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Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE Review

Motorola’s Photon Q has been out for about a week now on Sprint and we are ready to put up our “official” opinions and thoughts on the device. As someone who never owned another QWERTY phone after the OG DROID, it was interesting to say the least to go back to a phone that doesn’t feel ultra thin such as the One X and Galaxy S3. The Photon Q looks to take the throne above all other full keyboard-toting devices and does so with relative ease. But of course, the phone is not without its faults though, so let’s get right into it. 

The Good:

  • Specs:  On paper, the Q looks to draw you in with its enticing specifications. Oh, a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 and 1GB of RAM? 8MP camera that shoots 1080p video? And what about that fancy 4.3″ display with Motorola’s “ColorBoost” technology? That sounds like something I want to have in my pocket! Alas, this device does sport some high-end device specs. Along with Ice Cream Sandwich, NFC capabilities, and 8GB of on-board storage (expandable to 32GB), the Q can easily handle its own against some of Samsung’s or HTC’s better offerings, but that’s on paper.
  • Battery:  From my time with it, it’s one of the better battery experiences I have had. I easily spent a good hour playing Organ Trail the other day and hardly noticed a toll on the device despite a small warmth coming from its backside. The phone features a non-removable 1785 mAh battery, which actually shocks me every time I am reminded at how bulky the device is. You’re telling me I have to carry around this brick and it doesn’t even come with more juice than a DROID RAZR’s 1780 mAh? Some how, Moto has made it work.
  • Build:  Given Motorola’s exceptional track record at making hardware that everyone loves, this device is no different. It’s a beast. It’s a tank. I am certain that upon dropping this off any reasonable surface, that it has a pretty darn good chance of surviving the fall. The backside’s hard plastic feels great in hand and none of the buttons come off as being “janky” or “loose.” For example, there’s nothing more unsettling than a loose power key. All of these feel very sturdy and will easily last a couple years of abuse. Overall, the phone feels great in hand.
  • Full QWERTY Keyboard:  Well, it’s a full QWERTY. That’s why we’re here, right? The keys feel good and they give an excellent “click” sound when pressed. In additional, they each light up extremely bright, so if you’re trying to text in the movie theater, you’re sure to get a few stares. The keys are spaced perfectly and don’t feel cramped like many of the older DROID keyboards did. Down below in the gallery I have a nice picture of the Q sitting next to famed OG DROID. It’s a good comparison shot.
  • Sprint LTE Connectivity:  If you live in an area supported by Sprint’s 4G LTE network, then that’s a major plus. Unfortunately for myself and millions of other Americans, that is not the case. Maybe one day we’ll see it in these parts. Until then, it’s a 3G-only device.
  • NFC:  The Q does have an NFC chip inside, but weirdly enough, Google Wallet is not supported. When and if it ever will be, I have no idea. I have it added as a plus since I am hoping that since the technology is inside, that down the road the Q will embrace G-Wallet and allow for mobile payments.
  • Slider:  The slider aspect of this device really rocks. You can flick it up and down real fast and rest assured that it isn’t going to snap on you. The top part was definitely screwed on tight and I love that aspect. It’s a fluid slide and it’s nice not to feel any jerks or rubs going on while sliding it.
  • Bootloader:  This bad boy is unlockable! As of just a couple of days ago, Motorola released a web-based tool for you to unlock this device’s bootloader. Once unlocked, rooting and adding a custom ROM will be much easier if that’s something you’re into. For hackers, this is the biggest selling point before all others.

The Not-so-Good:

  • Display:  You won’t be seeing any pixel shots here, folks. But I will say this – “It’s a trap!” The Photon’s 4.3″ qHD “ColorBoost” (960 x 540 pixel) display is rather hard to look at after reviewing phones such as the Galaxy SIII and One X. With the bare eye, at certain angles you can see the pixels glaring at you and it’s no fun to look at. If a super high-tech display is not something you need though, it will most certainly get the job done for your Angry Birds and YouTube video watching.
  • Camera:  I will let this picture speak for itself. This is a full quality shot taken of my non-moving boxer (Usually he’s a spazz). I have left it at full resolution so you can see just how awful my experiences have been. This is the best example I could get of a well-lit shot being practically ruined by the overall “blur” effect that the camera adds.

  • Blur:  Just because it’s better than the old version of Blur, doesn’t make it any more fun to use. There are a few useful additions it brings such as swiping up on icons and contacts to reveal shortcuts, but overall, it has bogged down my experience and if this wasn’t a review unit, a 3rd party launcher would be the first thing I installed from Google Play. For some reason, every time I am dealing with Blur it just seems to be more of a negative than a positive. One thing I will say is that I do enjoy the additional lock screen shortcuts it provides to applications, but there’s applications that can do that as well. I know manufacturers want to differentiate themselves from each other, but I wish it was more on a hardware level than a software level.
  • Performance: On that note, I broke down. I installed Nova Launcher just to see if a different launcher could somehow change this device’s overall feel and speed. To my disbelief, even Nova couldn’t make the homescreen lag go away. When performing simple tasks such as swiping away cached apps and going from games to camera back to games it performs rather well. But if there’s a constant lag just swiping homescreens, that’s a problem for me
  • Gaming: As for gaming, I was hoping to find some titles that took advantage of the QWERTY keyboard. Unfortunately, it seems that most developers are just too used to programming games for on-screen controls. Although, as a bonus, Call of Duty: Blacks Ops Zombies (an Xperia exclusive title) did work on this device. Whether it’s because of the keyboard or there was a glitch in the Matrix, it was nice to be able to finally play it.
  • Sprint’s LTE:  Seeing as how Sprint’s LTE is only available in very few markets, I would say that is not the biggest sell for the device. I wish I could have tested it out.

Unboxing and First Look:



The Verdict:

The phone does have its ups and downs, but overall, it’s a fine device for most. If you’re in need of the full QWERTY experience, I would look no further. The device is priced at a reasonable $199.99 on a new two year agreement. My only real issue is that if you’re the type of person that needs their phone to have a decent camera, you may want to look at other offerings such as the Galaxy S3 on the “Now Network.” Although, it is hard to resist a Motorola device with an unlockable bootloader.

  • crazy flatbed

    Motorola disappointed me with this one. have a razor v3xx that is still trustworthy to turn it off and it come back on. My first Photon Q died in less than 2 weeks. it powered itself off and would not come back on. now 3 weeks later my NEW replacement, yes i said new replacement not a referb, is dead too. no water damage, used an otter box, never dropped, sits on the dash of my rig or on my table when home, hardly ever carried in my pocket. Looks as good as the day it came out of the box and its junk. i am so fed up with it im switching to either a htc or apple.

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  • nice dog ! :p expect this phone to go out of the US ! want it in HK :p

  • xizhu768


  • Kathy

    Has anyone had problems with the power button?I turned it off and now it won’t turn on.

    • dumbsmartphoneowner

      You are not alone. I am on my way back to the Sprint store for the second time. This phone won’t turn on after 5 days of use and nightly recharging. The first phone only turned on twice.

  • JustSayin’

    I can create a blur effect with my phones too. One greasy fingerprint smudge does the trick. Sometimes it’s not in-your-face noticable, but I usually always wipe the camera lens with a soft microfiber cloth these days, especially if there’s any chance for glare.

  • duke69111

    A 4G LTE phone review thats connected to 3G…Priceless.

  • GizmoDuck

    Great review. Glad it didn’t have the not so hidden disdain of keyboards that Kellex shows in his reviews.

  • arthuruscg

    will the existing moto droid4 docks work withthe photon?

  • mygeek911

    I didn’t realizes the latest iteration of Motorola Blur was going to affect the photos too; must be some crazy “fuzzy” logic.

  • Q

    Cameras on recent Moto phones have been horrendous.

  • Raven

    An interesting looking phone, but I only really care if this becomes the Droid 5 on Verizon. I am desperately seeking my next physical keyboard phone, but the Droid 4, even with ICS, just seems too old to invest in after being out this long.

    • Josh

      Whatever the Droid 5 will be, it’ll likely be better than the Photon Q. Just like how the Photon Q is better than the Droid 4.

  • Why should this phone be any more laggy than a D4 (with ICS) or Razr? The Blur version is nearly the same, isn’t it?

    I’ve had ICS on my D4 for ~2 weeks (I was part of the soak test) and I have had very few lag issues. Maybe if the phone is installing updates there can be a little, but otherwise its been great. Stock launcher was good, but Nova Prime (currently running the new Jelly Bean based beta) is awesome other than a few FC’s. Not bad for a beta build, but the non-beta market version runs flawlessly.

  • Organ Trail?

  • jim

    I know this is off subject, but I received an gmail that an update for google wallet is ready, but it wont let me update,anyone have a way around this ?

  • MikeSaver

    Did anyone else hear how the iPhone5 is going to have NFC, mobile payments and 4gLTE. And they are suing Samsung for ripping them off?

  • MichaelFranz

    its unlockable…key point here for power users, unlock it, root, CM10/AOKP it. Bye Bye blur 🙂

    • JoshGroff

      You could also go Gummy/Bugless maybe.

      • MichaelFranz

        to each their own 🙂

        • JoshGroff

          One of the main things I love about Android, the choices are virtually endless.

  • Akashshr

    How can u not like the new UI, its just like stock, just a few added Icon changes and icon swipe feature!
    Thats just being deliberately thick!! I would be pissed off too if I had that name, I get it!


  • billybobjon

    this has nothing to do with the droid 4 but i also got cod zombies to work on my samsung galaxy s3…..i dont think i did anything special but then i tried to play on my droid bionic and it didnt work….hmm? cant wait for it to be available on all devices.

  • UmangKedia

    You are first one to say that the new Moto UI sucks!! Can’t believe

  • Bionic

    Nasa’s budget this year was $19 billion and it’s Rover can send HD pictures 127 million miles. AT&T’s capital expenditures were $20 billion and my brother can’t get a signal in his bedroom in Chicago. Fail.

    • JoshGroff

      Lol, I know right.

    • sal

      This is a Sprint phone.

      • JoshGroff

        It’s better than hearing about how much better the G-Nex is than any other device on every single post.

    • kixofmyg0t

      I saw that on Reddit too.

  • nightscout13

    Hello Droid 5……

  • Nick

    How’s the outdoor visibility of the screen? That’s one of the redeeming qualities of the Droid 4 screen. It was easier to see outside in bright daylight compared to other Verizon Android phones.

    • It’s actually great! Had no problems running around at the park the other day and viewing emails and texts.

    • Jose

      Outdoor visibility is what I look for first on smartphone screens. Not all Android users are pasty skinned geeks and actually go outside.

  • Matt Holland

    What about Blur do you not like? The UI is almost identical to the Galaxy Nexus in appearance, other than the circle widget, which is optional, and the swipable shortcuts, which you seemed to like?

    • El_Big_CHRIS

      It makes it laggy, even though it has a full gig of ram and dual core processor. The skin shouldn’t make it do that…

    • I am in love with Vanilla Android. Skins must all be destroyed. My opinion lol

  • Nowayjose

    1785 mah
    Is more than 1780?
    Just saying.

    • JoshGroff

      When it comes down to it, you get maybe a few extra minutes off that. But yes, technically it’s more.

    • My point was, the RAZR is waaaay more thin than this device, yet somehow, has almost the exact battery. I would have thought Moto could have squeezed in more than 0005 mAh. 🙂

      • PyroHoltz

        Since we’re giving you a hard time about the battery, I figured I should come here and mention how I’ve never seen someone puts zeros in front of a digit without a decimal point.

        Isn’t 0005 mAh just 5 mAh? ;-/


        • Hah! I wouldn’t look into it too hard.

  • James Jun

    One of the first unlockable Motorola devices (besides the OG Droid).

    • NorCalGuy

      Don’t know if the og was unlockable but it was root able the xoom tablet was one if not the first unlockable moto device.

      • Jeremy Bardrof

        The OG Droid was not unlockable. That of course is because it was never locked in the first place.

    • JoshGroff

      Also, the XT910 (developer edition GSM RAZR) and the Xoom (WiFi/3G/LTE models.)

  • Justme

    What kind of weather widget is that?

    • JoshGroff

      It’s the new Motoblur weather clock widget.

    • MichaelFranz

      one more clock, from the play store, gives you the ability to make a dummy downed version of it, i use it

  • master94

    Seeing the OG in the video brings back good memories. Best phone ever made.

    • Master122

      I still use mine as a daily phone.

  • azndan4

    Motorola sucks.

    • Anon

      Thank you for that brilliant post. You have been an intellectual light in the darkness to all of us.

    • John
    • rodney11ride

      dude, thats awesome. i thought i had the most “down arrows” on the incredible2 getting ics post a few days ago… i think you beat me

  • I thought the display was as good as the HTC one x.

  • If you launch an app, does the navbar go 100% opaque?

    • Bill Mitchell

      From what I saw in the video review, it seems like it.

  • 3M4NU31

    +1 for using “jank” in the review

  • Mario Mendez

    Great phone