Editors' note: We updated this review on December 3, 2009, to reflect further testing. On January 18, 2011, we lowered the score given in this review following the release of the Motorola Cliq 2.
If anyone doubts that Google's Android has a future, then they haven't seen T-Mobile's Motorola Cliq MB200. With its easy-to-use design, spacious keyboard, and action-packed feature set, the Cliq combines an attractive, powerful device with the customization of the Android operating system. We won't say it's the "best Android phone yet"--that will be a hard call to make as more Android handsets go on sale--but it proves that Android handsets are evolving and getting better over time. Also, we're glad to see a manufacturer other than HTC embrace the Android operating system.
Moto added its own twist to the Android OS with the new Motoblur user interface that syncs your social media, contacts, and e-mail. Though having all your information in one place is convenient, the overall effect can be overwhelming. Its performance also could be better and the Android OS saddles the phone with a few limitations. Yet, despite those drawbacks, the Cliq offers a nice contrast to Sprint's HTC Hero and it rates better than the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G and G1. It goes on sale at T-Mobile on November 2, 2009, for $199 with a service contract.
The Cliq doesn't break new ground designwise; however, it broadens the hardware options available to Android users. It's the first device since the G1 to offer a full QWERTY keyboard and it beats its predecessor on that front by having a more comfortable key layout. The slider mechanism is also improved over the G1's swing-out arrangement. At 4.49 inches tall by 2.28 inches wide by 0.61 inches thick, the Cliq is big enough to have a solid feel while remaining portable. The construction and moving parts are sturdy and we like the textured battery cover. The Cliq is available in titanium and winter white, but the features are the same on both models.
Display and interface
Though it's just 3.1 inches wide--we prefer touch screens to be at least 3.25 inches wide--its high resolution (480x320 pixels) and rich color support (262,000 colors) make it easy on the eyes. The Cliq adds two additional home screen for a total of five, but it offers the same level of customization. You can add folders, shortcuts from the main menu, a widget displaying tips for using the phone, a weather app, and news feeds in several categories. The Google search bar is in its usual place on the home screen and there's a new shortcut to the music player. Meanwhile, the primary home screen is populated automatically with messages and "happenings" from Motoblur. We'll drill down to the Motoblur details in the Features section.
On the bottom of the display is the pull-tab for the main menu, which is unchanged from other Android 1.5 devices. Yet, the Cliq also offers some unique touches. You'll find a shortcut to your contacts list and a Talk control for accessing the dialer, your recent calls list, a frequent calls list, and a new speed dial option. Its dialer also uses square buttons instead of circles and it adds convenient shortcuts to the voice dialer and your contacts list. Once you're on a call, you can mute the sound, activate the speakerphone, and access the dial pad more easily than on the MyTouch 3G. The improvements are small, but they make a big difference.
You can adjust the display brightness and backlighting time and the e-mail font size. The Cliq's security lock options are more plentiful than on previous Android phones. You can set the security lock time and choose whether to unlock the handset with a code or a pattern. It has a proximity sensor and, thanks to the accelerometer, the display orientation will change automatically when you open the slider and when you rotate the phone in your hands. The capacitive touch interface is responsive, whether you're selecting items or scrolling through long lists. Like on the MyTouch 3G, the display has haptic feedback only for a "long press" (see the MyTouch 3G review for more information).
Controls and keyboard
Below the display are three physical controls: a home button, a back control, and a menu control. The menu control will activate the display when it's dimmed and open shortcuts for adding folders and widgets, changing the wallpaper, opening Google search and notifications, and accessing the Settings menu. The controls are flat, but you can find them by feel. For ending calls, there's an onscreen control rather than a physical button.
The Cliq's exterior features include a volume rocker, a handy ring silencer switch, and a Micro-USB port on the left spine. We're happy to report that the port is used only for the charger and a USB syncing cable. Like the HTC Hero, the Motorola Cliq has a standard 3.5-millimeter headset jack on its top end--nice. On its left spine are a camera shutter and a power control/handset locking key. The latter also brings up a menu for activating Wi-Fi, airplane mode, GPS, and Bluetooth. The Cliq's camera lens sits on its back and doesn't have a self-portrait mirror or a flash. Those are disappointing omissions on a 5-megapixel camera phone and we don't like that the microSD card slot is behind the battery cover.
As we mentioned, the Cliq has a great physical keyboard. In fact, it's one of the roomiest and most ergonomic we've seen. Its keys are raised so we could dial by feel and bang out long text messages quickly without making mistakes. What's more, the letters on the keys are relatively large and brightly backlit. It would be nice to have four rows of keys instead of three--as it is, numbers share space with the top row of letters--but that's a minor point. Fortunately, the top of row isn't squashed up next to the bottom of the slider.
Other controls include an Alt button for accessing punctuation (which also shares space with letters), a search button, a shortcut for an onscreen symbols keyboard, back and return keys, and a sizable spacebar that's located in the center of the bottom row. You'll also find a handy toggle and central OK button for scrolling through menus. If you don't absolutely need physical keys, the Cliq offers a standard Android touch keyboard as well. Though, we admit, we're satisfied with an onscreen keyboard, the Cliq's stellar physical keyboard makes us yearn for its touch beneath our fingers.
T-Mobile includes an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 2GB microSD card, a stereo headset, and reference material with the Cliq. For more add-ons, check out our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The Cliq's contact list works a bit differently than previous Android phones' did, but at the base level, it will be familiar for most people. It has a traditional phone book with room in each entry for eight phone numbers, four e-mail addresses, an IM handle, a birthday and anniversary, a postal address, a company or organization name, and notes. You can save callers to groups and assign a photo and one of 55 polyphonic ringtones. Space in the phone book is limited by the device's available memory, but the SIM card holds an additional 250 names. The Cliq also supports T-Mobile's MyFaves service, which gives you unlimited calls to five contacts, regardless of carrier. Individual plans for MyFaves start at $29.99 a month.
Motoblur merges your phone contacts with your friends and colleagues from e-mail accounts (corporate, Gmail, and Yahoo) and supported social-media networks (Facebook, Picasa, MySpace, Twitter, Photobucket, and Last.fm). The result is a master list of contacts similar to the Palm Pre's Synergy feature. As with Synergy, it's up to you whether you want your personal contacts mixed up in one list--some might like the convenience while others may not want their worlds colliding. Luckily, you can link and unlink contacts (for example, you may not want a business colleague's work e-mail and Facebook information showing up in one entry).
The Motoblur setup process is easy. When you start the phone the first time, it will prompt you to register your various e-mail account and social media profiles. As this process replaces the traditional Gmail sign-on required on other Android phones, you can use the Cliq without having a Gmail address; however, at least one other e-mail is required. We registered our Yahoo, CNET e-mail, and Facebook profiles, though you can pick the services you'd like to use. After completing the setup, the contacts merge was quick and efficient. To limit duplicates, be sure that your contact names are listed identically in your various lists. Motoblur will also pull in profile pictures and use them for photo caller ID.
Your contacts list also will display your friends' status updates (from Facebook, Twitter, and so on) and a "history" view that shows the contacts you have exchanged recent e-mails or messages with. Also, under each contact you can see a list of that person's history and latest status updates. For even more customization, you can filter your contacts by source. Just be aware that contacts not stored in the phone's internal memory will not be saved to T-Mobile Backup.
But Motoblur doesn't stop there; it also adds a series of widgets to the home screen. The "Happenings" widget displays the latest status updates, photos, events, and tweets from Facebook, Last.fm, and Twitter. You can add and view comments and write on a contact's Facebook wall. For any further Facebook action, however, you will need to download the Facebook app from the Android Market or access the mobile version of the Web site. The Social Status widget lets you update Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter from the home screen, and the Messages widget displays everything sent to you via text, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace in a "universal in-box." It will display unread messages only; if you want to read the message again, you'll need to access each account through the main menu.
Though Motoblur does a lot, we're still on the fence as to whether we like it. When all the widgets are active, the constant flow of information can be overwhelming and somewhat of a (forgive us) blur. Indeed, the small LED above the display was blinking constantly to show that we had a new message or happening. We admit that it is convenient to have everything all in one place, and we acknowledge that you can customize your information flow, but it's also a bit creepy to see our entire lives displayed on one little screen. We shudder to think what would happen if we lost our Cliq or if it was stolen. Though members of a younger generation might feel differently (Moto calls them "connected socializers"), we don't think we have time to see what every contact is doing right at a given moment.
Even with those reservations, we give Motorola props for creating a fresh and unique look in the Android universe. It's been a long time since the company has given us something new, though we wonder if Motoblur is a sign that Moto is transitioning from focusing on hardware to software. Motoblur will appear on other Motorola devices, but the interface will remain an integral part of the Cliq experience.
Basic features include text and multimedia messaging, a vibrate mode, a calculator, and an alarm clock. As we said in our MyTouch 3G review, a few more organizational apps--such as a world clock, a notepad, a file manager, and a to-do list--would be nice. Beyond the basics, you'll have 802.11b Wi-Fi, USB mass storage, Google voice search, Google Talk, instant messaging, visual voice mail, stereo Bluetooth, PC syncing, and speaker-independent voice dialing. The Cliq also comes integrated with news and weather feeds, and apps from Shazam and Imeem Mobile.
E-mail and calendar
The Cliq's e-mail options are extensive. You can add POP3 services such as Yahoo, Hotmail, and Windows Live as well as sync with corporate accounts that use Outlook Web Access (OWA). After we successfully added our Yahoo and corporate accounts during the Motoblur set-up process, our e-mail messages arrived without delay. The syncing of our CNET OWA account was mostly quick and seamless, and we much welcome the improvements over the MyTouch 3G. Not only are inbox folders arranged in alphabetical order (the MyTouch 3G listed folders randomly), but also folders synced automatically when we opened them. We also like the integrated Quickoffice support for viewing and editing Microsoft Excel and Word documents.