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Motorola Milestone XT720 review

The latest Milestone from Motorola features a remarkable 8MP camera and 720p video recording with HDMI-out. Russell Barnes puts the XT720 through its paces...

This article originally appeared in issue 91 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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OS: Android 2.1
Processor: 550MHz
Memory: 256MB RAM
Dimensions: 60.9 x 115.95 x 10.9 mm
Weight: 160g
Display size: 3.7”
Resolution: 480 x 854 pixels
Expansion: 1x microSD
Price: £285
Where to buy:

Pros: The camera is one of the best we’ve seen in testing so far. Overall, it’s a marked improvement on the previous model
Cons: The chassis contouring seems misguided and the power button is hard to hit. The 720p video recording is rather jittery

The XT720 is the highly anticipated follow-up to Motorola’s Milestone, the first Android 2.0+ device the firm released. Although we were relatively impressed with many of its key features in our review back in issue 87, it was let down by its excessive weight and bulk, which was largely attributed to its otherwise effective slide-out Qwerty keyboard. Other problems included a rather short battery life and a 5MP camera that ticked all the boxes on paper, but often left shots either blurred or washed out.

Motorola wouldn’t be one of the largest mobile phone manufacturers on the planet without being able to take on board user feedback, so we’re not that surprised to see that the XT720 addresses almost all of these problems in one way or another.

That’s not to say the XT720 didn’t go through the ringer on the run-up to its release, though. Motorola’s original 550MHz and 256MB RAM specification was altered a couple of months before its release, to a much speedier 720MHz core clock with 512MB of RAM. Perhaps to the phone’s detriment, however, the spec mysteriously reverted back to its original form once it hit the store shelves, despite the processor being capable of the higher speed. In terms of processor speed and memory, then, the new XT720 mirrors its predecessor’s core specification quite closely.

So how does the XT720 compare with other high-end smartphones with their 1GHz clock speeds and doubled RAM, all things considered? In terms of its core specification, surprisingly well as it turns out. We found the phone to be relatively responsive for the everyday use of Google Maps, web browsing and so forth, though we did find it started to wane a little once bogged down with a selection of third-party apps all vying for memory and processor cycles. The solid performance regardless of the middling specification was probably assisted by the notable absence of Motoblur, Motorola’s social networking user interface.

Though the basic Android UI serves the XT720 well enough, a stop by the Android Market was essential since Motoblur serves Facebook, Twitter and all the other social networking must-haves that would usually be bundled out of the box. We were certainly left rather cold with Motorola’s omissions in this regard, but soon had a usable social interface working, once Peep (an excellent third-party Twitter client) and the recently updated official Facebook apps were downloaded.

The real meat of the XT720’s improvement over the original Milestone comes from the absence of a slide-out Qwerty keyboard, opting instead for a fully realised touch-screen keyboard, and the inclusion of a top-of-the-range 8MP digital camera complete with a genuine xenon flash. Not only is the latter a first for an Android phone, but we found it really helped while testing indoor and low-light conditions – the images got the boost they needed to remain crisp and sharp.

As the new Milestone’s name suggests, it’s also capable of shooting full 720p video and the ability to output video via HDMI. While it was easy enough to get the camera rolling, we were met with distinct stammering and jittery frame-drops that were happening far too frequently for our liking. Although it was straightforward enough to lower the recording resolution (which immediately remedied the problem), we couldn’t help but wonder if the 550MHz clock speed was to blame.

The design of the chassis itself is very modern and angular. The 3.7” touch screen totally dominates the front face, with Android’s signature control buttons sitting across the full width of the base. Some people still favour fully fledged buttons, but we found the backlit touch-buttons here perfectly easy to use. The only drawback to the chassis is the rather strange outcropping on the right bezel – we didn’t find it particularly annoying per se, though it did jut into our palms.

In landscape orientation, though, it’s perfectly comfortable to use. It also became apparent that Motorola wanted to make the phone feel and respond like a camera in this orientation, since the shutter sits on top of the outcropping, in just the right position to comfortably take pictures. In camera mode the volume rocker also becomes the zoom, which is a clever feature you don’t yet see on many other models.

Verdict: 4/5
Awarding the Milestone XT720 an extra mark over its predecessor is fitting since it improves on the previous design in almost every way. The basic processor and memory specification left us a little downhearted, but it didn’t hurt performance quite as much as we expected. With its incredible camera and a slimmer, lighter chassis, we can’t help recommend it.

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