Motorola Photon 4G Hands-On Preview

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When Sprint previewed its forthcoming Motorola Photon 4G smartphone a few days ago, I was there at the glitzy New York City press event, where I gleaned some hands-on hints at how well (or not) this high-end Android 2.3 OS-enabled device – with features such as the sizzlingly fast dual-core NVidia Tegra processor, “kickstand view” and car dock — might really meet the needs of targeted customers; users spanning from multimedia buffs to enterprise IT managers.

Motorola Photon 4GIn a short presentation before the hands-on demos, Sprint and Motorola brass told the invited reporters and editors that the Photon 4G and Motorola Triumph – a pre-paid phone for Sprint’s Virgin USA subsidiary – will round out a set of ten mutually created Android smartphones set for release by the end of 2011. (Stay tuned to Brighthand for a separate hands-on preview of the Motorola Triumph.)

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse focused on how his company’s relationship with Motorola has been newly “re-invigorated” around Android, and how Sprint is trying to come up with products that users will crave by doing tons of market research. IT managers, for example, are telling Sprint that they’re avidly deploying Android within their enterprises, said Hesse (although the Sprint CEO didn’t really explain why). Also, with the same smartphone and the dock accessories that it will support, Sprint will try to reel in SMBs, consumers, and “prosumers.”

Sprint, of course, is trying to catch up to AT&T and Verizon in all of these spaces. As I mentioned in a news report in Brighthand on Thursday, the Photon 4G is reminiscent of AT&T’s Motorola Atrix 4G, but the Photon includes a kickstand not present in the Atrix, as well as a higher-end camera and a brighter screen. Yet also as I discovered in my hands-on demo at the event, the Photon’s screen is larger in size, and the phone offers some interesting changes on the user interface (UI) side.

Like the Atrix, another phone based around an NVIDIA Tegra dual-core processor, the Photon will use a qHD (960 x 540) screen made of gorilla glass, and Motorola’s Webtop software. Webtop, of course, is aimed at adding PC-like functionality by connecting the phone to outside devices. In contrast to the Atrix, the Photon won’t have a laptop dock, but it will have an HD/desktop dock similar to the Atrix phone. It willl also add a Webtop-enabled car dock for GPS navigation with turn-by-turn directions. Beyond the new kickstand, the Photon will also introduce something called “kickstand view”.

Talking with me at the event, Joel Kingsbury, Motorola’s senior product marketing manager, Global Marketing, told me that you’ll be able to set the phone to switch into kickstand view when you pull the kickstand out from the back of the phone. In that mode, the screen automatically switches to horizontal orientation with a view designed for movie watching. Also in kickstand view, the phone can double as a travel alarm clock and/or music player.

Motorola Photon 4GMeanwhile, the Photon’s screen measures 4.3-inches diagonally, in comparison to 4.0 inches for the Atrix. Kingsbury said Sprint’s new dual-layer coating for the glass has been designed to cut down on glare, for easier visibility in sunlight, while increasing the brightness of the screen. The Photon will also come with an 8 megapixel (mp) camera, an improvement over the Atrix’s 5 mp camera.

For the demos, Sprint and Motorola had pre-loaded software that included some Android Apps – such as Quickoffice, Facebook and YouTube – along with Sprint ID  for screen customization, and widgets from Motorola. Hesse said that Sprint will also supply software designed for management and security on enterprise networks, including 3LM’s Ready for Business software.

Quick Hands-On with the Photon 4G
To me, the most striking aspects of the Photon are its screen, kickstand view, dock accessories, and dual-core NVIDIA Tegra processor. I wasn’t able to tell whether Sprint’s coating for the gorilla glass actually makes the screen easier to use in outdoor settings, since the demos took place indoors.

Motorola Photon 4GIn an indoor setting, the Photon’s screen looked almost as brilliant to me as the Super AMOLED displays in Samsung’s Galaxy phone line-up, giving it a more business appropriate look than a blatantly attention seeking one. I also saw how you can set up as many as seven customizable windows on the Photon’s 4.3-inch screen, if desired.

As for the phone’s overall form factor, if you’ve ever seen an Atrix 4G, the candy bar-shaped Photon will seem familiar, athough not identical. With dimensions of 5.0 by 2.6 by 0.5 inches, the Photon is slightly larger and just a tad thicker than the Atrix. The Photon is also nearly a full ounce heavier – 5.57 ounces, in comparison to 4.64 ounces for the Atrix – but it still felt plenty light and comfortable enough,

I used a handy dedicated camera button on the right hand panel to bring up the 8 mp camera, which doubles as a videocam with 720p resolution. In its press materials, Samsung is promising photo editing tools. I saw a menu for “effects,” but didn’t have time to drill down into that. Like the Atrix, the Photon also has a VGA rear-facing camera, for videoconferencing and videochat.

Part 2 of this article covers more about the Kickstand View, the price for the Photon 4G, and more.

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