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Choice is always a good thing, and if you're Sprint, you're quickly becoming the go-to carrier for awesome Android handsets.  Announced at a special event in June, the Motorola PHOTON 4G is the manufacturer's first WiMAX smartphone.  It follows the popular HTC EVO 3D, and with a 1 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, 4.3-inch qHD display, 8-megapixel camera, global roaming capabilities, and Android 2.3 preinstalled, it comes out of the box swinging.  Is it the must-have Android device on Sprint, or is the EVO 3D (and HTC's Sense user interface) the reigning champion?  Better yet, is it worth holding off for Samsung's Galaxy S II line?

 

Design & Features

At first glance, PHOTON looks a lot like it belongs on the NEXTEL side of the network.  Coming in at 5 inches tall by 2.63 inches wide by 0.48 inch thick and weighing in at 5.57 ounces, its boxy design and brash curves resemble a larger version of the Motorola i1.  The left side of the unit houses the microUSB and HDMI ports, the volume rocker and camera shortcut button can be found on the right side of the unit, and the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack are located on the top.

Sprint ships the PHOTON 4G in a rectangular box with an AC adapter, microUSB cable, and instruction manuals.  The PHOTON packs a 4.3-inch qHD display with PenTile technology, meaning that the display is brighter and easier to read outdoors versus the competition.  Where that technology falls behind the competition is in pixelation - when holding up a PenTile display beside a competitor (Retina, Super AMOLED Plus, etc.), there's a noticeable level of pixelation.


Usability & Performance

Packing a 1 GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, the PHOTON 4G is speedy.  Apps loaded up with ease, pictures and videos popped up quickly, and the device scored a respectable 2,383 in Quadrant Standard.  PHOTON ships with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and a new build of Motorola's Applications Platform, formerly known as MOTOBLUR.  Take every perception you had about BLUR and throw it out the window, though - this build of Motorola's custom user interface is a night-and-day difference over the original.  With a blue color scheme, MAP (which is what I'll call it for the remainder of the review) offers an app dock similar to TouchWiz and Apple's iOS.  It's not going to win any design contests (admittedly, HTC's Sense 3.0 looks far better), but it's incredibly functional and is a huge improvement in the speed department.  It also offers some nifty features like the ability to remove individual items from the notifications bar, improved transition effects, and a dedicated app dock at the bottom of the screen.

The usual Sprint bloatware like NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile, Sprint Mobile Wallet, Sprint Music Plus, Sprint Radio, Sprint TV, Sprint Worldwide, and Sprint Zone can be found on the PHOTON, though I was surprised to see Sprint ID preinstalled considering PHOTON's high-end status.  Fortunately, Sprint has listened to its customer base and allows most of the apps to be uninstalled.

The 8-megapixel shooter offers 720p HD video recording.  It's not going to replace your regular camera and pales in comparison to other smartphone camera leaders like the iPhone 4 and myTouch 4G Slide, but it's decent.  There is a dedicated camera button on the side, though it doesn't offer the ability to autofocus (you have to use the on-screen button for that).  Editing options include several scenes (auto, portrait, landscape, sport, night portrait, sunset, macro, steady shot) and effects (black and white, sepia, negative, solarize).  In the 720p HD video test, the audio was impressive, though the video was average in comparison to other recent Android releases.  It's not going to replace your main camcorder, but for the casual video, it works just fine.

The PHOTON 4G's biggest strength lies in call quality.  The wireless radio on the device is the best I've ever used on Sprint.  Calls are exceptionally clear, my callers had no issues hearing me, and the earpiece and overall call quality were exceptional on my end.  I took the PHOTON to a Sprint dead zone that I test at regularly, and while other Sprint devices typically register 0-1 bars of service, the PHOTON held strong at two bars.  Calls were slightly choppy at times, but far better than other Sprint devices I've tested in the same area.

PHOTON is the first Sprint 4G device to offer global roaming capabilities via a SIM card slot in the back.  There's a Sprint SIM card preinstalled in the unit, though a quick Google search suggests Sprint is accommodating to unlocking requests.  Unlike the United States, GSM is the predominant wireless technology in the rest of the world, and thanks to the slot, you can either utilize Sprint's international services while traveling through Europe, Asia, and the like.  Those that globe-trot regularly will be relieved to find a high-end Android device that also sports global roaming capabilities.  No more switching between that Android phone and the BlackBerry Bold 9650!

Unfortunately (and not by the fault of the PHOTON 4G), Sprint's data speeds are incredibly inconsistent.  When 3G and 4G work, they work extraordinarily well.  At some points, I saw 3G download speeds between 1.01 and 1.91 Mbps, and 4G download speeds between 7.73 Mbps and 12.01 Mbps.  Most of the time, however, the network's 3G speeds are abysmal.  Again, it's not the PHOTON's fault, but given the phone's data-centric features, it's often challenging to get things done (browse the web, download apps) in a reasonable time frame.  I won't deduct points since the PHOTON's not to blame, but those considering a migration to Sprint should take advantage of the 30 day trial to ensure that the data speeds are adequate for daily use.



With a 1,650 mAh battery, overall longevity has been on par with most other Android phones I've worked with in recent months.  With moderate use like calling, sending a few text messages, browsing the web, downloading apps, and keeping the PHOTON synced to my email accounts, I was able to make it into the evening before I had to drop it into the charging dock.  With heavy use, you'll want to snag a car charger or a spare battery.  Motorola and Sprint offer an HD media dock, which doubles up as a charging station.


Conclusion

The Motorola PHOTON 4G is the best smartphone available on Sprint right now.  The user interface may not be as animated as Sense 3.0 on the HTC EVO 3D, but the device more than makes up for it with astounding call quality and a great list of specifications.  The Tegra 2 processor is incredibly fast, Motorola's revamped custom UI is far better than MOTOBLUR, and the global roaming capabilities make it a great choice for those that travel internationally.  It's the first WiMAX device from Motorola, and as far as I'm concerned, Motorola nailed it with an exceptional device that competes with similarly-spec'd units from HTC and Samsung.


Wrap-Up

What's Good: Fast dual-core processor; vibrant display; Android 2.3 and Motorola's new UI out of the box; global roaming capabilities; exceptional call quality.
 
What's Bad: The PenTile technology used in the qHD display is more pixelated than the high-resolution competition (Retina, Super LCD, Super AMOLED Plus).

The Verdict: The PHOTON 4G is an all-around fantastic smartphone with a wireless radio that bests anything on Sprint at the moment.  If you need a great phone with a killer specifications list, the PHOTON is the device to get.


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79 Reactions to this post

"Is the Motorola PHOTON 4G Sprint's best smartphone?"


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William Robles
William Robles I think so
Enrique Berrios
Enrique Berrios Evolution 3ds resolution sucks
Sylvia Ramirez
Sylvia Ramirez Its my new phone! enough said.
Ben Harris
Ben Harris I havent tested against the photon yet, but my evo 3d has blazed past every other phone in benchmark test including my evo 4g
Peter Hofer
Peter Hofer Jailbroken iPhone4. Can't go wrong
Reece Beaulaurier
Reece Beaulaurier too bad the os sucks azz
Keaston Brooks
Keaston Brooks If sprint get the new nexus prime or whatever its going to be called then that will be the phone I will get. Motorola new ui is a BIG improvement over their old motoblur mess they had. But the phone still needs to get a unlocked bootloader and then cm7 so needs to evo 3d and then compare them.
Tristan Justin Pierce
Tristan Justin Pierce I had the evo 3d returned it because it wasn't much better than my EVO 4G, not enough of an upgrade. The speed was a lil faster, 3d is ok but the main reason I brought it back was I got awful reception, even in places I get good to great reception with my 4G , i was barely gettin any bars. I played with the photon for a lil bit it was nice in waiting on the sgs2 to come out to see which one I get
Byktor Urvaes
Byktor Urvaes i liked :-)
Paul Armendarez
Paul Armendarez Rooted evo w/viper's rom :)
Shannon Smith
Shannon Smith Richard......no.
Carlos Obando
Carlos Obando No It's not the best phone on Sprint cause the HTC Evo 3D is the best!!!!!
Richard Allen Yarrell
Richard Allen Yarrell I recieve 16 to 23hrs battery life on my Evo 3d everyday. Being a former evo 4g owner it's pretty easy to maximize my battery on the evo 3d. People need to understand the overall technology that is part of the evo 3d. It's all industry leading in this device and htc knew exactly what they were doing when making this device with 1.2 asynchronous dualcore processor with the task manager optimize for the evo 3d battery life is definitely better than any android device. HTC rules android hands down.
Erik Fernandez
Erik Fernandez I've seen all the reviews, and most of them give the edge to the photon. Get the 3D app for the photon makes the home screen look 10 times better if not 100 than the evo 3D
Darryl Mouzone
Darryl Mouzone It will be until Sprint releases another 4G phone and then people will be raving about that one is the best. And that will happen probably a month or so from now.
Richard Allen Yarrell
Richard Allen Yarrell As usual another USELESS POST on a stupid TOPIC here on phonedog. People seriously need to educate themselves in technology I spent 2hrs in a sprint store comparing these devices and I want to applaud motorola for there first device on sprint in a very long time. Very nice device BUT DEFINITELY NOT IN THE SAME CLASS AS THE EVO 3D THAT'S FORSURE. The EVO BRAND Is something well respected in the land of android and is a brand that has elevated android as well as htc and sprint to a whole new level. The Motorola Photon 4g is just another phone in android land NOTHING SPECIAL IN THE REAL WORLD. Every current Photon 4g owner needs to take a moment return to sprint but first download these applications on your Photon before you visit the store.. Smartbench2011, Vellamo, cf benchmark, nenamark2, Antutu benchmark, and fps2d. All these benchmarks are what are used to compare all DUALCORE DEVICES that are made for 2011. The EVO 3D mopped the floor with the PHOTON 4G comparing all these benchmarks. Cusromers came into the sprint store crowding around me just to see what I was doing with the store model of the Photon 4G. When I was done 2 people who arrived to the store wanting to purchase the Photon 4G walked out the store purchasing the EVO 3D. Using quadrant standard and linpack benchmarks are not optimized for this year's dualcore devices they only work well for single core devices which means last year's phones. HTC is well respected in the android community and have represented android well by supporting there devices ie.. Evo 4g launched with 2.1 éclair, recieved 2.2 Froyo after the Nexus one last year, and then recieved 2.3.3 gingerbread in 2011 it was the best supported android device ever Trust me that will continue why BECAUSE HTC AND SPRINT ARE THE BEST IN THE BUSINESS WHEN IT COMES TO UPDATES NOBODY IS BETTER. Meanwhile motorola is just as bad as samsung at updates and supporting there devices. Anyone purchasing this device flatout is a TOTAL JOKE AT BEST. Everyone knows who has been in the smartphone game that the EVO 3D TRUMPS THE PHOTON 4G HANDS DOWN. I was an EVO 4G owner from June 4th 2010 to June 24th 2011 and now currently an EVO 3D owner and proudly I buy the best every year and the Evo brand is the best and the FLAGSHIP DEVICE ON SPRINT that will always be. EVO is a BRAND PHOTON IS A PHONE VERY SIMPLE.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hn-zEcoWjdU&feature=youtube_gdata_player
Flako Ramirez
Flako Ramirez Yes
Erin Hill
Erin Hill Motorola should make sprint phones that are comparable to the MOTO Droid line on Verizon
Jorge Irribarra
Jorge Irribarra Of course it is... I am writing this post on my photon.. it's number one!!
Lennes Shaw
Lennes Shaw htc dust off and try again you can do it; however I haven't had a chance to try the photon.
Lennes Shaw
Lennes Shaw I had the evo3d for a week the first day it was released, and I must say htc that is worst phone from you guys. The phone was laggy, it rebooted a few times, it also went back to the home screen automaticly while I was surfing the web. Also the 3d was more like a hologram baseball card or some cheap cereal box hologram card.
Steve C Trevino
Steve C Trevino I do have to say one thing good about Motorola's phones and an important one at that.. I use to have OG Droid, and now Droid x and call quality is fantastic, not to mention a strong signal versus other phones in my area. Some people think I'm using a landline phone lol.
Melissa Wynemia Kritzell
Melissa Wynemia Kritzell It most defianitly is
Nyle Ahmed
Nyle Ahmed No nexus s
Nathan Shoup
Nathan Shoup Im going to go out on a limb and say that the Photon is the best!! I have had it for about 3 days and it rocks!! I have played a lot with the 3d and its just an original Evo with dual core and 3d. I know it has Sense 3.0 and all that but the Photon is smoother and whole lot nicer... and this is coming from someone that LOVES HTC products. The only cons for the Photon is the pentile screen, but its still nice. It really isn't noticeable after awhile. I did have the original Evo and my Wife has the Epic and the Photon surpasses any phone that I have messed with also it has a badass antenna!!! I have not dropped on call on this thing compared to using all other Sprints phones.....plus it has the kickstand and the Evo 3d doesn't :)
Jason Muniz
Jason Muniz I love the phone. But I just like HTC and HTC Sense a lot.. that's why I have to say EVO 3D.. HTC Sense is just the best user interface out there..
Paul Gicewicz
Paul Gicewicz Yes, purely because it lasts longer than a half hour on battery.
Jerome Cheefexecutive Hanks
Jerome Cheefexecutive Hanks this or the bb9930 i need
David R. Mitchell II
David R. Mitchell II i need to unlock this tmobile garminfone or get a good att droid. This old lg xenon isnt doing it for me anymore. Someone help plz!
Cory David Baxter
Cory David Baxter cyanogenmod...rules ¢_¢
Blake Chase
Blake Chase Any sprint phone sucks only because of the sprint network
Joshua Waters
Joshua Waters Yes it i got it the day after it came out and it is amazing... i haven't had any problems with it at all and the radio antenna is the best i have ever seen in a phone... absolutely love my photon 4g
Antonio Sanchez
Antonio Sanchez Sgs2 the best
Tim Watson
Tim Watson I'm more of a Nexus S man myself and I have used the Motorola photon at a local Sprint store and I wasn't impressed at all, but with Google buying Motorola and now owning both hardware and software we will see better phones coming from Motorola in the future :-)
Cristian Henriquez
Cristian Henriquez For now, bb 9930 is coming the 21st. I honestly think rim did great with that phone.
Jason Ramos
Jason Ramos You know I'd have to say so yes and mind you, I'm an HTC fan. But they failed with the Evo 3D. I'm actually shocked. It's got a somewhat cheap build, bad reception, bad battery life, it's laggy, It's 3D gives people headaches, etc. HTC really messed up this time. Sensation on T-Mo also has some issues as well. From a practical standpoint, I recommend the Photon over the Evo 3D any day. Reception is vital. Doesn't matter if your phone had 3D (which is gimmicky anyway) all the best features in the world. If it can't get a signal, it a FAIL. People may not talk as much as they used to but you still need a signal for internet services and wi-fi isn't available anywhere.
Thomas Boehnlein
Thomas Boehnlein My wife had zero problems with her Epic. I guess a single person's experience is not statistically relevant. Whoda thunk it? Is the SII on Sprint is going to be awesome.
Elijah Carter
Elijah Carter @Ricardo...Rly? I've had 2 customers come in complaining about the Photon and its shitty battery..and I was able to witness it..worst than the Epic!!!
Adonis Reyes
Adonis Reyes For now
Diego Akd Aranda
Diego Akd Aranda Photon no doubt!!!! Evo 3D is a joke.. i owned n is a piece of shit.. PHOTON ALL THE EAY
Fan OfDreaming
Fan OfDreaming I think so @ til the Samsung Within comes out
Skye Villanueva
Skye Villanueva Are you guy seriously asking that....
Christopher Sullins
Christopher Sullins The Photon 3D is the best right now. It has better call quality, stronger signal, speaker quality is superb, screen is nice. NOW the Photon 4G has ROOT and the BOOTLOADER can be unlocked. It's ON!
Victoria Green
Victoria Green EVO 3D..
Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez yeah the battery life and call quality are superb
Jacob St
Jacob St Sensation isnt on sprint genius
Anthony Douglas
Anthony Douglas What problems are people having with the HTC Evo 3D vs. the Motorola Photon?
Eko Budi Prasetio
Eko Budi Prasetio Htc SensationSensation still the best!!!!!!!
David Alvarez
David Alvarez Evo 3d!
Joshua Bender Horton
Joshua Bender Horton no. evo3d is and ive had both
Reggie Easley
Reggie Easley this phone is insanely sweet, too bad imwith verizon or i'd get this immediately
Adam A.J. Braun
Adam A.J. Braun To the people who have the photon how does the front facing camera work? How many mp is it n how does the video chat work?
RockinRose Wolf Donnell
RockinRose Wolf Donnell Evo 3D
Jarrad Floyd
Jarrad Floyd This bitch is a unexpected beast, the only reason I got this was two other people I work with boight the 3D & I couldn't see being the 3'd, but what I really want is that SGSII.... but this photon 4G will totally suffice all needs
Luis Robles Figueroa
Luis Robles Figueroa Yes... it is from all the hype I hear plus one of my friend own it n
Aaron Early
Aaron Early Yes
Ben Garcia
Ben Garcia @ Jose garibay,does it boost the external volume on the 3d? Cuz the original EVO'S volume was louder.my only complaint with the 3d
Garrett Vincent
Garrett Vincent Samsung makes the Buggiest phones ever. wish I could trade my epic for a photo and my experience, with the instinct and epic have lead me to. Never getting another samsung phone again. I don't if it has a "quad core super superamoled extra plus 5trillion" and has ultra 3d display. The samsung sucks bottom line.
Jordan Sloan
Jordan Sloan Withinnnn
Clint Gamache
Clint Gamache No Motorola is junk. EVO 3D FTW.
Christian Mcniven
Christian Mcniven atrix all the way !!!
Arif
Arif evo 3d had many problems?
David Harness
David Harness Yes
Roberto Soriano
Roberto Soriano yea i can't wait for the release of the samsung within
Joseph Alan Richardson
Joseph Alan Richardson The Game.
Brian Cholula
Brian Cholula Yes it is few to no bugs on this phone
Mod Bilal
Mod Bilal yesssssss
Ibraheem Alkhazrajy
Ibraheem Alkhazrajy Absolutely noooooooooooo
Joel Rivera
Joel Rivera EVO 3D
Wayne Blanchard II
Wayne Blanchard II EVO 3D !
Thomas Boehnlein
Thomas Boehnlein Does it have pentile? If yes, then no it isn't. I would pick the EVO 3D over it. But none of it matters since the Galaxy S II is going to take the honors of being the best shortly.
Juan Daniel Ortega
Juan Daniel Ortega Yes
Jose Garibay
Jose Garibay Hell no! Rooted evo 3d ftw!!!
Roberto Soriano
Roberto Soriano well for now who knows. sprint might have a better smartphone in the future
Shannon Smith
Shannon Smith Absolutely! I love it! I had the evo 3d and I had so many problems.
Antonio Pagan
Antonio Pagan yes
Michael Boyd
Michael Boyd No
Oscar Rod
Oscar Rod can you give me one :( lol
Roberto Soriano
Roberto Soriano YES!!!!!!!




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