First impressions: Motorola DEXT & Backflip

The Android invasion of Australia is set to  ramp up with this month with new handsets being launched by both Telstra and Optus. Telstra will be launching the HTC Desire on April 27th, followed by the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 on May 4th. Optus meanwhile, has already hit the market with the Motorola DEXT and Motorola Backflip. After having a quick hands on with the DEXT and Backflip at a local Optus store, here’s my initial thoughts on the features that stood out for me.

Screen Size

Both phones feature a 3.1″ screen.  This is smaller than the iPhone (3.5″) as well as the upcoming  Desire (3.7″) and Xperia (4.0″).  Whilst a bigger screen may mean a better browsing & app experience, the Backflip  is probably going to slip into to your pocket  easier than an Xperia.

Physical Keyboards

The DEXT and the Backflip both feature physical keyboards.  Whilst the touch-screen keyboards of both phones seemed ok, the smallish screen size  means only a few lines of text can be seen at a time when in landscape mode. Using the physical keyboard enables more text to be displayed on screen, reducing the need to scroll in order to see what’s already been written.

Of the two handsets, my preference is for the keyboard on the DEXT.  Whilst the keys on the Backflip aren’t tiny, the keyboard is flat and smooth, making it harder to distinguish individual keys. By contrast, keys on the DEXT have enough ‘bump’ to feel like individual keys.

Motoblur

According to Optus:

“The Motorola BACKFLIP and DEXT are the first smartphones announced in Australia to feature MOTOBLUR, allowing customers to sync contacts, emails, posts, messages, photos and more from sources such as Facebook®, MySpace, Twitter, Gmail™, work and personal e-mail and LastFM.  Content is automatically pushed straight to the home screen, in easy-to-manage streams allowing users to spend less time managing their life and more time living it.” (Optus media release 30/03/2010)

Optus’ advertising for the  DEXT is heavily focussed on the social connectivity facilitated by Motoblur, even going so far as to tag the DEXT  “the first phone with social skills”. Given the hype, I was keen to check out Motoblur, especially as the concept is quite similar to ‘Friendstream‘ on the forthcoming HTC Desire.

Whilst the in-store handsets had live internet connections, unfortunately they hadn’t been linked to a Motoblur account or any social sites. This meant one could check out the home screen widgets,  but not any real live  “happenings”. Thankfully Motorola has a pretty good Motoblur simulator on its site, but it’s still not the same as playing with a live handset.

Optus  ‘yes’ Social Plans

To go with its new ‘social phones’, Optus has launched  a range of ‘yes’ Social Plans. Like the  Optus’ iPhone plans, they include a mobile data allowance, but have the additional benefit of  free (unmetered) use of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube. Offering unlimited access to these popular social sites strengthens the ‘social phone’ positioning of the DEXT and Backflip. It may also help reduce the risk of bill shock being caused by Motoblur  pulling content from these sites.  Either way, it seems a smart move by Optus and the ‘yes’ Social Plans are arguably as much a part of the ‘social phone’ value proposition as the handsets themselves.

Closing Thoughts

Whilst the Backflip has looks on its side, it’s worth checking out the keyboard factor in person as you may find the Backflip keyboard as off-putting as I did. Motoblur looks interesting but without a ‘live’ account it’s hard to say just how useful it really is.  Lastly there is the new ‘yes’ Social Plans. These  support the ‘social phone’ positioning of the new handsets and will provide extra value for some users.

With two new Androids touched down, it’s going to be interesting to see what the next wave of the Android invasion has to offer.

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