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Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE review

Review by Andrew Kameka on Friday September 21, 2012.

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Hardware hardware: 4 of 5 score

The Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE looks an awful lot like the Photon 4G that came before it. The device has a long rectangular shape with corners cutting at a near-45-degree angle, but the edges slope upward to make the design appear smooth. The Photon Q 4G LTE carries on the tradition of a 4.3-inch LCD screen, only the display has been upgraded to have Motorola's ColorBoost, which raises the brightness and contrast settings of the qHD (960x540) screen. Viewing angles are fantastic when the brightness is set to high, but the viewing window narrows as brightness decreases.

Motorola makes the front of the device all touchscreen by using virtual navigation buttons, something that Google has preached since the introduction of Android 4.0 last year. The face of the phone is clean other than the presence of a Motorola logo and a 720p HD front-facing camera.

The most glaring difference between the Photon Q 4G LTE and its predecessor is that Motorola has added a hardware keyboard to its latest Sprint phone. Anyone who has ever used a Motorola DROID 4 will instantly be at home with a five-row QWERTY keyboard. Even newcomers will quickly adapt to the landscape keyboard that slides-out to reveal a comfortable set of keys raised above an illuminated backlight. The layout puts the letters in a compact area but spaces letters out fairly well, and punctuation and common symbols are easily available by tapping Shift before hitting a corresponding key. The sensible layout combines with a comfortable feel on the keyboard, which enables surprisingly fast typing.

The edges of the Photon Q 4G LTE feature a number of ports and buttons. The left side has ports for microUSB charging and micro HDMI-out to connect the device to a larger display; the right side has volume up and down buttons, a microSD slot, and a shutter button to snap photos. The top of the phone has a power button and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. All of these features are put into a plastic body with smooth coating on the edges and a coarse back plate. The phone feels a tad heavy in comparison to other devices on the market, but the 170g (5.99oz) weight is to be expected because of the addition of a keyboard. Even with the added girth of all those extra keys, the Photon Q 4G LTE still measures a very manageable 126.4mm x 66.0mm x 13.7mm(4.97in x 2.59in x 0.54in).

Usability usability: 3 of 5 score

Motorola killed MOTOBLUR UI in name last year, but it took several more months and phone releases to kill it in spirit. Most of the ill-conceived UI changes to Android have been abandoned, leaving in its place a good-looking interface. The sluggishness that previously caused users to criticize Blur is also gone, though that could be attributed to the 1.5 GHz dual-core processor that keeps the phone moving smoothly. Whatever the root cause, this is one of the most usable iterations of Motorola's Android software.

The revamped design more closely resembles Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich than the interface overlays used by HTC and Samsung, but this isn't quite a stock Android experience. For instance, the virtual navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen use a transparent background that overlays over the wallpaper. It's a subtle but welcome departure from the solid black background used in the standard edition of Android. The People app uses a black background and white text instead of the inverse typically found in Android 4.0, but it offers the same core function of quickly locating contacts in a variety of ways.

The Photon Q 4G LTE features changes made to icons and color schemes, but the functional tweaks are more pleasing than the aesthetic changes. I'm a big fan of the Smart Actions feature that automates settings based on conditions like battery life, phone state, or time of day. The software has been included in other phones, but Motorola has made it especially useful to save battery life and provide shortcuts. There are also handy shortcuts on the lock screen and the home screen, which features an incredibly useful widget that displays your 'Favorites' tag.

The draw of the Photon Q 4G LTE is that it has an excellent physical keyboard. It would seem silly to let that method go to waste if you prefer the hardware input method, but there are virtual options as well for quick input. The default Android keyboard and Swype are also included.

Calling / Data calling: 3 of 5 score

The Photon Q 4G LTE is the first Motorola device capable of accessing Sprint's LTE network. Unfortunately, the device is only capable of reaching its full capability in a handful of markets as Sprint's LTE service is not widely-available in the U.S. yet. I spent a great deal relying on Wi-Fi connectivity, which works with 802.11 B/G/N. Call quality on 3G was decent, but it lacked the voice clarity heard with other Motorola products. Performance might improve when Sprint brings its Network Vision program to a city near you, but the roll-out is long and limited, so there's no telling when to expect enhancements for calls or data.

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About the author

Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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