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Friday June 10, 2011 12:19 pm

Motorola Photon 4G: Hands-on

Posted by Andru Edwards Categories: Smartphones, Features, Handhelds

Motorola Photon 4G smartphone

It's big, it's businesslike, and it might turn into a laptop like the groundbreaking Motorola Atrix 4G. Sprint's brand-new Motorola Photon 4G will face down the HTC EVO 3D this summer in a battle of the high-end Android super-phones. We got some time with it just before today's announcement, to check out the new device.

The new Photon 4G is one of 10 Motorola phones that Sprint plans to introduce in 2011, including the Triumph for Virgin Mobile, the Xoom tablet, and the XPRT and Titanium for Sprint. The two companies introduced the Photon and Triumph today at an event in New York City.

The Motorola Photon 4G is a huge 5.6-ounce, 2.6 by 5 by 0.5-inch smartphone with a downright gorgeous 4.3-inch, 960-by-540 screen. There's something very rich and deep about this screen; it may just be the wallpapers that Sprint and Motorola chose, but everything looked very sharp. The phone is fast, too, with a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor running Android 2.3. There's an 8-megapixel camera on the back, a 1-megapixel camera on the front, an HDMI out port, a kickstand on the back, and 16GB of on-board storage.

How does the Photon feel? Big. Solid. Glossy. The Photon feels a lot like Verizon's Motorola Droid X2, although it's rounded rather than squarish; this is a large, heavy slab of power with a whole lot of customized Android icons. The few apps I sampled ran smoothly. I asked the Sprint and Motorola reps whether the Photon would be more stable than the notoriously buggy Atrix, but they dodged the question.

The Photon supports Sprint's WiMAX 4G, along with HSPA world-phone capability, and the phone can act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for eight devices when it's here in the U.S., and for one when it's abroad—although with roaming data rates running at $19 per MB, you'd have to be a plutocrat to want to turn on that hotspot.

Motorola and Sprint were being annoyingly coy about what could be one of the Photon's coolest features: the ability to transform into a laptop using the same "Lapdock" the Motorola Atrix uses. While the Photon has Motorola's "Webtop" mode and will work with a multimedia dock that hooks it up to a TV, or lets it be used with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, I couldn't get the companies to nail down whether the Atrix's docks, especially the laptop dock, will work with the Photon.

That's a pity, but I'm going to assume they will, and when the dust settles the Photon will be able to transform into a Linux-running laptop or desktop PC just like the Atrix. We'll have to see when the phone comes out.

The Photon's version of Android is unique. It's Android 2.3, plus Motorola's Blur social networking and enterprise security extensions, plus Sprint's Sprint ID theme packs. That's going to make for a rocky update process, but at least we don't expect to see a major Android phone update for the next six months.

Motorola and Sprint altered a lot of the default icons and added a lot of apps as well; each Sprint ID pack comes with its own bloatware, so if you pick "Yahoo," for instance, you get all of the Yahoo apps preloaded. Blur adds unified social networking, including Twitter and Facebook messaging clients, along with its own Microsoft Exchange-compatible email client with better enterprise security settings than the standard Gingerbread client. Android purists will not be happy here; as long as the phone stays fast, average users won't mind.

The Motorola Photon 4G is coming out this summer, according to Sprint. No price has been announced.

This article, written by Sascha Segan, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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