Review: Motorola Cliq

Spending time with the Cliq, Motorola’s first phone running Google’s Android OS is like spinning doughnuts in a funny car for hours. It’s thrilling and a little dizzying, but for those without an iron constitution it can be a little tumultuous on the tummy.

The Cliq is a phone designed for social networking fiends. It aggregates every social networking service you’d care to use — Twitter, Facebook, MySpace — and goes a step further, throwing e-mail and photo services such as PhotoBucket and Picasa into the mix.

The Cliq comes fit with a custom skin from Motorola called Blur that collates everything so users don’t have to click through different apps. Rather, there are three key widgets:

• A social-status text box for each of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or all three at the same time.

• A messaging widget that aggregates e-mail from different sources such as Yahoo, Gmail and Outlook into one manageable bucket. Facebook e-mails are routed into a second silo while DMs from Twitter flow into a third silo. Messages pop up in a cardlike view (similar to the Palm Pre) or in an easily scrollable list.

• The Happenings widget: It looks much like a Facebook feed, except it aggregates data from other social networking sites.

But it can get to be too much. The Cliq has just too many options that can, frankly, be just overwhelming. Having your Facebook and Twitter friends spill all over your phone contacts is confusing despite some advanced filtering options. After five minutes of using the Cliq we had to put the phone down from fear of sensory overload.

All this talk of social networking and sharing almost makes us forget that there is, well, also a phone in there. The Cliq has a dialer similar to the iPhone but also sports a physical keypad. And surprise, it’s been tweaked to offer up social networking metadata: There’s a mashup of e-mails, direct messages and status updates mixed in with icons indicating mixed calls, voicemails and contacts.

The device itself is a lovely piece of hardware — smooth, with a ridged backside and a solid feeling against the palm. It’s heavier than the iPhone and the Palm Pre (5.6 ounces vs. the 4.7 ounces of both the Pre and the iPhone 3G), but the Cliq wears its extra weight subtly in its curves. And despite the sliding keyboard, the phone still feels fairly slim.

The 3.1-inch display is bright and easy to read, and the touchscreen is very, very responsive. The 5.2 megapixel camera with autofocus and the camcorder offer pretty good images and video. Battery is roughly equal to an iPhone 3GS or the Palm Pre — it goes kaput after a solid day of heavy use.

There are also some sweet (free!) services thrown in, such as remote wipe, online backup and a GPS app that zeros in on the phone if it’s lost.

The Cliq gets a lot of things right — hardware design, aggregation of social networking sites, a decent camera and a camcorder. But then it also suffers from a severe case of overshare. Take a photo and the phone asks if you want to see it in a gallery, set it as wallpaper or share it by e-mail, by Picasa or as a postcard. It’s just too many decisions to make every minute.

A few hours with the phone and it can almost feel like you are ready to get off the grid — turn off Twitter updates, stop checking Facebook and forget about pictures. It’s not a horrible device by any means. We’re sure multitasking kids who can’t remember a time without the internet will love it. But for the rest of us, the phone seems a little disorganized and all over the place. After all, doesn’t simplicity say more than complexity ever can?

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