SKTelecom Motorola XT720 Motoroi Review: 3.7-inch IPS Android 2.1 Smartphone In South Korea

The waterproof and durable Casio canU 502S once offered by LG Telecom that has been in use for the last five or so years needed to be replaced. The outer casing is indeed quite durable and is unsurprisingly bulky for a rugged phone. The 2.2-inch LCD has solid colors, sharp fonts and sports a 320×240 pixel format. The keypad has a really solid feel to it. I found the LED flash to be quite useful when dark; there is a dedicated flash button. The Achille’s heel on the canU 502S, also known as G’zOne TYPE-R in Japan, is the battery pack’s hinges; they break. There are two, but when one breaks the battery starts to wiggle and at times will lose its connection to the phone forcing you to turn it on again. For the last week I’ve been using good old fashion tape to solve this problem, but the tape was stretched to its limits. The canU 502S proved to be quite durable and for quite some time, but it was time to move on.

I asked those who are in the know regarding the best carrier in South Korea. Interestingly this is exactly the opposite of what I had done in the US: the phone was the most important. I wanted the iPhone so I moved from Verizon to AT&T. Not the smartest move but I really had to experience this new iPhone at the time. The gamble paid off: the iPhone’s revolutionary multitouch UI was fantastic. But I was stuck, for two years, with unreliable connections. For example, every year I visited CES in Las Vegas, it was almost impossible to get a reliable data connection. It wasn’t so bad at home but it wasn’t that great either. (I become contract-free from AT&T this month. What should I do? Any tips?)

In South Korea I was recommended by a few whom I trust that SK Telecom (SKT) is the best carrier. I don’t know how you can prove or disprove that SKT is the best, but I had no reason to doubt. I then proceeded to spend considerably time online researching phones on SKT. This was my wish list for the perfect phone: a really good display, email, Internet, texting capabilities, and the option to use it with a prepaid SIM card in the US. There were many tempting phones but I decided on the Motorola Motoroi.

The Android 2.1-based candybar smartphone from Motorola sports one of the best displays out there: a 3.7-inch IPS LCD with a 854×480 pixel format. The original Droid share the very same display, which won DisplayMate’s DisplayMate Best Video Hardware Guide Award for both smart­phones and the entire mobile dis­play cat­e­gory. You can check out a detailed review of the Droid’s amazing display at Motorola Droid vs. Google Nexus One. Here are some major points of the display: very bright, black is very black, contrast ratio is amazing, and colors are accurate. Text is really sharp, colors are great, viewing angles are superb for a phone and the blacks are really quite black, during the day. I watching TV on it as I was getting ready to sleep. The experience was new and unique but I could see that black levels could be better. This was one moment when I wished I had an OLED-based smartphone; it would have done much better. A FM radio is built in, not the streaming kind but a real one. I walk a lot in Seoul so being able to listen to the radio is quite nice. Call quality is superb and the cellular signal rarely drops below the maximum of six bars.

I don’t particularly like the slight buldge on the bottom right (in portrait orientation) but I do understand its purpose: a better feel when taking photographs or videos. Still, I would have prefered a perfect rectangle instead. The auto-focus 8-megapixel camera comes with a fairly large xenon flash. Since I usually prefer photos using natural light I generally keep the flash off. Unfortunately the Motoroi isn’t very good at taking low-light photos, but it isn’t any worse than the average smartphone. Video can be captured at 720p but I don’t think the hardware is quite up to the task. There seems to be some problems during recording and playback. There is a slight hesistation and playback isn’t as smooth. During video capture that was a brief pause and that showed up during playback. It may be related to an underpowered CPU, a less-than-optimized Media Browser app, a slow microSD card, the Android OS itself or a combination. I’ll probably be dialing down video capture to just 640×480 just to ensure seamless capture and playback.

My phone was provisioned around 10:30am and I got excited so I immediately started to setup email, browse the Internet, and download some choice apps for reading RSS feeds (NewsRob), killing processes and applications (Advanced Task Killer), an InstaPaper-compatible app called EverPaper, and Facebook. I took some pictures, checked email, read RSS feeds, browsed the Internet, opened a few built-in apps: Maps, T map (a SKT GPS navigation app, Quickoffice, etc.), texted some messages and talked on the phone a few times. Then it happened: I received a battery warning sign. I had 15% left. By 4pm the Motoroi’s battery was completely dead. That’s just 5 1/2 hours. Sure I did quite a few things that might have drained the battery, but 5 1/2 hours is simply terrible. Thankfully an extra battery comes with the backage, but unfortunately I didn’t bring it along incorrectly assuming the Motoroi would last the entire day. There are some other things that are disappointing.

The body gets hot to the touch. Maybe it is the hot and humid weather in Korea, but the temperature on the back toward the upper half is uncomfortable. I thought about rooting the Motoroi and installing Android 2.2 Froyo in the hopes of improving multimedia performance, especially 720p video playback, but I fear the Motoroi will become thermally unstable and become too hot to handle. This is minor compared to the next problem that has been driving me nuts.

For some odd reason the Motoroi has a mind of its own. It wants to reboot from time to time. I’ve tried to single out the cause by deleting widgets and apps, killing processes, doing hard resets, etc. but it doesn’t seem to be helping at all. After googling for some time I found Droid users complaining about a similar issue. The Droid and the Motoroi are close relatives so I assume what’s bugging the Droid is probably bugging the Motoroi. The only course of action that seems to solve this problem is to get a replacement unit. I hope the next one is stable. I’ve contacted the local SKT store where I purchased the Motoroi from for an exchange. I plan to get a replacement tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted.

Update: I returned the defective Motoroi and got another one. The new one was defective too. Just like the previous Motoroi this one had a mind of its own and rebooted several times a day. I had had enough. I returned the Motoroi and cancelled. I am so relieved! (You have 14 days from the day you sign up to cancel the agreement in South Korea.)

I really liked the display and Android was rather snappy on a relatively slow smartphone. The map app helped me get to places since I’m not familiar with the geography here. Email setup was very simple and convenient thanks to Gmail integration.

I really didn’t like the virtual keyboard and the Android’s method of suggesting words when I type: instead of suggesting right where I am typing the suggestions are on a different line and there are a LOT of suggestions. I much prefer the way the iPhone works where suggestions are right there where you are typing.

The camera is too slow and I had to reduce the quality to about 2 or 3MP to get the camera to work quickly enough. Low-light photography? Forget it. The Motoroi is about as good as compact digital cameras from about three years ago. Video is completely smooth at only 640×480. Don’t get fooled with its 720p HD video capture capable: it can do it, but it isn’t usable.

The one thing I decided that I am not going to do for some time: buy a Motorola smartphone. I’m back to my Casio canU 502S: the battery lasts for days, doesn’t ever reboot by itself, is waterproof (a wonderful feature since it is monsoon season in Korea right now) and has a real mechanical keypad that feels so good after unsuccessfully touch typing on a glass display.