Motorola Milestone XT720
29th Jul 2010 | 09:23
Is there more to the Motorola Milestone XT720 than 720p video recording?
Motorola Milestone XT720: Overview
We've been waiting for the Motorola Milestone XT720 for absolutely ages. When we looked at the Motoroi back in February, we said it was launching in Korea and destined to come to Europe.
Well, with a change of name, the loss of its digital video tuner and a few other tweaks to make it UK-friendly, the Motoroi has made it to the UK as the Motorola Milestone XT720.
If your favourite Android handset so far has been the HTC Desire, with its top of the range specs, we really can't blame you. But the Motorola Milestone XT720 could be the handset to give the Desire a run for its money.
We say that because of things like its 8-megapixel camera with xenon flash, 720p video recording, HDMI-out – with cable provided – and vast high-resolution screen.
Of course there's no Sense UI as you'll find on the Desire, but you might be able to live with that, and the rest of the expected goodies are here too, such as Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G.
The Milestone isn't cheap, though. SIM free it'll set you back around £350 (The Desire is currently going for around £390).
The Motorola Milestone XT720 is a chunky beast of a phone. It has to be to contain its 3.7-inch screen, but there's quite a lot of framing around the screen so that overall it measures 115.95 x 60.9 x 10.9mm and it isn't light, either at 160g.
It feels a bit brickish in the hands, partly because it lacks the rounded edges of the Desire, or indeed the iPhone. And then there's the odd 'hump' on the right hand edge which makes the Motorola Milestone XT720 even wider at the bottom than it is at the top.
The upshot is that anyone with smaller hands might struggle to hold the Motorola Milestone XT720 and will almost certainly find it a challenge to reach right across the screen one-handed.
This is a handset that is peppered with buttons and connectors. There's nothing on the bottom edge, but on the top you'll find a 3.5mm headset slot and the main on/off/hold button. Oh, and under a hinged cover, that mini-HDMI port for getting video onto your TV.
On the left there's a micro-USB port protected by a hinged cover. The right edge houses the volume rocker, camera key and a toggle button which moves you between stills camera, video camera and gallery.
Motorola Milestone XT720: Interface
With Android 2.1 at its heart the Motorola Milestone XT720 is well equipped with modern smartphone goodness. Motorola adds its own touch user interface elements on top to give you some nice tweaks, such as a scrolling menu for viewing pictures which is accessible direct from the camera.
Motorola has also done its own thing with the main screens selection. The Home screen has room for nine application shortcuts and, along the bottom of the screen there are shortcuts to the dialler, messaging and, in between these two, an icon you sweep upwards to get to the main apps menu.
There are five Home screens in all, and, as usual, you get to these with horizontal finger sweeps and can fill them with widgets.
The front chassis is not without its buttons, too. There are four, beneath the display. They offer the usual Home, Menu, Back and Search functions.
On that little hump on the right of the chassis there are three tiny teeny icons that look as though they might be touch buttons too. In fact they just light up to remind you what camera mode you're in – video, camera or gallery. Yeah, thanks Moto.
The screen is an absolute wonder. We've already said that it measures 3.7 inches, which puts it on a par with the HTC Desire, and makes it .2 inches larger than that of the iPhone.
But there's more to it than size alone. The screen delivers 480 x 854 pixels. Now, the HTC Desire manages 480 x 800 and the iPhone 4 has its well-documented 960 x 640.
The screen is a standard TFT and it isn't as bright or resoundingly clear as super AMOLED screens such as that on the Samsung Wave. In fact, we had trouble viewing it in bright outdoor sunshine.
The screen is capacitive, which means it responds to pinch to zoom requests, though we found this a little hit and miss at times. And, in general, we found the screen less responsive to taps than we'd like.
Mostly it wasn't a problem, but it's not up there with the best. Another negative on the screen is that it is a real fingerprint magnet.
Motorola has implemented a clever little feature called My Sign. You can use this to get quickly to an app or service by designating an on-screen gesture as a link to it. You need to actually run the My Sign app for gestures to be recognised, though, so this is best put on the main screen if you want to use it.
In general we like the UI tweaks that Motorola has thought of, but it has to be said that things aren't as slick as they are on HTC's Sense user interface.
Motorola Milestone XT720 Calls and messaging
There's nothing very special about the dialler in the Motorola Milestone XT720. You've got the usual on-screen dial pad and access to contacts, a call log and favourite contacts. There's a nice handy shortcut to call voicemail beneath the dialler.
The Motorola Milestone XT720 will import contacts but it isn't as clever as many at this task. You can import your corporate contacts through Exchange and your Google contacts, and that's it.
There's no option to bring in Facebook or Twitter friends. If you've got contacts on your main computer you can sync them across to the Motorola Milestone XT720 too, but that's a far less desirable option than getting your data from the cloud for many people these days.
When it comes to typing out messages, the accelerometer turns the screen between wide and tall formats for access to smaller or larger qwerty keyboards onto which you can tap. Despite the large screen size, we found the smaller tall format screen a bit on the cramped side.
The predictive text system works well and helped us get our messages and emails written faster.
There's a little smiley icon on the main keyboard which we found quite handy, and there's a microphone icon which you can tap to use Google speech recognition.
When we tried this we found it remarkably accurate – and fast. In fact, in many cases it was actually quicker than typing out a message by hand.
Social networking fans may be dismayed to find there are neither Facebook nor Twitter apps on board. You can download third-party tools easily enough, but Motorola really ought to have provided something out of the box, we reckon.
Motorola Milestone XT720: Internet
With a large screen, you'd expect the Motorola Milestone XT720 to be good at the web, and indeed it is – in parts.
The WebKit browser can have up to eight windows open at once. To bring up a new one, you just choose to do so from an option that appears when you hit the menu key. Then, when you've got several open, you can hit the window key to move between them. It's fast and slick.
The high resolution screen really comes into its own with web browsing. Though it's unlikely you'll be able to read much on many home pages, when they load you can see an awful lot of info.
The browser is fast and it's easy to flick around within pages, but there's no text reflowing, so you can find yourself panning around a bit to read pages. We found flipping into widescreen mode was the best option.
Pinch to zoom is quite responsive and there's also a double-tap zoom option, though this only gives you one level of zoom in, with the second double-tap zooming you back out again.
You can copy and paste text from web pages, and the process is not too convoluted. Tap the menu, choose More, then choose Select Text and you can highlight what you want. When you lift your finger from the screen your selection is automatically copied to the clipboard for pasting into a new app, so the trick is to make sure you actually pan over the text you want in one move.
Flash support seems to be a bit iffy. We couldn't watch video from the BBC website. However, YouTube video streamed fantastically over Wi-Fi.
Rendering was smooth and the quality was certainly good enough to provide a generous dollop of entertainment. What you'll get over the network in terms of quality will depend on your connection, of course.
Motorola Milestone XT720: Camera
Well, this might be the bit you've been waiting for. The Motorola Milestone XT720 sports an 8-megapixel camera with xenon flash and 720p video recording.
These are just the headline features, and actually the camera has a good number of tweaks up its sleeve that put it on a par with some of the top notch camera phones.
There are several capture modes, for example, including self portrait and six-shot burst shooting. You can use face detection, a camera shake prevention mode and there's touch focus, so you can get the camera to focus on what you want rather than whatever's in the middle of the shot.
We didn't notice any shutter lag, and if we have a usability complaint, it's that the shooting button on the right edge of the chassis doesn't actually give a lot of tactile feedback when you're shooting a photo.
DETAIL:This outdoor shot shows how well the camera grasps details. The conditions were quite dark and it managed to let quite a lot of light in to make this shot work
WIDE ANGLE:The wide angle of the lens really comes into its own when there's a lot you want to capture. Here, at the full 8MP, we wanted to get a lot of the playground paraphernalia in shot, for example
GOOD ZOOM:There's plenty of detail on this image of a bike, and you can zoom in quite a long way before the photo degrades beyond all usability. You won't get that with many camera phones
CLOSE-UP:The macro mode is particularly impressive. Colour reproduction of this orchid is spot on, and the detail is magnificent
INDOORS:Shooting indoors with the Xenon flash produced mixed results. Even Xenon isn't going to get you great photos when the subject is a little way away, but when fairly close in you can get pretty good shots. For once, the cat is reproduced in his true colour, and there's plenty of detail in this close-in shot too
Shooting 720p video was just like shooting video on any other phone. Hit the button, move the phone around. But there were some pauses while, we assume, the Motorola Milestone XT720 actually saved what it was shooting.
There were three pauses in our 30 second test video below and they show up on the video and the phone itself, so this is a problem that is more than just skin deep.
Shooting video at lower resolutions didn't produce this problem, but lower-res shooting isn't really what you're buying this handset for, right?
If you want to show your video shooting efforts on a TV, then you simply use the provided cable, which is mini-HDMI at the handset end, and full-sized HDMI for your TV.
Motorola Milestone XT720: Media
The Music player had no trouble picking up tracks stored within folders on our SD card and it found the associated album art without any trouble too. In fact the high res screen made mincemeat of our low-resolution album art image.
The music player widget gives you pause/play controls from a home screen, but you really need to go into the app itself to get full control – and you can do this by just tapping the widget.
Playback quality is reasonably good from the handset speaker, and certainly loud enough. The headphones Motorola provides are fairly good and music certainly sounds punchy enough through them. Their top mounted 3.5mm connector is right where it should be, too.
There's an FM radio and, unusually, it will work without a headset to act as an antenna, though it's suggested you use one for better performance.
Without a headset attached, it wasn't very good at self-tuning – it found just two stations. When we inserted a headset and asked it to scan for stations again it did a lot better and filled all 20 available preset slots.
It doesn't pick up station names, though, so you'll have to enter those manually, and you can't move stations up and down the list so that your favourites are nearer the top.
Video playback was very impressive. We watched some movie trailers which rendered smoothly and with great colour reproduction. Video quickly pulls out to widescreen mode, and a tap on screen gives you access to a pause bar.
Playback wasn't jerky at all, and this is one smartphone screen we think we could use to watch video on while travelling.
Motorola Milestone XT720: Battery life and maps
The 1390mAh battery is quoted by Motorola as good for 540 mins of talktime and 320 hours on standby but really, that's not particularly useful information for a phone like this which is going to be used for voice calls for just a small amount of time.
We found the battery did quite well at keeping the phone alive during periods of fairly harsh usage involving a good deal of Wi-Fi, video playback, and some GPS-ing too.
When we kicked into the mix regular updating of our email, though, which meant quite a bit of use of 3G data, things got dodgy and at the end of each day we were well below 50 percent on the battery.
We'd always advocate a daily charge for a smartphone, but the fact is that if you are a frugal user you might make it through more than a day between charges.
The GPS, incidentally, was very good indeed. It kicked in within 30 seconds of us turning on Google Maps to pinpoint our location, and did this when we were sitting a metre away from an open window. In use on the road it kept a pretty constant signal, too.
Google Maps has its own point to point navigation service these days which we generally find is very good. But if you want something else you can try the bundled Motonav software instead.
This is Motorola's own routing app, and it's on the 8GB microSD card that comes with the phone. It self-installs the first time you choose it from the apps menu and you'll need access to the web to slap in an activation code that comes to the phone, so getting started is a bit convoluted.
Motorola Milestone XT720: Connectivity and apps
The Motorola Milestone XT720 has all the connections you'd expect from a high-end smartphone. There's Wi-Fi, 3G and GPS and they all seemed to work very well. The GPS in particular was very good at getting, and then holding, a signal.
Wi-Fi signals were strong, and we found we used much of our data over a home Wi-Fi network. This happily pulled things like websites and YouTube data to the Motorola Milestone XT720 without giving us any trouble.
The Bluetooth connection supports A2DP (for wireless stereo music) and we'd expect nothing less from a handset of this calibre.
Motorola doesn't go overboard on providing apps. This isn't a huge problem really, as the Marketplace is only a couple of screen taps away and you can use that to fill the Motorola Milestone XT720 with software. And Motorola does provide a couple of quite useful bits.
In addition to what we've mentioned already, you get a little utility called Moto Car Home which is a Home screen specially for use when you are driving. It offers huge icons and is designed to give you access to what you might need when driving – maps, contacts, Bluetooth, and so on.
There's also the Moto Phone Portal which you can use to manage the phone from a PC or Mac. Just link the two together by USB or Wi-Fi and you get an IP address to enter into your browser that then gives you access to a website through which you can make settings, edit contacts and more.
It could be handy for those who find fiddling on the phone itself a bit of a faff at times.
The Motorola Milestone XT720 has quite a few features we've not seen before in an Android handset. There's that 8-megapixel camera and the Xenon flash, with the 720p video shooting too.
Add in that nice car-user's Home screen and the ability to edit content easily via your computer and there's a lot that is very different here.
However the Motorola Milestone XT720 lacks the great user interface of HTC handsets like the HTC Desire and Legend, and it is a bit on the chunky side. It is a really different handset to its own predecessor the original Motorola Milestone too, which is so very different that we've not referenced it. The Motorola Milestone XT720 is in a class of its own.
Motorola Milestone XT720: Hands-on gallery
Motorola Milestone XT720: Official gallery
Motorola Milestone XT720: Verdict
The Motorola Milestone XT720 is a versatile smartphone that puts Motorola right back at the top of the tree as far as features are concerned. It has a lot going for it on paper, though we found that in practice there were times when things didn't pan out quite as we'd have liked.
The screen resolution is superb and it really comes into its own for things like web browsing and viewing video.
The camera is really easy to use and the Xenon flash delivers great and very true colours indoors. We also really liked the macro mode for shooting close-ups. There are plenty of features in the camera which ought to make it fun to use.
The GPS seems very efficient, locking onto a signal quickly and maintaining it well.
The web browser doesn't reflow text, which makes it tedious to read pages when you've zoomed in.
The 720p video shooting seemed to be a bit jerky and that is reflected in our sample video in this review.
The chassis has an unruly hump on its bottom-right side, which makes it rather wide to grasp in the hand at that end. Not everyone will appreciate the quirky design.
It isn't always easy to see the screen outdoors in bright sunlight. For a phone that majors on photography and video, this is a big disappointment.
The top end of the Android smartphone world is really in need of handsets to rival the best that HTC can produce. Motorola has done a good job in providing competition in some respects with the Milestone XT720 and it is an impressive phone.
There are aspects that need ironing out, though, and we'd have really liked it if Moto could have come up with user interface to rival HTC's Sense UI for sheer pizzazz.