Review: Motorola CLIQ

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The Short Version

Motorola has released the phone it should have released a few years ago to compete with phones like the Helio Ocean and feature phones from LG and Samsung. Android brings this phone into the 21st century and the QWERTY keyboard and BLUR UI tweaks will please those looking for a keyboard Android phone with social networking features.

The Long Version
This last half-decade has been hard on Motorola. It launched the RAZR in 2004 and essentially riffed on that ground-breaking clamshell for another four years. Now it’s 2009 and it’s time to move in a different direction. Can this creaky ship of a company take up the line, hoist the mizzen, and tack to starboard? Is the Motorola CLIQ the answer to their deepest, most secret prayers, prayed in anguish under a stifling cover of imminent collapse? How many more metaphors can I use here before I sound like I’m writing for a business magazine?

First, I finger wag. Motorola, you have been very bad. You squandered your massive lead (110 million RAZRs sold by 2005) on a strategy that included, but was not limited to, trying to copy the magic of the RAZR while the rest of the industry was going the way of the smartphone. Then you tried to build out some Windows Mobile phones that no one wanted and, in the end, lost out to just about every rival you’ve ever had. This is bad.

So here’s your hail Mary pass, your Radio Free Europe, your return to four-letter naming conventions. I present the Motorola CLIQ.


What’s Inside

This phone will be sold on T-Mobile and includes a quad-band GSM radio and runs Android. It has a slide out QWERTY keyboard with direction buttons and a 5-megapixel camera that can record video. It includes GPS for turn-by-turn navigation and supports Bluetooth as well as MP3/AAC/WAV/H.264/MPEG playback.

It has built-in WiFi (802.11b/g) and a removable 2GB MicroSD card is included in the box. It is charged and sync via a micro-USB cable.

Three buttons under the screen access the menu, access the home screen, and go back, respectively. A button on the upper right turns the phone off and locks it and a button on the lower right activates the camera. There are volume control buttons on the left side along with a hard mute switch. A full-sized headphone port hangs out on top.

The device is clad in shiny metallic plastic and has a plastic backing that is textured to look like carbon fiber. A white LED pulses on the phone’s face as a grim reminder of your own mortality.

The CLIQ will sell for $199 with two year contract. It will be available to current T-Mobile customers on October 19 and for new customers on November 2.

Usability

The CLIQ is very heavy, much heavier than you expect. It weighs almost six ounces, which isn’t much, but it seems dense. They keyboard is comfortable and the touchscreen is responsive and on par with the HTC MyTouch.

I had horrible luck getting a 3G signal out in Brooklyn which may have been a by-product of my location and the CLIQ’s firmware. The MyTouch, for example, gets T-Mobile 3G in Brooklyn without trouble.

Motorola rates this phone at 6 hours talk time and 13 days of standby. These numbers would be correct if it weren’t for the myriad social networking features built-in which, like it or not, eat up the battery. The phone I used was at the half-way mark at 2pm after being unplugged at 9am. I’d say the daily usage is under 18 hours and this thing definitely needs an overnight charge.

The phone does not seem to have a position sensor it only flips the screen when the keyboard is out.
The camera is acceptable as is the camcorder feature. The phone includes Shazam music discovery software, an RSS newsreader, and Telenav GPS Navigator. All of these work fine under Android. In fact, this is a stock Android phone with a little something extra.

Blur

So what is Blur? Blur, like HTC’s Sense UI, is Motorola’s overlay on top of – or, more correctly, around Android. I integrates Facebook, Twitter, Picassa, MySpace, and Photobucket content along with your POP/IMAP email and Gmail contacts list into one cohesive unit. The default home screen has a status update widget along with a “Universal Message” box that shows all of your new emails. A quick tap will open up a larger view of both. A Facebook/Twitter widget pops up status updates. News and Entertainment widgets offer just what you’d imagine they offer.

Unlike HTC’s Sense, this is not an over-arching or overly ambitious skinning of Android. You are limited to one type of clock, for example, out of the box, and the skinning stops at the clever widgets and a few color and app choices.

Blur is clever. When you start up the phone it asks for all of your login particulars. Everyone, be they in Twitter or Facebook or Gmail, shows up as a contact. Most of these contacts will automatically connect with each other, ensuring you don’t have too many duplicates. However, seeing a huge list of odd Twitter names is a bit disconcerting.

What is Blur? It is the first use of Android in a what would normally be a feature phone. This is a huge step forward for the operating system and a good move by Motorola. The phone is aimed as “social” folks AKA teens. There is nothing in this phone to suggest it is a smartphone and Blur cements that position quite nicely. In the same way the Hero was aimed at trendy socialites, this, too, takes everything from everywhere and puts it into one package. It is not, however, a phone for the enterprise. The CLIQ is, you know, for kids.

Bottom Line
I’ve had a few days to play with the CLIQ and came away refreshed and hopeful. This phone is better than the G1 on all fronts but there is still a ways to go for it to beat out some of HTC’s upcoming Android offerings. Motorola didn’t hit it out of the ballpark on this one, but they’re still in the game.

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