Jan. 2011 update: Read our Motorola Cliq 2 review, the Cliq 2 replaces the original Cliq and has much better specs and features.
Reviewed November 5, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The Motorola Cliq is T-Mobile's third Android OS phone and the second with a keyboard. While the Cliq might not be the jewel in the crown that the Moto Droid is on Verizon, it's smaller and better looking than the G1, the world's first Android phone. This QWERTY slider is for social networking addicts: it features MOTOBLUR, a Motorola service and software overlay that aggregates several popular social networking services and sends updates to the phone. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Google, email, MS Exchange email, Picasa, Photobucket, Yahoo mail and LastFM. Dude, that's a lot. Don't expect to get any work done. The home screen, extended from the standard 3 screens to five, comes pre-littered, no inundated with widgets that keep you on top of every tweet, email, photo upload and status update. So social butterflies and techie teens, this phone is for you, or so T-Mobile and Motorola hope.
Specs at a Glance
The Moto Cliq runs Android OS with MOTOBLUR social networking software on top. It runs on the same 528MHz Qualcomm CPU as the MyTouch 3G and it has 256 megs of RAM (more than the MT3G's 192), 250 megs of available storage, an SDHC microSD card slot, WiFi, Bluetooth, a GPS and a 5 megapixel autofocus camera. The slider opens to reveal a full hardware QWERTY keyboard and the display resolution is 320 x 480 (same as the G1 and MT3G). The 3.1" display is capacitive and there's an accelerometer and a proximity sensor. The Cliq is a quad band GSM world phone with 3G HSDPA on T-Mobile's US 1700 and 2100MHz bands.
Design and Ergonomics
While the Cliq won't win any beauty contests, it's not homely either. It's just a bit dull and same old looking. It's available in "winter white" and "titanium" which is more like gray and black. First thing to note: there are no hardware call send and end buttons-- if that drives you bonkers, we understand and this phone isn't for you. There are just three front buttons (the mechanical kind, not electrostatic like the Droid): Menu, Home and back. The power button is on the right side as is the camera button, and neither are prone to accidental presses. The volume controls are on the left and there's a slider to silence the ringer. The smartphone has a micro USB port and comes with a USB cable and charger (the cable plugs into the charger).
The camera and power buttons on the side.
The plastic back has an interesting pattern that improves grip just a little and the metallic surround saves the phone from looking cheap. In fact, in true Moto fashion, it's built like a little tank and it feels very sturdy and weighty. The microSD card slot lives under the back door and you need not remove the battery to access the card. The card slot is uniquely designed and is a little fiddly.
Deals and Shopping:
The keyboard is large and the keys have good tactile feedback and doming. We're not sure the d-pad is all that necessary and we're surprised it's on the left side (I'm a lefty and won't complain but how about you righties?). The number row is embedded in the top row of letters and requires a press of the Alt key, but that does make room for a large spacebar below the letter rows along with search, back and symbol keys. The keyboard is decent-- a good thing for a social networking and messaging oriented phone.
The 3.1" capacitive touch screen is particularly colorful and sharp-- we like. It almost looks like Samsung's AMOLED displays because it's so color saturated. The Cliq has the usual Android 320 x 480 resolution (same as the iPhone), and icons and text look a hair sharper since the screen is .1 inches smaller than most other Android phones running at this resolution.
The Cliq's cousin the Backflip on AT&T. They share similar specs and both run MOTOBLUR.
Android and MOTOBLUR
The phone runs Android OS 1.5 which seems a little old since the MyTouch 3G got the 1.6 update a while ago and Motorola's Droid runs 2.0 (we're still not sure how Moto got a 2.0 phone out a week after that OS was released to developers!). Since the Cliq is heavily customized, it's by no means a vanilla Google phone and that means Moto rather than Google will have to come up with future OS updates, if there are any. We assume that Moto has been working on MOTOBLUR for quite some time, hence the older OS. MOTOBLUR supports 8 social networking and messaging services: Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Google, LastFM, Picasa, Photobucket, Yahoo mail, standard email and corporate (Exchange) sync. Android's settings menu has an entry called accounts and you can add and remove these services here. Motorola handles the aggregation and push for most of these services. That means that you'll need to create a MOTOBLUR account first, and then each service you sign up for is stored in your MOTOBLUR account which you can manage from the phone or from a computer via web browser. The back end web services show a serious commitment and we assume Moto intends to release more MOTOBLUR phones that will take advantage of these services. Motorola provides the unified source to reduce battery load (polling 4 or more services would indeed be taxing). That said, the Cliq doesn't have awesome battery life, so we can only image what it would be like without the Moto service. Though we're not fans of having our data go through yet another server, updates are very timely with new tweets arriving on our desktop client at about the same time they do on the phone.
Android 1.5 is capable though it seems a little basic after using the 1.6 MyTouch 3G and the 2.0 OS Droid. It also faces stiff competition from HTC's Sense UI on the HTC Hero (Sprint) and Droid Eris (Verizon). As we've mentioned in other reviews, Android is a modern and fun OS that's quite powerful. There are several thousand free and commercial apps available on the Android Market and you can download these directly to the smartphone. The OS is optimized for touch and everything is easily do-able with a finger. But it still has weaknesses like the lack of robust multimedia. There's a decent music player that supports MP3 and AAC (non-DRM) iTunes songs, but video playback is limited to MPEG4, and a limited subset at that. We took an MPEG4 H.264 file that played fine on the MyTouch 3G and the Droid and the Cliq said it couldn't play it. We downloaded the free video player from the market and it couldn't handle it either. Stick with YouTube and playback of videos recorded with the camera.
Even if you're a social networking star, the Cliq's home screen is a chaotic mess of chatty widgets that keep you up on the latest Facebook status updates, tweets, messaging and your own postings. Compared to the relatively clean standard Android home screen or even HTC's with Sense UI, this is madness. Moto has extended the home screen to 5 pages from the default 3, so you can spread the mess around and organize it. Thankfully, you can turn off widgets too, just in case you want room for an icon or shortcut or two. Whew.
We do like what Moto has done to contacts: it's no simple list of everyone in your address book (entries are unified from your various social networking services into one contacts list that miraculously resists duplicates). The Cliq with MOTOBLUR has 3 tabs: normal contact listing, history (those folks you've called or conversed with via the many supported services) and status, which is a listing of your contacts' most recent status updates/tweets and etcetera. Pretty cool. You can get to the address book via the blue tab with a head on it at the bottom of the home screen (right side if in landscape mode).
The Moto Cliq is a quad band GSM world phone with EDGE and 3G HSDPA on T-Mobile's US 1700/2100MHz bands. Unlike most Moto phones that are reception demons, the Cliq is just average and it sometimes gets a few less -db of signal than the HTC MyTouch 3G. The signal is however more stable than the MT3G, and we experienced less ping-ponging between 3G and GSM on the Moto. Voice quality is quite good and voice sounds full and natural on both ends with littleof the digital distortion that's a hallmark of the DSP mangling audio in an attempt to keep out background noise (Moto Droid, we're thinking of you). The Cliq works with mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets. It has a 3.5mm stereo headset jack as well.
The 3.5mm headset jack up top.
GPS and Camera
The Moto has a GPS that works with Google Maps (surprise) and with Telenav. Google Maps works well with the GPS and as always it's capable at mapping, providing on-screen (but not spoken) directions and POIs. Telenav, a $10/month subscription service, provides maps, POIs and spoken directions. In our tests it got a fix quickly and navigated reliably.
The 5 megapixel camera with autofocus lens sounds impressive but it takes mediocre shots that aren't as good as the 5MP Moto Droid's. There's no flash, so indoor shots have noise-- no surprise. But outdoor shots weren't terribly sharp or natural-- the folks at Nokia who make those lovely Nseries camera phones won't lose any sleep. While the Droid can shoot high resolution video, the Cliq's max video resolution is just 352 x 288 at 24fps. It's not a horrid camera but it's weak for the specs.
The Cliq has a 1420 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's user replaceable. It's the same battery used in the Droid, yet the Cliq doesn't last as long as its faster-CPU, bigger screened brother. If you avail yourself of the myriad social networking services (or just 3 or 4), talk on the phone for 30 minutes and access the web, expect to charge nightly.
If social networking is your thing, then this is your phone. MOTOBLUR has got that covered in a big way. If you just want an Android phone with a keyboard and don't find the G1's prototype looks appealing, then the Cliq is still worth a look and you can turn off some/any/all of the social networking widgets and accounts easily enough. Should you decide you want some back, it's just as easy to re-enable them. The Cliq is solidly built though its looks aren't exceptional and the display is lovely. The keyboard gets a passing mark, but we can't find much use for the d-pad. We would like dedicated call send and end buttons, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards for Moto right now.
Price: $199 with a 2 year contract, $399 with Even More Plus (no contract) plan.
Display:320 x 480 capacitive
touchscreen LCD. Screen size diagonally: 3.1". Supports both portrait and landscape modes, has accelerometer. Has an ambient light sensor and a proximity sensor.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Performance:528MHz Qualcomm MSM7201A processor. 256 MB RAM. 512 MB Flash ROM with 250 megs
Size:4.5 x 2.3 x 0.61 inches. Weight: 5.6 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band 850/900/1800/1900MHz world phone with 3G HSDPA on T-Mobile's US bands: 1700/2100MHz.
Camera: 5 MP with autofocus lens, 4X zoom, no flash. Can shoot video at 352 x 288, 24fps and at lower MMS resolution.
GPS:Works with Google Maps and Telenav (Telenav requires a $10/month subscription). Has compass.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR with A2DP Bluetooth stereo profile.
Software:Android OS 1.5 Cupcake. MOTOBLUR enhancements for social networking. Quickoffice 1.2 MS Office and PDF viewer. Standard Android applications: Gmail, web browser, Messaging (SMS and MMS), Google Maps, Google Talk, Calculator, PIM apps (contacts, calendar), YouTube player and Email.