Name: Motorola Photon Q
Price: $200 (w/two-year contract)
The Back Story: Motorola and Sprint have shared a common bond with each other throughout the year. Both companies are steadily lagging behind on the Android scene and have held out until Q4 to expand their hardware catalogs. The former has only released three phones thus far, and the carrier’s last offering from the manufacturer can be traced back to last August with the Photon 4G. Now with the holiday season approaching, Motorola is building momentum heading into its major release period and giving Sprint the smartphone boost it so desperately needs with its Photon successor: the Photon Q 4G LTE.
Rocking the same critically acclaimed QWERTY found on the Droid 4, stronger specs, and LTE compatibility, subscribers have much to be excited about, especially with no new Sprint Android powerhouses insight for the rest of 2012. So is the Photon Q the must-have phone on the network or is it just a worthy option to take into consideration.
• Awesome QWERTY keyboard: What’s there to say that we haven’t already expressed in our Droid 4 review? You’re looking at a full QWERTY with soft-touch keys that offers phenomenal tactile feedback and light up to accommodate messaging in the dark. Up top lies a dedicated numerical row for number crunchers, and at the bottom is a set directional keys for navigational purposes. One noticeable difference we did encounter was the smoother slider mechanism, which extracts the keyboard quicker and is comfortably looser than its Verizon cousin. No other QWERTY smartphone on the network can compete.
• Speedy performance: Motorola chose to equip the Photon 4Q with a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4 CPU—the same chip powering the Samsung Galaxy S III. No complaints here as the processor dominates all multitasking tasks. We had up to eight programs running in the background and were still able to zip through onscreen activities. Multimedia playback was flawless and 3D games ran stutter-free for the most part.
• Software upgrades: Most of the UI enhancements featured in the Atrix HD are present here: including the new “Circles” widget and unlock ring screen. Along with those treats is Motorola’s game-changing Smart Actions feature, which allows for personal phone customization to stretch battery life and boost performance. It’s also pretty dope to see the phone ship with an unlockable bootloader so users can root the handset and load it with roms. Just know that doing so will void your warranty.
• Good battery life: One shouldn’t expect much juice out of a 1785mAH battery, but the energizer pack held strong throughout most of the day. Expect about seven to eight hours during heavy multimedia sessions (Netflix, games, etc.) and an est. 10 to 11 on moderate use. Keep in mind that this could have been attributed to the phone being in 3G mode for most of our demo time. Nonetheless, that is still impressive.
• Wireless features: Aside from being Sprint’s first LTE QWERTY phone, the Photon Q is also the network’s first GSM-enabled handset. So users have the luxury of staying connected across the entire globe (roaming charges apply). NFC is also on board allowing for wireless data exchanges and Google Wallet support.
• Poor camera: Our last several experiences with Motorola’s mobile shooters weren't didn't go very well due to buggy software and shutter delays. The manufacturer does take a step forward by finally resolving these issues, but takes two back in the photo and video department. Captured images lacked detailing and recorded clips looked too dark.
• Mediocre call quality: Most of the calls we screened on the headset suffered from distortion and muffled voice calling. The speakerphone had trouble picking up audio, too.
• Limited LTE coverage and internal memory: With Sprint’s new 4G service only available in select markets and going through test rounds in NYC, we were confined to its less-than-stellar 3G network. If that's not enough, Motorola stuffed the Photon Q with just 8GB of built-in storage, only 4.5GB of which is useable.
Final Say: Motorola adds another great Android smartphone to Sprint’s small arsenal and continues to demonstrate why there is still a market for QWERTY handsets, even if it’s the only manufacturer not named BlackBerry creating them. The Photon Q stands at the top of its class thanks to its solid build, soft-touch feel, and tactile feedback. Fast CPU benchmarks and vital software tweaks sweeten the deal. Some of its imperfections might turn off subscribers, but if you favor messaging over voice calling (as we all do), then this is the Sprint phone you need going into the holiday season.