Twelve or so hours and not enough sleep later, I'm back in the office digesting yesterday's day of Android and Motorola news. Between cornering a Moto exec just after the keynote launch of their new Cliq phone, and the official hands-on event for press last night at SF MOMA, I had the chance to get my paws on four or five different samples of Moto & T-Mo's new Android OS device. While I was limited to only shooting video of Motorola folks demoing the phone while I kept my hands-off, I was allowed to try the device for myself off-cam.
So what'd I think? I think it's gonna be a hit, or should be, anyway.
Android is starting to fufill its promise of being an open platform, one that lets manufacturers and carriers customize the base Android experience via hardware and software design. Motorola chose to tailor the platform towards always-connected messaging and social networking fanatics vis-a-vis Cliq's slide-sliding touchscreen/QWERTY/D-Pad hardware design and the MotoBlur "service," which is essentially a bunch of Android widgets that deeply integrate social networking contacts and updates (amongst other things) into the user experience.
I really liked Cliq from hardware standpoint, with a few minor quibbles. While I've become a fan of well-executed widescreen soft keyboards, I still long for a compact, attractive smartphone with a nice side-sliding hard QWERTY. Cliq might just be it. I wasn't as totally in love with the keyboard action as some of the other media folk at the event last night, but I liked it quite well. The square, domed letter keys had pretty good action and feel, and I was able to comfortably type even with my fat-ish thumbs. For some odd reason the space bar didn't give me satisfactory tactile feedback, but I only got the chance to really type on one demo unit (the others I had much shorter, more superficial encounters with) I also love the inclusion of a D-Pad on the keyboard, which opens up gaming possibilities beyond touch-only controls.
Cliq has a capacitive touchscreen with a glass lens, and while it's currently not multitouch-capable, it's responsive and very easy on the eyes. The overall feel of the devices I tried was very good, though one demo unit exhibited just a little more slider wobble than I was comfortable with - the other three or four I tried were solid. And forget those ugly white-and-blue photos of the "Moto Morrison" that spread across the Web over the past few months; Cliq is a nice looking device in both Winter White and Titanium. It's more sporty hatchback than luxury sedan in its styling, but it's a nice upper mid-range style, like a VW GTI or Mazaspeed 3.
I'm not sure I'm sold on Blur, either the name or the long-term happiness that having my home screens filled with always-updating Facebook and twitter feeds will bring me, but I'm also impressed with Moto's execution of the idea - at least on first blush. The demo units were responsive, and Moto's custom rich messaging client adds some desktop-like pizazz to message composition by enabling text styles, colors, and fonts. Check out this DroidDog video to see Motorola Message composition in action.
While Blur's bevy of widgets gather your contacts from local memory and social networks in a nice Palm Synergy or HTC Sense kind of way, I don't know if I really need to see a person's latest Facebook status update as part of their Caller ID profile when they're ringing me up. But it is kind of neat that Moto thought to include features like that, and you may be drooling over the thought of knowing what your BFF is thinking (or posting) before you pick up and say, "Hello?"
Then again, I'm all geeked out about the Home Screen RSS widgets. I've yet to find an RSS reader for Android that makes me as happy as iPhone's browser-based solution does. We've all got our own preferences and tastes, right? As @gmilena tweeted to me yesterday regarding Blur, "Well Noah you have the "option" to turn it off, iPhone do "NOT" have options! Thats what I LOVE ABOUT ANDROID we have choices." Amen to that. Don't like Moto's widgets? Get rid of 'em or replace 'em with some others you do like. Granted, Blur runs a bit deeper than widget-level only, but it should be pretty easy to eliminate/ignore most of the social networking and updating stuff on Cliq if you don't want, like, or need it in your life.
Throw in 3G (on T-Mo's AWS band), Wi-Fi, a 5 megapixel auto focus camera, and a standard 3.5mm audio jack and you've got a really well-rounded Android OS device with a unique form factor (like G1 but smaller, cuter, better keyboard, and real headphone jack) and a unique set of software customizations (like Sense and WebOS/Synergy had a teenaged child). All that remains to be seen is what T-Mobile's going to charge us for it. Engadget spotted a listing on T-Mobile's site that had Cliq priced at $400 committment free and FREE on contract. What? The page has since been yanked, and while this seems like too much phone to be giving away (even on a two-year plan), if that pricing proves to be true, T-Mo should move a ton of these things before New Year's.
So, Moto ... Is a Verizon MotoBlur phone next? They told me that another new Android phone will be unveiled within the next few weeks, so I'm guessing yes. Could be good times in store for the once mighty Motorola. What say you?