Review: With killer looks, Motorola Devour aims to please the prosumer

With its laser-cut curves, the Motorola Devour had me at hello. But is industrial design enough to make up for a small screen and aging Android install?

The Motorola Devour had me at hello.

It's not just the aggressive name, either. At first glance, the Devour appears to be the hardware that the Motorola Droid was not quite -- that is, the next chapter of Motorola's signature industrial design that struck such a chord with the classic Razr flip phone.

In a sea of black devices on my morning commute, the Devour drew stares. But does it have the brains behind that beauty?

EXTERNAL DESIGN

There is something inexplicably wonderful about the Devour's heavy, chunky, oversized body. Despite a 5.86 oz. frame -- like its Verizon sibling the Droid, but heavier than the 4.8 oz. iPhone 3GS -- it feels right in the palm.

That's likely because the smartphone's body is actually carved-out aluminum, very similar to the unibody Apple MacBook Pro and the antithesis to the Palm Pre and iPhone (both glossy plastic).

The silver and black Devour is actually slightly longer, thicker and wider than the Droid, if you can believe that. Its slide-out QWERTY keyboard has the same kind of satisfying non-spring-loaded ssshhhk that the T-Mobile G1 had.

The difference is in the Devour's hard, contoured edges, as well as its chiclet-style, domed keys (which thankfully include dedicated numerical keys), which sit recessed in the aluminum body -- again like a MacBook Pro.

Wired's Priya Ganapati called the Devour's design "retro." I argue that instead, the Droid was -- with gold and black, it felt like Gordon Gekko's StarTac, updated. With the Devour, I'm convinced that Motorola should take this design and run with it. The silhouette is instantly recognizable.

That said, the Devour takes many other cues from the Droid. It features "hard touch" buttons with haptic feedback on its face, an unmarked volume rocker on its right edge, a flush power button on its top left corner (difficult for one-handed use), and a dedicated camera button for its middling 3-megapixel camera.

Unfortunately, the Devour shares its 3.1-inch (320x480) HVGA display with the Cliq (T-Mobile). It's not a bad display per se -- you'll notice in pictures that it's quite bright -- but it's hard to go back once you've gotten used to the larger, higher resolution displays of the Droid and the HTC-made Nexus One that add both a dimension of crispness and depth to the visual experience.

The Devour has a Qualcomm MSM7627 600MHz processor, which feels light-years ahead of the Qualcomm MSM7201A featured in the Cliq and Backflip but slower compared to the 1GHz Snapdragon chip in the Nexus One.

A brief tangent: the Devour also has barely perceptible teal details: a one millimeter line on the right edge, the camera icon for the shutter button, the ring around the camera lens, the earpiece cover and the secondary functions on the keypad. It's a nice bit of design restraint.

Finally, the Devour has an optical trackpad in its bottom left corner, much like those on newer BlackBerrys and a first for Motorola. The flat, clickable pad is intended to be used like a D-pad for fine-tuned selection, but I didn't find it to be as accurate as the domed version on a BlackBerry.

There's also a large rubberized plastic panel along the left edge to conceal the battery and 8GB microSD card (up to 32GB), which is included in the box.

INTERNAL SOFTWARE

The Devour uses Motorola's Motoblur platform, and is the first handset to feature it built on Android 1.6. Unlike the Cliq and Backflip, which feel at times sluggish, the Devour's faster processor for the first time allows Motoblur to operate freely, without major hiccups.

Finally, this is what Motoblur should feel like.

I was able to load the platform's "Happenings" widget -- which pulls in status updates from Facebook and Twitter, among other places, in real time -- without hurting performance.

That's incredible, since my hundreds of friends on those services virtually ground the Cliq to a halt during my review of that device.

The Motoblur platform offers lots of benefits, one of which was the automatic import of my existing Motoblur account and settings when I first loaded the device.

Unfortunately, it didn't pull in apps (which had to be re-downloaded, free of charge, from Android Market) or browser bookmarks.

Motoblur also offers free remote wipe and "find my phone" location services.

There are a few things different in Android 1.6+Motoblur versus Android 2.1 on the Droid: icons, a few menus and, perhaps most noticeably on a daily basis, no sticky address bar within the browser. (I assure you, selecting "Menu" then "Go" gets old fast.)

The good news: With a downloaded update, the Devour supports Android 2.0's star feature: Google Maps Navigation, which offers spoken turn-by-turn GPS directions.

Unfortunately, I still find Android-based navigation less accurate than using the same service on an iPhone.

I should also note that the Devour has non-Google (Nuance Communications) voice recognition software, which is plenty accurate but uses a user interface that feels visually out of place.

The Devour does not support pinch-to-zoom browsing, but does have Flash Lite installed.

As you can see, this overall feature disparity among handsets remains an issue for Motorola: the company has indeed added value through the Motoblur platform, but at the expense of some of the value developed by the Android community.

It's also a point of confusion for consumers: what exactly does Android promise? Why doesn't Android definitively suggest, say, pinch-to-zoom or Flash or Google Maps Navigation? Or, at the very least, identical menu sets?

Even within Motoblur (which officially doesn't have versions) there exists variety, and it's hard to parse from a consumer's standpoint. Motorola must be very conscious of how important it is to standardize the experience.

With all that said, consumers who first try out Android on the much-advertised Droid may feel disappointed (in use, not looks) with the Devour.

Nevertheless, all the usual smartphone goods are on the Devour: Wi-Fi, accelerometer, dual microphones with noise cancellation, 3.5mm headphone jack, stereo Bluetooth.

The Devour has a talk time of almost 7 hours and a standby time of 18.5 days. In my use, I had about half battery life left after a normal workday, which involved a brief call, some browsing and lots of checking e-mail.

The Devour is preloaded with QuickOffice, which can handle Word, Excel and Powerpoint attachments with ease. But, like all Android phones, a lack of official tethering leaves this phone hindered for business users.

It's also preloaded, unfortunately, with Verizon Premium Services such as VZ Navigator and VCast. While I understand the business interest for Verizon Wireless to use its own (pay-to-play) services, they remain inferior or, at best, equal to the Google versions found on the Droid.

THE TOYBOX TAKE

The Motorola Devour is priced at $150 (after rebate, with two-year contract) and will arrive on Verizon in mid-March (a special promotion with Best Buy begins this week, however).

Because of that price and its feature set, the Devour perfectly positioned: it's $50 less than the full-featured, big display Droid and $50 more than the slower HTC Droid Eris, which has no physical keyboard.

As such, it's a buying decision made with conscious trade-offs: killer body but smallish display; social media integration but older Android; better processor but not best.

Is it the "Droid Lite"? You bet. But I don't think the Devour feels like "just another" lowball Android handset the way the Cliq, myTouch 3G and Samsung Moment have felt lately. There's something about those hard lines, I suppose.

Will the Devour steal the attention of consumers considering the Droid and Nexus One? I don't think so.

But it will assuredly eat up what's left of the messaging phone segment.

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