Monday, October 31, 2011

Motorola XT860 4G Review

Being the fourth of the Bell "Superphones" the Motorola XT860 4G is easily forgotten by most as the 3 other Dual-Core touting Android Phone from Bell have gotten far more press. Truthfully, this is pretty unfortunate when you see the marketing muscle behind the DROID 3, Verizon's CDMA version of the XT860. Regardless, we'll take a look at one of the world's only QWERTY equipped Dual-Core Android phones and see if the overshadowing amongst Bell's is as unfair as it seems from face value.

Overall Construction
Motorola has had a long reputation for making quality handsets and that reputation is just as true with the XT860. Overall the phone has an incredibly solid build quality to it and feels absolutely SOLID in the hand. It isn't made of metal like its predecessors the DROID/Milestone and DROID 2/Milestone2, but still feels extremely well build.

At 13mm thick and weighing 169g the XT860 4G is certainly one of the bulkier smartphones out there but that isn't a bad thing by any means. Equipped with a larger 4-inch screen the XT860 is significantly larger than its predecessors and that ranks it up with other high end Android devices.

As already mentioned the XT860 isn't made of metal but rather a solid plastic construction coated a slip resistant soft touch matte coating. Although like the DROID, the XT860 sports the same sloped edge at the bottom of the Android buttons.

Motorola XT860 4G

Consistency seems to be a staple recently with Motorola devices and some would say it doesn't help that Motorola plays it too "safe". But one glaring advantage is that if Motorola has been consistently good at something it usually is maintained with subsequent releases.

If there were a similar/comparable screen to the XT860 it would clearly be that of the Motorola Atrix. From our review of the Atrix, one can assume we really liked the display on the XT860 and it certainly is the case. With a 4-inch qHD resolution screen you get just about the same specs as the screen found on the Atrix.

Colors, contrast, black levels and viewing angles were very good. The screen on the XT860 isn't a Super LCD or Super AMOLED Plus but certainly one of the most solid, ESPECIALLY in when it came to a specific situation where its competitors fall short; outdoor usage. Super LCD and AMOLED screens simply look washed out and hard to read in direct sunlight whereas the XT860 was VERY readable (even with sunglasses on!).

Responsiveness on the screen was as good as any other high end smartphone and multitouch gestures where quick and accurate. Also worth mentioning is the Gorilla Glass providing exception strength and scratch resistance.

Sadly, like the Atrix, the Motorola XT860 4G sports the same PenTile Matrix display. Now as usual we have to say this isn't a deal breaker to most but very annoying to many others. We would have MUCH preferred to see a traditional RGB matrix (like on the Atrix 2) but alas that isn't the case.

Buttons & Keyboard
The capacitive buttons were well spaced and responsive so that's status quo. Hardware buttons were tight and had good spacing and travel to them. Sadly, the camera button included on previous versions is gone and the power button is placed like the Atrix's biometric print reader (without the scanner of course). The power button being position right in the middle of the top edge might be a nuisance some people.

Finally we get to the keyboard, which for many is the most important part of the review. This being the first QWERTY keyboard equipped device we've reviewed at Android Bugle, we were very excited to see how Moto would set the bar. To be perfectly honest, it was very refreshing to use the keyboard. The buttons had just the right resistance and had decent size and spacing. We really loved the staggered layout as it felt just like a regular QWERTY keyboard on a desktop or laptop computer and we also really love the dedicated number row.

All this was crammed into the thinnest DROID/Milestone to date. Although, the sliding mechanism isn't for everyone. Moto has never made the DROID/Milestone keyboards spring loaded and it is the case with the XT860 but to be perfectly frank we prefer the solid feel of the hinge (even if it takes a bit more effort) than a potentially flimsy feeling spring loaded slider.

Battery Life
Equipped with a 1540mAh, the XT860 4G has a pretty run of the mill buttery and as expected delivers really middle of the road battery life. While it is a bump up from previous versions (DROID/DROID 2) one has to remember that the XT860 is packing a Dual-Core processor, this extra horsepower, with the larger screen, are most likely what taxes the battery the most. We managed to get a full's day worth of moderate use but would certainly be leaving heavy users with little juice left at the end of the day.

Internal Hardware
While the XT860 4G is the least publicized of the Bell "Superphones" it certainly doesn't mean it doesn't have the specs to justify the "Superphone" title.

- 1 GHz Dual Core Texas Instruments OMAP4430 Processor
- 512MB of RAM
- 16GB of Internal storage expandable with microSD card slot upgradable to up to 32GB
- PowerVR SGX540 Graphic processor
- 14.4Mbps HSPA+ capable chipset
- Wi-Fi b/g/n
- 8MP auto-focus camera with LED flash and 1080p HD video capabilities

In everyday operations the XT860 was pretty fluid and responsive. From browsing to navigating Android the TI OMAP 4430 processor was a solid performer. While it doesn't push the benchmark numbers of a Exynos it certainly can keep up with the Dual Core Snapdragon. On Quadrant the XT860 scored in the 2200s which puts it in the same territory as the Sensation in terms of computing power but under the Galaxy S II.

These results while not the be all end all of performance indicators is pretty accurate in depicting the overall responsiveness of the phone. Gaming was also pretty solid as we found almost every 3D game play flawlessly.

Had the XT860 been equipped with 1GB of RAM like other high end dual core smartphones it probably would have faired better as far as benchmark number are concerned but in the end multitasking should be the only aspect that might lag due to the lack of RAM.

HSPA+ "4G" Capabilities
Bell has made it known that to be one of its "Superphones" an important criteria is high speed data. As of now that means at least HSPA+ capabilities (as well as LTE in the future) and the XT860 is certainly capable of those speeds. Interestingly though, we got performance numbers closer to the Atrix (4-5 mbps) than the Sensation (5-7mbps), which also have the 14.4mbps speed cap.

Again as usual, we must remind you that your mileage will vary as coverage and speeds differ from one area to another and that this is simply a benchmark taken from moderately to well covered areas in Montreal.

Speaker and microphone
Motorola generally has had good earpieces and external speakers and it's no different on the XT860. Microphone quality was also very good, although we couldn't find any secondary microphone for noise cancelling so it's safe to assume it doesn't have it.

Being one of Bell's "Superphones" naturally makes people draw comparisons between the handsets, and this is something of a detriment to the XT860. 8MP camera and 1080p video capabilities put it on par with the Sensation and Galaxy S II (on paper). Sadly the camera falls short on both fronts. That being said it is an improvement over the Atrix camera which we believed was really good at the time. The XT860 is simply a victim of the Sensation and especially Galaxy S II having much better cameras.

In the end, most people will be content with the stills and video made with the XT860 should they pick up the device but let it be known that the other Bell "Superphone" offerings provide more compelling options.

The VGA front facing camera is like many others, just your run of the mill Video chat/profile picture shooter so as usual, status quo and not much else to report here.

Sample Pictures


Motorola Applications Platform /w Android 2.3
Let's put it this way, not many people were fans of MotoBLUR. Motorola seems to have taken it to heart and in this iteration of Motorola's custom UI the changes compared to previous versions MotoBLUR is quite evident. The color schemes, designs and overall appearance of the UI are more toned down.

Gone are the almost cartoonish and incoherent color schemes and in is a more subtle and consistent user experience. Somewhat like Sense UI 3.0 from HTC, Motorola's Application Platform (the new name for MotoBLUR) uses several eye catching "3D effects" to add eye candy to the UI. While these are pleasant to look at and will wow many people, we can't help but feel like it gives the illusion of slowing down an otherwise speedy device. The extra few fractions of a second to render and draw these animations will make some feel like the phone is laggy.

That being said, the same things we enjoyed from the Atrix have made their way to the XT860. Just in a more polished package and of course sporting a more updated version of the OS, Android 2.3 Gingerbread (which the Atrix received and vastly improved usability of that phone).

In the end, Motorola has taken nice steps in the right direction with their latest iteration of their custom UI (much like Samsung with TouchWiz 4.0) but while the newly announced Motorola RAZR sports the same UI we wonder if Motorola drops custom UIs all together now that they are (going to be) owned by Google. We will have wait and see how everything pans out.


To get right to the point the Motorola XT860 4G is a very capable device and is worthy of being a Bell "Superphone" but just might not be as "super" as the other Bell offerings. This is probably why it didn't get the same marketing push behind it as the Motorola Atrix 4G, HTC Sensation 4G and Samsung Galaxy S II 4G and naturally that makes it the least known of the quartet.

This is really unfortunate because the XT860 is probably the best QWERTY equipped smartphone on the market and will probably stay that way given manufacturers inclination for touch only devices. For anyone looking for a high end Android smartphone and ABSOLUTELY needs a QWERTY keyboard look no further than the XT860. Its sturdy build, wonderful keyboard and overall solid performance will fill the needs of the heavy email and messaging user.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 9/10
- Not made of metal like predecessors but just as sturdy if not sturdier. Classic DROID/Milestone design. Might be too bulky for some.

Screen: 8.5/10
- Good qHD screen overall, still lags behind Super LCD and Super AMOLED Plus because of PenTile. Exceptionally good outdoors.

Buttons and Keyboard: 9/10
- Responsive capacitive Android buttons, good volume rocker, odd power button placement. Very Nice Keyboard.

Internal Hardware: 9/10
- HSPA+ speeds were fairly good, A bit of a letdown compared to Galaxy S II and Sensation. Hardware performance is good about on par with the Sensation.

Speaker and Microphone: 8.5/10
- Good speakers and microphone, no noise cancelling mic.

Camera: 8.5/10
- Overall a good shooter for stills and video, but lackluster video and still compared to the Galaxy S II and stills slightly better on Sensation. Good 1080p recording.

UI Changes: 8.5/10
- MotoBLUR but grown up. Motorola Applications Platform much more unified well rounded and polished.

Addition Enhancements: 8 /10
- Good addition by subtraction with the removal of "compulsory" MotoBLUR signup. Nice addition of Swype.

Included Apps/Bloatware: 7.5/10
- Pretty normal amount of pre-loaded app as far as a Bell phone .

Final Score: 8.5/10

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