Motorola Cliq XT (T-Mobile) Review

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$129

Pros: Motoblur aggregates social networking updates ; New music app ; Good call quality ; Wealth of available apps

Cons: Mediocresoft keyboard ; Small screen ; Runs older version of Android ; Multitouch only works in browser

Verdict: T-Mobile's follow-up to the original Cliq is sleek and offers welcome enhancements, but its on-screen keyboard is frustrating.

Following the release of the social networking-friendly Cliq last fall, Motorola has launched an all-touchscreen version, the Cliq XT. This Android smart phone, available on T-Mobile for $129, is both slimmer and lighter than its big brother, owing mainly to the lack of a physical slide-out keyboard. But Motorola hasn't just lopped stuff off. It added pinch-to-zoom in the browser, improved the music application, and includes Swype software for typing whole words without lifting a finger. Unfortunately, even with this enhancement, the Cliq XT's keyboard pales in comparison to the iPhone's. This is a solid Android phone, but there are better options out there for the price.

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Design

With the Cliq XT, there is certainly a lot less clicking than its predecessor. That's because there is no physical keyboard: the only buttons on the face are the standard Home, Back, Menu, and Search buttons found on most Android devices. There is also a large trackpad in the middle (good for finer movements on web pages or when you're about to cut and paste); it's quite responsive, but its texture feels awkward.

At 4.6 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches and 4.6 ounces, the Cliq XT is a slim and lightweight device, almost a full ounce lighter than the QWERTY-equipped Cliq. It comes with two battery covers, one black and one purple, both of which felt slippery. Although the microSD Card slot isn't accessible from the outside of the phone, at least you don't have to remove the battery to get to the card. However, you to have to pop off the battery cover, which is frustratingly difficult to remove.

On top of the phone is a 3.5mm headset jack that works with the cheap but comfortable included headset (of course, you always have the option to use your own). Around the left side is a volume rocker, which took some time getting accustomed to, and the micro-USB charging port. The On/Off/Sleep button is on the right, along with a dedicated camera button.

We would have loved to see a much larger screen on this device. The 3.1-inch, 480 x 320-pixel screen is the same size as the Cliq, and isn't inadequate by any means, but it looks like a lot of real estate was wasted with the unusually large trackpad and the spacing on the sides. While the screen is sharp and vivid, icons and widgets felt cramped.

Keyboard

During our testing of the Cliq XT, the on-screen keyboard was erratic. Turning on haptic feedback improved the feel, but the spell correction and accuracy on this smart phone was not up to par with soft keyboards like the one on the iPhone. We became very frustrated when texting, e-mailing, and updating our social networking statuses, as the tiny keys were tricky to press, whether in portrait or landscape mode.

One new feature that comes with the Cliq XT is Swype. Instead of typing in letters individually, you have the option to input text by swiping across the screen, connecting letters to form words. While great in theory, this app was slow in practice. The tutorial is also quite long, as it teaches you how to punctuate, write capital letters, and add special characters.

User Interface and Performance

Motorola's Motoblur user interface makes the standard Android 1.5 OS more attractive and and more manageable, just like the original Cliq. It includes widgets that show your current Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace updates and can also integrate Picasa, Photobucket, LastFM, and Skyrock. These services are synced to a Motoblur account, which you create and link to an e-mail address so that your information can be backed up to the cloud. If you ever lose your phone, you can remotely wipe all your data from the device and also reload it onto a new one.

Although the Cliq XT runs the older 528-MHz Qualcomm processor (compared to the snappier 600-MHz CPU on the Motorola Devour), we didn't experience any lag in opening applications, and scrolling through various screens didn't cause any hiccups. Compared to the original Cliq, the Cliq XT exhibited less latency when swiping between screens and opening up applications, which we attribute to some software optimizations on Motorola's part.

Messaging and E-mail

The messaging feature on the Cliq XT aggregates texts and messages from your Facebook inbox, Twitter Direct Messages, and MySpace inbox. You can also view all of these messages in a universal inbox. The interface is clean and intuitive, and we had no problems communicating with our friends via several different social networking platforms.

Being an Android handset, Gmail is dominant on the Cliq XT. Setting up our account was a cinch, after which the device pulled in our new messages and Google contacts. The phone combines your social networking friends with your Google contacts as well. Unfortunately, duplicates did show up; the quickest fix for that was to go into our Gmail account and merge contacts there.

Setting up other e-mail accounts was equally easy, as we only had to type in our e-mail address and password. The Cliq XT automatically searches for the proper settings, and it only took two or three minutes before our account was up and running.

Web

Web browsing on the Cliq XT was a pleasure. Pages look clean and are rendered as you would see them on your desktop browser. Navigating was intuitive, and we were thrilled to find that pinch-to-zoom comes standard right out of the box. It wasn't quite as accurate or smooth as the iPhone's pinch-to-zoom, but it worked well without lag.

We tested the Cliq XT in Brooklyn, NY, on T-Mobile's 3G network. Speeds were impressive, and pages loaded quickly. ESPN's mobile website loaded in just 5 seconds, and the NYTimes.com finished loading in 7 seconds. The difference in page load times were practically negligible over a 6-Mbps Wi-Fi network.

Apps

Android Market now has about 30,000 apps, but finding the great ones can be like searching for diamonds in the rough. While anyone can make an app for Android, they're not subject to the same quality control measures as those in Apple's stricter App Store, which has more than 150,000 apps. However, there are still some good choices, including Layar, Pandora, ShopSavvy, and TasKiller. (To see some of our top picks, click here.)

GPS

Since the Cliq XT is running the now ancient Android 1.5, Google Navigation services are missing from the device. However, TeleNav comes preloaded. The first 60 days are free, and if you don't cancel after the trial period you will be charged $2.99 per month. Not a bad price for a full-featured GPS service.

TeleNav took 8 seconds to find our location in Brooklyn, NY, and just 4 seconds to plan a route. The navigation voice was loud, clear, and easily understandable. Fortunately, we didn't run into any traffic where the GPS had to re-route our trip, but based on previous experiences with TeleNav, we've found the service to be reliable.

Multimedia

The Cliq XT has a 3.5mm headset jack, so you can use your own headphones with the device. Sound quality through the provided headset was crisp and loud enough to hear our music well during our subway commute, although sound quality was nowhere near as good as our own earphones. Through the speaker, music and audio was loud and clear.

The music application on the Cliq XT is new and has some improvements over the original Cliq. It allows you to access your music (which includes selections for albums, artists, songs, playlists, and a shuffle feature), the FM Radio, Music Videos and News, the TuneWiki Community, and Song Identification.

Song Identification works just like Shazam, but it's free. You press "Tell me what is playing" and it will record a snippet of music and match that track with its database. After you're told what the song is, the app will give you the option to store that information. We tested Song Identification with a radio that was cranked up and one that was turned down very low with the phone held about 3 feet away from the speakers. The Cliq XT was able to pick up the music and tell us what was playing each and every time.

Like other Android devices, the Cliq XT comes with YouTube, an MP3 player, and a video player. It has 1GB of internal memory with a 2GB microSD Card installed, but it's expandable to 32GB.

Video quality over Wi-Fi was quite good, and there were little to no buffering delay for most of the YouTube videos we played. On T-Mobile's 3G network, however, video playback wasn't as smooth.

Camera

The Cliq XT's 5-megapixel autofocus, continuous zoom camera with LED flash took mediocre images. Surprisingly, whether viewed on the phone or on a computer, the original Cliq produced far better images with more depth and contrast than the Cliq XT. Images looked somewhat grainy. Even with the aid of flash, photos taken at night looked a bit washed out.

Recorded video (at 320 x 240 QVGA and 25 frames per second) looked pretty clean, and the audio and video mostly remained in sync.

Call Quality and Battery Life

Call quality on the Cliq XT over T-Mobile's 3G network in Brooklyn was fantastic. Voices were loud, natural, and clear, and we found ourselves turning the in-call volume down to about 60 percent so as not to be overwhelmed. The phone performed equally well outside so long as we turned up the volume.

Callers on the other end, however, said that we sometimes sounded a bit distant or a little muffled. Over speakerphone, callers were loud and clear to us, but on the other end they could tell when we put them on speaker. They said we sounded distant with a good deal of echo.

Battery life on the Cliq XT is rated for over 6 hours of talk time and about 18 days of standby. However, with Motoblur's services running in the background, e-mails, SMS, and phone calls throughout the day, you'll likely have to plug in by the end of the day. We unplugged our device at 8 a.m., and by 6 p.m. we were down to about 20 percent. In other words, you might want to bring the charger with you.

Verdict

T-Mobile's Cliq XT is a nice follow-up to the Cliq and includes lots of improvements, but we found ourselves missing the physical keyboard. While this smart phone is certainly usable, heavy texters and those who post constant social networking updates will become annoyed quickly. And then there's the price: $129 is pretty steep when you can pick up the touchscreen-only Droid Eris from Verizon Wireless for $79 or the more powerful Motorola Droid from Best Buy for $99. If you want this Android smart phone, wait for the price to drop.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier T-Mobile
Form Factor Candy Bar
Operating System Android 1.5
Data HSDPA
CPU 528-MHz Qualcomm MSM7201A
Internal Memory 1GB
Memory Expansion Type microSDHC
Display (main) 3.1 inches/480 x 320
Display (secondary)
GPS Yes
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth 2.1 EDR with A2DP
Camera Resolution 5 MP
Talk / Standby Time 6.6 hours/18.8 days
Size 4.6 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches
Weight 4.6 ounces
Company Website www.t-mobile.com