Last night the rain was, as the phrase goes, ‘coming down in buckets’.
While most sensible folk were staying inside or heading home, I was doing the opposite, trudging along Millbank to get to Altitude on the 29th floor of the Millbank Tower.
This was for the Orange/Motorola Motoblur & DEXT event. I arrived to find the pre-launch in full swing. I dodged out the way of Leila from TelecomTV was recording a spot to (their very big) camera and spotted SlashGear’s Chris Davies sat in the corner with a glass of champagne, waiting for the magic to begin.
As I walked over to see Chris I was offered a glass of champagne by a waiter. No, actually, I think it was a flute. A flute of champagne. Not a glass.
It’s not all bad, these press launches.
As we waited for the ‘launch’ bit to begin, Chris and I compared notes. He was first in line for the Motorola StarTac handset when it came out, years ago. Me too. I remember it costing 550 pounds. Likewise with the first generation RAZR, we were there. So both Motorola fans back in the day, but to confess to even thinking about using a Motorola as your primary communications device in this day and age is a sure way of getting yourself carted off to the looney bin by the Mobile Industry Review Phone Police.
It’s not that Motorola devices aren’t cool. It’s the fact that you can do almost nothing with a bog standard MOTO-something device. And the user interface… uggggghhhhhhh. Total bollocks.
Recent Windows Mobile Motorola devices have been utter shit, too. I stupidly bought a Motorola Q9C using Windows Mobile. Very stupid. I did a video demonstrating just how pants the experience was. The software routinely disconnected itself from the hardware. I’m not sure who to blame as I’m no fan of Windows Mobile when it’s playing up. But the device was manufactured by Moto.
So I have been deeply unimpressed with Motorola for some time.
But I’ve been looking forward to seeing the next generation. They’ve obviously taken a step back and refocused — and putting Android at the heart of their new operation is a super move. This becomes apparent when you watch Motorola people demonstrating their new devices. Because their default answer is now ‘yes’ — they don’t have to worry about the small but important stuff that users care about. Service augmentation is now left to the burgeoning market of Android developers.
Right then. To the Motorola DEXT (or the ‘CLIQ’ as it’s known in the States).
I had hands-on last night and I’m impressed. I liked the solid build. The QWERTY keyboard is good — I think that with a bit of acclimatisation I could get very fast with it. It’s a heck of a lot better than HTC’s T-Mobile G1 keyboard that has that great big lump or ‘lip’ on the left. The 5 megapixel autofocus camera is very encouraging — although I didn’t get the opportunity to properly try it out. I’m working on the (slightly incorrect but more or less reliable) method of assuming that, in the case of the DEXT, 5 megapixels is better than the equivalent 3.2 megapixels you’d ordinarily find on such a device.
But you know what, you don’t want to know the rest of the specifications, do you? Not even the Orange Newsroom post bothers to tell you the exact specifics. Because it doesn’t really matter any more. It’s getting very, very to distinguish between devices. A few years ago it was critical to weigh the advantages and disadvantages between devices very carefully. Just like it was when you were buying a laptop or PC years ago. I can see we’re getting to the point that it almost doesn’t matter *what* QWERTY Android handset you buy.
It will probably be quad-band. Probably have a half decent camera. Probably have a decent touchscreen, battery, form factor…
Which is why Motorola have decided to distinguish themselves — like HTC — with a user interface layer of sorts. Whilst HTC have their gorgeous ‘Sense’ layer sitting on top of the familiar Android UI, Motorola have MOTOBLUR.
And MOTOBLUR is actually pretty sexy. As the chap took me through the demonstration (the video is below) I got more and more impressed. I could see myself using it heavily.
MOTOBLUR does away with individual apps (like the address book — although the default Android one is still available as you’d expect) and instead delivers a unified ‘social media address book’. Here’s the explanation:
MOTOBLUR keeps track of all your contacts so it’s easy to keep up. Contacts are automatically synced to the phone from personal and work email as well as social network accounts, and MOTOBLUR updates any changes friends or contacts make to their info so you don’t have to. When making or receiving a phone call, friend’s latest profile picture and status is shown on the screen. In contacts view, see your communication history with each person and their latest social network broadcasts organized in an easy to read manner so you’ll always know that latest info about friends and family. Plus, communicate with them anyway you like, all right from their contact information.
I really like this. I’ll need to check it out and see how it performs.
Through a series of widgets on the home screen(s) you can use the access the following MOTOBLUR features:
* Happenings: View all your social site updates in one spot with the live Happenings application. Every friend feed, status update, wall post, bulletin and photo upload is automatically delivered and ready for immediate reply, anyway you like
* Messages: Quickly scroll through the Messages application for a snapshot of current work or personal emails, social site messages, and texts, with the ability to respond to any message however you want no matter how it was sent: text, email, IM and more.
* Social Status: Blast your status right from the home screen and even save time by updating your status to one or all your social networks at once
* News Feeds: Keep track of your favorite news feeds, sports scores or even celeb gossip without leaving the homescreen
* Calendar: Integrate work calendar with GCalendar into one widget that shows the next appointment right from the home screen
Again, this is becoming very, very compelling.
I’m particularly impressed with this backup offering:
MOTOBLUR is easy to set up and secure, so there is no need to worry about misplacing the phone. All contacts, log-in information, home screen customizations, email and social network messages are backed-up on the MOTOBLUR secure server. Lost or stolen phones can be found with integrated GPS from the online owner’s portal, and data can even be wiped clean. Users can simply enter the account username and password on their next MOTOBLUR phone, and all the information will be ready and waiting.
Really, really cool. I like this A LOT. It’s a total arse when you swap, change or lose your device because the familiarity that you’ve built up over months (or sometimes years) is lost in an instant. All of a sudden you have to try and find the inbox icon or add in a favourite bookmark again. Even if you’re using an Android device from another manufacturer — which has some of the best synchronisation on the planet for contacts, calendar and email — you don’t get your home screen customisations backed up, ready to access at a moment’s notice.
The remote locate and wipe functions are smart — I like the fact that these kind of offerings were previously reserved for the very top of the range devices. But Motorola has made it available for the masses.
And I think the masses will like it. The DEXT is free on contract. It’s a 24-month contract, mind. That’ll get a few consumers panicking briefly before agreeing. At £34.26 per month, you’ll get 900 any network minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited data. Plus Orange Maps (sat nav style) are included too.
The masses — the Facebook masses — are going to love it. There are legions of Orange UK customers out there who have, for too long, been subjected to a poor range of rubbishy phones. Orange is most definitely ‘back’ with this offering — and so is Motorola.
I’m excited to see how consumers react. I think the time is right. I’m picturing a 26 year old female office worker who’s been paying 35 quid a month to Orange for years. She walks into the Orange shop on the hunt for something that will ‘let her do Facebook’. She’s heard of the iPhone but she’s been indoctrinated with the ‘only available on o2’ line and doesn’t want to swap. She doesn’t want to spend any cash on the device up front and is looking for a deal from Orange. She’s heard of Google and would like to do more ‘internetty’ things on her phone. Yup. I reckon she’s going to love the DEXT.
I’ve got two videos for you.
The first is the one I took yesterday evening at the Orange/Motorola event. It’s quite noisy but you will see some of the MOTOBLUR features in use:
The second video is the official Orange UK overview of the DEXT device by Conor and is definitely worth a look: