Up until now, AT&T and Verizon have had the exclusives on big Motorola releases including the Droid, Droid X, their subsequent follow-ups and the Motorola Atrix. The Photon 4G breaks that tradition and represents the first flagship-level Android phone from Motorola to the Sprint Wireless network. Read on to see if it lives up to the promise in our Motorola Photon 4G review.
With the dearth of Android phones, some shoppers will find themselves comparing specification sheets to find a device that hits their needs best. The easiest way for phones to stand out among the crowd is to bring a decided advantage in specfications. We’ll touch on it later in the review, but the Photon offers best in class features across the board.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Photon are the corners giving the phone design cues from the octagon. Most phones are either boxy or feature rounded corners, so the Photon is easily distinguishable. The look has no bearing on the functionality of the device, but rather something of a personal preference. For my tastes, I would have liked Motorola to use a more traditional design, as found in the Atrix or Droid Bionic. The Photon’s design appears to be different for the sake of being different, rather than offering any improvements over past phone designs. When looking at the display, I often found myself noticing the corners, which was in some ways distracting.
Once you get past the unique look, you’ll appreciate the build quality materials. The back features a soft matte finish that shows well after extensive use. A silver kickstand is handy for watching movies, videos or even using your phone as a desktop clock. With Kickstand mode enabled, the Photon will recognize you’re entering ‘kickstand’ mode, and offer the option to display either your homescreen or custom widget clock. Based on the positioning, there is no way to charge the phone with the kickstand open. Motorola’s Photon HD Station serves as an accessory that will charge the phone and allow use of the included webtop application, so you can bring your content to any HDTV. An 8-megapixel camera with dual- LED flash also shoots 720p HD video. (Please note that we will update this review shortly with images and sample video). Quality was very good and the auto-focus worked well.
The sides of the phone are outlined in a metallic gun metal gray, which pauses at times to reveal silver buttons for volume up/down, dedicated camera button and an easily accessible power button at the top right. The buttons are the right side of the devices have ridges, making them very grippy and add a nice design element to the device.
The left side offers a microUSB for connecting to your Mac/PC/charger and a micro HDMI for connecting to your HDTV. This also can be used to connect to the HD Station. You should note that you don’t need the HD Station dock to connect to any HDTV.
The front of the device is dominated by a 4.3-‐inch qHD display. Constructed of Corning Gorilla Glass, the Photon should prove to be resistant to scratches. The display itself is sharp and vivid, reminding us of the screen on the Motorola Atrix (see our review). Motorola has chosen to use animations when opening up new apps or windows. They can easily be disabled in Settings > Display > Animation > No Animation. The phone feels faster with them off, but that’s purely a preference.
Weighing in at 158g, the Photon certainly has some heft to it, but falls somewhere in the middle when compared against others. For comparison purposes, here’s how it stacks up to other popular phones.
- Motorola Atrix : 138g
- HTC EVO 3D: 170g
- Nexus S 4G: 131g
Despite the weight, the Photon felt comfortable to carry and I enjoyed the overall solid form factor.
Motorola rates the battery life as having 6.5 hours of video playback or 10 hours of talk time. It takes 2 hours to fully charge the phone. You can get a full day of mixed use activities with the Photon. With 4G, a massive display, you can expect that a feature-‐rich device will require you manage your battery life accordingly. Most will want to carry either a spare battery, travel charger or car charger.
This is a worldphone capable phone also brings support for Sprint’s 3G and 4G networks. Sadly, Sprint does not offer 4G coverage in Long Island, so I was unable to test 4G speeds. My tests showed If you live in an area without 4G, you are still required to purchase Sprint’s ‘premium data’ plan upgrade. My best advice would be to visit a local Sprint store and run SpeedTest.net app, available in the App Market. Other options include the FCC Mobile Broadband Test app. These will provide you with realistic speed expectations in your locale.
Processor and Storage
Motorola has outfitted the Photon with a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 (1Ghz) processor coupled with the 1GB of RAM, which helps keep things speedy. Moving around the devices is a joy. Apps open fast and the Photon will move as fast as you do. You’ll Hind 16GB of storage and that’s expandable to a 48GB.
The Motorola Photon is equipped with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which of course is the latest version of Android, not something we can take for granted these days. The user interface is heavily customized, although it doesn’t have the MotoBlur branding attached to it. There are all too many widgets, but these are easily disabled or enabled if they meet your needs. Sprint has included a good number of apps including Sprint Zone, Sprint TV and Movies, Sprint ID, Sprint Mobile Wallet, Sprint Music Plus, Sprint Radio and Sprint Worldwide. Lest we not forget, there is also a Nascar app. The sizable amount of storage made it easy to forget about these apps.
Update: There is already a software update for the Motorola Photon 4G. The update provides the following enhancements. Voice Calls: Improvements to voice calling to eliminate inadvertent voice calls defaulting to mute. Phone Performance: Improve stability, resulting in fewer occurrences of unresponsiveness. Bluetooth Connectivity: Bluetooth support for mono headsets with the Sprint Visual Voicemail app.
Motorola Photon Accessories
As a flagship device, the Photon is able to take advantage of Motorola’s recent decision to offer a host of device specific accessories. While the costs at times can be a barrier, the options certainly allow for expansion of your mobile computing experience.
- HD Station ($99.99)
- Vehicle Navigation Dock ($59.99)
- Wireless Keyboard ($69.99)
- Fast thanks to dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM
- Big vibrant display
- Ample on board storage of 16GB, expandable to 48GB
- Excellent accessory expansion options including HD Station, Vehicle Navigation Dock and Wireless keyboard
- 4G should offer excellent download/upload speeds if available in your area
- Questionable design might limit appeal to some
- Requires premium data plan and 4G might not be available in your area
- Motorola’s customizations, formerly known as MotoBlur, take away from the pure Android experience
The Motorola Photon checks all the appropriate boxes when it comes to specifications and easily becomes one of the best Android offerings available on Sprint. With the Photon being one of Motorola’s flagship devices, you also benefit from having the option to add on a number of excellent OEM accessories that truly expand your mobile computing experience. The design of the device gives it a unique look, thought it might not appeal to every user. When combined with Sprint’s attractive pricing and truly unlimited data plan, there is plenty to like about the Motorola Photon 4G.