Android: A look into MOTOBLUR

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: December 8, 2010

When buying a new Android device, several questions will certainly run through your mind, most of them dealing with hardware. But hardware isn't and shouldn't be the only thing that crosses your mind. Yesterday at WSJ's D: Dive Into Mobile conference, Android creator Andy Rubin stated:

"One of the things with Android is that we can differentiate. We let people go in and make them look completely different but all the apps magically still work -- that's a feature of Android."

What Rubin was talking about is custom user interfaces, made my manufacturers, to deliver what they believe to be the best user experience and differentiation of their devices from others. Some of the most notable user interfaces are HTC's SenseUI, Samsung's TouchWiz, and Motorola's MOTOBLUR. There have been others we've seen over the past year from LG and Sony Ericsson, but for the most part, the spotlight is on the aforementioned interfaces.
Since I have it on hand, MOTOBLUR will be the first one I talk about. It is obtrusive, mostly ugly, and  is my least favorite of all of the custom interfaces I have tried, by far. It isn't so painful on a device with a larger display (Droid 2, Droid X, etc.), but it has a way of making smaller-screen devices feel cramped. There are different versions of BLUR; devices running Froyo and higher-end devices have a special form of MOTOBLUR, while entry-level devices (FLIPOUT) still have a cartoon-like interface.

The first thing you will notice when using a MOTOBLUR device is the three-button dock at the bottom that replaces the stock Android buttons. Depending on the device and version of Android it is running, it will either be a green call button, gray applications tab, and a blue contacts tab or all white icons for some. When you scroll between pages, this dock is replaced by a “screen indicator” that lets you know which page you're currently on, and allows you to quickly jump from screen to screen. I actually like this aspect, minus the fact that when it appears, it seems like it takes forever to disappear if you want to launch applications, but if you want to select a different page, it seems to disappear too quickly. Of course, the time it displays doesn't change, but I can never get used to using it.
The most unpleasing part of MOTOBLUR, hands down, is the custom widgets that come with the UI. They all look the same but with different colored headers. The top of each widget will have a designated color, and any information it displays will be displayed in a very white and bland box. They turn your homescreens into terrible, monotonous, white-filled, wasted space. However ugly they may be to me, some may like them, and they actually have the cool ability to be resized. In all of the Motorola Android devices I have seen and of all of my friends' device, I have yet to see anyone really utilize MOTOBLUR's widgets. Personally, I avoid them like the plague.
MOTOBLUR is found in other places besides the homescreen. It makes its mark in the settings page, with the keyboard, on the lockscreen, and other various places. The all-white cons have been added to the settings page to spice it up a bit and match it to the rest of the interface, and many of the icons have been changed, for the worse; they are very plain, simplistic, and cartoonish. One part of MOTOBLUR that I do like though, is the gallery. It's similar to the stock gallery, but it divides things up a bit and organizes your different types of photos and videos. Unfortunately, it does require a few more clicks than stock to accomplish the same thing. Another enjoyable piece of MOTOBLUR is their software keyboard. It's one of the easiest to use of all software keyboards I've tried.
Motorola also added some separate functionality hidden within some applications. For one, they divided up “Messaging” and turned it into an app that centralizes all different types of messaging in one place. If you open the application, you're greeted with (depending on what accounts you have setup) email, Facebook, and text messaging. These can all be viewed in a single stream with the Universal Inbox app. I've never used this. I liked my universal inbox on my BlackBerry, but it just doesn't compare on Android.

One thing I've noticed over the period of having four or five Motorola devices is the battery life and lag associated with them. Most of their devices come with Texas Instruments OMAP processors. Both devices with 800 MHz and 1 GHz processors still lag quite a bit, more so after a few months of having the device than right after you get it. I blame nothing other than MOTOBLUR. Something as simple as scrolling through your list of applications can bog down your phone, even with all tasks killed. Panning from page to page tends to lag quite often, and the most noticeable lag comes when you press the home or back key from within an application. The UI is so memory dependent that it tends to bog everything else down. The only reason I can say the culprit is BLUR is because on my Droid X I ran both BLUR and stock Android (at different times of course), and with stock Android there was zero lag and much better battery life. There could be always be something going on under the hood that I'm unaware of, but the point is, MOTOBLUR lags, a lot.
With all of this being said, I don't mean to discourage anyone looking into buying a device with MOTOBLUR on it. It works for a lot of people, just not for me. My mother has a Droid X and loves it, even with MOTOBLUR. Motorola improves it with every update they send out, but they have a lot to learn from interfaces like Sense and TouchWiz, and they need to learn to leave some things alone.