Hands-On Impressions Of The Motorola Cliq

Motorola introduced its Android-powered Cliq smartphone today, and I was able to get my grubby hands on it at a press event in San Francisco. Overall, I was really impressed with the device but do have a few concerns.
Motorola introduced its Android-powered Cliq smartphone today, and I was able to get my grubby hands on it at a press event in San Francisco. Overall, I was really impressed with the device but do have a few concerns.The hardware is very nice, which isn't surprising as Motorola has always known how to make a phone. The capacitive touch screen was very responsive, bright, and clear. As a slider, it's a bit heftier than the anorexic devices like the E72 or the Palm Pixi, but it's not too thick. The keyboard is excellent - the keys have the right amount of "clickability," and it seems very easy to shoot off messages. The slider mechanism seems well-built, and it should last over the long run. The Cliq is never going to be a fashion phone like the new LG Chocolate, but it should be a nice-looking dependable device. I didn't get a chance to test out the 5-megapixel camera though, so we'll have to wait and see on that one.

The software and service are what should make this the most attractive Android device yet, and it was very snappy considering it's not the final version. The main home screen is filled with widgets from the MotoBlur service, which draws in information from social networks, personal and corporate e-mails, and other contact sources. It's separated into multiple widgets, and this lets you do cool things like updating Twitter, Facebook, MySpace from one place.

You can also use the MotoBlur to keep track of your contacts' actions across various Internet services. As we spread ourselves over an increasing number of online services, the MotoBlur service takes a smart approach at bringing this all together in one place. Palm is also taking a similar approach with its webOS, and this will eventually be an integral part in all the smartphone platforms. The home screen is more than just MotoBlur though, as you can quickly throw on new application shortcuts, and there are five home screen panels to fill. I was able to use the excellent Flip Mino HD to get a demonstration of the Cliq's software in action, and you can watch the video at the bottom of the page.

I'm pretty excited about the device but I do have a few concerns. The first is battery life because all the constant updating can take a toll on the power, and the Android-powered G1 could barely get through half a day. Moto representatives said they expect Cliq users to be highly engaged with the mobile Web, and they're shooting for a full day without recharging. I think a full day is about all you can ask for a feature-risk smartphone today, as we're long past the days when your Razr could go three days without a recharge.

My other major concern is that the user interface isn't as pretty as competitors like the iPhone or webOS. It's incredibly useful and powerful, but there's no "wow" factor - it still looks like the somewhat boring stock Android UI with a little bit of polish. I always lean toward functionality over looks, but a gorgeous UI is needed to draw in the crowds. The company's looking at MotoBlur as a key differentiator, and it very well should be, but I believe the things HTC and Sony Ericsson are doing to beautify Android may be more successful with the mass market. The ideal solution, of course, is the incredible functionality of MotoBlur with one of the gorgeous skins or user experiences that are bound to come out.

Still, the Cliq is a very good start for Motorola, and it shows that they're going in the right direction. Now, give me some beefed up specs and bigger screen for their Verizon Android phone and I'll be a happy man. Also, Engadget is reporting that T-Mobile had the Cliq briefly on their site as free(!) with a new two-year contract, or $400 outright. We all knew they were aiming for low-cost Android phones, but if they can get it to market for free, that's a horse of a different color.

Here's the video, and it cuts out abruptly at the end because the battery died. What are your thoughts on the Cliq? Feel free to leave a comment here, send me an e-mail at [email protected], or tweet me @marinperez.

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