Motorola Photon 4G Reviewed - Sprint's Next Big Thing, Now!
written by: Robert Faustus•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 8/9/2011
Sprint hasn't been known as a carrier that has powerful Motorola smartphones, but things have been changing for the better. The XPRT debuted on Sprint as the counterpart to the Droid Pro and now the Photon 4G has popped up to take on the Atrix 4G. But is it just a carbon copy, or something more?
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The Science of the Photon
Motorola has been on a roll, rising from the ashes thanks to Android. While the Droid series helped to boost Verizon's customer base, Motorola didn't have any other notable Android powered smartphones dominating other carriers. Their recent releases such as the Atrix 4G, and the Droid XPRT are helping their dominance to other carriers, and now, the Photon 4G is looking to help spread even more dominance through Sprint. The Photon 4G is Motorola's first dual core smartphone to arrive on Sprint's 4G network and it's definitely looking to be a big competitor in a heavily competitive U.S. market.
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Design and Display
The Photon 4G comes in a familiar candy bar display, with a beautiful 4.3 inch qHD display dominating the front. Pixilation is a thing of the past with the qHD display, though the Super AMOLED found on the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the iPhone 4's Retina display perform slightly better when it comes to color and viewing angle. The Photon 4G does take on a different approach with its design, opting to go for a more rugged look with jagged corners and gunmetal gray borders around the smartphone. When compared to the Samsung line up, or even other Motorola smartphones, it sticks out as a more masculine and utilitarian smartphone.
Beneath the display are the standard four Android shortcuts for menu, home, back and search. Above the display is a tiny front facing camera for video chatting. Along the left edge resides the micro HDMI and micro USB ports. The right edge contains the volume rocker and dedicated camera button. Up along the top edge is where the power / lock button and 3.5 mm headphone jack reside. Rounding out the back is a soft touch back and the 8 megapixel camera with dual LED flash. Also found on the back is a kickstand -- no doubt inspired by the designs on HTC smartphones.
Overall the Photon has a solid, slightly bulky and utilitarian design that works. The qHD display is also a great addition on the smartphone.
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The Photon 4G is extremely responsive to touch, no doubt due to the dual core processor found on the smartphone. While it wasn't as fast as the T-Mobile G2x, the lag was pretty much non-noticeable. The tiny bit of lag that was noticed at times was probably due to the overlay that was running on top of Android 2.3. The Photon 4G has a simplified version of MotoBLUR along with Sprint ID integrated on top of Android, which was what was most likely causing the tiny amount of lag.
The call quality was spot on for incoming calls and outgoing calls were clear to a certain degree. When outside noise entered into the equation, outgoing calls were slightly harder to hear, though that was to be expected. The 4G data speeds were definitely fast on Sprint's network, though against Verizon's 4G LTE speeds, it definitely won't win. Regardless, the 4G speeds found on Sprint's network were still incredible and sites loaded up extremely fast on the Photon. The battery life on the Photon was definitely good, with a sizeable 1700 mAh battery, it was able to last a little under two days with moderate usage, which included calling, texting and browsing.
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The Photon 4G is preloaded with Android 2.3 and MotoBLUR overlayed on top. This particular version of MotoBLUR is definitely more simplified than older versions and doesn't require any sort of account. It is definitely less intrusive, but it does rear its ugly head now and again to remind you that it exists. In addition to MotoBLUR, the Photon hopes to further enhance the user experience with Sprint ID added on. Sprint ID is Sprint's way to make an Android powered smartphone more easily customizable. It offers preset settings for the user to pick and choose from, at which point it changes the background and widgets to match the ID. It's an interesting concept, but ultimately just feels like bloatware, considering Android is customizable as is. In all honesty, the usefulness of Sprint ID is questionable as it really doesn't add much, but for newer users it may be a great way to dip their toes into the custom abilities of Android.
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The Photon 4G comes with some really great features, starting with the 8 megapixel camera with dual LED flash. The picture quality was good, with colors coming out vibrant and images being captured as though they were from a digital camera. The video recording was also good quality, though it does only record up to 720p not 1080p. The dual LED flash was definitely useful and worked well in brightening dark areas.
Another addition the Photon 4G has, is its ability to use GSM network internationally. Like the Droid 3 found on Verizon's network, the Photon is a global smartphone, able to connect to networks in Europe, Canada, Australia and any other country that uses GSM bands, except the United States, of course. The Photon also takes on other properties of Motorola's latest releases, such as remote wipe capabilities and data encryption, truly catering to business users.
For casual users, the Photon 4G also offers the ability to install add-ons, very similar to the Atrix 4G found on AT&T's network. Though there is no laptop, there is a HD Station, which effectively connects the Photon to a large display, a keyboard, and a mouse. The Photon boots up into webtop mode and basically powers a mini desktop-like system.
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The Final Verdict
Overall the Motorola Photon 4G ranks in as a solid 'Good' smartphone. Some would think that the Photon 4G is simply a remodeled version of its sibling, the Atrix 4G on AT&T, due to the similar specs and abilities, but the Photon really does stand on its own. The speedy interface, the sturdy build, 8 megapixel camera and global phone capabilities really make the Photon stand out above its competitors. Sprint has a solid winner in the Photon and hopefully their marketing department is able to capitalize on the smartphone's power.