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    Motorola Milestone is a viable iPhone challenger

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver April 27 - May 3, 2010 issue #1070
    High Tech Office column

    When Rogers/Fido had an exclusive Canadian franchise for Apple’s iPhone, other mobile providers scrambled to offer touch-screen smartphones.

    Now, although Bell and Telus offer their customers iPhones, they’re also offering alternatives. Last year, I quite liked Bell’s Palm Pre, but a scarcity of third-party apps has helped limit its popularity.

    Telus is the first Canadian mobile service to offer Motorola’s Milestone ($199 with a three-year plan; $599 with no plan).

    The Milestone – sold in the U.S. as the Droid – is powered by Google’s Android mobile operating system, which is evolving into a potent challenger to the iPhone.

    Like the iPhone and most iPhone wannabes, Motorola’s Milestone is a touch screen phone, with still and video camera, media player, GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, web browsing, e-mail and the seemingly compulsory YouTube icon.

    Like the iPhone – and unlike its U.S.-equivalent Motorola Droid – the Milestone has multi-touch features: finger motions to zoom in and out, for instance.

    Four icons below the screen give quick access to basic functions: back, menu, home and search.

    Unlike the iPhone, there’s also a slide-out physical keyboard (complete with mini-trackpad), if you prefer. While the iPhone has fixed storage, the Milestone uses external memory cards. Telus includes a relatively hefty 16-gigabyte card in the package.

    Also unlike the iPhone: a removable battery, letting you keep a charged-up spare one handy. (As with most smartphones – including the iPhone – battery life isn’t great.)

    Apple recently demoed a next generation of its iPhone operating system, promising multitasking for third-party apps.
    That capability isn’t here yet for iPhone users, but it’s something Milestone and other Android phone users (and Palm Pre users) take for granted. Like Apple, Android doesn’t offer Flash support.

    Telus and Motorola promise Exchange support, something needed by many business users. I was unable to test that, but my Google-based e-mail, contacts and calendars worked fine as soon as I entered log-in information. Other standard e-mail providers should work as well.

    Like the iPhone, “there’s an app for that.” Milestone and other Android phone users can pick and choose from a large number of free or paid add-on apps. While the Android market has perhaps a tenth the number of apps as Apple offers, users should be able to find most of what they want and download apps directly onto their phones.

    Welcome, and not on the iPhone, is the ability to add widgets – small panels offering various functions – right on the home screens. I added a weather widget and one to easily turn functions like Wi-Fi and the speaker on and off with a finger tap. Less nice: you’re limited to three panels of icons and widgets. Nicer: you can set a photo as home-screen wallpaper running across the three panels.

    I also liked the bar along the top: pulling it down lists new e-mail messages and other notifications, offering quick response capability. Click a tab at the bottom of the screen for access to all installed applications, not just the ones with icons on the home-screen panels.

    Plugging into a Windows system opened a driver installation utility – after running that, it was easy to drag music, photos, etc., from the computer to the phone and (apparently) to use the phone as a modem.

    There’s no similar built-in Mac or Linux support, however.

    Motorola adds a few of its own apps. A Moto Car Home app gives quick access to the GPS/Map feature, voice dialling, Bluetooth options and music. A Motonav app gives real- time driving, walking or biking directions – free for 60 days. (A car mount is available.)

    Open the Moto Phone Portal and you can connect to the phone from a computer via USB or Wi-Fi and have access to contacts, photos, settings and more.

    With its fast processor, usable web browser, customizable interface and selection of apps, Telus and Motorola have a potential winner here. At least if there are enough users looking for a smartphone that isn’t from Apple. Favicon

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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