The Milestone has been hyped up as the best Android phone since the HTC Hero. Seeing as the Hero has been around since July last year - a lifetime for a smartphone - it’s about time that someone came up with a serious challenger. The good news is that despite some drawbacks, the Milestone really does live up to the hype and betters the Hero in a number of areas.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. When it comes to design, Motorola recently seems to have wandered off in the wrong direction. This was very much evident in the bulky and ugly Dext, and unfortunately with the Milestone its design team still seems to be lost in the wilderness. To put it mildly this is a strange looking phone. Like the Dext the handset has a slide out QWERTY keyboard, but unlike that model the screen here doesn’t fully cover the bottom half of the phone when it’s closed. Instead it leaves a lip jutting out at the bottom. This lip feels quite odd when you’re using the keyboard, is a magnet for dust and, well, just looks plain wrong. Even without this odd lip, the phone wouldn’t exactly be a looker as the overall design has a very boxy and industrial feel to it. However, at least the sturdy build quality and smooth sliding mechanism for the keyboard do give you the impression that the phone will stand up to a fair number of knocks and scrapes over its lifetime.
The keyboard is also far from the best we’ve seen on a phone. There’s no space between individual keys and, as they are also completely flat and have very little travel, it’s quite difficult to get up a decent typing speed. To the right of the keyboard there’s a rather large four way D-pad controller. Presumably this has been added to make text editing that bit easier, but we found we didn’t use it all that much and couldn’t help feeling it would have been better if Motorola had dropped it completely and just increased the size and space between the keys.
Thankfully, things improve dramatically when you get to the screen, as it’s one of the best displays we’ve ever used on any mobile. It really is that good. At 3.7inches it’s very large, but unlike the display on HTC HD2 it doesn’t make for an overly chunky phone. It’s bright too and colours look beautifully vivid, with the result that pictures and videos practically leap off the screen. And the pin sharp 854 x 480 resolution means that even when you’re zoomed out on a webpage, the tiny text is still crisp enough to read in landscape mode.
Furthermore, because the screen uses capacitance technology Motorola has been able to support the multi-touch pinch to zoom gesture. When the handset first arrived pinch to zoom only worked in the web browser, but during our review period Google released a new version of Google Maps which added pinch to zoom support too and the Media Gallery was also updated to support it. The zooming isn’t quite as smooth as on the iPhone, but it still works well and is especially useful in the browser where it makes it easier to navigate pages and position columns of texts on the screen for better readability.