Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE (Sprint) review: Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE (Sprint)

Continuing in the spirit of personal choice and benevolent hacks, Motorola has gone out of its way to emphasize that the Photon Q 4G LTE has an unlocked bootloader. Essentially this means Android enthusiasts will be able to root, or in other words gain the power to install customized software on their devices. Perhaps, you don't like Sprint ID or other apps you find useless. Maybe you'd rather run pure Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Whatever your intentions, just remember that rooting your Photon Q 4G LTE still voids your phone warranty, even if Motorola provides instructions for doing so.

Like Motorola's other new phones, the Photon comes with the Smart Actions app installed. This software is designed to automate handset behavior based on the environment and time of day. For example, you can create rules for the device to suspend data syncing at night to conserve battery or automatically use Wi-Fi when at home. It sounds fine in theory but I found the feature intrusive, often telling the phone to grab Wi-Fi signals when I had intentionally disabled the radio to avoid a slow office connection.

Camera
Packing an 8-megapixel camera and LED flash, on paper the Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE looks like a powerful mobile imaging device. The sensor grabs either 8MP wide-screen shots or 6MP images to match the size of the phone's screen. The Photon also is a nimble picture taker, with a quick shot-to-shot time of under a second, which feels practically instant. The phone's camera app offers a bevy of capture and scene modes such as Panorama, Multi-shot, Timer, Nightscape, and Sunset to list a few. There is a wide range of special filters too, eight in all, spanning Blackboard to Aqua.

Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE (Sprint)
The camera snaps pictures quickly and has lots of settings. Sarah Tew/CNET

Unfortunately the images I snapped on the whole were dark, lacked punch, and had soft details. Indoor still-life shots were muted, fuzzy, with odd color perhaps caused by tricky fluorescent lighting.

Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE (Sprint)
Still-life shots were dark and soft, with wonky color. Brian Bennett/CNET

Under low light, troublesome subjects like fast-moving kids resulted in blur and lots of color noise. Taking the phone outside didn't improve matters much, with colors still looking drab and images not as crisp as I would like from an 8-megapixel sensor. To be fair, the day was partly cloudy so sunshine was in short supply.

Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE (Sprint)
Low-light shots were soft and kids hard to capture. Brian Bennett/CNET

Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE (Sprint)
Outdoors details could have been more crisp. Brian Bennett/CNET

Provided there was enough ambient light, the Photon Q 4G LTE recorded video at 1080HD resolution admirably. Motion was smooth and details were clear, while background sounds and those made by subjects were easy to hear.

Performance
Equipped with the power of a current-generation 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 1GB of RAM, the Motorola Photon Q 4G has plenty of speed. The phone displayed agility whether opening applications or zipping through menus. Linpack benchmark scores confirmed my experience with the Photon. The device notched a high 162.3 MFLOPs in a quick 1 second running the Multi-Thread version of the test. Still, this showing wasn't enough to best the HTC Evo 4G LTE's score of 198.53 MFLOPs in 0.85 second.

While Sprint makes it difficult to forget that the Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE can connect to its new LTE data network, it's just getting off the ground. For example, here in New York where I tested the Photon, the phone is limited to 3G speeds. I measured average download throughput in multiple locations to be a pedestrian 1.4Mbps. Average upload speeds were also slow, at 1Mbps.

Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE (Sprint)
Until Sprint LTE hits, you're limited to 3G in New York. Brian Bennett/CNET

Call quality on Sprint's CDMA network in New York was very good. On my test calls voices sounded rich, clear, and free of distortion. The Photon Q's earpiece gets pretty loud, forcing me to dial things down a few steps to enjoy a comfortable volume. I also liked the handset's speakerphone function, which produces a generous helping of volume without buzz, especially when I flipped the device over exposing its rear speaker.

Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE call quality sample Listen now:

Motorola claims that the Photon Q 4G LTE's 1,785mAh battery will supply a talk time of 7.5 hours. In anecdotal tests, the phone played an HD resolution video file continuously for a lengthy 8 hours and 6 minutes. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S III managed to do the same task for 9 hours and 24 minutes. The HTC Evo 4G LTE, though, persevered longest, lasting for a full 10 hours and 13 minutes.

Conclusion
Just like its Verizon relative the Droid 4, the $199.99 Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE provides one of the best Android smartphone typing experiences available. Other benefits are its modern Snapdragon S4 processing, bright and colorful screen, and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich software. Unless you're committed to BlackBerry, a habit I strongly urge you to kick, the Photon Q is a must-buy for physical keyboard addicts looking for their next Sprint purchase. If you're not tied to using real keys, by all means go for the feature-packed Samsung Galaxy S III or HTC Evo 4G LTE, which offer better cameras plus LTE data if you can get it.

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Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE (Sprint)

Part Number: PHOTON-Q-4G-LTE Released: Aug. 19, 2012
MSRP: $549.99 Low Price: $299.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Aug. 19, 2012
  • Talk Time Up to 450 min
  • Technology CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS)
  • Combined with With digital camera / digital player / FM radio
  • Service Provider Sprint Nextel
  • Weight 6 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.3 in
  • Sensor Resolution 8 megapixels