Motorola Milestone £449

22nd Dec 2009 | 17:00

Motorola Milestone

Known as the Droid in the US - can it beat the HTC Hero?

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A great phone for the Android set, only bettered by the Hero. If you're after a QWERTY Android, this is the place to look.

Like:

Great browser; Pinch and zoom multi-touch; slick screen; Judder free UI; QWERTY keyboard; Slim frame

Dislike:

Poor camera; Unsightly lip below keys; No Android overlay; Industrial design

Motorola Milestone: Overview, design and feel

Update: read our review of the new Milestone 2.

While Motorola might have been feeling pretty happy about actually releasing a phone again in the Dext, it clearly wasn't the handset to re-launch the brand. So step forward the Milestone (Droid to our US users), the latest Android phone - but can it be Moto's greatest?

The first thing you'll notice about the Motorola Milestone is the build quality - compare it to some Android phones out there and you'll feel that it's much better than the plasticky options available from some companies (including itself - the Dext had an element of low quality about it).

The phone is noticeably thinner than before, coming in at just 13.7mm thick, which is impressive when you realise that it packs a full QWERTY keyboard into that frame as well.

Along with the sleek design, the phone has a decent weight about it - to us it hits the sweet spot of not being too heavy, but weighty enough to add premium aura to the device.

The decision to use gold decal is a little suspect though - it harks back to the teeth-grindingly frustrating days of the D&G-branded Motorola Razr that didn't add anything except too much gold to the device. However, it does feel a little retro '80s... we assume that's what the kids are into these days.

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But this phone is meant to be so much more than that - it's been particularly heralded over in the US as the best Android phone thus far, being the fastest, most up-to-date and agile device yet from the Google crowd.

To that end, it has the latest version of Android (2.0) as well as a nice 3.7-inch screen to boot. The display is easily the rival of the HTC Hero, being a slick and responsive capacitive effort with very little slow down when navigating through the Milestone.

Motorola's new handset is a pretty basic affair when you're looking from the front, with the four touch sensitive buttons the only notion that it's a phone. They're a little hieroglyphic-like in design, but that's something we're seeing a fair amount of these days, and we guess they work well when illuminated for touch-sensitive use.

The first thing a lot of people will notice when using the Milestone is the lip at the bottom - and we're jiggered if we can work out what that's for. When sliding the QWERTY keyboard open, it's quickly obvious that this gets in the way of typing when holding the device in two hands, so what Motorola is doing there we don't know - we can only assume there's some important hardware squashed in there.

However, we'd rather that Motorola had just made the Milestone a little bit thicker rather than adding on this extra chunk - it's a big, big downside for the phone and we can imagine it putting a lot of people off buying the device.

The QWERTY keyboard is a little cramped - think somewhere between the Nokia N900 (spacious) and the Palm Pre (cramped). Others we asked to test the phone all said the keys were well spaced enough to hit, but the lip got in the way of easy handling and therefore typing.

The slide out action of the keyboard is pleasing, and once again continues the premium feel - there's a nice click when fully extended. We're also pleased to see a D-Pad and select key included - while touchscreens might be great for video and the internet, they can be very fiddly when trying to edit text, and the D-Pad is a godsend in this case.

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The outside of the phone is filled with your average buttons, with the 3.5mm headphone jack nicely flush with the chassis, and the power/lock key right next to it. This latter button is a little hard to hit, being located behind part of the screen, but you do get used to it over time.

Overall, the build quality is good enough, but very likely to polarise tastes - it's very industrial-looking, and the use of gold is a little bit of a gamble in our eyes, but at least all the bits we were looking for are present and correct.

In the box

Motorola has been obvious with its bundled gifts - an eco-friendly power cable is included, as well as a microUSB charger. There's an 8GB microSD card included too, with all the Motonav software on board as well as a nice place to keep all your media and suchlike.

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As you might imagine, a pair of basic headphones which double as a hands free kit are included in the box - unless you're desperate to talk using a wire we can't imagine that you'll be using these too much as we'd advise using your own buds wherever possible.

Motorola Milestone: Interface

The Motorola Milestone is rocking the latest version of Android, 2.0, and this debuted to much fanfare over in the US because it included Google's new navigation technology, wittily called Google Navigation. We'll get the bad news out the way first - it's not here and that's a shame, with MotoNav in its place.

The other thing to note is that while the Motorola Dext was only an average piece of kit, we liked MotoBlur, the overlay on top of Android that allowed easy interaction with social networking. This is also missing for some unknown reason, with only the vanilla rendition of Android on the Milestone.

The unit we're using isn't officially available in the UK through a carrier, only via eXpansys at the moment, and we're hopeful that MotoBlur might make an appearance later on in 2010 - don't get your hopes up though.

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That said, Android 2.0 is a decent enough version of Google's OS, with all the bits in the right place for general navigation. There are only three home screens (we were hoping for more) and while the icons are re-designed, there's not too much else here for Android fans to get excited about in the same way as HTC's Sense UI.

We'll go over some of the cool features of the OS if you're an Android newbie though, as there's a reason that some are predicting this will become the dominant OS in a few years' time for mobile phones.

Notifications are located at the top of the screen - swiping down will activate this and will let you see whether you've got a new message, USB connection or other application running that needs an input. Also offered is an easy to use menu system: swiping the tab up from the bottom will list all your icons in an iPhone-a-like way, with the option to press and hold one of these to add it to the home screen.

The Motorola Milestone also offers a number of widgets to play with, including one from YouTube that lets you both search and upload to the mobile site, and a power bar that lets you toggle things like Wi-Fi and screen brightness to help conserve the battery.

Google search is included by default as a widget, and if you want to try something cool there's a little microphone icon there as well for Google Voice search, which is exactly as it sounds - although it's a little hit and miss on the Milestone.

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Beyond the normal Android functionality there's not a huge amount more to the Milestone than that which we've seen before – the main differences in Android 2.0 (such as Microsoft Exchange support and upgraded contacts menus) aren't really relevant here.

But the sheer pleasure of using Android has never been so well exemplified on a phone than it is here on the Milestone – the HTC Hero might be an overall better experience, but it needed a firmware upgrade to make it work in the slick manner to which we've become accustomed.

But the Milestone is better than that right out the box, with the ARM Cortex A8 550 MHz processor under the cover pushing things along nicely, which is impressive when you consider there are other devices out there that manage to do less out the box than this phone with almost double the processing power.

Motorola Milestone: Calling and contacts

What we both like and dislike about the Motorola Milestone is the fact that it doesn't really do anything more than show off the power of Google's Android 2.0 upgrade – this is great when you get to the cool bits, not so much when you see the upgraded overlays from other companies.

However, the contacts element is one of those to benefit from Google power, and it's added an element of detail to what was essentially just a list of names before.

The main difference is the fact you can synchronise contacts, as well as having access to your corporate network via the power of Microsoft Exchange. This means a simple mash up between your contacts is possible by adding in all those accounts you can synchronise into once space - admittedly at the moment this only means Google and Exchange (as well as those from your SIM card) but in the future the APIs will allow other companies to stuff Facebook and Twitter and any other kind you can think of to supplement the contacts list - something we're very much in favour of.

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However, there seems to have been a problem coding all this on the Milestone - when sliding through the list there were a number of contacts we thought we had synchronised not present. When we grabbed the tab at the side (which automatically sorts them into groups by letter) suddenly these people magically re-appeared; although if you weren't swift enough to stab their name, they were gone.

We don't know if this is a problem integrating so many names into a single list or whether it's the curse of Google contacts striking again, but it was very, very annoying.

On the plus side, there's a new element called quick contacts that allows you to tap on a name and see ways to interact with them in some way - we were particularly excited about the possibility to geotagging them.

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However, we couldn't find any notion of being able to geotag on the Milestone - whether it was because it was too well hidden for us to find or only for those on Google Latitude (ie, nobody), we're not sure, but holding the contact picture did at least bring up the contact bar.

We did like the ability to star contacts and thereby make them into your favourites - this means that you're able to see the people you care about (or at least talk to the most) in one easy tab.

We'd have liked to see smart dialling on the dialler tab, making it easier to sift through the contacts, but it's sadly not there.

Call quality on the Motorola Milestone was OK - it wasn't stellar and the phone felt a little awkward pressed to the head, but at least it didn't drop out all the time. We did experience a couple of issues with the screen not coming out of blackout mode when removed from the ear - it meant hanging up on people was pretty difficult unless you wanted to wait a while for the display to spring back to life.

Coverage was good enough though, hanging on in some tight spots - although it wasn't stellar, and even having one bar of signal didn't seem enough in some places.

Motorola Milestone: Messaging

We mentioned before that the Milestone had some nice Android 2.0 upgrades in the box, and Exchange is one of them. It's not a given it will be on every phone, as it's at the manufacturers discretion whether to activate it, but we're happy to report that Motorola has given it the thumbs up.

This means that the ways to contact your friends by the power of the written word have increased dramatically on the Milestone - we know some companies have added support for Exchange in via Roadsync in the past, but this way makes much more sense.

Messages are still threaded into conversations, which makes the process of seeing what you've said to your friends a lot easier, and the 'type to compose' box actually works here, whereas it hasn't before on some devices, making the process a lot more convoluted.

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The on screen keyboard has been massively improved in Android 2.0, with much more accurate word recognition, but we weren't bothered about that - we cracked out the QWERTY effort instead and it's tip top in our opinion.

Like we mentioned before, there's a problem with the lip blocking your digits from the keys, and this may be insurmountable to some people - but one you get your head (and your hand) around it life becomes a lot easier.

However, we never managed to hit top gear when it came to typing speed on the Milestone, and we put that squarely down to lip forcing us to readjust during the text entry process.

But things we did like: being given an '@' key without having to hit the Symbol mode, the positioning of the space bar and the fact that typing on it will automatically enter the search bar when on the home screen.

Some have already been criticising this element of the phone - but we urge you to give it a good ten minute play before deciding on whether you love or loathe it, as we're sure there are a good few people out there who might change their opinion.

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Email is also available in two forms - Exchange (as mentioned above) and Gmail, which you'll have come to expect on an Android device. For some reason the latter didn't want to set up correctly out the box for us, but when it eventually worked, it was fine.

Exchange was easy enough to set up, providing you have all the relevant information on domains and usernames for your corporate account, and you can set both to update almost instantly, meaning you'll never miss a mail if you don't want to.

One problem did crop up - Google Mail moved to 'manual updates' by itself for some reason, leaving us with an unwanted backlog of messages - however, this was fixed with one swipe and didn't re-occur, so just keep an eye out for it.

Other than that, messaging on the Motorola Milestone works well - while we would have liked to see some inbuilt Facebook messaging function, we can't believe it will be too long before we see another device that can perform this action running the Android OS.

Turning your basic text message into an MMS is as easy as pie as well, taking the email route of subject attachments - there are also options to capture video and record audio alongside the ability to append the relevant files from the memory already, so you'll never be short of a messaging option on the Motorola Milestone.

Motorola Milestone: Internet

We've reviewed a fair number of Android handsets now, and the problem they have is, well, they're pretty much all the same when it comes to the internet. It's not a really big issue, as the internet browser is excellent, but it's been excellent for a number of models now so it's hard to separate the devices.

However, there's one thing that the Motorola Milestone and the HTC Hero share in common - they're Android mobiles that have got pinch and zoom functionality, and that's a great addition to any device.

We're less pleased to see no Flash player on board - this is something we were hoping would begin appearing in a greater number of handsets in the near future, but the recent crop of mobiles has carried on the practice of eschewing this.

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Another real problem with the internet on the Motorola Milestone is the fact it's clearly positioning itself for use in landscape mode - when trying to view text in a column on portrait it simply doesn't want to know.

So you're left with the choice of either resizing the screen to fit all the text in, or turning the phone on its side and giving in to the Motorola overlords. As unrebellious as it sounds, we found ourselves doing the latter - though it was under duress.

If you consider that the HTC Hero can smart fit text down to almost single letters, you'll see that it just seems a bit lazy that Motorola isn't doing the same, unless there's some kind of underlying corporate reason.

The good thing about this Webkit-based browser is it allows you to quickly and easily browse websites in full HTML, which means widgets such as constantly updated text will work happily for you. This is common in nearly all Android phones and on the Milestone it works as well as we could have hoped for.

There were a few too many instances of having to wait while web pages hung when using the 3G connection (which was partly to do with the Milestone not recognising when it has one bar of signal, as we mentioned earlier) so moving over to Wi-Fi was the best option in most cases.

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And once again, we like the ability to be able to share a webpage we're digging through the various applications we've installed - being able to chuck something to and from the likes of Twidroid really gives the phone that special 'cool gadget' feeling.

We're also fans of the being able to view the web pages you read regularly as simply as if you're looking at your bookmarks via a special tab - it means that when you've forgotten to flag one of your favourite sites, you're not forced to wade through days of history to find it again.

While we would have liked to see Flash player on the Motorola Milestone, we were happy with the web experience. Heavy pages loaded within reasonable time limits (ie before you wanted to throw the phone at the wall) and the ability to navigate speedily between sites is always the hallmark of a decent browser.

Motorola Milestone: Camera

We can't help but feel that despite the camera upgrades that have come as part of the Android 2.0 experience, this element still feels sorely lacking in the slickness department. Say what you want about the terrible resolution of the iPhone cameras, but at the end of the day the pictures taken are decent enough quality to be used day to day.

The Motorola Milestone, like so many other Android phones before it, does not live up to the ability of even the iPhone, and that's with the dual LED flash and 5MP snapper bolted in the back. We have no idea why, but this phone seems to only want to take grainy, out of focus pictures as often as it can.

Try and snap a bright background, and it will eat up most of the picture rather than being neutralised. Throw in some low light elements, and the picture will have more grain in than a farmer's chicken feed store.

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Add to that the fact you have to wait an age to not only take the picture (and then have a fair few subsequent retries as the auto focus tries to sort itself out) but the processing going on in the background to add the picture to media library is a bit farcical as well.

Admittedly, the addition of the macro mode is a nice touch, and this actually works well most of the time (providing you're in a well lit and stable environment). But the other changes, such as colour correction, aren't really worth writing home about.

We dig the fact you're able to share your pictures through a variety of sources (such as Facebook, Twitter or a default email address under 'Quicksend') as well as being able to tag them for easy reference later on.

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Video is a similar experience, with a hi-ish res camera (D1, 720x480 pixels) being able to score footage in a respectable 24fps. However, we were pleased with the lack of choppiness from such an effort - we think it's going to be months if not years before we finally see the 'Android camera phone', as it still seems to be all about the internet on these devices at the moment.

And video on the Milestone is still a bit slow to process in the same way the camera pictures take a while to save - but at least this is a right step in the media direction.

Motorola Milestone: Media

Android and media aren't really the greatest of bedfellows these days, and while that's not been improved on greatly in the Motorola Milestone, the main thing we liked was the fact you could actually look at your videos, your photos or your music without the phone deciding to judder to a halt when you looked at more than one snap at a time.

We're not saying that it's the most super slick experience you'll ever have in your life, but at least the Milestone has a good go at being your dedicated media player - adding an 8GB memory card into the box is always going to help matters as well.

These days, especially with widescreen, high definition screens all the rage on phones, video has come to the fore, and that's apparent on the Milestone, indicated by little things such as the media gallery being set into video mode by default.

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Turning the phone on its side will activate a cover flow mode for the video thumbnails, and as mentioned above, the speed at which it can sort through these clips is impressive. Video output itself is a little underwhelming (especially when you consider it's a widescreen VGA (854 x 480) screen) - the likes of the LG Crystal, which is by no means a good phone, is better when it comes to video in our opinion.

However, music playback is becoming more solid on the Android platform too, as while it's still a basic music player, it's becoming a good one, with the options to see album art, shuffle songs and check track listings all from the single landing page (as well as sliding through a song to fast forward as well).

Party mode to cue up some tunes for you and a friend or five is still a little redundant, especially with the tinny sound emanating from the gold rear speaker.

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The other element to note is the inbuilt YouTube player - we know it's omnipresent on Google phones (obviously) but it's still a real plus point on the Milestone, as not only does it chuck out video in high quality wherever it can, it's got a nice UI and a quick search box too.

This means that when you're down the pub with your mates and need to prove something via video - you'll be the one with the cool phone that can do it faster than most. When the day comes that BBC iPlayer is available on Android, these phones will certainly take another step towards becoming indispensable.

Motorola Milestone: Applications

Those of you Android fans out there will have noticed that the Android Market is really starting to pick up pace - with over 15,000 applications all ready to download.

While this is a good set to be playing with, the main thing to notice is that the level is picking up - things like third party task managers for the OS and an improved amount of games are necessities for the discerning Motorola Milestone user.

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Here are a few we think you should be checking out:

beebPlayer

Basically an Android version of the BBC iPlayer, this is a watered down version of the mobile application we've seen on the likes of the Nokia N97 and the Sony Ericsson W995.

It allows streaming of all the programmes available on the normal service, although at times the quality is so low we couldn't help but wonder whether the shows were recorded on somebody's video player and streamed over the internet.

Layar

Ever wished you could see through walls? Well, now you sort of can - this browser uses the camera and GPS data to see what's going on around you and let you see the world differently. If you want to see where the tube lines run in real time, or check out nearby Twitterers, then this is for you.

Light Racer

You remember Tron? The film with all the wacky effects? That bit with the motorbikes where they had to cut each other off to win? Well, fuse that with Snake and imagine instead of steering you use a trackball, then you're most of the way there. Only one word for this application: awesome. OK, and another two: really difficult.

Super Mario sounds and ringtones

Is it properly licensed? We don't know. But at the end of the day there's an application that lets you use the '1up' extra life sound effect as a ringtone, and pleasure your mates aurally with the sound of Mario jumping. It's a no-brainer.

And what about on the Milestone itself? Well, there's very little actually, with the exception of the mapping software. MotoNav is the version of Google Navigation we're (angrily) lumbered with, so we can't tell you how good Google Navigation is.

MotoNav is reasonable enough, but if you want something that will help you get from A to B speedily, we still preferred using a dedicated GPS - whether having Google Navigation on this phone would have changed things, we'll never know.

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Google Maps has been upgraded too, so you can now see a greater depth of information when booting it up (such as layers of satellite information, Latitude friends nearby or traffic information (although not in the UK) and the application now works a lot more swiftly than before.

The GPS tracking isn't as good as on other phones, with it preferring to drop a signal and move to aGPS a little too often, but at least it will find you quickly enough using either method.

Motorola Milestone: Battery life and Organiser

If there's one thing an Android phone is good at, it's eating up your battery, and while the Motorola Milestone isn't really an exception, it's a lot better than other Android phones out there by the sheer fact it doesn't require a full charge every 10 hours or so.

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We think it's important you download some software to be able to turn off third party applications on the phone, as otherwise it will eat up the battery much faster than you'd like. However, we managed to easily limit ourselves to charging only once per day or two, and very rarely did the Milestone squawk at us to plug it in.

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We're not sure the addition of the battery meter is a good idea, as all it does is highlight what's munching all your power without being able switch much of it off, but still, it's nice to have it there and good to be able to see how long you can last between charges.

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The organisation skills of the Motorola Milestone are better than a number of other Android phones namely because there's now the Exchange calendar to factor in to the equation - we're not sure why we have to have both a corporate and 'normal' calendar, with the Google Calendar and Exchange version under separate applications.

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Motorola has also seen fit to add in a calculator as well to the mix, with scientific mode should you fancy getting a bit of a 'tan'. We know, we know, we slay ourselves too.

Motorola Milestone: Connectivity options

Right, we've been excited about this bit for a while, and for good reason too - the Motorola Milestone packs an awesome little PC secret. Well, we say awesome - it's not the most useful thing in the world but it's still cool.

Buried in the list of applications is the Phone Portal, which asks you to connect the phone via USB or Wi-Fi. It then prompts you to enter an IP address into the browser window, and you're taken to what feels like a secret site dedicated to your phone.

From here you can check out your signal, read text messages, edit your phone book, check photos and lots more. And given that it can be done simply by Wi-Fi makes life a lot less stressful when you're trying to hook your phone up to the PC, although it does highlight how awful a majority of your snaps look.

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And beyond that, if you want to sync your phone up to the PC with USB, you can use it as a media device with Windows Media Player, making it a lot easier to synchronise video and music that just dragging and dropping files as you have to with other Android phones.

Connectivity is sound as you'd expect with an Android device like this - Bluetooth v2.1 with A2DP helps you listen to music with ease wirelessly, and the Wi-Fi, although a little power hungry, is also a good effort.

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GPS we've covered with Google Maps in the application section, although it must be said it could do with being a little more responsive, and struggles in built up areas. And the phone also packs the super fast 10.2mbps HSDPA 3G connection, which means it will stay fast even when the next generation of 3G masts are deployed in the UK.

Motorola Milestone: Hands on gallery

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Motorola Milestone: Official gallery

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Motorola Milestone: Techradar's Verdict

What has Motorola done in the past two or three years? Precisely - very little. We worried when we heard it was shedding workers, focusing on Windows Mobile and Android and then dropping support for WinMo. We thought the end was nigh.

But it's shown it's capable of at least giving itself a fighting chance by embracing Android - we just feel the company missed a trick or two here.

We liked

There's a lot to like on the Motorola Milestone, not least the fact the phone actually works quickly with minimal lag, which a lot of companies forget to implement. It also performs well in most of its categories, such as a media player or GPS system, and the bundled 8GB card is a nice addition.

The QWERTY keyboard sliding action is a nice feel, and the fact it's so thin is a real plus in our eyes. Add to that a gorgeous and responsive WVGA capacitive screen, and you can see why we want to pat Moto on the head for the Milestone.

We disliked

However, there are a couple of glaring errors here which we're not overly happy about. The first is the fact we're being served vanilla Android here, with no cool MotoBlur overlay to play with. It means that when picking up the phone, it's hard to see what differentiates it from the other Android phones on offer.

And that lip at the bottom of the Milestone. Why Motorola, why? It's so annoying and gets right in the way of typing - it looks ugly, is an ergonomic nightmare and surely could have been done away with.

Verdict

We've got no qualms stating that this is our second favourite Android phone behind the HTC Hero. We know we've been comparing the Milestone to the Hero a lot in this test, but it's for good reason - they're both excellent Android phones.

The slick interface, the QWERTY keyboard, the premium build quality - all these things go into making the Milestone a decent phone. But it lets itself down at times by lacking any real differentiating features (apart from the cool phone portal) and that lip - well, the less said about it the better now.

We'd give the Milestone a B+, as it could try harder but the effort we've seen is hard to fault and if you picked this up and kept it in your pocket (providing its your phone) you wouldn't be disappointed.

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