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    Motorola’s Motoblur pumps up smartphone social networking

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver June 22-28, 2010; issue 1078

    High Tech Office column

    Motorola has played a key role in mobile phone history.

    Its 1983 28-ounce DynaTAC is the first commercially available handheld cellphone, for instance. Its RAZR models set mid-2000s standards for slim stylishness. Along the way, the company had its share of duds. The ROKR followup to the RAZR was the first phone to integrate with Apple’s iTunes, but in such a limited way that I suspect Apple was keeping its best ideas closer to home.
    A late-comer to the smartphone band wagon, Motorola has latched onto Google’s Android smartphone operating system in a big way. (Used by multiple mobile phone manufacturers, Android out-sold Apple’s iPhone in the U.S. for 2010’s first quarter.).
    In issue 1070 (April 27-May 3), this column looked at the company’s Android-powered Milestone phone, calling it “a viable iPhone challenger.” While the Milestone is a fairly stock Android device – not a bad thing, in my opinion – Motorola is also offering a series of models based on its own custom-tweaking of the operating system.

    Three different models, all released in Canada at about the same time, offer users what the company calls MOTOBLUR. (Am I alone in finding that name a bit peculiar?) The BACKFLIP, DEXT and QUENCH. (Motorola needs to turn the CAPS LOCK key off. I’m going to do it for them).

    Each is offered by a different carrier: Backflip by Telus, Dext (known as the Cliq in the U.S.) by Bell and Quench (aka Devour) by Rogers. And each has a different physical layout. While the Backflip and Dext models offer a physical keyboard, the Dext’s keyboard slides out in a fairly conventional way, while – as the name suggests – the keyboard on the Backflip flips around from the back, an arrangement that allows a larger keyboard to be used on a small phone. Like an iPhone, the Quench lacks a physical keyboard. I had use of a Dext for several weeks.

    The three models overlay the standard Android with Motorola’s customized Motoblur. Rather than displaying a screen with the variety of installed apps at startup, you first get a screen full of notifications for e-mail and your various social networks – Facebook, Twitter and the like. When you start using one of these phones, you’ll be asked which services you want displayed and be prompted to provide log-in information for your choices.

    Business users can add “Corporate Sync” to the mix, connecting to a Microsoft Exchange Server. (An accounts app lets you add services later if desired.)

    Many people may find this a convenient way to, at a single glance, see their latest inboxes entries and social networking feeds. I’m not one of them, however. I found Motoblur something to get past in order to browse the web, make a phone call or use the other Android apps.

    Moreover, I suspect that the constant checking for e-mail, tweets and Facebook entries contributed to the phone’s poor battery life. Time between recharges seemed shorter than for many other smartphones I’ve tried out.

    Setting up a Motoblur phone also creates an account with Motorola. This has some useful features: your phone’s data is automatically backed, making it easier to move to another Motoblur device in the future. If your phone’s been misplaced, your Motoblur account lets you use the phone’s built-in GPS to locate it, while if it’s lost or stolen, you can remotely wipe your data.

    (Apple offers iPhone users similar features – but only if they sign on to its $100 per year MobileMe service).

    One downside of Motoblur: models using it are tied to an older Android version that doesn’t have all the features or all the app support of newer versions. Motorola, however, is promising an updated version soon.

    If you want your social networks up front whenever you look at your phone, one of these three models may be right for you. Favicon

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. Follow azisman on Twitter to receive regular notifications of these columns.  E-mail Alan
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