The Cliq isn’t just the third Android phone in T-Mobile’s lineup. This device represents Motorola’s first major step in its effort to make a comeback with consumers. And if this phone is a sign of things to come, we think Motorola is definitely on the right path. Thanks to a highly customizable user interface and an ambitious Motoblur service, which puts all your social networks—such as Twitter and Facebook—front and center, the Cliq is an excellent smart phone. Add in a 5-megapixel camera, 3.5mm headphone jack, and a comfortable keyboard (not to mention tight integration with Google’s services), and you have a device that runs circles around the myTouch 3G.
The black, reinforced stainless steel body of the Motorola Cliq (also available in Winter White) measures 4.5 x 2.3 x 0.6 inches and weighs 5.7 ounces. The myTouch 3G, by comparison, is a bit smaller at 4.4 x 2.2 x 0.6 inches, and weighs a much lighter 4.1 ounces. To be fair, though, the myTouch 3G doesn’t include a physical keyboard, and the new Storm2 (which lacks a keyboard) weighs 5.6 ounces.
The front of the Cliq features a 3.1-inch, 480 x 320-pixel capacitive touchscreen display, as well as three navigation buttons: a menu key, a Home button, and a return key. Unfortunately, the device does not currently support multitouch gestures. Volume controls, a mini-USB charging port, and a silent mode toggle switch are on the left side of the phone. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on top, and a camera quick-launch button and lock/power key are on the right side.
The back of the Cliq is textured with plastic ridges to prevent it from slipping from your hand. The entire device feels sturdy, and was able to stand up to a regular beating inside our pocket or bag. In fact, the build quality on the Cliq makes the older T-Mobile G1 feel relatively chintzy.
A full QWERTY keyboard slides out from below the screen on the Cliq, and it carries the black color scheme around its border. The keys are titanium-colored with white lettering, and there’s a five-way navigational pad marked by a red circle to the left of the keyboard. Aside from a miniature spacebar, we found the keyboard to be a pleasure to type on. The keys offered good tactile feedback, and are spaced appropriately to help avoid errors. Our only gripe is that it can be tricky to click the Alt key and a number simultaneously.
The on-screen QWERTY keyboard, available in portrait and landscape modes, was not nearly as accurate. Trying to type “nygiants” resulted in several typos. Using the on-screen keyboard in portrait mode is fine if you need to enter something quick, but in general we prefer using the HTC-designed keyboards on the Hero and myTouch 3G; the layouts are easier to type on, and there’s a better autocomplete feature.
Motoblur Service and User Interface
The Cliq features Motorola’s custom Motoblur technology, and it weaves itself into several areas of the Android operating system. Motoblur allows you to customize the home screen with real-time widgets, as opposed to the stock Android widgets (such as Photo Frame and Clock). Using Motoblur, we customized five different panels on the home screen, and were able to switch between each by swiping our finger across the screen. HTC’s Sense interface, by comparison, offers seven different panels to customize. Motorola-added widgets include chat, imeem mobile, messages, news, social status, and weather.
One of the more useful widgets, Happenings, lets you sync your contacts with such popular social networks as Facebook, MySpace (for those still using it), and Twitter. Once synced, a contact’s status update from any of those sites will appear on the home screen. The home screen widget always displays every update from your social networks; while we were able to create custom groups out of our contacts to view Happenings from only certain friends, we wish that we could set the home screen widget to display only selected updates. Oddly, the latest updates on the home screen covered most of the associated profile picture for each person, which we’re assuming is a bug.
Happenings digs deeper than the home screen. Inside the Contacts menu, the phone displays either a Facebook or Twitter photo next to each address book name; when we clicked a name, we were able to view the person’s last status update, e-mail address, linked profiles, birthday, and more. If you’ve linked a contact with a social network, the phone automatically pulls information, such as their birthday and e-mail address. To bring up the on-screen QWERTY keyboard inside the contacts list, simply hold down the Menu button. This alleviates having to scroll through hundreds of contacts to find the right one.
Overall, we think Happenings may be more attractive to the young adult and techie demographic because there’s a lot of social networking integration. It’s a feature that a youthful audience should grasp quickly, and we doubt teens and young adults will mind the constant flow of information. On the other hand, first-time smart phone owners might think there’s a bit too much going on; the home screen can look cluttered, and your contact list can quickly grow into the thousands if you have lots of friends on Facebook, for example. Thankfully for those users, there’s the option to remove certain accounts and delete widgets from the home screen.
Aside from Motoblur, the Cliq runs Google’s Android operating system. From the home screen, you can pull down a notifications shade to view missed calls, new e-mail alerts, and more. Motoblur definitely improves upon the stock Android 1.5 OS, but we still prefer the multiple screens of real estate that HTC Sense offers.
When you first create a Motoblur account during your phone’s setup process, it begins storing all of your data online for free through Motoblur Backup. That way if you ever lose your Cliq, you can replace it and restore that info from Motorola’s servers. It backs up all of your contacts, login information, social network messages, e-mail, and even your home screen configuration. If you replace your Motorola Cliq, simply log in with your Motoblur account for a full restore.
Also, should you lose your phone, you can log on to Motorola.com/motoblur and sign in with your Motoblur credentials to see the last known location of your Cliq. The site also lets you remotely delete everything on your phone, so your information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
E-Mail and Messaging
The Motorola Cliq supports Gmail, Hotmail, POP/IMAP, and Yahoo Mail accounts, in addition to Microsoft Exchange. With Android’s tight integration to Google’s services, you can easily set up and pull in all of your Google contacts, Google Calendar entries, and Gmail. We had our Gmail (as well as our work IMAP account) up and running in less than five minutes.
Conveniently, Motoblur unifies messaging by combining your E-mail, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and SMS inboxes into one joint inbox. You can choose which social networks send messages to the conjoined inbox, or view each inbox separately by accessing the Messages application.
There are four messaging options available, including AIM, Google Chat, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. We logged into our Google Chat account, and liked that we were alerted of new messages at the top of the screen no matter what application we were running. For more chat applications, you can access the Android Market.
Quickoffice comes preinstalled on the Cliq, so you can open and view Microsoft Office files; however, you cannot edit or create Office documents.
Motorola tweaked the Android stock calendar to allow Microsoft Exchange Calendar entries. That means it will display both your Google Calendar and Microsoft Exchange Calendar events side by side.
All Android phones offer the Android Market, a central store where you can download and purchase new apps (most of which are either free or cost between 99 cents and $3). Apps can be purchased using a Google Checkout account, which you can set up to use with your American Express, Discover, MasterCard, or Visa card. Some of our current favorite applications include Facebook, PapiJump, and Twidroid, but there are more than 10,000 apps from which to choose. While its marketplace is larger than Palm’s, it’s still much smaller than Apple’s 80,000-and-growing iTunes App Store.
Like all Android phones, the stock Web browser on the Motorola Cliq is good at rendering full HTML pages. Unlike the HTC Hero, which has a multitouch display, you can’t zoom in using pinch gestures. Instead, you have to zoom using two on-screen zoom buttons, which can be a bit sluggish on large pages, such as Wachovia’s home page. We recommend extending the keyboard and navigating around pages with the five-way navigational pad for the best performance. When you’re ready to enter a URL, simply start typing on the keyboard, and the address bar pops down.
We surfed the Web on the Cliq using T-Mobile’s 3G network and our local 802.11b/g Wi-Fi network. Over T-Mobile’s network, CNN.com loaded in 9 seconds, NYTimes.com loaded in 6 seconds, and our full-HTML Laptopmag.com home page loaded in 27 seconds. Over Wi-Fi, the same three sites loaded in 7, 4, and 29 seconds, respectively. The Cliq’s 3G data speeds are on a par with the myTouch 3G, which loaded CNN.com in 6 seconds, and our home page in 30 seconds.
You’re better served by the Motorola Cliq as a multimedia phone than you are with the myTouch 3G. That’s because the Cliq has a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can use any standard headphones you might have, even though the device also comes with its own set. Also, the Cliq has a better 5-MP camera, as opposed to the 3.2-MP camera on the myTouch 3G (more on that below). Motorola includes a 2GB microSD Card in the box, too.
Amazon’s MP3 Music Store comes loaded on the Cliq, and songs are available for 99 cents each. We downloaded Playing for Change’s “Stand by Me” in 50 seconds; audio sounded excellent over the included ear buds, and there was a fine balance between the scratchy opening blues voice and guitar strums. The Cliq’s speaker was loud enough to fill a small room, and sounded surprisingly full.
Motorola packages the Cliq with Nero’s Media Link software, which lets you transfer all of your files, photos, music, and videos to your computer in a snap. A final software version wasn’t available during our tests, but we did have a chance to go hands-on with Nero, and were impressed to see iTunes playlist support for syncing music to the Cliq, as well as the ability to quickly send pictures and videos to Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube. A Premium upgrade of the software ($39.99) lets you transfer AVC, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4 files. The program will also enable music and video cropping and trimming. A Motorola-branded version of Media Link will be available in the fourth quarter of 2009.
The Cliq’s 5-MP camera has autofocus, but lacks a flash. Pictures looked very good in well-lit conditions. A shot taken inside our office was clear and focused when viewed on a desktop monitor. Even without a flash, indoor shots with low light were decent. We were able to take a clear shot inside a dark pub, but noticed that the darker areas of the image were grainy. One big problem with the camera is that, despite turning autofocus off, pictures took between 2 and 3 seconds to process, so you can’t capture photos as quickly as you can with the Palm Pre.
The Cliq’s camera also records video at 24 frames per second in a YouTube-worthy 352 x 288-pixel resolution. Videos shot inside a pool hall looked decent, and the frame rates were acceptable for YouTube, but we did notice some blurring and distortion. Also, the audio came through fuzzy, and the phone picked up a lot of background noise.
TeleNav’s GPS Navigator is preinstalled on the Cliq ($9.99 per month). It provides voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, and you can search for points of interest like ATMs and restaurants. It took the Cliq 14 seconds to lock on to a GPS signal, and then just 4 seconds to route us to our apartment across town.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Call quality on the Cliq over T-Mobile’s network was excellent; we were able to hear our callers loud and clear. When we left a voicemail on our landline phone, our voice didn’t sound the least bit garbled. Plus, we could barely make out people talking in the background, despite standing on a busy New York City street during a windy day.
During our tests, we were able to get a full day of battery life before the phone died, though we used the device heavily for checking our e-mail, surfing the Web, and listening to music.
The $199 Motorola Cliq is a top-notch Android device, and is our favorite smart phone on T-Mobile, beating out the similarly priced myTouch 3G. While the latter is lighter, the Cliq’s touch interface is more compelling. We also like the Cliq’s comfy physical keyboard, sharper camera (even though it lacks a flash), and better integration with your social networks. If you don’t need a full keyboard, the HTC Hero for Sprint is also a great buy. But if you’re a T-Mobile customer, the Cliq is our number one choice.