The Motorola Cliq ($200 with a two-year contract from T-Mobile) caught my attention because of its sleek design and its innovative MotoBlur overlay for Android. Overall, the new features lived up to my expectations, and I applaud Motorola for doing something different to separate itself from the Android pack. The Cliq isn’t perfect, however: the camera disappoints, and it doesn’t ship with the latest version of Android.
Like the T-Mobile G1 ( ) and the Samsung Moment, the Motorola Cliq has both a touchscreen and a slide-out keyboard. I haven’t spent enough time with the Samsung Moment to compare it and the Cliq in depth, but I can safely say that I much prefer the Cliq to the G1. It feels sturdier, more streamlined, and more comfortable during use.
Measuring 4.5 inches long by 2.3 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick, the Cliq falls somewhere between the G1 and the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G (T-Mobile’s other Android offering) in size. Weighing 5.7 ounces, it is slightly heavier than other current smartphones—the iPhone 3GS, for example—but it doesn’t feel bulky. The Cliq feels as though it has a high build quality, thanks in part to the glass display and metal trim around the handset. I’ll take heavier materials over cheap-feeling plastic any day.
The 320-by-480-pixel capacitive touch display dominates the phone’s face. Though a 3.1-inch screen is large enough to support watching a video or navigating around the interface comfortably, Motorola didn’t use the available real estate very efficiently. The Cliq sets a noticeable amount of space aside to accommodate logos; I wish that Motorola had made this area smaller and the screen larger.
Three hardware buttons appear beneath the display: Menu, Home, and Back. These buttons are nicely raised, easy to press, and brightly backlit. A volume rocker, a charging port, and a ringer switch lie on the left spine of the phone; and the lock/power button and camera shutter occupy the right. The 3.5mm headphone jack sits at the top of the phone.
A physical keyboard is necessary because the native touch keyboard on the current version of Android is far from perfect. I appreciated the raised, dome-shaped keys, but I didn’t like their mushy feel in comparison to the responsive clickiness that other QWERTY keyboards (such as the BlackBerry Tour’s) possess. I suspect that I’ll get used to the keys with more use, however. The keyboard is spacious, and I liked how large and easy-to-find the Alt, Search, Space, Sym, and Undo keys were (they’re a different color than the other keys). A four-way directional pad sits to the left of the keyboard and serves as a handy navigation control if you don’t feel like using the touchscreen.
Call quality over T-Mobile’s network was very good. I made a few calls on a busy street corner and could hear my contacts perfectly. Motorola says that the phone incorporates two microphones as well as noise-cancellation technology. Callers on the other end of the line told me that my voice sounded very clear, although one noted a faint hiss during our call.
The Motorola Cliq is the first phone to showcase MotoBlur, Motorola’s skin for Android. Before we delve into Android, however, I should note that the Cliq doesn’t ship with the latest version of Android OS 1.6 (more deliciously known as Donut). T-Mobile says that it won’t announce any plans for 1.6 at launch, but the company did mention the ease of making over-the-air upgrades via MotoBlur, so perhaps you can expect one later in the year.
When you start up your Cliq for the first time, you have to register for a MotoBlur account. This establishes a registration record of your phone on the MotoBlur servers so you can receive updated information without interruption. You then choose which social networks or accounts (such as such as Facebook, Last.fm, MySpace, and Twitter) you want to associate on your Cliq. MotoBlur then aggregates all of the information from your networks and delivers it to the phone.
The best example of how MotoBlur organizes this information is your contacts. The application collects all of the contacts from your various social networks. If you’re friends with the same people on multiple networks, MotoBlur condenses all of their information into a single listing to avoid duplicating data on your phone. You can then see each of your contacts’ current information—birthday, status update, current profile picture, e-mail address, phone number, and the like. You can view your communication history with a particular contact as well as viewing that person’s activity on different social networks.
When your friends update their information in one of the supported social networks, MotoBlur will update their listing on your phone. To see how quickly the updating would occur, I used my computer to change my picture on Facebook via the Web. My picture updated in my contact info on the Cliq in less than 30 minutes.
Android is easy enough to get the hang of, but it lacks the aesthetic appeal and intuitiveness of some other OSs. This is where MotoBlur comes in: MotoBlur uses Android’s live widget capabilities to bring all of your messaging and social networking activity to the phone’s homescreen.
At first glance, MotoBlur is a bit overwhelming. Text, talk bubbles, and images fly out at you in every direction. And the text and icons don’t pop out as much as the ones on iPhone OS or the Palm Pre do. Fortunately, you have five homescreens to fill with the widgets and applications of your choice, which helps reduce the clutter (a small indicator at the top of each page tells you which page you’re on—much as on the iPhone. In addition to the standard Android widgets (Music, Clock, Calendar, and Search, to name a few), you’ll see four MotoBlur widgets: Messages, Status, Happenings, and Weather.
As its name implies, Messages delivers your most recent unread texts, social network messages, and e-mail messages to the homescreen in a speech bubble. The sender is identified at top of the message in bold, so you can easily tell whether the message is important or just spam. A snippet of the e-mail appears, but when you tap on it, you jump the full message, at which point you can reply or delete it. You can also view all of your messages in a universal inbox similar to Palm’s WebOS, or you can view your messages by account, if you prefer.
MotoBlur’s Happenings widget gives you instant access to your social networks from the homescreen. Facebook, Gmail, Last.fm, MySpace, Twitter, Yahoo, and other social networks are constantly connected and continually updated on the app. I found Happenings a bit annoying. Do I really want some random former classmate’s status popping up on my phone?
Status is fairly self-explanatory, too. You can use it to update your status to one or all of your social networks from your phone. This feature is pretty convenient because you don’t actually have to open the application to enter a status update. Instead, you can do it from the homescreen.
MotoBlur’s best feature may be its ability to track your lost or stolen phone via GPS and remotely wipe it. And since all of your data is stored in the MotoBlur cloud, you won’t have to reload everything into your new phone.
The Web browser loaded pages quickly; but the Cliq doesn’t support Flash, so certain videos and pages won’t load. Though Flash 10 for Android is coming soon,you’ll just have to hold out until it is available. The browser itself is reasonably easy to use: You can open multiple windows, bookmark pages, and search for words on a page.
Holding down the dedicated shutter button launches the camera application. My outdoor pictures looked great, with bright, accurate colors and sharp details. Snapshots taken in dimly lit indoor settings didn’t fare as well, however. Some test images had yellow or blue color casts and looked grainy. One shot of an acoustic guitar had a noticeable amount of noise in the lines of the wood. In addition, the shutter speed is disappointingly slow, and you can’t adjust it, so you’d better make sure that your subject stays put for a good 3 seconds to ensure a decent shot.
The Android music player is straightforward and easy to navigate. You can download DRM-free tracks from the Amazon MP3 store, which is a nice alternative to iTunes. Music playback sounded good (though slightly tinny) through the included earbuds. Video playback looked great on the Cliq’s 3.1-inch display—but again, I wish that the display were a little bigger.
To put videos or songs on the Motorola Cliq with a Mac, you connect to the phone via USB, and the phone will show up on your desktop as a removable volume. You then drag and drop files on and off of it to transfer data.
For hardcore social networkers, the Motorola Cliq is a dream phone. You get fast access to all of your accounts and a well-designed QWERTY keyboard for typing long messages. If you aren’t into social networking or if you want to keep that information limited to your computer, you may be turned off by the Cliq. The T-Mobile MyTouch 3G might be a better Android option, or you could choose one of the many BlackBerry models on T-Mobile.
[Ginny Mies is a staff editor for PC World.]