The “weapon of choice”, as Sprint would have us believe, is the newest to their mobile lineup – the Motorola Photon 4G. With a body whose beveled corners encase its powerful Tegra 2 1Ghz dual-core processor, this phone certainly feels good in the hand. Motorola’s first 4G device (and a world phone as well) on Sprint looks to be a solid contender, but will it be able to win the battle of the consumers? Read on for the full review!
Not much in the way of included accessories in the box with the Photon 4G. A wall charger and appropriate USB cable is all you’ll find outside of the manuals. No additional microSD is included, although the device can support up to 32GB cards.
A dual-core 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor is at the core of this Android phone. In addition, 1024Mb of RAM, 16GB of built-in storage, and a 1700mAh battery fill out the rest of the basic specs.
The standard complement of accelerometer, GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi, are here, but again missing is a gyroscope.
Even without a hardware keyboard, the Photon 4G is quite large, although it feels quite comfortable in hand. Weighing in at 5.57 ounces it feels hefty, but not abnormally so.
Due to PenTile technology, the screen looks great in almost any lighting situation, as long as you don’t look too closely or start analyzing the color accuracy. Sporting a four-inch 540×960 (qHD) Gorilla Glass screen, the Photon 4G does suffer from the same issues all PenTile displays seem to have: noticeable pixels, and ghosting during fast panning.
The front of the device has four capacitive touch buttons along with an LED notification, front facing camera and standard sensor set. The screen edges have a slightly rounded lip, giving an even more unique look to the phone. The beveled edges and corners allow for a great feel. The finish was easily marred however (on one corner and the edge of the screen) as I carried the device in my pocket, revealing flat black plastic beneath.
At the top edge of the Photon is the small chrome power button and headphone jack.
The battery cover has a soft touch plastic feel, which when removed reveals a 1700mAh battery, the microSD slot and SIM card (GSM supported, but not in the US).
Also on the back of the device is the silver kickstand. Magnetically held to the device, when extended it allows you to put the Photon 4G into a mini-clock with widget functionality – as long as you use the default launcher. Switching over to a third-party launcher seems to cause the kickstand functionality to be limited to just rotating the device to landscape.
On the right-hand side of the Photon is a textured volume rocker and dedicated camera button. While the ribbed chrome buttons are nice, it would have been more beneficial if the camera button was two stage vs one. But more on that in the camera section.
Volume from the Photon 4G is very loud, whether from the headset or main speaker.
The HDMI and USB charging/sync ports are found on the left side of the phone. As you can see from our Software Video tour below, this spacing allows easy connection to any of the various Motorola accessories on the market today, such as the car or media dock. If you already have one of these docks, you may just need the proper plastic shim so the Photon fits appropriately.
Unfortunately, the Webtop Connector functionality is less than stellar. Video at full screen is choppy and the browser (Firefox) is two versions behind.
Sprint has thankfully kept the bloat to a minimum and given the user the ability to remove some of these apps. Sprint ID is on the Photon, but not forced upon the user.
Alas, the “this-is-not-Blur” Motorola UI was plagued with spurts of lag and stutters. Switching over to a third-party launcher cleared up these inadequacies, but then limited the kickstand in its functionality.
One would think with an 8MP camera, the images would be quite crisp and colorful. Unfortunately, as seems the norm with Motorola cameras recently, if you don’t have a lot of light, the results look good on your phone, but are blurry when you look at them full resolution (see the samples above).
The Photon 4G didn’t suffer from the same focus issues as the Motorola Droid 3, however. It would easily lock on to a subject, but would still take so long to take the shot that any sort of hand shake would be visible later.
Colors were slightly muted, but didn’t suffer any of the blue tinting the Droid 3 has.
The 720P video capture again was okay, but no where near what I would consider appropriate for anything semi-professional. This is a device for recording snippets of your cats doing something interesting. It’s perfectly fine in this respect, but expecting anything more from the video portion of the Photon 4G will leave you disappointed.
Outside of the hiccups due to the default Motorola UI, the device was very snappy. Replacing the default launcher made the device even more responsive.
Smartbench 2011: Productivity 2811, 2585 Games
LinPack Single thread: 38.245 MFLOP, 2.19 Seconds
LinPack Multi-thread: 66.719 MFLOP, 2.53 Seconds
CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED
There were no complaints regarding the call quality on the Photon 4G. No calls were dropped and if I had any signal at all, the calls would go through. Seeing as the GSM portion of the device isn’t compatible with US networks, we were unable to fully test this functionality.
3G speeds averaged 500Kbps up and 650Kbps down (peaking at 1200Kbps) which is on par with Sprint. 4G speeds reached as high as 12000Kbps down and 1600Kbps up, when we could get access to the spotty 4G WiMax service. For the most part, I left 4G service disabled, primarily because the hand-off from 4G to 3G on Sprint devices is horrible.
Battery life on the Photon 4G is fantastic. Like the Droid 3, without my heavy usage pattern, I would consistently see two-plus days of power before the device popped up a low battery warning. While other devices typically feature the screen very high on the battery usage scale, the display in this case is often listed very low on that scale – the power of PenTile, it seems. Most users would easily give up the color accuracy and deal with pixels if it means their device could last even one whole day, let alone two. Even as I write this review, the Photon 4G has been up for 1 day, 2 hours and 27 minutes – with 70% battery remaining.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Motorola Photon 4G can be purchased, with a two-year contract, for $199 from Sprint.
+ PenTile display in bright sunlight
+ Battery life is outstanding
+ World phone
- PenTile display ghosting and color accuracy
- Camera focus and capture issues in low light
- Sluggish default UI
The battle is hard fought, and it is far from over. But in the case of the Motorola Photon 4G, it certainly is quite the performer, especially when you start tweaking the system to be more efficient. Considering the camera is average, and the Pentile qHD display does have it’s own issues, the Photon 4G is weighed down (literally) by some inadequacies. But, if you need a solid world phone for your day-to-day work, then the Photon 4G may be just what you are looking for.
We rate the Motorola Photon 4G a 3.5/5.