Motorola Cliq XT review: Pocket-friendly, but occasionally plodding

Motorola Cliq XT review: Pocket-friendly, but occasionally plodding

Summary: Motorola's Cliq XT is the company's thinnest, lightest Android device to date. With gestures, Flash Lite and Motoblur, is it a poor man's iPhone?

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The Motorola Cliq XT is easily the most pocketable Android smartphone ever made. But can its skinny profile and feather weight make up for its sluggish performance?

THE BASICS

Motorola's new Cliq XT is the company's latest handset built on the Google Android operating system. Like the original Cliq, the Cliq XT is available on T-Mobile and features Motorola's Motoblur communications software and services suite.

With social and multimedia as its focus, this smartphone is intent on killing off dumb phones.

Despite its name, the Cliq XT is an all-new Motorola design. It is slightly taller and wider than its predecessor, which Motorola says will still be sold.

Unlike Motorola's other handsets -- the Backflip on AT&T, the Devour and Droid on Verizon and the original Cliq -- the Cliq XT drops the physical QWERTY keyboard and the heft and bulk that go along with it.

Because of its thinness -- it's just 0.44 inches thick, compared to 0.6 inches for the original Cliq -- it's fantastically easy to slip into a pants or shirt pocket. It's also really light -- 4.4 ounces, compared to 5.7 oz. for the original Cliq.

The back of the phone has a pebbled, rubberized black coating that keeps the phone put in your palm. (Motorola includes a smooth purple cover as a secondary option in the box.)

Once you recognize that this phone isn't made to challenge top handsets like the Droid and Nexus One, there's plenty to like about the media-minded Cliq XT.

WHAT'S NEW

Thanks to Motorola's Motoblur communications suite, the Cliq XT offers useful features such as a universal inbox, unified social media updates via a "Happenings" widget, remote wipe and a bunch of other features that I've previously outlined in my previous feature on Motoblur.

Because of its similarity to the Cliq, I won't rehash those features here. But I will outline a few new updates.

One new feature on the Cliq XT is an updated media player. The new player integrates several services in one place, including ShoutCast radio, SoundHond song identification, YouTube, GoTV and TuneWiki Community, a geolocation service. The point is to offer more ways to discover, buy and recommend new music, and it's nice to have one spot from which to access it.

Additionally, the Cliq XT features a revamped onscreen keyboard. Given the 3.1-inch screen, it's still cramped, but it feels more accurate than Motorola's previous iterations. The handset also includes Swype, which allows you to spell out words by dragging your fingertip from letter to letter. It sounds bizarre, but it's a handy alternative for a smartphone that's more at home in one palm than two.

That big rounded square pad on the front, by the way? It's a touch-sensitive directional pad. I thought it was a nice inclusion for fine on-screen selection, but its large size had me accidentally selecting things quite a bit when I'd absentmindedly rest my thumb on it.

The device also supports pinch-to-zoom gestures in the browser and picture gallery, which themselves are updated with refreshed graphical interfaces for this device. (Regrettably, pinch-to-zoom is not available in Google Maps.)

Finally, the Cliq XT sports Flash Lite 8.1, is global quad-band compatible, supports voice commands, offers Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and has a pretty solid 5-megapixel camera with LED flash that takes surprisingly good still images and video.

Call quality was rather clear and strong.

WHAT'S NOT

Despite its differences from the original Cliq, the Cliq XT fails to differentiate where it counts: screen size and processor.

The XT carries the same 3.1-inch HVGA (320x480 pixels) capacitive touch screen as the Cliq and Backflip, which, in my review, I said was one of the seven things I didn't like about the original.

It also carries the same 528MHz Qualcomm MSM7201A processor.

While both elements allow Motorola and T-Mobile to target the bottom part of the smartphone price range -- perhaps $99, but no official price has been announced yet -- it also means the handset is occasionally sluggish, especially if you're the social media butterfly that the phone intends to target.

In my use, I sometimes found the handset rather quick, sometimes entirely frustrating. If I was trying to achieve a simple task (check my e-mail), it was fine -- but if I had more than one browser window open, it faltered.

Nevertheless, its constant updating completely drained the battery before the end of the workday, and several times I finished my night with a dead phone, having done nothing but carry it around in my pocket.

To be fair, my Twitter and Facebook accounts are jammed with far more friends and followed persons than the average user. But the services still threatened to drag the phone down into a crashy, tedious experience.

Finally, as I wrote in my review of the Devour, I remain concerned about the fragmentation of the Android (and Motoblur) experience. That said, most users of this phone won't care that Motoblur is still layered on top of Android 1.5, but it's worth noting that this phone is expected to receive Android 2.1 sometime in Q2 2010.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Thanks to its small footprint, I came to really enjoy tossing the Motorola Cliq XT into my bag every morning. Not everyone will like its lack of a physical QWERTY keyboard, but most smartphones on the market have them, so this is a nice alternative.

Inside, Motorola's Motoblur suite gives the handset a robust, comprehensive feature list that includes premium features, such as remote wipe and Quickoffice, and useful ones, such as unified social media and messaging. But its older processor and cramped touchscreen display make it clear that the hardware isn't always up to the jobs it's tasked with.

Nevertheless, the Motorola Cliq XT will certainly please T-Mobile customers who are new to smartphones and looking for an iPhone-esque experience. If the T-Mobile myTouch 3G is too vanilla and the Nexus One too hardcore, the Cliq XT offers a happy (social) medium.

It will be available later this month on T-Mobile.

Topics: Telcos, Hardware, Mobility, Smartphones

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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