Digital Finds

joseph dot reeves at thehumanjourney dot net
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Motorola Milestone review

Jun 03, 2011 by Joseph Reeves

My own Android running HTC Desire had to be returned to the manufacturer as it developed a fault; being a modern customer orientated firm, HTC declined to loan me a replacement and suggested I use another phone I had laying around. This seemed to be an opportunity to "eat my own dog food" and see what these work mobiles are really like. As tests go, this one is a bit out of date; the Milestone has been superseded by the Milestone2, which is itself not the most modern handset in the Motorola stable. It'll hopefully be interesting, however. This is not a review of Android, nor really of the phone in any sense that may be useful to anyone that was thinking of buying one, but more a collection of observations made about the handset.

We've had 150+ of these handsets for about a year now, the vast majority of which have survived a winter on British excavations with only some chipped paint and muddy keyboards to show for it.

The phone:


The tested phone deserves some introduction, but that in turn requires an introduction into how we deal with broken handsets. In short, the phones are covered by a warranty and are returned for repair if they fail. The attrition rate has been reassuringly low, especially given the winter we've had on sites, but broken handsets have appeared and have been returned to the manufacturer. A number of conditions aren't covered by the warranty, however, and phones suffering this sort of damage (water ingress, for example) are kept back in the hope that something useful can be done with them at a later date. The phone I tested was originally returned from site with the glass screen severely cracked, not damage covered by warranty, which was repaired with the glass (the digitizer to give it it's full name) from a handset that had been written-off due to unfortunate water damage.

Fitting a new digitizer to a phone involves take the entire handset apart; according to this guide it's a "very difficult" procedure that frees the front of the phone by removing everything behind it. The water damaged donor phone is now in a box, separated into roughly a million pieces. Surprisingly, perhaps, the fixed phone worked fine once I'd finished screwing it back together. I was so chuffed with my success that I rescued it from the store cupboard as soon as I needed a loaner phone.

My usage:


It's worth mentioning briefly that I use my (and my loan) mobile phone a lot. Calls, text messages, emails, games, music, photos, some more calls and some more text messages. The point is, I think I give these things a pretty thorough test.

Of note:


Here are a number of points that I've noticed about the phone. Some are more important than others, with the least interesting at the top:

  • Your own voice:

    Is something you can hear when you speak. This is pretty weird to begin with, but I got used to it after a couple of calls.
  • On screen keyboard:

    Is pretty rubbish compared to HTC's custom affair. The Milestone uses the stock Android keyboard, which is improved in Android 2.2, but not so great in 2.1. Luckily there's that hardware keyboard, however.
  • The physical camera button:

    My HTC doesn't have a physical button for the camera, which I used to think was a bad thing, but now I love my button-free life. The problem with the camera button on the Milestone is that it's incredibly sensitive and that it also cancels the alarm. When the alarm goes in the morning, for example, I often enjoy a couple of presses of the snooze button; with the camera button, however, I only have to tap it and I've cancelled the alarm. Picking the phone up in the morning to press the snooze button without accidentally touching the camera button is very difficult.

    Locking the camera button to only camera duties would be a good thing

  • Application performance:

    The Milestone has less computational grunt than my HTC does, which is evident when using the handset. Everything works ok, it's just not as responsive as I have been used to. I installed Advanced Task Killer on the handset to try and improve performance after using a particularly heavy app. Some things, such as opening a large web page, or listening to music, can suffer if you've recently had a number of other items open. At this point, freeing some memory works well and is the only time I bother with a Task Killer.
  • WiFi connectivity:

    The phone should connect to nearby remembered WiFi networks when it comes out of sleep; this is something it often fails to do, however, requiring a manual poke to get it connected. I think this is something it's failing to do at a WiFi level rather than higher up the network stack.
  • Signal sensitivity:

    This is something I've been pleasantly surprised by; in areas of marginal signal the Milestone is much happier to call and text than my HTC is. I'm seeing improved call quality as a result.
  • Battery life:

    I've been very impressed with the battery life of the phone; despite heavy use it will also last the time it takes me to get out of bed in the morning and back into it the following evening. It gets charged whilst I'm asleep and never needs a top-up. I have noticed that the battery indicator will sometimes suddenly drop to a fantastically low level, alerting you that the phone needs to be charged as less than 10% battery remains. I am confident, however, that this remains a problem with the battery life reporter, rather than the level of juice in the unit itself; plugging the phone into charge for a second will restore the reported level of power back to its previous level and you can keep using the phone without worrying. If the underlying battery reporting subsystem is faulty, as I suspect, all battery monitoring applications and widgets are going to be useless and should be avoided. I have not been using a task killer application to try and extend battery life.

    If anyone has a phone with what they think is a poor battery, I'll be more than happy to swap it for this one, it works fine

  • "Dropped" calls:

    The Milestone has an annoying habit with which it appears as if the handset is dropping calls; in reality, however, it's just very easy to put people on hold. The proximity sensor in the phone doesn't always work as well as it could do and at times it mistakenly thinks that it is away from your face. At this point, you can use your ear to push any of the buttons displayed on the screen; one of which puts the caller on hold. Suddenly you can hear them, but they can't hear you, which usually leads them to hang up before you can un-hold them. Explaining to people, however, that this happens and that you need a moment to take people off hold before they hang up, usually fixes this problem.

    Opening the slide mechanism whilst in a call, if only a tiny amount, will have the same effect; the lesson here is to not fiddle with the phone when using it.

  • Conclusion:


    In the almost two weeks I had the phone I was pretty pleased with it; it generally worked just the same as any other Android phone, just a little bit slower. The physical keyboard is great, as is the signal sensitivity, and there's only a couple of slight niggles to get used to. I'm surprised that the phone is as physically robust as it is and that it can work after I taken two apart and put one back together. It's quite a bit phone that can appear a bit clunky, but it seems to work very well.



    Comments:

    Quite a different story over here... Same issue with battery, battery sometimes drops from 100% to 10% a few minutes after it finished charging. I get regular application crashes - very frustrating to write an email and see "android.app.sms" or so crash on you when you hit send. Had issues with it sending only part of multipart smses. Had it ringing sometimes, but not displaying any new message or missed call. Often had the feeling of not hearing it ring - that may be due to the fact that the volume button is so easy to inadvertently press. And the larm clock app that doesn't work properly - can be extremely annoying when you don't have another one.

    Many freezes, like sometimes not being able to pick up a call - it just won't react on finger presses, need to put it off an back on.

    To me it just feels incredibly buggy and is by far the worst phone I've ever had. I surely won't buy Motorola next time I need a phone :/

    Posted by Yann on June 03, 2011 at 03:19 PM BST #

    In reference to the performance, to give it it's due it is an old model - took a while to be launch in the UK and was 8 months after that OA got the first batch. OTOH Motorola have clearly done something very wrong in the firmware...

    Posted by Chris Puttick on June 03, 2011 at 03:54 PM BST #

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