A photon moves at the speed of light, shines brightly and has a resting mass of zero. That said, it’s a damn good name for Motorola’s latest Android phone.
The Photon brings 4G speeds and dual-core processing power to Sprint customers. An all-around powerhouse Android phone, the Photon is a good fit for the data-hungry and app-enthusiastic among us.
It’s the latest in a trend of increasingly powerful handsets debuting this year. All of the major U.S. networks — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile — are pouring money into expanding their high-speed networks, while hardware manufacturers keep pace by introducing more and more 4G-capable phones. To boot, each newly released high-end device comes with increasingly powerful processors for speedy app navigation. Chips like Nvidia’s Tegra 2 are practically de rigueur for Android phones this year.
The Photon is no exception to the rule. Using the Wi-Max-ready radio, I averaged download speeds of up to 13 Mbps on Sprint’s network during the testing period in the Bay Area. Page-load times were cut into fractions of what we’ve seen on rival networks like T-Mobile or AT&T. The last phone we’ve tested that was this speedy was HTC’s Thunderbolt, which runs on on Verizon’s 4G LTE network.
With its 4.3-inch screen and considerably large physical dimensions (2.63 by 4.99 by .48 inches, plus some funky angled corners), you’d expect the Photon to possess some degree of heft.
And yet, it doesn’t. At a mere 5.57 ounces, the Photon’s weight is in accordance with its namesake. The chassis is made almost entirely of lightweight plastic, the biggest piece of exterior metal being the kickstand. While it’s nice not to lug a brick in my pants pockets, the phone seems almost too light for its chunky shape. Still, it’s no eyesore.
The Photon has powerful insides to match. Like the Motorola Atrix that debuted earlier this year, it’s sporting Nvidia’s 1GHz Tegra 2 dual-core processor. And like the Atrix, the Photon is zippy. Backed by a gig of RAM, applications launched swiftly, and I zoomed in and out of menu screens with relative ease.
There is, of course, the power issue. Alternating between casual and heavy use — which included making phone calls, watching YouTube videos and listening to streaming music on Spotify, all with the 4G antenna switched on — I clocked around seven hours of battery life before the phone went dead. If you’re out and about with little time to charge and lots of calls to make, that’s an abysmal window of time. Remember to tuck that power cord in your back pocket.
Motorola’s recent smartphones came with a custom Android skin grafted onto the desktop — dubbed Motoblur — which tried to make the main menu screens more “social.” Many users (myself included) have complained that Motoblur felt too chunky and awkward to navigate, almost an unnecessary layer slapped onto the operating system.
Luckily, the Photon comes with a stripped down version of Motoblur. It feels less invasive than before. It’s not ideal — like, say, a stock version of Android would be — but it’s better than what it once was.
Of course, the phone also works well as a phone. Call quality over a week of testing in the Bay Area was exceptional, with nary a dropped call occurring. And it’s a viable option for the jet-setting type; the Photon comes equipped with a GSM antenna, letting you make calls on networks outside of the U.S.
In all, the phone’s few shortcomings are eclipsed by its processing brawn and fleetness of foot. After a week’s worth of use, I’m positively charged.
WIRED Brawny phone on a fast network is great for data-gobbling apps. Ships with latest version of Android (Gingerbread 2.3.4). Kickstand for movies and physical shutter button for 8-megapixel camera are nice touches. Fast, fast, fast.
TIRED Sucks battery like a Hoover. Annoying UI is annoying. Optional $100 “Webtop” dock (shown in the photo at top) is a waste of your hard-earned cash.
Photo by Jim Merithew/Wired
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