When the Cliq came out way back in fall of 2009, I was pretty impressed with it. It was the third Android phone to debut in the United States and the first from Motorola. What I liked best about it, though, was how much thought Motorola put into its design. The affordable Cliq 2 ($100 with a two year contract from T-Mobile; price as of 1/18/10) makes the first Cliq feel like a child’s toy.
Design-wise, the Cliq 2 is sturdier with a more sophisticated look. It is a bit less plasticky than the original and feels sturdy in hand. The face of the phone is black, but there is a chrome border surrounding it. The rubberdized batter cover keeps the phone from being completely bland-looking and provides a nice grip. The 3.7-inch 854-by-480-pixel TFT display takes up more of the real estate on the face of the phone, but there are the standard four touch-sensitive keys below it: Menu, Home, Back and Search. Measuring 4.5-by-2.4-by-0.57 inches thick, the Cliq 2 is a little chunky due to the slide-out keyboard.
This extra bulk is okay, though, because the keyboard is actually quite good. I loved the original Cliq’s keyboard with the dome-shaped keys and the Cliq 2 definitely improves upon this concept. The Cliq 2’s keyboard sort of resembles a honeycomb; in fact, a product manager told me its design is inspired by nature. Rather than individual keys with space in between them, the keyboard is one solid piece. It is sort of hard to explain, but perhaps you can see what I mean from the pictures. I was able to quickly bang out a long message with no trouble at all. It is definitely one of the better physical keyboards I’ve used.
Brand new MotoBlur
The new MotoBlur interface running over Android 2.2 is interesting. It is toned down a lot from the first iteration of MotoBlur, which we saw on the original Cliq and phones like the Backflip. Still, you need to tweak the settings a bit or else the interface is social networking overkill. MotoBlur hooks into your Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, Google and other accounts. When you first set up the phone, MotoBlur will ask you to link these accounts. Beware: do not link an account unless you check it every single day. Your phone’s homescreens will become inundated with updates you don’t care about and it will quickly get very annoying.
You can set three different homescreens for various facets of your life: Work, Home and Play. The multiple profiles sort of remind me of another phone on T-Mobile, the HTC-designed myTouch 4G. MotoBlur has a few features that can be used for both business and pleasure. For example, I really liked the Calendar, which lets you create new events and e-mail or text them to your friends or work colleagues. You can also easily change meeting times/locations and see who is on your respondent list.
Other more business-oriented features include a preinstalled Quickoffice as well as the ability to ability to do a remote SD card wipe (something IT departments might find handy) and remotely locate your phone if it is lost. According to Motorola, SD card encryption will also be available via a software update scheduled for later this year.
As for the fun stuff, the Cliq 2 comes preloaded with Blockbuster OnDemand (if you are one of the few people who opt for Blockbuster over Netflix)
The 5-megapixel camera is good, but nothing spectacular. I read a few other reviews that said really positive things about the camera’s image quality, but I found that all of my photos-taken both indoors and out-had a strange hazy quality to them. I’m not sure what this is about; I tried cleaning the lens, but this didn’t fix the problem. The camera interface is the same as what you’d find on the Droid phones. It isn’t my favorite (I really like the native Android 2.2 camera interface), but it is easy enough to use.
Like other MotoBlur phones, you can’t sync your Picasa account to the phone. This probably won’t affect most people, but if you are a Picasa user (like, uh, me), this is an annoying tweak from the native Android Gallery app.
A sure sign that the Cliq 2 is all grown-up, the phone sports a 1GHz processor like many other high-end smartphones on the market. Interestingly, however, the Cliq 2 was one of the few phones announced at the Consumer Electronics Show that is not powered by a dual-core processor.
I had some trouble picking up a 4G signal in San Francisco. As we discovered when we tested the T-Mobile G2, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network is only in certain pockets of San Francisco. The PCWorld office in the South Park neighborhood is certainly not one of those pockets. But even 3G speeds were slow over here. Using the FCC-approved Mobile Broadband Test app, the Cliq 2 achieved download speeds of 0.99 Mbps and upload speeds of 0.32 Mpbs. This is on the slower end of the 3G spectrum. I frequently ran into network issues while I was connecting to the browser or the App Market while I was testing the phone, too.
Like other T-Mobile Android phones, the Cliq 2 can be used as a mobile hotspot, allowing you to connect up to five devices. You also get calling over Wi-Fi, as well. This worked pretty well; I was able to get my laptop, iPod and a camera connected to the network.
Call quality over T-Mobile’s network was average overall. Calls made indoors, in quiet environments, went smoothly. My callers on the other end of the line reported that they could hear my voice clearly albeit it sounded a bit distant. When I got outside though and made calls from a busy city street corner, they could hear the chatter of the diners at the café behind me better than they could hear my voice.
When the first Cliq launched, I was impressed by how accessible it made Android. It wasn’t a super phone by any means and given today’s standards for super smartphones, it is on par with a cheap feature phone. So now that Android is fully mainstream, Motorola had to make the next-gen Cliq accessible enough for the everyday user, but with the brawn to compete with other top notch phones out there. I think they mostly succeeded: The Cliq 2 is fast, has a multitude of entertainment and enterprise features and is nicely designed. It is also incredibly affordable, especially for a 4G 1Ghz phone running the latest version of Android. The camera isn’t great, however, so if you take a lot of pictures with your phone, you might opt for the T-Mobile myTouch 4G or the Samsung Vibrant, both of which have better cameras.
[Ginny Mies is an associate editor for PCWorld.]