter when opening up the Gallery or one of Motorola's overly complex widgets.

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It's all a bit of a mess, to be honest, when it comes to the widgets. Motorola's stuck a Twitter and combined messaging widget on the main Home screen, so right from the start you're greeted by two whopping great boxes that duplicate each other's content if you signed into the full range of social networks at start up.

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Also, these widgets pull images from Facebook and Twitter profiles, so you get random, poorly cropped and resized icons filling up half your Home screen. It's not pretty.

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However, there is some very good functionality provided by Motoblur. Users are able to create custom messaging widgets, having one specifically for email, one for Twitter and Facebook, or one mega-combi widget that pulls in all your text messages, Tweets and everything else. Plus they can be manually resized to fit your favoured layout.

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But they're rather ugly. Do we really need a whole screen for each Tweet or Facebook status update? This sort of thing's been done much, much better, with both HTC's Sense interface on phones such as the HTC Desire and Desire HD, and the Sony Ericsson Xperia range, including the X10, X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro doing a much better job of amalgamating and presenting social bits and bobs.

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There are many other design inconsistencies that make the phone's interface look a bit of a mess. The browser illustrates this best. Motorola has stuck in a custom, 3D, flippable selection of tiles to illustrate your bookmarks, which is nice enough – but this same style isn't carried across to the neighbouring Most Visited and History tabs. They're just standard Android text lists.

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Also, the Milestone 2 only brings up this tiled Bookmark view if using the phone in landscape orientation. People complain enough about the lack of a consistent experience across the many Android devices out there – but here Motorola's taken that to the next level by not even managing to get a consistent interface on the same phone!

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There's also one other annoying Motoblur feature. Paging between Home screens brings up quick menu across the bottom of the screen, which lets users jump to any of the seven Home screens at a touch.

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The problem with this is it pops up over the dock, so when you stop paging you have to wait for the dock to reappear so you can access the calling features and app drawer. Plus, in landscape mode, it'll cover any icons you've placed along the bottom of the screen, making Motoblur look a little extra uglier.

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Contacts and calling

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Contacts and calling

Motoblur does a great job of integrating itself with Facebook, instantly pulling in all of your Facebook friends and capturing email address, phone numbers, contact photos and any other personal details it can rip out of the site.

It's quite amazingly clever, but can create a logistical nightmare when hundreds of new internet friends suddenly pop up in your phone's Contacts list.

If you're seriously into the whole Facebook thing, it's possible to remove any existing SIM card and Google contacts from view and have a Contacts section consisting of only your Facebook friends. They'll still all be there, though, just hidden from view. And the only way to delete an individual Facebook Contact is by removing the person from Facebook (!) or completely turning off all Facebook Contacts.

There's no way to only display Facebook Contacts that have valid phone numbers in their profiles, though, so it's only really of use if you use your phone entirely for internet messaging.

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Fortunately, it's all editable, with Motorola letting you hide or show contacts sourced from different networks, so it's easy to remove all your Facebook people with one press and just stick with your Google contacts, if that's what you prefer.

Android comes with a complex Dialer app filled with numerous options. Motorola's left them all in place, making the Milestone 2 much more than just a press-and-talk machine.

One nice Android feature for people who like chatting is the ability to Add and Merge calls when on the phone. When talking to someone, if their personal anecdote starts to bore you it's possible to Add a call - dialing a second number and juggling the two at once, switching between calls via an onscreen toggle.

If you then want to bring everyone together, it's possible to Merge the two calls, creating your own little conference call.

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Voice quality is great, with a bassy sound that's not too digital or tinny, plus the speakerphone is more than loud enough.

There's even a mini equaliser setting behind the dialler's Menu button, letting users swap between Standard, Balanced, Bright and Extra Bright voice quality settings. In practice, these options increasingly ramp up the treble, so the extreme Extra Bright option is the loudest and sharpest, yet hardest on the ear.

Mobile network connectivity was good. We certainly didn't suffer from any awkward dropped calls, and the phone doesn't display any obvious dead spots or signal-killing hand positioning quirks.

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Finally, there's a noise-cancelling feature on the Milestone 2, which uses a secondary microphone to monitor background noise and keep distractions to a minimum.

You also get a proximity sensor, with the phone politely turning the screen off when you press it to your ear, then waking up the screen when you're finished and ready to hang up.

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Messaging

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Messaging

Text messaging is the standard Android default, but given a grey and yellow makeover. Messages are threaded and a long-press brings up the option to delete an individual text from the thread, forward it, copy the text to the clipboard or lock it to give it a little extra protection from deletion. It's basic but does the job.

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Motorola milestone 2

Twitter and Facebook integration is handled entirely by Motoblur, with no other third-party social apps pre-loaded on the phone.

Motoblur's Messages widget doubles as your universal inbox. It'll pull in text messages, emails from any accounts you've registered with Motoblur and direct communications from Twitter and Facebook, letting you reply to all of them from within the expanded widget.

For reading general status update and timelines, Facebook, Twitter and the other social networks have been busted out into a standalone Social Networks widget. From here you're able to favourite and retweet Twitter messages, with the Facebook panel also supporting the reading and leaving of comments.

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Both widget options let you scroll through messages and reply, but there's no refresh or reload option - so you're left staring at them wondering when/how they last checked to see if you've had any life-altering Facebook pokes.

A separate Social Status widget lets you post new messages direct to your social networks, via a simple text screen. It's all a bit fractured, basically, with much over-duplication and confusion.

You'd be far, far better off binning it all for something more functional from a third-party, like the lovely Android TweetDeck app.

Android 2.2 supports Exchange email and calendar sync, with standard POP3 email accounts added via Motorola's simple account management screen.

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As for writing on the QWERTY keyboard? The keyboard itself is formed by placing a flexible plastic sheet over little switches, so it's possible to feel the little bump of each key switch beneath your fingers or thumbs.

These little nodules help you find each key, plus the switches are very stiff, so you never accidentally press two at the same time.

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Pressing the top row of keys can be awkward, because there's not a lot of clearance between the keys and the bottom on the screen. Usability is enhanced by the word prediction tool (that can be turned off), which is conveniently placed along the bottom edge of the screen – so while space is tight, at least the system makes good use of the screen's closeness to the keys.

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Also welcome is a four-way cursor key area that replaces the original Milestone's directional button, so you're able to quickly whizz the cursor around text boxes to make edits – plus there's an Android Back button here too, making it easy to operate the whole phone via keyboard alone. And it's backlit, which is also handy.

It'd be nice if there was a second shift key on the right-hand side of the keyboard, because pressing the left shift key and a letter on the left of the layout is a little cumbersome – but given the slim, compact form factor of the phone, it's not too much of a compromise.

It's still not the perfect solution to a mobile QWERTY, but if you're prepared to practice and work on a separate typing style, it's among the best we've seen so far.

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Internet

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Internet

The Milestone 2's 1GHz OMAP processor makes mincemeat of even the most complex websites. The content-heavy TechRadar home page is displayed quickly and perfectly, with multi-touch zooming around the site an absolute dream.

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The fact that the phone has Android 2.2 at its core and a decent processor means Flash Player 10.1 support is in, with the BBC's iPlayer site fully operational and, again, not taxing the phone in the slightest.

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The browser is the standard Android WebKit default, with the usual Android 2.2 customisations. The clever button beside the URL stops a page loading and, once a page is there, transforms into your bookmark and history access button.

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It's slightly odd that there's no official Google option for syncing your desktop bookmarks with the mobile version of the browser, though. Surely that'd be simple to implement within Chrome?

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There are plenty of options to play with nonetheless, from changing the default zoom level and text size, to disabling JavaScript, loading Flash content on demand or killing it completely, and even turning off images if you're data transfer conscious.

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It's a very good browser. Third-party alternatives such as Opera Mobile 10.1 may beat it in certain speed tests, but on a phone as powerful as the Milestone 2 the only speed limitation you'll encounter when browsing the web is likely to be how fast you can read.

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Camera

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Camera

The Milestone 2's camera is rated at five megapixels and is a decent performer. You also get an LED flash and a small selection of scene modes, with the highlight being a particularly sharp macro mode.

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Click here to see the full-res image

It's not the most feature-packed of the Android phone cameras, but you get what you need: landscape mode, macro, a sepia option and some wholly useless red/green tints and the crazy Solarise effect.

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Click here to see the full-res image

The phone's quick to focus, with the custom camera button making it easy to shoot. Geotagging is supported and there's an image stabilisation option among the phone's scene modes, plus a digital zoom.

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Click here to see the full-res image

The digital zoom is as useless, though – reducing photos to 864 x 496 resolution at maximum zoom and leaving you with a blocky result covered in artefacting.

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Click here to see the full-res image

SOLARISE MODE: No idea why.

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Click here to see the full-res image

Shots emerge surprisingly pleasingly in twilight scenarios with plenty of detail.

On the highest quality setting, each photo saves as around a 1MB file, at a widescreen resolution of 2592 x 1456. There's a slight patterned blotchy effect present when viewing them at full size, but scale them down to Facebook resolution and they look good.

Low light photos aren't great, though, with the camera doing way too much over-compensating and boosting the brightness more than necessary in night mode. As a result, gloomy shots all come out super bright and rather washed out.

However it's comparable to the similar spec camera of the HTC Desire, and would easily do you as a replacement snapper for recording your little outings and social events.

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Video

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Video

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The Milestone 2's default video option is to record in 720p, and the resulting footage is fantastic. There's nothing in the way of tearing or the over-stretched blotchiness you get in other so-called 720p mobile cameras, with footage the best we've seen from a phone camera.

The only downside is the size of the files. This superb video quality comes at a price, with the Milestone 2's HD 3GP clips taking up a huge amount of space. This 30 second sample clip of ours ended up as a 37MB file, so while it's going to be a bit of a pain uploading to Facebook over a flaky 3G connection the quality can't be beaten.

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To keep file size down, you're able to choose a Video Message option, which drops the resolution down to QVGA (320 x 240) and imposes a one minute length restriction. Then you end up with a more manageable 1MB file. Sound is recorded very well, too, with the on-board mic doing a great job of picking up voices and animal snuffling sounds.

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Media

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Media

Music is handled via Motorola's Connected Media Player, which is a genuine and welcome enhancement over the Android stock player.

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The best feature is an integrated internet radio, which enables you to pick from online stations as easily as you might page through your collection of MP3s. It's organised through the established ShoutCast system, so you have access to hundreds and hundreds of stations instantly. Which is handy, because there's no FM radio in the Milestone 2.

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TuneWiki support also lets the music-based social network connect to its database and pull out song lyrics, a feature that even works when playing internet radio. It's all very clever. There are also TuneWiki community features in here, with charts, artist searches, playlists and more.

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Also rather clever is integrated music identification tool SoundHound, which is a Shazam-like track naming gadget. This free tool works when you're listening to internet radio stations, letting you ID whatever's currently playing. And then, they hope, buy it through the linked Amazon MP3 service.

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When playing your own MP3s, users are encouraged to send 'Blips' about their favourite songs, which is basically an easy way to spam Twitter with lists of songs you're currently listening to. Playlist support is your standard Android option – add a song to the list through the menu, creating as many custom lists as you wish.

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All of this is accessed through either the app or a decent Home screen widget, which lets you play or pause tracks or open up the full player. For music, the Milestone 2's a great option.

The headphones are also great, with the Milestone 2 managing proper, bass-heavy music output through its supplied earbuds.

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The Milestone 2 comes with a simple DLNA app installed, letting users manage and upload/download media from any other DLNA devices currently connected to their home network.

The Milestone 2 also supports music playback through Bluetooth, with a "Enhanced Stereo" option available when pairing it with compatible devices.

As for video codec support, we threw the usual file formats at it to see what it could manage. The player liked a WMV file, didn't like a DivX encoded AVI and locked up trying our standard Xvid encoded TV rip. There's no DivX certification as found on the likes of the Android 2.2 LG Optimus One, here.

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But, install Motorola's PC tool and it'll offer to convert video media for you when copying the files across, plus you also get Motorola Media Link, which enables you to sync iTunes and Windows Media Player libraries with the phone.

Accept its kind offer to convert your files and it'll turn your DivX/Xvid AVIs into phone-friendly MP4s. A rare win for Motorola's custom software, there.

It's not ideal having to convert videos on your PC before transferring them to your phone, though, because unless you're using something super-fast it'll take ages to convert an AVI. Plus it rides roughshod over original file resolutions, scaling them down for mobile play.

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Setting all this stuff up is a major chore, too, with endless helper apps and online updates required to get it all up and running. But once it's all there it actually does serve a purpose.

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You can choose the sync settings too, deciding if you'd like new computer content copied to your phone or not, so there's no need to worry about having your phone and PC lock up for hours while your entire lifelong MP3 collection gets copied across when you plug it in for a quick charge.

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Maps and apps

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Maps and apps

The first thing your Milestone 2 will do is hammer your Wi-Fi connection to download the latest versions of the Google apps.

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The Milestone 2's multi-touch screen supports all the features of the new Google Maps 5.0 update, right down to the two-fingered rotation of the map. Even the amazing HTC Desire doesn't support that yet.

The GPS lock was gained very quickly, with Google's superb Maps Navigation app getting its troublesome initial connection out of the way far quicker than the Android 2.2 powered LG Optimus One.

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As with many Android phones these days, Motorola has done a deal with Swype to include the gesture-based touchscreen keyboard as an option when not using the QWERTY for text input.

The standard old Android keyboard remains the default, though, if you want to enter text like it's 2008. The touch keyboard is made usable thanks to the super-sensitive and accurate Milestone 2 screen, allowing teeny, tiny, delicate presses to register your input.

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Pretending to do work on your telephone is taken care of via the pre-loaded Quickoffice suite, which brings compatibility with Microsoft Office files and PDFs.

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Google's new Voice Commands app is in here, and surprisingly useful. Double-tapping the Home button brings up a list of simple commands, making it obvious to say "Call" then "Last number" to do just that. It works surprisingly well.

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There's also a simple video editing tool on the phone, which Motorola calls its Video Editor Light. You're able to trim start and end points, also extracting individual frames and saving them as images.

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There's an accompanying image editing tool called Photo Workshop, which lets you add speech bubbles and text to your photographs. You'll be the life and soul of your social network. Both are straightforward tools to use, but rather feature light.

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And does it play Angry Birds? Perfectly!

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Battery and connectivity

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Battery and connectivity

One of the most impressive Milestone 2 connectivity features to come via Motoblur is Motorola's Phone Portal.

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This is a connectivity suite, but as well as a standard USB link it also brings Wi-Fi support through your home network. Open it up and it displays the phone's IP address and port, which you type into a browser. Then up pops all your stuff, just like that, in a web interface, with no installation necessary.

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From here you can download photos to your computer or delete them off your phone, even changing the ringtone and notification settings and editing the bookmarks – or pulling websites out of your browsing history. This superb tool alone makes putting up with Motoblur worth the bother.

When using Wi-Fi (802.11n is supported) the Milestone 2 is very quick to connect and we had no problems with lost login details or dropped links while using it. Mobile network connectivity was fine, with the phone holding onto a 3G connection whenever one was present.

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Battery life is a mixed bag. Our first few charges were disastrous, with the phone in its standard configuration barely lasting a day. However, after binning most of the Motoblur widgets and turning down syncing to a sensible level, we were able to get a good two days of use from it on subsequent charges. Be careful with it and you'll get standard smartphone uptime.

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Being powered by Android 2.2 means 3G mobile hotspot connection sharing is part of the spec, and it's in the Milestone 2. Check how much your network charges you for data before using this, or you could get financially ruined.

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Hands-on gallery

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Hands-on gallery

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Motorola Milestone 2 review: Official gallery

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Official gallery

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Motorola Milestone 2 review: Verdict

Motorola Milestone 2 review: Verdict

Motorola milestone 2

The Milestone 2 is a high-quality piece of hardware. It's solid, heavy, feels nice in the hand and is generally smooth in operation. The only problem is on the software side of things, thanks to Motorola layering on the Motoblur widgets way too heavily for comfort.

There's no need for it, either – Android 2.2's a well polished, popular OS, which makes it doubly frustrating that Motorola's buried it under a load of oddly-coloured Motoblur nonsense.

But underneath all this filler content is a rock-solid, well-made phone that's more than powerful enough to run all of today's cutting-edge games, apps and web content.

We liked

You can't fail to be impressed by the solid, metallic feel of the phone and robust keyboard sliding mechanism. No need to worry about this falling apart, Motorola's made an extremely tough phone.

The 3.7-inch screen is another winner. Running at a high 480 x 854 resolution, web text is very sharp and readable and the touch sensitivity is perfect – up there alongside class leaders such as the HTC Desire Z.

The keyboard has great functionality. The ALT and ALT-Lock options, cursor keys, Back and OK buttons make using it a joy – if you have small pointy fingers and thumbs. And the backlit keys aid typing and make it look swish.

Media performance is good. The music player with its song recognition, purchasing and internet radio options is much better than on most Android phones, while the camera is also high quality and 720p video recording is as good as it gets on a mobile.

We disliked

Being faced by a screen full of garish Motoblur widgets at start-up creates a rather poor first impression, with your first job being to delete most of Motorola's hard work so the phone looks – and runs – better.

The QWERTY keyboard still isn't quite the right blend of size and usability. Dainty fingers and a lot of thumbnail typing is required to actually use it. It needs a little more room.

Video format compatibility isn't great. Not supporting standard AVI files is a bit of a pain – and re-encoding your files for use on a mobile player is very last decade and rather tedious.

Verdict

The Milestone 2 isn't a massive change over the original Motorola Milestone, but there are enough tweaks both internally and externally to make it a better phone all round.

The faster processor makes a world of a difference in general use and web browsing, making the Milestone 2 one of the slickest and least glitchy Android experiences around – although you have to turn off the Motoblur widgets to get it feeling consistently smooth.

If you can live with its slightly restrictive keyboard size the Milestone 2's QWERTY is a good solution for text entry, although it isn't the intuitive keyboard we've been looking for. You'll be constantly searching for the right way to use it – fingertips, thumbs, thumbnails?

Still, you can pick the Milestone 2 up for around £360 unlocked at time of writing, which makes it much cheaper to buy outright than the HTC Desire Z. And it feels more solidly made and is every bit as fast.

It's a shame more networks aren't stocking the Motorola Milestone 2 on contracts, because it'd be a surefire winner on a decent subsidised deal. Fast, well made with a good camera and music player, the Milestone 2 deserves to find itself a place in many a pocket.

Android 2.2 mobile phone smartphone touchscreen
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