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Motorola PHOTON 4G Review

The Sprint Motorola Photon 4G just came out, and Motorola presents it as being a “superphone”. Powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core system on a chip, it’s easy to understand why Motorola sees it that way. Despite having recent competition from Qualcomm, the chip still dominates many synthetic benchmarks. However, a smartphone is more than raw performance numbers: few people actually buy a smartphone based on that. Fortunately, the Photon 4G has more than just performance.


The Motorola PHOTON 4G has an extremely futuristic design identity, and I love it. Instead of having rounded corners, the phone has angled edges that give it a very futuristic and almost Star Trek-like vibe. Motorola has spared no expense even with little touches like the grooved texture on the volume up/down and camera buttons on the device. On the top you’ll find the phone’s power/lock/unlock button and 3.5mm headset jack, and on the left side you’ll find a microUSB port and a mini-HDMI port. On the right side you’ll see the aforementioned volume up/down rocker in addition to a dedicated camera button.

On the rear of the device there’s a foldout kickstand that many Sprint EVO owners will be pleased to find. There’s a nice touch as well — as soon as you extend the kickstand, the phone will switch into landscape mode.

While the PHOTON isn’t the slimmest phone, it has a great weight to it and the device’s thickness is countered by perfectly rounded edges, giving the smartphone a perfect feel in your hands when it’s in use.


The Motorola Photon 4G is an absolute powerhouse of a phone. It ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, a dual-core 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, 4G WiMax speeds, a 4.3-inch qHD display, and a dual-mode GSM/CDMA chipset. Features include HDMI-out, DLNA support, Wi-Fi, Mobile Hotspot for up to eight devices, 720p HD video capture, 1080p HD video playback, and secure data encryption. We also like the kickstand. Call quality and overall performance were great.


The Motorola Photon runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). And, like the Droid 3 and the Atrix, it also runs the Motorola MotoBlur service. This version of MotoBlur is quite similar to the versions you’ll find on the Droid 3 and the Droid X2. We’re not huge fans of MotoBlur, but Motorola is steadily making improvements to its user interface and cloud service for Android.

Motorola PHOTON 4G Home Screen

We’ve covered MotoBlur quite a bit in our other Motorola phone reviews. It offers some useful connected widgets: For example, you can aggregate status updates from Facebook, MySpace (really, does anyone still use MySpace?), and Twitter, and display them in a single widget on your home screen. The result isn’t as obnoxious as you might think–MotoBlur doesn’t just blast new status updates one by one. Since your social networking accounts are connected to the server, MotoBlur will show your friends’ updates in groups, updating every few minutes or so. You can also post status updates across multiple networks from another widget, which Motorola has smartly made to resemble a chat bubble.

This version of MotoBlur also comes with Motorola’s new Music app, which presents recommendations,

Motorola PHOTON 4G Keyboard

concert event listings, and music news based on your library. It also gives you access to a nice selection of Internet radio stations as well as various podcasts. You can buy music directly from the app via Amazon MP3.

Dialing / contacts:

Dialing a number, or finding a contact is very easy. You can use the virtual numeric pad of course, or head into the contact list and scroll down or type a name. If you have a lot of contacts, creating a list of favorites may help quite a bit. My personal favorite on Android is the “direct dial” shortcut. Basically, you choose a contact and a number, and you create an icon on the home page. Upon pressing it, the call is directly placed. It’s the fastest way to call someone, and I use it all the time.


Now the PHOTON 4G has an 8 MP camera with dual LED flash and the camera performed just as I expected it to, with low light

Motorola PHOTON 4G Camera Sample

indoors it took great shots and the shutter speed was faster than a lot of phones I’ve used in the past.

On the rear of the phone it says HD VIDEO like it’s all special, but it actually only records in 720p and not 1080 like most other Tegra 2 phones have the power to do, so I didn’t do a video sample because 720p is nothing new. If it were 1080p I’d have gave it a test run.


The Motorola Photon 4G has one of the better custom music players for Android. It integrates podcasts, Internet radio, FM radio, and your music library in one handy interface. It also provides Media Link software that easily ports your existing MP3 library over to the phone. We’re especially impressed with the recommendation engine that’s linked to the Amazon MP3 store. It’ll even display lyrics if available. The Photon 4G is compatible with AAC, H.263, H.264, MP3, MPEG-4, WAV, WMA9, WMA10, eAAC+, AMR WB, WMA v10, AMR NB, AAC+, WMA v9, and MIDI video and audio formats.


The Android web browser does a very good job at rendering pages from “desktop-sized” websites, and of course from mobile sites as well. The dual-core processor should make web browsing a bit faster because this activity can use quite a number of processes that can be split across multiple cores. That said, this remains a mobile phone, so sites like Google Docs and other very interactive services tend to be significantly slower when compared to a computer.

Flash Support:

Not surprisingly, Flash is well supported as well (version 10.3 is preloaded). This means that you have access to a world of small business and other websites that have been built with Flash. If you have never used an Android smartphone before, I need to set your expectations properly: when compared to a computer, Flash is still slow in absolute terms. Keep in mind that most Flash content has been designed for much more powerful computers, so although “it runs”, the user experience is often not as good as one might expect.

Motorola Photon 4G Specification

  • Manufacturer:Motorola
  • Part Number:PHOTON4GSPT


  • Product TypeWith digital camera / digital player,
  • Service ProviderBell Mobility,
    Sprint Nextel
  • Width2.6 in
  • Depth0.5 in
  • Height5 in
  • Weight5.6 oz


  • TechnologyCDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS)
  • Phone DesignPDA
  • Vibrating AlertYes
  • Polyphonic RingerYes
  • Call TimerYes
  • Conference Call CapabilityYes
  • Voice RecorderYes
  • Caller IDYes
  • SpeakerphoneYes
  • Wireless InterfaceIEEE 802.11g,
    IEEE 802.11b,
    Bluetooth 2.1 EDR,
    IEEE 802.11n,
  • Additional FeaturesMultitasking,
    DLNA Certified,
    TV-out via HDMI

Communicator Features

  • Operating SystemGoogle Android 2.3
  • Synchronization With PCYes
  • User Memory16 GB

Messaging & Data Services

  • Short Messaging Service (SMS)Yes
  • Messaging ServicesGoogle Talk
  • Mobile EmailYes
  • Supported Email ProtocolsPOP3,
  • Internet BrowserYes
  • Included ServicesSprint TV,
    Sprint Music,
    Android Market
  • Messaging / Data FeaturesText messages,
    Multimedia messages (MMS),
    Instant messages,

Multimedia Features

  • Downloadable ContentRing tones,

Digital Camera

  • Camera highlightsWith a resolution of 8 megapixels, this model will give you higher quality pictures than other phones.
  • Sensor Resolution8 megapixels
  • Video Recorder Resolutions1280 x 720 (720p)


  • Alarm ClockYes
  • CalendarYes
  • ReminderYes


  • Display Resolution960 x 540 pixels
  • Diagonal Size4.3 in
  • Color SupportColor


  • Connector Type1 x HDMI


  • TypePower adapter


  • Technology– Lithium ion
  • Capacity1700 mAh
  • Talk TimeUp to 624 min (GSM),
    Up to 600 min (CDMA),
    Up to 546 min (WCDMA)


Overall, the Motorola Photon 4G has very good system performance. This is not surprising, given that it is powered by NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 processor. In the chart, you will see that many handsets using this chip lead the synthetic benchmarks (Atrix, Optimus 2X, Droid X2 etc…).


The Motorola Photon 4G earns its spot in Sprint’s high-end Android phone lineup with a blazing fast dual-core 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, dual-mode GSM/CDMA chipset, and impressive 4G speeds. We’re also fans of the flip-out kickstand, and the Webtop dock functionality is a fascinating, if a bit expensive, add-on.


  • Large, crisp and vibrant qHD display
  • 16GB of internal memory
  • Good call quality and battery life
  • Great camera performance


  • The Motorola UI leaves a bit to be desired
  • Awkward microUSB port placement