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Review: Motorola Milestone (Droid) Android 2.0

Many Android smartphone owners are still eagerly awaiting their Android 2.0 updates, and for some carriers it’s uncertain if there will be ever any Android 2.0 update at all. So at the moment there are only two options to get Android 2.0: Either root your device and try your luck with some cooked Android 2.0 roms, or get a Motorola Milestone (Droid) which is the first device to get Android 2.0 out of the box. Since i have been using my Motorola Milestone testdevice for nearly one month now, i got a good insight on the new Android 2.0 features as well as the Milestones performance running Android 2.0. This articles will not be only about Android 2.0 running on the Motorola Milestone though, but more of a roundup containing the most important new features from Android 1.6 – 2.0. I chose this approach because i wanted this review to be useful for people who are new to Android too, and therefore it makes sense to give a general Android overview besides showing off the new Android 2.0 features. Nevertheless i’m going to highlight the Android 2.0 enhancements particularly, so Android users can easily identify which features have been updated/added compared to Android 1.6. Furthermore i’ll mention differences between the Motorola Milestone and it’s american counterpart the Motorola Droid, as well as all pros&cons when working with the Motorola Milestone on Android 2.0. Let’s start off with one of the most important changes in Android 2.0, the introduction of multiple google account support.

Android 2.0 multiple google account support

When TMobile released the G1 as first Android device, many google service users were not happy about the fact that you could only have one active google account on your Android device. It was not possible to add different google accounts, i.e. a private gmail account and a seperate gmail account for business. While there was a workaround (setting up one gmail account as main account, and the other gmail account as regular IMAP account) you couldn’t use the real gmail app for both. Android 2.0 finally adds multi account support, and not only for google accounts but also for exchange server accounts. From the accounts and synchronization options window you can easily add new accounts by pressing the “Add account” button.

motorola_milestone_droid_accounts_and_sync

It’s still not possible to have a combined inbox of gmail accounts and your exchange server connection though. Google added a combined inbox only for IMAP/POP/Exchange server accounts, but not for your Gmail accounts. As on previous Android versions you have to check your exchange mails in a seperate standard email app, which is different from the Gmail app.

Android homescreens

After setting up the Motorola Milestone (Droid) you’ll land on the default Android homescreen. But before i get into the details of the homescreens, let me show you the new lock-screen on the following screenshot. Google added a nice functionality here, since you can actually switch to mute mode directly on the lock-screen by swiping to the left, or unlock the phone by swiping to the right side.

motorola_milestone_droid_lockscreen

The Android 2.0 homescreens are not different from older Android builds. You still have three pages which you can populate with shortcuts, folders and widgets. This is one of the big advantages Android currently has over the IPhone which only supports app shortcuts on the homescreens. To business users it’s very important to have their most important informations at a glance on the homescreen instead of going through multiple apps to get their needed information. Windows Mobile has a today screen with plugin support for this, and Android has its widgets to show you all your needed data directly on your homepage. The available widgets on the market should satisfy nearly all needs, as they cover a lot of use-cases (tasks, calendar, social media, media player, weather, clocks and many more). But widgets are not new on the Android platform, since they have been around since Android 1.5. Still for anybody planning to get an Android smartphone this should be one of the interesting OS differentiations compared to the very static IPhone homescreens. One of the differences on Android 2.0 is that all standard google apps have gotten new icons and the high resolution of the Motorola Milestone of course is an eye-catcher here. Google also added some new widgets to the mix, like a settings widget to easily toggle WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Google sync and display brightness. But the homescreen is also one of the few setbacks you will encounter on the Motorola Milestone, since somehow switching through the screens is slow and laggy. I was really surprised, because even older devices with less processing power like the HTC Hero have very fluid homescreens (and thanks to HTC Sense seven of them, not only three). This has to be some kind of bug, because the Motorola Milestone is VERY fast when working with many different apps at once, but the default homescreens just don’t scroll fluidly. It’s a known issue, and hopefully this gets resolved on the next update.

motorola_milestone_droid_original_homescreen

For me the three default Android homescreens were not enough either way, so i purchased a homescreen app called openHome from the market. OpenHome supports seven homescreens and UI themes which change the complete look of your homescreen. The best thing is, that the seven homescreens with openHome scroll very fluid on the Motorola Milestone. So this is further evidence that the default Android homescreen stutter has to be a software issue, and is not hardware related. I strongly recommend to invest the little money for an app like openHome (there are other alternatives available too) to get the best results on the Motorola Milestone, otherwise you have to cope with laggy homescreens on a high-end device until the next update solves this problem (in the u.s. Motorola rolled out an Android 2.0.1 update, so this issue maybe already solved for u.s. customers by the time this review is published). The next screenshot shows my homescreen set-up with openHome using the HTC Hero theme in landscape mode. Landscape support for the homescreens is another very nice feature of Android 2.0.

motorola_milestone_droid_homescreen_landscape

And just to show you the possibilities of Android, without the need of rooting, here is another screenshot of a different openHome theme. There are a lot of themes available on the market, like Palm Pre themes, IPhone themes and more. As you can see on the screenshot openHome really changes the default UI and app icons to create a unique and personalized look on your device. Please note that many themes are still optimized for HVGA devices, so the new icons might seem slightly blurry (they still look good though). But this will of course change as soon as there are WVGA themes on the market.

motorola_milestone_droid_openhome_night_skin

The apps drawer hasn’t changed at all. Sadly there is still no option to add folders in the app list. This would really help organizing the many apps downloaded from the market. With the Android market getting bigger each day (16.000 apps according to google), i really think the option of adding app folders in the drawer should be included soon.

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Another untouched part is the notification drawer, but in this case i’m happy about it. The notification drawer is one of Androids best inventions, and it didn’t need any big changes anyway since it’s nearly perfect the way it is. As always notification icons of your apps will appear on the top bar, and swiping down will open the notifications drawer with more details of each notification. You can access the apps from here, or delete the notification if not needed anymore.

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Android Contacts app

PIM apps have been overhauled on Android 2.0 too, especially the contacts app. You can now access a shortcut menu of each contact by tapping on the contact picture. A popup menu will appear were you can directly send messages, make a call, send an email, navigate to the contact or just open the detail view. This is really a nice addition, as you don’t need to open the detail view of a contact each time you want to make a call or write a quick message/email.

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If your contact has more than one phone number or many email adresses, you can also choose on this pop-up menu which email adress you want to send an email to, or which number to call. Having this option adds to the value of this new feature, since nowadays a lot of people have multiple email adresses and phone numbers. There is also the possibility to set one email adress or phone number as default.

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The detail view provides no new features, you can add multiple fields to any contact and therefore the detail view options should be sufficient for most requirements.

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Google also added a facebook sync option to the contacts app, but contrary to the Motorola Droid you don’t get this out-of-the-box on the Motorola Milestone. The new facebook app is available on the market, and you have to download it first. I had the problem that i couldn’t save my facebook credentials and sync my contacts, this seems to be a current bug. On the Motorola Droid the facebook sync will automatically match your contacts to your facebook friends, and pull their contact data.

Overall the Android 2.0 contacts app is much better than the past versions, but compared to the HTC Sense contacts app it’s still not up to par. HTC managed to integrate social media services like Facebook and Flickr in a more effective way (update notifications, albums, manual account matching if the automated match doesn’t work…) and the HTC Sense contacts app just seems to be better organized. Still it’s a step in the right direction for the standard Android contacts app, but in order to be really competitive with the best solutions out there Google needs to update the UI on a deeper level.

Android Calendar app

One of my biggest gripes with HTC Sense was the calendar app. Contrary to the mostly nice additions and good UI overhaul HTC realized for all other default Android apps, they not only failed to optimize the calendar app but made it worse than it was originally. Leaving out the week view, and changing the month view to show no timebars anymore but only one single indicator for one or many appointments for a day, was not a good idea. On the Motorola Milestone (Droid) you’ll luckily get the good old default Android calendar with the timebars indicating how busy a day is. You can easily see in the month view which days are full of meetings, and when you’ll have time to get some work done.

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The week view is also practical to get a more detailed view of the coming days. I don’t know why HTC decided that a week view is not needed in their HTC Sense feature list.

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One new Android 2.0 addition is the unlimited agenda view, which will show all your upcoming events as a scrollable list. You can view all your upcoming events without any time-interval restrictions. This is also better than the agenda view on HTC Sense, because the HTC Calendar only shows the next two weeks on agenda view.

motorola_milestone_droid_calendar_agenda_view

I think Google made a much better job with their Android calendar, compared to the default Android 2.0 contacts app (which got some new features in Android 2.0, but is still not up to par with the competition). The calendar app provides all important features a business user would like to see, and it has a very nice UI too. On the HTC Hero i’m waiting for Pocket Informant to arrive on Android to get some useful month views, though it hasn’t even been announced yet. But the default Android calendar on the Motorola Milestone (Droid) gets the job perfectly done. Please note that you can’t add calendars of multiple Google accounts on Android 2.0, the multiple account feature of Android 2.0 currently only supports Gmail and contacts sync of your secondary Google accounts but no calendar sync.

Android Gmail app

Thanks to the multiple Google account support on Android 2.0, it’s finally possible to setup more than one Gmail account in the default Gmail app. You can switch between both accounts via menu.

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As you can see on the following screenshot, there is an “accounts” option in the menu to switch to another Gmail account.

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Other than that the Gmail app is pretty much the same as always, you can work with labels and you have the same conversation views of your mails as on the web application. It’s really a great mobile UI for Gmail, the only setback is that you’ll need internet access to browse through your mails, since they are not being stored offline on the device.

Android Email app

As already mentioned in this review, Google also added native exchange server support which is a big step for business users, and a combined inbox for IMAP/POP/Exchanger server accounts. Native exchange server support means that you can finally sync your exchange emails, contacts and calendar items out-of-the-box. Sadly you can’t have a combined inbox of Gmail and exchange server accounts. Instead you have to switch to the seperate Android email app to open your exchange server inbox. Setting up the exchange server connection is very easy and straightforward. You can either set-up timeintervals for syncing your email, or activate push-mail, and you can choose how many emails should be synced (i.e. one week, one month, all emails). The sync works fine, but one issue i encountered was that i can’t accept invitations for meetings. The app just doesn’t show the option to “accept” the invitation. This works on my HTC Hero, so i hope Google will add this functionality soon because accepting invitations is an important use-case for any business user.

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HTML rendering in the email app is looking quite nice, but there is no multitouch support for zooming supported.

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Android Messaging app

The messaging app will show an overview of your last conversations. As with the new Android 2.0 contacts app, you have the new shortcut menu feature. Just tap on a contacts picture (or the placeholder for contacts without pictures) and you will get the same pop-up menu where you can directly choose an action as on the contacts app.

motorola_milestone_droid_messages

A conversation view is also available, and while it’s ok i like the Apple approach more, where your messages and the answers are more clearly seperated.

motorola_milestone_droid_messages_conversation_view

Android Gestures

A gestures framework has been added in Android 1.6 so developers can create, recognize, store and load gestures and associate them with specific actions. This means that your Android device can recognize previously defined symbols when you draw them on the touchscreen, and take the assigned action. In example drawing a circle could mean “back to homescreen” or any other action you want. Android 1.6 and newer devices come with an example application to show the possibilities of gestures.

motorola_milestone_droid_gestures

There are already some apps on the market which make good use of the gestures framework, like the Dolphin browser in example. You can add bookmarks, open new tabs, navigate back and forward in the browser and much more with the implemented gesture features. While all of this is a nice add-on i don’t really see the big benefit right now, because you have to open the gesture window first, and then you have to draw your gesture symbol. But instead of doing this i could also just open the menu and choose “new tab” or any other option, so it’s not that big of a usability boost in my opinion. Having gestures support directly on your homescreen, without the need to open a seperate gesture windows first, would be really cool. I don’t know if this is possible with the current gestures framework though.

Motorola Phone Portal

Motorola didn’t preload a lot of own stuff on the Motorola Milestone and left vanilla Android 2.0 nearly untouched. But besides the demo version of MotoNav (an navigation app – i won’t go into details since it’s just a demo) one of the apps that actually come preloaded is the so called Motorola Phone Portal. Basically it’s an app that makes your mobile phone act as a server (you can connectt via WiFi or USB), so you can access your media files, contacts, call logs, bookmarks, browser history and messages with any regular web browser.

motorola_milestone_droid_moto_phone_portal_app

I really think this is a great idea, because especially over WiFi it makes working with your device very comfortable. Now one thing Motorola should add is some kind of file explorer, so you can access any filetype on your device.

Android Camera app

You get a 5 MP cam on your Motorola Milestone (Droid), which has two LED lights and some new picture effects. The results aren’t anything special and up to par with most other smartphones, but at least you will be able to make some shots in dark surroundings thanks to the LED lights. There is a very interesting bug currently seen on the Motorola Milestone (Droid) camera software. It seems like you can only take good pictures for a specific period of time (24,5 days), then because of an algorithm error on the camera app you won’t be able to focus on anything to make a clear picture for another 24,5 days. This cycle goes on forever, so you have one time-slot where everything works, and another where the camera app doesn’t focus correctly. I’m pretty sure that this problem will be cured on the next Android update, as it would be really embarassing otherwise.

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This is a picture i took with the Motorola Milestone cam during daylight.

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And the same place during night time with dim surroundings. You can see that the LED lights do help a bit.

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Android Media Gallery

Viewing your pictures can be done with the Android media gallery, which is a very simple tool. You can choose the folder and then take a look at your pictures. Multitouch zoom is supported on the Motorola Milestone, but not on the Motorola Droid (US Version of the Milestone).

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This is one of the picture views, which looks a little bit like the “coverflow” on the IPhone. There is a regular grid view availabe too.

motorola_milestone_droid_media_gallery_landscape

Android Universal search

Android 1.6 introduced the universal search feature, which is basically a device search to find the searchphrase within browser bookmarks & history, applications, contacts, and the web too. I find this to be really handy on some occasions, as i used the similar universal search on my Palm Pre testdevice a lot.

On the Motorola Milestone (Droid) the universal search is fast and works great.

motorola_milestone_droid_universal_search

Android Market

The long awaited Android market update also came with Android 1.6. The UI finally got an overhaul, and the structure was optimized. On the startup screen you’ll see links to apps, games, your downloads and an icon for starting a search. The first page also shows recommended apps. Google changed the look&feel of the market not only by redesigning the layout but also by swapping the color to a white background, which looks much more inviting than the previous Android market with the simplistic white text on black background approach.

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After opening the application tab or the games tab you see a list of categories to choose from. You can also open a list with all apps/games too.

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One important addition is the seperation of paid apps and free apps. You can now easily search both categories, and see which apps are the best for each category. The tab for new apps was already available on the old market too.

motorola_milestone_droid_android_market_app_paid_free_new

The next good addition are screenshots. On the old Android market you couldn’t really get an impression of the app at a glance because there were only comments viewable but no screenshots. Now it’s possible to upload pictures for apps, and therefore it’s much easier to preview the apps UI and see if the app is visually appealing to the user or not.

motorola_milestone_droid_android_market_app_details

Currently there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the Motorola Milestone and the Android market. Due to a bug it’s not possible to find paid apps on unlocked Motorola Milestones. This doesn’t apply for Motorola Milestones you get from carriers though. I got mine from o2 germany in example, and was able to find all my paid apps without any problems. The bug seems to occur only on devices which are not carrier related. I’m intentionally not using the phrase “unbranded” devices, because the Motorola Milestone from o2 is also unbranded (as many other o2 smartphone devices, which is really cool), and the Android market does work on it. From what i could find out, the affected Motorola Milestone devices from i.e. amazon have a different build number than the carrier related devices. And the problems only occur for those special build numbers. Google and Motorola know about this bug, and are working on a fix. Until there is an update, you should know that this issue currently still exists. So right now the easiest way in germany to get a fully working Motorola Milestone is to get it from o2 (you can get it from o2 as a standalone purchase without any contract).

Android Browser

I was very curious to see how the Android browser would perform on the Motorola Milestone hardware. And with its WVGA screen and fast CPU it does deliver. Browsing with such a high resolution is really fun, and you can literally read nearly all content of the pages in zoomed out view because the screen is just that sharp. Speed wise i was also very satisfied, as there is a noticeable bump compared to my HTC Hero in example. There is no big difference to the IPhone 3GS browsing speed now. Let’s take a look at the webpage of NY Times.

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And the following screenshot shows my blog in zoomed out view. In both cases you can see how beautifully the Android browser renders pages. There is still no flash support available, but pinch-zoom (multitouch zoom) is supported on the Motorola Milestone.

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Sadly there is one MAJOR setback on the standard Android browser: the missing text wrapping. Other devices like the HTC Hero support textwrapping in their default browser, which will always optimize linebreaks of the text according to your current zoom level. That way you always only have to scroll vertically to read any text. But on the default Android browser there is no such feature, if you zoom-in too much, you will end up with half sentences and the need to scroll horizontally to read a full sentence. This is really bothersome, since you have to scroll horizontally to follow the whole sentence, and vertically to jump to the next line. Reading pages like this is not user friendly at all. The next screenshot shows what happens if you try to zoom-in and end up seeing only part of the content. This doesn’t happen on the HTC Hero as it would automatically apply linebreaks at the edges of the screen.

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Tabs can be viewed as a list for easy switching and opening new tabs or closing existing ones.

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Bookmarks are stored with thumbnails of each page. On the bookmark page you will also find a “most visited” and “browsing history” tab.

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The available on-page options include: add as bookmark, textsearch, text selection, page info, share link, downloads and settings.

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Androids browser provides setup options like textsize, textcoding, default zoom level, default page view, pop-up options, javascript activation, picture loading settings and more. I especially like the option to show the fully zoomed-out view of pages by default, since this gives you a good impression of a website and then you can decide which part to zoom-in.

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Despite the otherwise very good functionality of the Android browser i just can’t live without the mentioned textwrapping feature. Therefore i searched for some alternatives, and i found the Dolphin browser to be a very good free app which has all important options, a good performance, and supports textwrapping. So while the HTC Hero built-in browser is better than the default Android browser in some regards, you can always switch to other browsers on the market, and therefore this is no big drawback when buying a Motorola Milestone.

Android Battery consumption app

The big Android market is a temptation to download many apps, because you just have a lot of useful free and paid apps out there and since the downloading and installing process is so easy you’ll end up with a truckload of apps on your device very soon. But not all apps are perfectly programmed and you might notice different side effects after a while. In example having too many apps open at the same time might slow down your device (one solution: get one of those free taskmanager on the Android market). Or you might notice that the battery of your device will be drained much faster than before. Finding the culprit wasn’t easy since you had no clue which app was responsible for the battery hogging. That’s why Google added a tool in Android 1.6 to show you which apps drain your battery the most. This is really helpful if you want to optimize your devices stand-by time.

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You can access the battery consumption details of an app by tapping on the entry in the apps list. The details will show you more information about the cpu time of the app, and the battery consumption percentage.

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Android Task Manager

What you will also find is a simple taskmanager which will show a list of the currently running apps. It’s not a full-fledged task manager like some of the apps you’ll find on the market (in example “Advanced Task Killer”, which is my favourite solution), but if you just want to see which tasks are running, and need to close an app every now and then, this tool should be sufficient.

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And this is the roundup of Android in the current 2.0 version on the Motorola Milestone. So after i provided a lot of information about Android up to this point, let’s now take a peak at how the Motorola Milestone handles Android 2.0.

Motorola Milestone (Droid) performance

Besides the already mentioned little bug with the laggy homescreens, it’s safe to say that the Motorola Milestone (Droid) is very fast overall. There is a noticeable speed increase compared to all other currently available Android devices, thanks to the fast CPU and Android 2.0. Especially switching between apps, and opening apps is really speedy. This makes working with the Motorola Milestone (Droid) very comfortable, and on many instances even up to par with the IPhone 3GS despite having full multi-tasking on the Motorola Milestone (Droid). Scrolling is also very fluid in all different kinds of lists, and the touchscreen reacts very quickly to user input. One area were you’ll still see the IPhone take the crown is the scrolling on webpages and the multi-touch zoom. In both cases the Motorola Milestone (Droid) browser performance is not bad at all, but still not as fluid as the IPhone 3GS Safari browser. On the other hand you have a much better resolution on the Motorola Milestone (Droid), so it’s up to you to decide which feature is more important.

Motorola Milestone and Motorola Droid differences

In the U.S. the Motorola Milestone is called Motorola Droid, but the name is not the only difference. There are a few things which have been adjusted and changed when Motorola launched the Milestone in europe. First of all Google Maps navigation is missing on the Milestone, since Google only introduced this app officially in the united states. Surely this will change at some point in the future, but up to now there was only the possibility to install some extracted apk files from the Motorola Droid rom (which only worked for a short period of time, until Google closed the gap) to get some Google navigation on your Milestone. The extracted Google Maps app was fully functional in germany, but i guess Google has to clear up some legal issues before releasing it over here. I was able to try it out for a few minutes, and while it seems like a very good first try, i think offline navigation apps still have a lot of pros. Sadly Google shutdown the possibility to use the extracted app on european devices, so i couldn’t test it in detail. It’s still possible to get it running on the Motorola Milestone, but you have to take much more steps to make it work, and nobody knows when Google will close that gap again.

Furthermore you’ll get facebook preinstalled on the Motorola Droid, but since the new version is now also available on the Android market, this is no important difference anymore. The Droid also comes with a 16GB micrso-sd card, while the Milestone only comes with an 8GB card.

One Motorola Milestone exclusive feature is pinch-zoom (multi-touch zoom), which is supported in the browser and the pictures viewer. The Motorola Droid hasn’t any multi-touch support as for now.

So as you can see there are some differences between both devices, but i don’t think that they really add up as much as to prefer one specific device. Of course having Google maps navigation on the Droid is extremely cool, but sooner or later we will get that in europe too. And Android will also start supporting multi-touch zoom in the u.s. at some point, so the Motorola Droid will be able to utilize the multi-touch feature (which is already integrated into Android, but “locked” in the u.s.).

Motorola Milestone (Droid) verdict

So what more can i say after those two quite big Motorola Milestone (Droid) review parts? Motorola just produced one of the best smartphones currently available on the market, which not only sports great hardware and very good built quality, but also Android 2.0 with all of the benefits of this open source platform. There are some important current issues to be solved, like the mentioned Android market problem (which doesn’t affect all phones, but only carrier independent versions), but overall it’s still a very impressing effort from Motorola. Should you seriously consider getting an Motorola Milestone (despite the Google Nexus One being around the corner)? Yes, because the Motorola Milestone (Droid) is not only a very powerful device but also comes with a full qwertz keyboard which the coming Google phone lacks. Furthermore nobody knows exactly when and if the Google phone will arrive in europe (or the united states – this may change next week when the Google phone will go official). The other real competition i see is coming from the next generation of HTC devices like the HTC Bravo sporting HTC Sense and of course the next IPhone. But looking at the sales figures in the united states and the recent headlines about the Motorola Droid users app download statistics, it seems like Motorola chose the right direction with their latest smartphone and consumers purchase the Motorola Droid without much hesitation. Judging by the quality of this smartphone, i’m pretty sure that we will see Motorola having success with the Motorola Milestone in europe too. This is not only great news for Motorola, but also for the Android platform which will benefit from Motorolas comeback too. To wrap this review up: Motorola, welcome back to the game.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

For more Android 2.0 screenshots check out my Motorola Milestone (Droid) Android 2.0 gallery. You can also find further information on the Motorola Milestone at Betabuzz.