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Motorola Photon 4G Review: A Smarter Smartphone

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Motorola Photon 4G

Motorola Photon 4G

Sprint
The Motorola Photon 4G certainly puts the "smart" in smartphone. This device has it all: a dual-core processor, the latest version of Android, a qHD 4.3-inch screen, world phone capabilities, enterprise-level security features, HD video recording, and more. In short, there's not a lot the Motorola Photon 4G can't do, and it rightfully earns a spot among today's best phones.

Slick Looks

The Motorola Photon 4G doesn't quite look like every other Android phone out there on the market -- and that's a good thing. While this phone sports the big touchscreen and slab-style like so many of today's phones, it features a slightly different shape: Motorola has lopped off the four corners of the device, giving the phone something of an intimidating look.

But the Photon 4G also is pretty bulky: it makes an iPhone 4 look downright diminutive. The Photon 4G measures 5 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by .5 inches thick, and weighs in at a hefty 5.6 ounces. The design looks and feels solid.

Also attractive is the big, bright touchscreen. At 4.3 inches diagonally, the screen offers plenty of real estate, and its 960-by-540 resolution makes images and text look sharp and clear. The touchscreen was very responsive, and it features a Gorilla Glass display that is designed to be scratch resistant and glare reducing, so you can use the phone in very bright sunlight

Making Calls

I made several test calls over Sprint's network, and found that the Motorola Photon 4G delivered good call quality. For the most part, voices were loud and clear, but I noticed a slight bit of distortion during some calls. And, much like the HTC EVO 3D, the Photon 4G felt a bit bulky to hold during some calls.

4G Support

The Motorola Photon 4G is the latest addition to Sprint's lineup of 4G-capable phones. The device can automatically connect to available 4G networks, which deliver super-speedy data service. You can turn off the 4G connection to conserve battery life, too. To learn more about 4G service, see 4G Wireless: Everything You Need to Know.

Like Sprint's other 4G phones, the Photon 4G retains support for 3G and Wi-Fi wireless networks; I tested the phone over all three connections and found it consistently delivered high-speed browsing.

Like the HTC EVO 3D, the Photon 4G supports Sprint's mobile hotspot service, so you can use it to create a hotspot to which you can connect up to 8 Wi-Fi enabled devices. To use this feature, you will need to subscribe to Sprint's $29.99-per-month mobile hotspot service, though.

Software

The Photon 4G runs Android 2.3, the latest version of Google's mobile OS. Android has grown more refined with each release, and version 2.3 is certainly impressive. It's more polished and refined than earlier versions, which were a bit geeky. Read my full review of the Android OS for more information.

On top of the Android OS, the Photon 4G features Motorola's MotoBlur interface, which is also used on phones like the Motorola Cliq and the Motorola Atrix. Luckily, the version found here is less intrusive. For starters, unlike past versions of Motoblur, this one doesn't require that you sign up for a Motoblur account to use the phone. It also places its main features -- widgets that deliver status updates and more from your favorite social networks -- on a secondary home screen, so you're not overwhelmed with them when you turn on your phone.

In addition to Motoblur, the Photon 4G also features Sprint ID, which is a way to add a theme to your Android phone. You can select from options such as Entertainment, Green, or Sports, which add widgets, shortcuts, and wallpaper to your phone. You can choose not to install a Sprint ID if you don't want one.

Camera

The Photon 4G features both forward and rear-facing cameras. On the front, you get a VGA camera for video calls, though the phone doesn't come with a video chat app installed. That means you'll have to install your own to make video calls. On the rear of the phone, you get an 8-megapixel camera that captures video good images. My test photos looked very sharp and colorful. I did have trouble capturing moving subjects, though.

The Photon 4G can record HD video in 720p HD and my test clips looked pretty good. Colors were vivid and the audio was good, but I did notice some occasional blockiness.

Multimedia and More

The Motorola Photon 4G comes packed with multimedia features. It offers a very good built-in music player, and includes software for transferring your digital audio files to the phone. You also get access to Amazon's MP3 store, FM radio, and a YouTube app.

Movie aficionados will appreciate the big screen, and its ability to play back HD video in 1080p. The Photon 4G also includes an HDMI out port so you can connect the phone to a flat-screen HDTV. In addition, it has DLNA support, which allows you to stream content to compatible DLNA devices, such as set-top boxes.

Down to Business

The Photon 4G isn't all fun and games, though. The phone also includes a number of features that business-savvy users will appreciate. It supports Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, which will allow you to sync your business e-mail and calendar. The phone also features improved data encryption for security and a remote wipe feature. The Photon 4G is similar to Motorola's Atrix, which can be used with a laptop-like accessory. With the Photon 4G, the accessory is called an HD Station, and it costs $129. It has USB ports and an HDMI out port, so you can connect the phone to a display, mouse, and keyboard. Then you can run apps like a desktop version of Firefox, using the phone almost like a mini computer.

Price and Availability

Sprint is offering the Photon 4G for $199.99 when you sign a two-year service agreement. You will have to commit to one of the carrier's data plans, but Sprint is, at least, one of the few carriers still offering unlimited data. On top of that, though, you will need to add a $10-per-month Premium Data add-on for the 4G service -- and that add-on plan is required whether you live in an area with 4G coverage or not.

Bottom Line

The Motorola Photon 4G is a full-featured smartphone that will please business users and entertainment addicts alike. It packs as much power as a PC used to, just a few years ago, so this is a phone that can certainly handle most day-to-day tasks, and more.

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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