After nearly five years of using my trusty (Palm OS-based) Treo 700p (preceded by over three years with a Palm OS-based Treo 300, preceded by over a year with a Treo 180, etc…), I finally bit the bullet and moved to Android. I actually did pick up a used Samsung Moment (landscape QWERTY slider) off a friend a couple summers ago, but never activated it; pretty much all of my reference point for Android comes from that device, though (running a custom rom, rooted, Android 2.1). I wasn’t especially thrilled with the Moment for a few reasons, which convinced me it was alright to stick with my Treo for a while longer, and keep my eye on the market. A few months ago, there were some leaks about an upcoming portrait QWERTY device from Motorola on Sprint that was supposed to be pretty fancy, and even back then, I had pretty much made up my mind: this would be my next phone.
Details in subsequent leaks changed a little bit, and the rumored release date came and went without additional information, but at long last, the Motorola Admiral was released at the end of October. I was hoping to find some other reviews online right away, but they didn’t come immediately. A few people on forums ordered the devices promptly and answered a few questions, and someone posted a Youtube overview, but there wasn’t exactly a thorough review out. Nevertheless, I decided to pull the trigger, and ordered mine (requiring upgrading my plan to
Everything Data) this past Wednesday. I was fairly impressed with Sprint’s customer service that got my plan changed and corporate discount applied over online chat with virtually no pain, and then I ordered the phone, and they had it to my door around noon the next day. Nice work, guys!
I’d seen an unboxing of the Admiral, so knew what to expect there. Unfortunately, I did end up needing to chat with Sprint customer service to get the device activated, which turned out to be for the $10
premium data add-on they’ve started requiring recently for all smartphones. They sorted it out pretty quickly, though, and got me rolling. They’d warned that data would take an hour to start working, but it appeared to actually start working as soon as the device was activated; ymmv. The first thing that struck me was how snappy everything felt. I wrote earlier that pretty much all of my other experience with Android came from the Samsung Moment running rooted/custom-ROM 2.1. Needless to say, Android 2.3.5 on a much newer, faster device is a bit of a different beast. This might not seem novel to anyone else, and it probably should be something people take for granted, but it wasn’t really the case on the Moment. The only things I’ve noticed take any amount of time to start are the Dolphin and Opera browsers, but once they’re started, everything is very quick.
There are three
issues I’ve had with the device:
- Apparently its resolution of 640×480 (or vice versa) is
non-standardfor Android devices, so some apps will report that they’re
Not formatted properlyfor the device, when first run.
- Screen sensitivity (through screen-protector)
- Wifi (sorta)
The resolution issue
It seems like maybe about 1/3 of the apps I’ve tried have been affected by this, but I didn’t think to actually write down exactly which ones did trigger the warning message the first time I ran the apps. The app start-up warning message does immediately present you with an option to customize how that situation gets handled, and informs you that you can alternatively change this later through Settings->Applications->Manage Applications->App Name->Display settings. The two available options are
Full Screen or
Zoom to fill screen. Each of these has its own pros and cons. When using
zoom, you end up being able to display more on the screen at one time, however, this results in a few unused pixels along the left and right side of the screen (in portrait mode), and can lead to some visual oddities, like jagged
horizontal lines in AK Notepad (left, below). When used in
full mode, the unused space on the left and right is gone, and there are no artifacts on the lines, but less information can be displayed on the screen at one time (right, below).
The amount of visible data on-screen is especially noticeable in the list of emails. (Also, here’s the configuration screen for this option.)
Lastly, there’s apparently a performance implication to choosing between these two modes. When running in ‘full’ mode, the device pulled 2066 in the Quadrant benchmark, while attaining slightly lower framerates and a score of only 1816 in ‘zoom’ mode.
I don’t know if this is something about the device, or something about the fact that I’m using a [~two-year-old PhantomSkinz] screen protector (that I hacked up to fit on this screen, since no one actually makes a custom fit screen protector for the Admiral yet), or just lack of frequent capacitive touchscreen use, but on many occasions I’ve been trying to scroll/swipe something, and had Android think that I tapped something instead. I’ve launched many apps and opened several links so far doing this, but I think I’m
getting better at using the screen in a way that avoids this problem.
This probably isn’t a real problem with the device, but I felt I’d be remiss not to at least mention it. I’ve had lots of problems with what seems like large packet loss on my known-to-be-flakey 3com 802.11g access point. I switched the device over to using my D-Link DIR-825 running OpenWRT (side gripe: sadly the Admiral supports only 2.4GHz, despite supporting 802.11n), which is on the opposite side of my house, so the signal isn’t as good, but I still get better performance than the 3com right next to me, which resulted in lots of time-outs trying to access the market, etc. Things have been pretty swell on the new AP except for one time I was watching Youtube (this fantastic video, if you’re curious), it had played fine (in
HD) ~80% of the way through, and then stuttered horribly trying to complete the last ~30 seconds. I’ve been unable to reproduce that issue since then, so I don’t even know for sure that the Admiral / wifi is to blame, as the issue could have been Youtube’s servers or my ISP as well.
I know Motorola has received some ire from people in the know because of its
Motoblur shell/skin/experience. I don’t really know what Motoblur used to do/act/look like, or what stock Android 2.3.5 does/looks like, but I have basically no complaints about the Admiral’s
Android setup, other than the fact that the grey square of an
Apps button on the main launcher screen isn’t very apparent that it’s for apps. Here’s what it looks like (bearing in mind that I’ve changed the wallpaper and a few of the shortcuts on the main home screens):
Seven ‘home screens’ are available by swiping left/right or by pressing the ‘home’ button again while already on the center home screen. In addition to this, there are three ‘profiles’ available (by default?) for Home, Work, and Weekend. I can see some value to two of these, but three seems like a stretch. I don’t imagine there’s really much penalty to having a third available, though, and not using it.
The build quality and weight feel very good to me. Bear in mind I’m coming from the Palm Treo 700p, which I bought used, and has still lasted about five years of heavy use. The Admiral is considerably thinner and lighter, but otherwise similar in dimensions to the Treo. It feels great in my pocket, but I’m going to have to get used to pulling the phone out by something other than its antenna :). The screen looks gorgeous (and has elicited a similar comment from my better half). The camera quality seems roughly on par with the Samsung Moment–which is to say, mediocre. It’s certainly a poor substitute for a good digital camera, but enough to capture something on a whiteboard, etc. Low-light performance predictably shows a lot of noise. Here are some samples:
Here’s a comparison for that last photo to one taken with a decent point-and-shoot camera:
Video shoots at 720p, but, like the photos, isn’t stunning. Here’s a sample video I took with the Motorola Admiral.
The keyboard works pretty well; I haven’t had a ton of occasion to use it, but so far it seems pretty decent. I’m clearly biased, but I don’t think it’s quite as nice as the Treo keyboard, and a particular failing of the keyboard is the numeric layout: where the Treo has numbers laid out as the alt-keys of ERT, DFG, XCV, such that they’re in a standard keypad configuration, the Admiral has them laid out across the top, like a regular computer keyboard. Entering numbers is far more efficient on a keypad, and on a phone it makes even more sense to lay them out in that manner, consistent with a phone keypad. Poor choice, Motorola.
Call quality seems good, both on my end, and reported by others I’ve spoken to. My biggest complaints about this are: the un/mute button is located precariously close to the ‘end call’ button and ‘home’ and ‘back’ buttons, and I can’t find a way to prevent the screen from turning off when I’m on a speakerphone or headset or bluetooth call [while plugged in]. If anyone has a tip about that, I’d love to hear it.
I’ve come across a few issues with the app store and the Admiral. From the Market app on the phone, I searched for ‘queek’, and ‘queek lite’, but could not for the life of me find it. I was able to find and install it from the app market on the web, though. Speaking of the web-based interface to the market, I’ve come across two apps that claim to be supported on my Sprint Samsung Moment (old), but show as ‘not supported’ on the Admiral: Mixology and Anything to SMS. It doesn’t seem to be a carrier restriction, since my Moment is also a Sprint device, so I’m not sure what the problem is that the market thinks they won’t work on the Admiral. Just thought I’d mention it.
I apologize that I don’t have a direct connect plan, because I don’t know anyone who has direct connect, so I have no way of testing that feature.
I can’t really give the greatest detail about battery life, since I’ve had the phone such a short amount of time, but here’s what I know so far: I kept my phone off the charger for about 44 hours straight (around 9 PM Friday through 5 PM Sunday), and was down to ~18% left. During that time, I played some Youtube over wifi, made a couple phone calls, took four GPS Google nav/maps trips, browsed the web several times over Wifi and 3G, Installed a few apps over wifi and 3g, ran some Quadrant benchmarks, was syncing/IMAP-pushing email the whole time (though it’s set to sync only once an hour at night, I believe), and then doing a bunch of crap to try to get my old text messages onto the phone. It’s not the heaviest use, but that seems pretty solid, I think.
Photos/Video of the Admiral
I’ll leave you with the full gallery, which includes various photos of the device, etc. You can also check out a little video demo of using the device I put up on Youtube here: https://youtu.be/kTzKvbfl-tY.
Definitely leave a comment if you have other questions for me about the device, or have some recommendation for something I should test and share here!
Update 2011-11-16: I’ve posted a follow-up to this review, based on my experience having used the phone an additional week and a half since writing this initial impression.