Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
4/12/2012 1:00:57 PM
Responsive touchscreen, tactile keyboard, decent battery life
Gingerbread is getting on, compact screen to make room for keyboard
Whereas the Motorola Gleam Plus harnassed the spirit of ye olde flip phones, the Motorola Pro Plus is a BlackBerry-esque mobile packing Android. This means that fans of physical keyboards have an alternative to the BlackBerry OS, along with access to hundreds of thousands of Android apps. But will keyboard fans be tempted by its charms?
Comparisons with BlackBerry are unavoidable, as the chunky curved build and physical keyboard make the Pro Plus a dead ringer for RIM's phones. The Pro Plus sports a touch-screen as well as the keyboard, but unlike the BlackBerry Bold 9790's odd mismatching, this feels like a beautiful partnership.
Take texting for instance. Anyone used to a physical board can bash out a text in no time on the Pro Plus, thanks to the tactile keys that are raised in the centre, making them easy to find with your thumb. However, if you happen to make a mistake while typing, the phone's auto-correct feature produces a list of possible words at the bottom of the screen. You can tap the word you meant, and resume typing out your message.
We liked the keyboard layout too, with its dedicated full stop and comma buttons, and easy-access Alt button for numbers and other punctuation. The ‘@' symbol gets its own button too, which comes in handy when emailing or bashing out a tweet.
The first stage on booting the phone is to set up your MOTOBLUR account – you can't use your Pro Plus until you do. This essentially backs up your contacts and preferences, which is supposed to make swapping phone easier – providing you switch to another Motorola device, of course.
Android Gingerbread is the interface of choice, with a few Motorola tweaks thrown in. You can litter the seven desktops with your apps, bookmarks and widgets, and Motorola has thrown in some widgets of its own, including email and social networking efforts, although we couldn't get these to stream our content, making them a waste of space. Still, most of the other tweaks are cool, such as the spruced-up dialer. These add some much-needed freshness to the Gingerbread OS, which is starting to grow a little stale (see what we did there?)
The Pro Plus has a row of touch buttons beneath the screen, which perform Menu, Home, Back and Search functions. You also get a row of virtual shortcuts at the bottom of the screen, which load a list of apps, the contacts list, the camera app and text messaging. It's good to see a camera shortcut, which many phones omit, although you lose an email shortcut to make room.
Our immediate reaction to the 3.1-inch screen was ‘wow, that's bright'. Even in direct sunlight we had no trouble reading our texts and emails, and photos and videos are brilliantly reproduced, both sharp and colourful. HD videos in particular look spectacular.
Of course, the display is a little cramped for watching full-length films, and isn't ideal for browsing websites – you'll need to do a lot of scrolling and zooming. Still, once you get used to the compact display you'll enjoy getting online, especially as the touch controls are perfectly responsive. Pages scroll in response to how fierce your gestures are, and we witnessed no lag or other issues when browsing around.
To test the Pro Plus' processor, we played with some of the latest games including fan favourite Temple Run. Thankfully they all ran smoothly, with no graphical glitches or slowdown. Video streaming is generally a smooth affair despite the occasional stutter, which could have been a networking issue rather than a problem with the handset.
After a day of heavy use, including streaming video and playing games, we still had battery to spare. The Pro Plus also has a built-in battery manager – like laptops, you get a number of ‘battery modes' which you can choose from, to either get top performance from your phone, or to conserve battery life. You can also create a custom battery mode, setting the display brightness and off-peak hours where non-essential services are automatically deactivated. It's a neat touch and one we'd like to see more often.
A five-megapixel rear camera shoots perfectly functional daytime shots, which are crisp and reasonably colourful when viewed back on a monitor or TV. Unfortunately the brightness levels aren't great, so you'll need to tweak your snaps afterwards to really bring them to life.
A bright LED flash is included for evening shots, but we found our subjects often came out overexposed, meaning their faces were lit up like phantoms. However, the 720P video we shot came out well, with voices picked up clearly and the lens adjusting to changes in light.
A winning combination of responsive touch-screen and tactile keyboard makes the Pro Plus a highly usable mobile. Fans of physical boards will bash out emails and texts in no time, and the screen allows you to quickly navigate through websites and make full use of Android's numerous apps. Of course, the compact screen isn't ideal for media or web browsing, and the Gingerbread OS is a little creaky these days. Still, if you want a BlackBerry alternative for staying productive on the go, we heartily recommend this phone.
Many thanks to Clove.co.uk for providing us with the review handset.