Sprint and Motorola Mobility announced their renewed business relationship only two months ago. We’re already seeing the fruits of this partnership with the launch of the Photon 4G. This device is one of the first of ten Sprint-Motorola phones for 2011, boasting Android 2.3.4, Sprint ID, and world-phone capabilities.
But, how will this top-of-the-line Sprint phone stack up against the competition? Find out below as we review the Photon 4G in-depth.
- 4.3″ qHD display
- TFT Capacitive touchscreen
- 16 million colors
- 540 x 960 pixel resolution
- 1 GHz Dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2
- 4G WiMAX
- ULP GeForce GPU
- 1 GB RAM
- Android 2.3 Gingerbread
- 8 megapixel camera
- DualLED flash
- 720p video @30 fps
- Front-facing VGA camera
- 16 GB on-board storage
- HDMI port
- Dedicated camera button
- GPS w/ A-GPS support
- Digital compass
- Lithium 1700 mAh battery
Motorola’s packed the Photon with an ample 4.3-inch qHD display. Unlike its little Atrix brother’s 4-inch screen, this one shines bright and beautiful with vibrant colors. The Photon’s LCD does not quite match up to the Samsung AMOLED Plus screen on the Galaxy S II. But, the color quality is still more than acceptable. Whites are bleached and clear, while blacks are sharp and dark. Unfortunately, it still uses the PenTile matrix, which may explain why gradients are often choppy instead of smooth.
In general, the screen was responsive and reliable. Motorola limited the number of concurrent touch points to two on this device, which was usually inconsequential. Although, Fruit Ninja was slightly less satisfying with only two fingers. While gaming on the device, we found out there was a touch time limit. Holding a finger to the device for more than eleven seconds would result in a cut off. If you’re playing a game that requires constant touchscreen contact, the Photon’s limit proves annoying.
With a qHD resolution, the Photon makes for an excellent browsing device. Emails are a pleasure to read, and eBooks are crisp and clear.
Inside of the Photon is a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor with a ULP GeForce GPU and 1 GB of RAM. Folks, the Photon does not disappoint in the speed department. We clocked this device at just under 2650 with the Quadrant benchmark application, but we all know benchmarks can be misleading. As far as real-world usage goes, the phone rarely lags or stutters. Applications load quickly and content appears in a timely manner. The Photon’s performance seems to match up there with the recently released EVO 3D and Atrix 4G.
Motorola’s outfitted the Photon 4G with an eight-megapixel shooter that boasts HD recording capabilities on the side. Overall, pictures from the Photon were not disappointing. Videos were on par with those from other camera phones, but did not outshine the LG G2X videos. We’re still looking at 720p capture at a rate of thirty frames per second, but we would not rule out a 1080p software upgrade in the future.
Indoors, the Photon took quality pictures, but often failed to adjust the scene’s lighting properly. At nighttime, photos were surprisingly nice with the Photon’s dual LED flash. Outdoors, the Photon camera seemed to shine the most. Take a look at a couple of sample pictures below.
Motorola’s designed the Photon 4G with a uniquely curved octagonal body. The back of this device is covered with a rubbery matte solution that proved resistant to scratches and smudges, while the front is all plastic. The exterior plastic on the front side looks like a polished blue chrome, while the back side sports a straight black color with silver chrome highlights. Since the side buttons are grated, they are easy to feel and a pleasure to push. Unfortunately, the power button was often difficult to find and push, because it is flush with the device’s top.
The Photon screen feels extraordinarily plasticky. It even caves in like a resistive screen when touched with the right force. There’s only a slight bezel on the sides of the display, which certainly adds to the attractiveness of the device. On the left side, near the top, a microUSB and HDMI port are housed only a few millimeters from each other.
On the back, the lens and flash modules are enclosed under a single unibody glass cover. Polished chrome accents the Motorola logo and kickstand. It took a minute to figure out how to deploy the kickstand. You’ll need a nail tip to open it from the middle-bottom of the device. A nail is also needed to remove the back cover, which comes off entirely to reveal the battery and backside contents. Inside, we can see the world-phone slot for a SIM card as well as a microSD slot.
In the hand, this device feels a bit meaty. It’s definitely not as slim as the latest and greatest from Samsung or LG.
Battery life on the Photon was acceptable, not exceptional. The phone regularly lasted throughout the entire day, even with moderate 4G WiMAX usage. Photon owners won’t be disappointed with the 1700 mAh battery on this device. Sprint users will do well to know that this phone lasts longer than HTC’s EVO 3D.
The Photon 4G comes with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). But, Motorola’s skinned the operating system with a custom blue and white interface. The theme, which can be seen on other Moto devices, felt complete and thorough. Motorola’s designers won’t be winning any awards with the dark blue skin, but the theme is not hard on the eyes.
Generally, the Photon interface was responsive, functional, and intuitive. Nearly all core applications were styled up with the blue-ish experience, including but not limited to the Messaging, Email, Alarm, Calendar, Camera, and Gallery apps.
Alarm & Timer
The Alarm application comes with an integrated timer, which proved convenient for cooking. Alarm times can be customized with increasing volumes, backup alarms, and vibration settings.
When comparing the Gallery application with the one present on the Nexus S, it was clear that the Motorola Gallery was a lot weaker. The user experience was disorganized, frustrating, and bloated with unnecessary functionality. Social networking features were baked into the top of the Gallery application in ways that seemed superfluous.
Email, social networking, and task management were a joy with the Photon. Everything integrates nicely with the Blur “Accounts” management application, which allows users to easily set up their well-known Web 2.0 accounts with Android.
Applications performed nicely on the qHD screen, and task switching was a breeze with the Motorola launcher. Application grouping allows users to easily administer and maintain apps on the Photon with maximum organization.
Motorola’s lock-screen on the Photon was frustrating at best; it constantly required multiple attempts. Quick lock-screen swipes often ended with a reversion, not an entrance.
With an HD Station dock, Photon users can check out the Motorola Webtop that’s pre-loaded on the device. It’s a full, but aged, version of Ubuntu with Android integration built-in. The version we tried featured a newer version of Firefox than the previous Atrix 4G Webtop. We were pleasantly surprised with the performance, but things still ran slowly every once in a while. At ninety-nine dollars, the HD station is a tough sell. If you’re traveling a lot, and have access to an HD screen, it could be worth your cash.
Thankfully, Sprint’s loaded their ID application on the Photon that allows you to quickly switch profiles depending on your expectations. The application allows a quick download, installation, and choice of themes to fit every lifestyle. Organizationally, the ID application allows users to set profiles for work, entertainment, and more.
Sprint and Motorola pre-packaged the Photon with roughly ten bloatware applications. Thankfully, many are removable via the device’s application manager. Just head over to the Settings >> Applications menu to uninstall them!
Our main complaints regarding the software on the Photon were limited to the cartoon-ish user interface theme. Most of the menus were accented with an ugly light blue, while white and gray dominated the rest. Motorola’s customizations are certainly not more attractive than Google’s pure-stock Android theme.
Motorola’s created a solid device with the Photon. It’s certainly not revolutionary, but Sprint users could fare much worse. If you’re looking for something cheaper than the EVO 3D, this phone should probably be at the top of your Sprint list. The Photon hardware was “okay,” and the software was “just fine.” Everything seems to be in order with this device. But, there’s nothing spectacular that pulls the Photon out ahead of the competition. Sure, the Webtop application is a great addition. But, most users will do without.
- Speedy, stable, and responsive
- Webtop addition
- Beautiful, bright high-res screen
- WiMAX performance on par with the best Sprint devices
- World-phone capabilities
- Ugly color scheme, software
- Lock-screen annoyances
- Plastic, plastic, and more plastic