Motorola Photon 4G Review: Powerful and Versatile

by Reads (24,703)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Service, Warranty & Support
    • 8
    • Ease of Use
    • 7
    • Design
    • 7
    • Performance
    • 9
    • Value
    • 7
    • Total Score:
    • 7.60
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10


  • Pros

    • Loaded with high-end features
    • Extreme flexibility
    • World roaming
  • Cons

    • Heavier than average
    • Some features require additional purchases

Quick Take

The Photon is a specs-heavy device that hard-core gadgetmongers will love, and which has the potential for extreme flexibility when you start adding accessories.

Debuting from Sprint with a suggested retail price of $200, the Motorola Photon 4G packs in a dizzying array of features, including a 1 GHz dual-core processor, 4.3 inch high-res screen, 4G wireless internet, worldwide roaming, and a lot of advanced multimedia options.

I’ve taken it for a spin, so read on to see what you can expect from this everything-and-then-some device.


The Photon has a fairly basic shape to be sure, but despite that it comes off as more visually interesting than most devices of similar design. In large part this is due to the extra “noise” on it: there’s a higher than average number of ports, buttons, external features, and a noticeable amount of chrome. Personally, I like it, as it gives the Photon a flashier look than most tablet phones, and makes it distinctive. You’re less likely to mistake it for something else than you are, say, the Nexus S, Galaxy S, etcetera.

Motorola Photon 4GThe casing of the device itself has a faint rubbery texture, which lends it decent gripping, but not enough to really describe it as rubberized. The left side of the device features the micro-USB port, side-by-side with the mini-HDMI connector. The right side holds the volume keys and — for a change — a dedicated camera button, which is nice to have. But all of the really interesting stuff is actually happening on the back of the device.

For one thing, the Photon features a built in “kickstand.” This is just a little plastic arm that you can swing out from the back of the device to prop it up on a flat surface like table. Simple idea, simple execution, but very useful in practice. Feel like having your phone’s display pointed at you, but don’t want to hold it? The Photon effectively carries it’s own stand around with it. No more having to lean it up against your water glass.

Although the design and placement of the kickstand makes it possible to use it in either landscape or portrait modes, the phone is hardwired so that when you unfold the stand it forces everything into landscape. I really wish they hadn’t done this, as it reduces how useful the kickstand is. Granted, the landscape orientation of the kickstand is more stable, since it’s not likely to tip over the way it can when in portrait. But still, I’d take the chance for the added functionality. It’s not like the Photon can’t adjust automatically based on gravity. Besides which, using it this way makes it almost impossible to have the kickstand out and the phone charging, since it puts the micro-USB port on the “bottom.”

Motorola Photon 4G from SprintContinuing down under the battery cover, there’s even more interesting things. The microSD card slot is here, of course. But so is a slot for a SIM card. That’s right: the Photon, in addition to everything else, features a secondary GSM radio for worldwide roaming. It’s true that this is becoming more common on high end phones from Verizon and Sprint, to let their customers keep their numbers while going overseas, but even at “more common” it’s still rare. The Photon is only Sprint’s second Android worldphone after the Motorola XPRT to feature this, and the first to have it without having to make compromises in terms of speed, storage, and screen.

Last but not least “under the hood” is something every smartphone user wants to have: a big, 1700 mAh battery to power the whole thing. Of course, the Photon needs plenty of power if you want to really take advantage of it’s features. But 1700 mAh is one of the largest standard batteries on a current smartphone: to my knowledge, only the Samsung Infuse 4G with it’s 1750 mAh is bigger. So Motorola has gone a bit above and beyond the call of duty at least in making sure you have the power available to you. With everything the Photon packs in, you’ll be wanting that juice.

Motorola Photon 4G SpecificationsThe Photon features a 4.3 inch, 960 x 540 (qHD) display that’s pretty cutting edge, backed up by an NVIDIA graphics processor. It appears to be the same screen used on Motorola’s recent Droid X2, and provides excellent crispness and clarity, a real joy to browse with. It may only be a small improvement over 800 x 480 in actual resolution, but you can see it.

Other Buttons & Controls
As mentioned above, the Photon is the first device I’ve had in awhile that actually has a dedicated camera button. This is nice–I haven’t missed it overmuch on other devices, but when you’re trying to catch a quick picture, it’s quite handy.



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