Motorola DEXT MB200 review
Motorola stages an impressive comeback with its Android-based DEXT MB200 smartphone which features Motoblur technology
Verdict: Motoblur puts Motorola back in contention, but for how long?
Price: Free with contract from Orange(24 months, £34.26 per month)
Pros: Top QWERTY keyboard, Motoblur social networking and security, decent browser, WiFi, GPS, HSDPA 3g, 3.5mm audio jack plug
Cons: Motoblur updates might be a bit overwhelming for some, poor battery life, pricey
Design: Chunky, with odd-looking different-sized front and back halves
Operating System: Android 1.5
More Info: Motorola website
Many had all but written off Motorola as a has-been brand in a market that thrives on technological innovation. Its last unalloyed success was the style-led RAZR back in 2004, and since then, the US company has shown little ability to compete with the innovations of other manufacturers.
But now comes the Motorola DEXT MB200 and it's much better than any of us had a right to expect. It's a smartphone running the latest version of Android, with well-designed slide-out QWERTY keyboard, plus WiFi, A-GPS, HSDPA 3G, 5-megapixel camera but also a service that's genuinely different. Motoblur combines and pushes your social networking updates to you, as well as holding all your information in a data cloud so you can access it from anywhere.
So far, you can only get it on Orange, and it's not cheap, but there's still plenty to admire.
Other smartphones have widgets that allow you to view your Facebook and Twitter alerts as they happen. But Motoblur goes a step further, combining all updates in a single Happenings window on your home page (of which, in standard Android fashion, there are three). This can also include MySpace, Picasa, Last.fm, Google and Photobucket as well as your emails and texts, and more services are planned in future. The initial effect can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you have a lot of contacts, but we soon got used to it, and it's undeniably effective at keeping you up to the minute, plus it's easy to open alternative menus which break down the source of your updates.
Another trick that Motoblur has up its sleeve is that it stores your phone-based info online, so you can update your contacts via your computer if you haven't got your phone handy, or if you lose your handset, you can wipe the information from it remotely, and transfer your details to your next Motoblur phone.
The largish 3.1 capacitive LCD touch screen is a joy to use – bright and clear, with just the right degree of sensitivity which allows it to easily distinguish between brushes and pushes so you can navigate menus and web pages alike with ease.
The QWERTY keyboard has four lines of keys, with a large five-way D-pad on the left. There are inevitable compromises with first-press key choices which don't need to be made by the five-line version on HTC's Touch Pro2 for instance, but the keys are well-spaced and made of nicely grippy rubberised plastic, with a good degree of response.
The standard Android browser is pretty decent, with zoom buttons popping up when you touch the screen. The web address bar only appears when you start to type, which helps give maximum space to web pages, and the onboard accelerometer automatically flips the screen resolution to landscape when you turn the phone on its side. There's no Flash video support, though it will play YouTube vids without any hitch and most of the modern browser tricks like multiple pages, RSS feeds, word search and copy and paste are all present and correct.
The 5-megapixel camera clearly isn't top of the range, and Motorola doesn't even make the effort to deck it out with a load of interesting extras. It has autofocus, but there's no flash, timer, panorama or multishot options, just a choice of vanilla 1MP, 3MP or 5MP snaps with a couple of colour options.
It's slow to launch and to snap too, which is often the kiss of death with camphones, since they tend to be at their most useful when taking quick spur-of-the-moment pics. All that said though, the quality of pics within these limitations is actually pretty good – we've certainly seen much worse from similar specced camphones (can you hear us HTC?).
The Android music player is simple but intuitive, with all the usual options, though it also has a nice addition which allows you to touch and hold an artist's name in your library to bring up a search for additional material on the web and YouTube.
For video it will play MPEG4, H.263 and H.264 formats and shows them off well on the sharp, precise screen, with basic onscreen controls.
There are a lot of things to like about the Motorola DEXT but the battery life isn't one of them. It may have been asking for trouble to create a system that demands constant online updates to function, but we barely managed a day of moderate use meaning you'll have to recharge virtually every evening.
The Motorola DEXT puts the US company back in the smartphone premier league with its smart, robust design, up-to-date software and, especially, the social networking powerhouse that is Motoblur. It's likely that other manufacturers will be jumping on this particular bandwagon before long, so Motorola can't afford to be complacent, but for now, and for Orange customers, the Motorola DEXT is definitely worth a look.