After a long walk in the desert, Motorola surprised everyone (or at least me) with the Motorola Cliq, an Android smartphone with a QWERTY sliding keyboard and most importantly MotoBlur, a combination of software and web services designed to unify all your communications in a single medium that is “people-oriented” instead of “service-oriented”. It seems very nice in theory and our initial impression was good. Now, we have spent enough time with the Motorola Cliq to share a complete review of the device. Will you and the Moto Cliq… click?
The Cliq feels like a solid phone
As usual, I’m going to briefly describe how I used the Motorola Cliq during this review: I get all my emails work emails from Exchange server, I check *everything*, and because the Cliq has a physical keyboard, I tend to reply more than if I had a virtual one. My personal email arrives via Gmail, and of course, I follow my Facebook (facebook.com/hubert) and Twitter accounts (twitter/hubertnguyen) as new updates/messages appear. I browse the web a few times a day to check on news sites like CNN mobile and to make sure that everything is fine on Ubergizmo. I don’t call much (less than 10mn a day, typically) and I don’t listen to music or play games – unless I’m waiting for something in a boring place. Your usage pattern (or here, mine) is the single most important factor that affects the battery life.
Physical Design (nice, solid)
The Motorola Cliq might remind you of the iPhone with its round corners and the metallic frame. The “Home” button is also similarly placed in the lower-center and both phones feel “solid”. The comparison stops there, however.
Unlike the G1, the sliding mechanism does not feel like plastic
The Cliq comes with a physical keyboard, something that Apple has stubbornly refused to do, because of an obvious reason: it makes the Cliq thicker. However, the Cliq feels good in the hand and the advantage of having a keyboard is obvious: it’s much faster (and nicer) to type. The Cliq has one of the best sliding keyboard that I used recently (when compared to the N900, N97, Touch Pro…). That’s because the keys have enough volume/relief to let users get a good feel for where their fingers are. The only change that I would do is to make the space bar bigger, possibly by removing the search button that I have yet to touch. Motorola has even added nice touches like the dual-backlight system: the ALT keys will light up only if you click the ALT button. Oh, and if you wonder: unlike the G1, this slider feels solid.
Buttons placed on either side can be pressed accidentaly
As you might have noticed from the photos or the video, the Cliq has five buttons on its sides: Volume up/down, silent mode, camera shutter and lock/unlock. The lock/unlock button should be moved to the top (like on the Blackberry) because when I press the volume button, I tend to put a finger on the opposite side, where the lock/unlock button is. The contrary is true as well: when I try to lock, I often press the volume button.
Finally, it’s great to have a “Silent” button like the iPhone does. I hate going into a couple of menus, just to silence my phone.
Motorola Cliq close-up view
Motorola Cliq boot sequence
Basics (very good)
Finding a contact and placing a call is very easy on the Motorola Cliq, especially if you are using the keyboard. Just slide out and start typing. The phone will unlock automatically. If you opt for using the touch screen, you will have to slide up and down until you find your contact.
There is no virtual keyboard in “touch mode”, so if you have a lot of contacts (100+), it can become frustrating to find someone. Motorola should allow a virtual keyboard option here Let me take this back: the virtual keyboard is available in all apps: you need to press and hold the menu button to make it appear. Apologies for missing that
The sound quality is good and sufficiently loud in normal conditions, but probably not loud enough for noisy places. That’s pretty common for smartphones these days: all the phones that I used recently are like that, possibly to avoid hearing injuries and lawsuits – just kidding.
On the photos you might see a proximity sensor next to the phone speaker. It detects when your face is against the phone, or when the phone is in your pocket and shuts down the screen to avoid accidental typing and to save power.
Virtual keyboard (good)
Left: iPhone, right: Motorola Cliq
The virtual keyboard is narrower than the iPhone’s, which is a common trait of recent Android designs. It looks like the MyTouch 3G keyboard, but it feels better because the phone is more responsive. The virtual keyboard occupies a good chunk of the screen, so the different rows of keys are separated with a decent space, which helps with reducing the error rate. Unlike HTC, Motorola does not display the alternate keys characters, and that helps cutting down on the visual noise. Good choice.
MotoBlur (very good)
Motoblur covers some of the most popular services
MotoBlur is the most unique part of the Motorola Cliq. If you have not heard of it, it’s a web service with a client software on the phone that helps you:
Import contact from popular email and social networking services
Locate your phone on a map
Delete Data (remote wipe)
Access help and tutorial files from your phone
This is a mix of email and Facebook contacts, unified.
Depending on your email se tup, you might be able to setup everything from your phone (that’s what I did). It is easy, as you just need to provide your login for all the services that you want Motoblur to access. Once that’s done, Motoblur will consolidate all your contacts, and it is smart enough to associate someone’s Facebook account with their Gmail account if there’s enough information. It will also download a profile image from a social network site, if possible. Overall, I found the whole thing very cool. The merger is fairly smart: I’ve spotted only one mistake so far.
The remote MotoBlur server will fetch data from the different services that subscribe to, and it will update your phone at regular intervals: 15, 30 or more minutes. Because MotoBlur is accessing all these services remotely and sending back one chunk of data, it should be more efficient than having one application for each social network. Note that this seems to use a “pull” model, where the phone checks every 15 minutes (or more) to see if there’s something new. It’s not like a “push” model where updates arrive in real-time.
Thanks to MotoBlur, sending a short Facebook message to someone is now faster on my phone than it is on my desktop machine. I can simply search someone by typing the first few letters of the name and click on the Facebook icon, then “send message”, done. Motoblur effectively “blurs” the line between email and social networking apps, at least in terms of sheer communications.
Widgets are fairly well done, but don’t tell how many new items are waiting
Widgets: It is possible to visualize MotoBlur’s data with widgets on the screen. The idea is to have an overview of what’s going on just by glancing at the screen. Motrola has a good implementation, and the screen’s real-estate is fairly well used (like on the N97). If you are a normal user and follow only your real friends, MotoBlur works very well. However, if you are an social media junkie or a self-marketer who follows way more people/brands/things that any human should, the widgets won’t help.
The widgets don’t show how many updates there are since you last looked, they should. Secondly, they are often too small to display the full text of the update. Motorola could improve this by adding full-screen widgets that would display a list – that’s at least 6 updates visible on the same screen right there. To be fair Motorola does not market this phone to power users, but it feels like it just needs some tweaks.
Backup: MotoBlur also backups your phone data, so once it is setup, all your accounts information, will be saved so that if your phone is lost or stolen, your contacts and emails are kept in Motoblur. MotoBlur does not backup the whole phone however, so photos and other files might still be at risk. Upon getting a new phone and entering your MotoBlur account information, all the data kept by MotoBlur will be restored to the new device.
Remote Wipe: if you phone is stolen or lost, you can delete *everything* remotely. That assumes that the phone is still in a state to receive a command (internet access), and that your MotoBlur account is still active on it.
Web Browsing (good)
Image scaling is better than on most Android phones
Web browsing on the Motorola Cliq works well. The web experience is good, but it’s not excellent. The good thing is that most sites “just work” (Yahoo Finance, CNN, Ubergizmo…), but without the pinch and zoom (or a good zooming mechanism), browsing is just not as enjoyable. There’s no support for Flash, but you’re used to it by now, right? The Motorola Cliq is better than Windows 6.1 phones, and it is a little faster than the MyTouch 3G. I would say that the browsing is not as good as the HTC Hero (except that scaled-down images look much better), and is definitely inferior to the iPhone 3GS.
In short: Windows Mobile 6.1 < MyTouch 3G < Moto Cliq < HTC Hero < iPhone 3GS
Email / Text (very good)
The Cliq is so much better for email than other touch-only Android phones
Thanks to the physical keyboard, the email experience is very good on the Motorola Cliq. I currently use MotoBlur to aggregate all my emails and having a unified inbox can be cool, but you can also open a specific mailbox (like Exchange) if you are overwhelmed by all the updates. Exchange is well supported: calendar, emails and contacts are synchronized correctly.
I found two things that need to be improved with Email: 1/ I can’t copy/paste while reading an email (it’s possible when editing one). 2/ MotoBlur doesn’t handle emails (receving) in real-time (push). There can be up to 15mn of delay (in the fastest setting) in receiving emails. It’s not the end of the world for some, but might be problematic to those who email like Instant Messaging (quick succession of short Emails). Another option is not to use MotoBlur to handle one of the email accounts.
I don’t rate the email experience as “excellent” because (QWERTY) Blackberry phones still remain at the top. While “only” very good, the Cliq’s email experience is still the best on Android.
Security (good enough)
Unlie many Android handsets, the Motorola Cliq allows you choose between the lock pattern, or a 4-digit code. Both methods can offer comparable levels of security for the average user. Here’s what I said before about both:
Android uses an unlock pattern with up to 9 points. I haven’t done any deep analysis, but using 4 points would allows less combinations than a 4-digit code, and using more points possibly becomes harder to remember. That said, I think that it is good enough for most users, but it’s very far from being unbreakable, just like the 4-digit code.
The Cliq has a camera that shots pretty good pictures in bright lighting and OK pictures in dim lighting. Let me define what “dim lighting” is: that’s the “party” type of lighting. I’ve uploaded photo samples so that you can judge for yourself. Of course there’s a lot of noise in the dark photos, but at least you can see something, which is not always the case, even with recent cameras.
There’s a physical shutter button to snap the photo and I must say that I like that better than tapping the screen on my iPhone or pressing that rolling trackball on the HTC Hero. The shutter button makes it much more stable/less shaky. The shutter button is also a two-detent one: it means that you can press lightly to focus, then press all the way to snap the photo.
=”Motorola Cliq Review” style=”MARGIN: 0px” alt=”Motorola Cliq Review” src=”http://cdn.ubergizmo.com/photos/2009/10/cliq-applications-22.JPG” border=”0″ /> Video recording is not impressive
Video capture is not impressive at all: it is pretty far from the iPhone 3GS, but it is on-par or seemingly slightly better than other Android phones, including the MyTouch 3G and HTC Hero. The recording resolution is 352×288 at 23.86fps using MPEG4 compression (315kbps, 8Khz mono sound).
Despite many apps running in the background, the Cliq is slow only when the network is accessed
Despite running on a Qualcomm 528Mhz processor that is common among Android phones, the Motorola Cliq is currently the only Android phone that we tested that won’t become too sluggish after a while. What’s more intriguing is the fact that on average, there are more background applications (21-27) running on the Cliq than on the HTC Hero. This is somewhat of a mystery. One thing that I noticed was that when the phone was syncing, things were getting really slow. I wish that MotoBlur could tell us how far along the current sync is. If T-Mobile is your carrier of choice, the Cliq is a much better choice than the MyTouch 3G (or the G1), if you are OK with the larger size and weight. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the performance consistency. It’s better than having a phone that’s fast one minute and sluggish the next. Check out the video below
Motorola Cliq reactivity video
The recent U2 concert in YouTube
YouTube: provided that you have a good network connection, YouTube movies look good and playback smoothly. Searching for content can be relatively fast to, again depending on your network speed.
Basic but efficient music player
Music: There’s nothing special here, if you have audio files (from your PC or the Amazon mp3 app) the music app will find them (I just created a “music” directory). The music player interface has everything has all the basic commands with a good layout. It doesn’t look fancy but it works well. If the screen is locked the volume buttons on the left side will control the playback volume.
Mapping is good, and on-par with other Android handsets
The Mapping experience is good and on par with other Android handsets. It is usable and efficient, but as usual, it’s not as fast or polished as it is on the iPhone 3GS. It seems like Android doesn’t use hardware graphics acceleration and that the processor is left handling tasks such as magnification. It would be interesting to discuss this with Android developers. Don’t forget the the Maps application downloads maps in real-time, so network quality has a huge influence over the overall experience.
Find my phone: I tried locating my phone with the MotoBlur website. It worked, but it took a while 10+mn. Motorola warns that it can take up to 30mn to locate the phone. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m really curious to know. It the end, it works, but I don’t know if you could track your phone in pseudo real-time with it as some iPhone users have been reported to be doing.
T-Mobile backup: mostly not useful
T-Mobile Mobile Backup: the Cliq is loaded with a T-Mobile backup app that is supposed to save your contacts on a remote server. It doesn’t work over WIFI, which is probably the weirdest thing that I’ve seen this week. Why would you force users to shut down WIFI, and clog your own 3G network if that could be done via someone else’s (faster) pipe? MotoBlur does the same thing anyway, so I’ll pass on using that one.
With a *very* moderate usage (no calls, just a little update checking), I got about 22 hours with Bluetooth and WIFI ON. Turning Bluetooth OFF didn’t seem to help that much, but in any case, the average user will need to charge it everyday. If you forget, you will have a dead phone by the morning. I suspect that heavy users might even have a hard time to get 7-8 hours (or less!), but it really depends on what you do.
Things that could be better
Copy/paste: with the directional keys of the keyboard, I can fine tune text selection, so it’s perfect for copy/paste operations. Motorola needs to make possible though. In the meantime, I can hit the “reply” button, copy then discard the reply…
Push Email: MotoBlur should be able to handle push notifications. That should be an option that we choose for each web service. I understand that having everything update in real-time may be problematic for the battery life.
Responsiveness: The Motorola Cliq didn’t become sluggish overtime, which is rare in the Android world. However, it is still significantly slower than the iPhone 3GS.
Battery life: The Cliq’s battery life needs to be improved, probably by optimizing consumption in the firmware/software because the battery can’t really get much bigger or much more efficient in the short term.
Size/weight: HTC has pretty much proved that a slider can be slim and relatively light. It would be great to find the Cliq’s functions into a slimmer, lighter body.
Motorola has surprised us at the launch of the Cliq and after spending a week with the phone, I feel good about it. It is reassuring that this time, the most interesting part of the phone is MotoBlur, and that’s where the value is: software. In its first incarnation, MotoBlur does pretty well and “blurs” the separation between email, SMS and social networking thanks to a unified interface. Sending and receiving updates works in a way that makes things easier, faster and more productive. Sending a Facebook message to a friend from the Cliq is now faster than it is on my PC (if my Facebook page is not already opened!), that says something. There are a lot of good Android phones out there, but so far, very few actually made me more productive and most tend to become sluggish over time. The Cliq has a very decent QWERTY keyboard and doesn’t slow down much over time. Simply put: if you care about text communications comfortably, the Cliq is today’s best Android phone for the U.S market.
Despite what people say, there’s no such thing as an “objective” review because so much depends of how you use phones. If you would like to look at different opinions, here are a few reads that you might like (in no particular order):