Jan 19, 2011

One year with the Motorola Milestone (aka Droid)

This is not a review of the Motorola Milestone, other can do that very well.

Category: Devices
Posted by: pierrot

Simply I'd like to share some quick feelings about this devices (the sort of things that you only catch after some time of real use) and my reflection about the mobile software life cycle.

Let's start with some notes on the hardware. This phone has a rather unique shape. It is made of hard edges, with a sort of nose at the bottom, and some rubber bumps on the back. You can like these aesthetic or not, but in practice what these particularities do ?

  • the nose is extremely handy to hold the device with two fingers without hiding the screen, in either landscape or portrait mode. This is a bit like a handle, and it's great.
  • as for the rubber bumps on the back, they have two main uses. First they will protect the camera from being scratched when the device is put on its back, on a table for instance. Since the bumps elevate the device slightly, the camera glass is generally not in contact with hard materials. Secondly the rubber bands are of a great help when driving a car: they avoid the device to fall from the dashboard where it is laying, when a bend is taken a little too fast, because the rubber offers a good grip...
  • after one year of heavy use, both as a development tool and as my day to day phone, the device is still as new. The keyboard still opens smoothly, the frame is still rigid, the battery is still good, all buttons still behave correctly. It does not feel of superior construction, it is.

Let's speak a bit about the software now. Software is, in my opinion, the most important thing, well above hardware specifications.

Originally sold with Android 2.0, Motorola has updated the system with Android 2.1 later. However, in spite of being advertised as a Google featured device, the European version of the Droid is still waiting for the 2.2 update. It is not sure whether Motorola will release an update someday, even though the Droid has been updated to 2.2 since ages. Milestone users are quite disappointed since the latest European eclair version has a lot of bugs...

Failing to update the software is somehow killing the hardware. The fast pace at which mobile computing evolves tends to render a one year old device and software obsolete. This is particularly a problem since nowadays mobile devices becomes ubiquitous tools and data migration is all but easy (on Android at least). Would you accept replacing your main PC each year, with all the trouble that comes with this operation (backup, reinstall data, reinstall applications, re-configure, etc.) ? Personally I certainly don't want to that with my phone. (By the way, is this really a phone then ?)

Smartphones are not disposable things. They have (generally) enough processing power to cope with several upgrade of system software. And Android with its relative openness should be a good candidate for more scalability and "upgradability". Openness of the device is becoming a selling point, and users become aware of that (even if slowly).

Regarding the Motorola Milestone specifically (not Droid), users can benefit of free software and prolong their device life. There is a CyanogenMod firmware, on android.doshaska.net which is simply excellent. It is fast, reliable, free, flexible and has very few bugs. It opens a new life for the Motorola Milestone, as well as opportunities for a wide range of geeky experiments of course ;-)

Hopefully some day users will be able to choose which operating system they use on their phone, as we do now for our more traditional PCs. At that time we might no be using traditional PCs anymore, and phone won't be phone anymore, but rather a sort of Swiss army digital knife, such as this one.