Take a look at the phone and you’ll quickly see the Photon shares some DNA with the Droid 4, especially when you get to the keyboard. It sports five rows with nice spacing and decent feedback and includes a full number row and a uniform backlight making it among the best physical keyboards I’ve used on a phone. When you slide out the keyboard the phone rotates into landscape mode which does take a moment but is a welcome addition. You’ll also find the stock Android on-screen keyboard for whenever you don’t feel like sliding the physical one out.
Fire up the phone and you’ll find Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich with a few Motorola customizations. Impressively this is among the closest implementations of stock Android that you can get outside a Nexus device. Beyond redesigning small things like icons and widgets and adding a couple Sprint apps it’s a mostly clean experience although not perfect as it will stutter on occasion.
Like the Atrix HD which shares the same skin, you’ll find on-screen Android keys instead of capacitive buttons. Depending on your preference this can be a good or bad thing, I didn’t have any real complaints except the phones lost screen real estate (960X540), which may be more noticeable on its larger 4.3” screen.
Let's take a quick tour of the device in action...
- Service Provider: Sprint
- Operating System: Android OS
- Processor: 1.5 GHz Dual-Core Qualcom Snapdragon S4
- Screen Size: 4.3 inches
- Screen Details: 960X540-pixel TFT LCD with ColorBoost
- Camera: Yes
- Megapixels: 8 MP
- Camera Flash: Yes
- 802.11x: Yes
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Web Browser: Yes
- Form Factor: Slider
- Network: GSM, CDMA
- Bands: 800, 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100
- High-Speed Data: EVDO Rev A, LTE, CDMA 1X
- Storage Capacity (as Tested): 4.6 GB
- Physical Keyboard: Yes
- Continuous Talk Time: 6:59 minutes
Taking a look at the spec sheet you’ll see a lot of the right stuff. On board is a 1.5GHz dual core Snapdragon S4, the same processor you’ll find in phones like the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III. You’ll also find support for Sprint’s developing LTE network along with GSM support for worldwide roaming. It’s not quite perfect though as you’re only getting 8GB of storage (expandable via MicroSD) and a 4.3” qHD display as opposed to 16GB and 4.7”+ 720p screens on other phones at the same price point.
Impressively the Photon does very well in Linpack, narrowly edging out the Galaxy S III. Admittedly it’s by an extremely narrow margin but there's no doubt the horsepower is definitely here.
GLBenchmark tells a very similar story, with the same internals the only minor differences are the manufacturer optimizations.
The Photon falls back a bit in SunSpider which is a bit surprising but again the difference isn’t huge. What the benchmarks won’t tell you is that in actual use the Galaxy S III is noticeably smoother while browsing.
Battery Life: With a 1785mAh battery you can expect reasonable battery life. I was able to get through a day of moderate usage with watching a few YouTube videos, checking email and Twitter and playing a bit of Temple Run on 3G. If you live in an area with LTE or use your phone more frequently then you’ll probably need to track down a charger before the end of the day.
The 8 megapixel camera is reasonable but nothing too impressive. The images you get are a bit washed out and lacking sharpness but generally they’re just fine. Same goes for the 1080p video, it’s good enough but lacking compared to rivals like the iPhone and One X.
The Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE is an easy phone to sum up. If having a keyboard isn’t important to you, there are better options on Sprint. However, if a physical keyboard is a must, then this is one of the few choices in smartphones that doesn't sacrifice on build quality or performance.