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Motorola Admiral (Sprint) review: Motorola Admiral (Sprint)

Motorola Admiral (Sprint)

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
7 min read


Motorola Admiral (Sprint)

The Good

Running Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), the <b>Motorola Admiral</b> offers snappy performance, decent call quality, a QWERTY keyboard, and a scratch-resistant 3.1-inch touch screen. It also supports push-to-talk, and its durable design will withstand harsh environments.

The Bad

The Motorola Admiral's photo and video quality could be better. The phone comes with just 4GB of internal storage and doesn't support 4G.

The Bottom Line

Responsive, functional, and tough, the Motorola Admiral makes a great workhorse phone, especially for anyone working in a tough environment. BlackBerry users will also find it a smooth transition if they want to move to the Android platform.

Unlike the fancy and attention-grabbing Motorola Droid Razr, the Motorola Admiral is a middle-of-the-line phone, designed not to wow but to provide a working mobile commutation solution. And it does that job very well, with good call quality and zippy performance.

I also like the ergonomic and durable design that can stand up to dust, shock, solar radiation, vibration, low pressure, and high and low temperatures, and the fact that it's one of Sprint's first Android-based smartphones that brings push-to-talk to its CDMA network. Priced at $100 (after rebate and with a two-year contract), the Motorola Admiral makes a great day-to-day phone for anybody who needs a phone that's low-maintenance and functional.

At first glance, the Admiral looks very much like a typical BlackBerry phone with its portrait QWERTY keyboard. Looking above the keyboard, however, there's no mistaking that it's an Android phone with its four buttons for Settings, Home, Back, and Search.

The phone's 3.1-inch, 480x640-pixel-resolution touch screen provides an alternative method of user input if you don't care to use the hardware keyboard. Beyond offering more choice, it's also a great way for long-term BlackBerry users to get acclimated to the touch screen.

The display, made of Corning Gorilla Glass, is responsive, bright, and clear, making even small fonts easy to read. It seems a little washed-out under bright sunlight, however, which happens to most cell phone screens at the same price point. The hardware keyboard, on the other hand, offers excellent performance all around, with great tactile response. The keyboard offers easy access to special yet frequently use symbols, such as @, #, %, and $. As a longtime iPhone user, I had no trouble using the hardware keyboard.

On the left side just below the volume rocker is the Direct Connect (DC) button. By default it's programmed to activate the phone's push-to-talk feature. You can, however, reprogram it to run any widgets or applications. The control is positioned right in the middle of the phone, making it easy to use when you're holding the handset in front of you. When you raise it near your ear, however, it's slightly awkward to use.

Also on the left side is a Micro-USB port for charging and connecting to a computer. It has a rubber cover to protect it from the elements, which is part of the Military Spec 810G spec trimmings; again, the phone can withstand dust, shock, solar radiation, vibration, low pressure, and high and low temperatures. Note that the Admiral, unfortunately, isn't water-resistant like the Droid Razr.

Up top are a power button, a 3.5mm headset port (also covered by a rubber lid), and a quick-silent button. The latter works only when the phone is unlocked to keep you from accidentally pressing a button when carrying the Admiral inside a pocket. On the right side, the phone has a camera shutter that quickly turns the feature on and snaps photos or starts recording a video.

The microSD slot is located inconveniently beneath the phone's battery. The back cover is coated with soft-finish texture, which along with the curved back makes the Admiral fit ergonomically in your palm. The Admiral measures 4.7 inches by 2.4 inches by 0.5 inch and weighs only 4.7 ounces.

Overall it's about the same size as the iPhone 4, just slightly thicker, but actually more comfortable to hold thanks to the tapered edges.

The Motorola Admiral runs Android 2.3.5 and is topped with the Motoblur, which combines your social media, e-mails, and contacts in one place. As with other Moto phones, however, I found Motoblur rather, well, blurry to use. Though convenient to have all in one place, the interface can get overwhelming at times and doesn't provide in-depth access to an individual social network. I found that it's generally easier to manage separate apps for each network.

The Admiral includes a wide selection of preinstalled apps, including a DLNA app for media streaming, the Quickoffice suite, and the Reader for Android app for e-books. I especially like the hot-spot app that allows the phone to share its cellular connection with up to five Wi-Fi devices.

The phone offers all the basic personal assistant features of an Android device: calendar, contacts, tasks, and so on. If you're a Gmail user, all of your information will immediately become synced once you have added your account to the phone.

You'll also find Wi-Fi (802.11n), GPS, and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, which supports HSP, HFP, PBA, OPP, A2DP, AVRC, and HID profiles.

The Admiral's 5-megapixel back-facing camera can also record HD video up to 720p. It features an LED flash and 4x digital zoom. You won't be able to take a lot of photos or videos with the phone out of the box, however, since it has only 4GB of internal storage, of which only about 1.5GB is available for file storage. As mentioned above, the phone does have a microSD slot (which also supports the microSDHC standard) to host up to 32GB more of storage.

The phone offers decent photo quality when used outdoors with good sunlight. When used indoors or with flash, pictures tend to be washed-out or look like a scanned photo: grainy and with the contrast being a little off. The camera's 720p HD video offers decent image quality for a camera phone.

The Admiral offers decent photo quality for a camera phone, as long as the lighting is good.

When the lighting is not ideal, it depends on the photographer to make the photo look great.

The Admiral's multimedia capabilities are similar to those of other Android-based phones. It can play back a variety of music and video formats, including MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, OGG, WMV, MP4, and 3GP. As mentioned above, you definitely need to invest in a microSD card if you want to carry music or video with you, because of the phone's limited internal storage.

The Admiral is a dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) phone that works on Sprint's 3G EV-DO Rev. A network. The phone, unfortunately, doesn't support the carrier's 4G network, and since its 3G is not GSM-based, you can't surf and talk at the same time.

Call quality was great. During testing in the San Francisco Bay Area, I could carry on a long conversation without being disconnected, even when driving from one place to another, and the parties on the other end had no trouble hearing me. On my end, the voice quality is similar to that of a landline phone. I did find, however, that the phone's internal speaker is rather quiet, making it a little hard to hear in a noisy environment, even when I turned the volume to its highest level. Its speaker, however, is very loud, making it a great phone for push-to-talk.

The push-to-talk feature worked well, too. In my trials, at times, the two parties would miss the first one or two words of the first sentence. That's not unusual, though, and was most likely because I started talking before the DC connection was made. I even tested push-to-talk with a friend who lives in Seattle, and got nice results.

Note that because you need to put the DC-supported contacts in the contacts list, the push-to-talk feature takes just a couple of minutes to set up. Then, by pressing the DC button, you can select who to call from a list of contacts (you won't be able to manually type in a number). On the other hand, by putting contacts in a group, you can conference with up to 20 DC contacts at a time and ping all of them via just one push of the DC button. And, of course, you can turn this feature off temporarily or you can block certain numbers selectively if you don't want to be disturbed.

Powered by a 1.2GHz Snapdragon S2 processor and 512MB of RAM, the Admiral provides snappy performance. Most apps load instantly, including the camera. I especially like the camera's hardware button, which helps you take a photo quickly. You do need to press and hold the button for a second for the camera to start, but it's a nice touch to prevent the camera from being turned on by accident.

Equipped with a 1,860mAh battery, the Admiral lasted about two days of regular usage in my trials, with all of its functions, including talk, data, GPS, and running Internet-based apps. That's about almost twice the use time I normally get with the iPhone 4. Its battery is slated to offer 9 hours of continuous talk time or more than three days of standby. According to FCC radiation tests, the Admiral has a digital SAR of 1.06 w/kg.

I was happy with the phone's data connection speed. In testing around the Bay Area, the Admiral averaged around 1,350Kbps down and 670Kbps up, which is about the same as the iPhone 4S' speeds. I found Google Maps loaded instantly, and when I had good signal, YouTube videos would just need a second or two to play, without pausing to rebuffer. The phone's built-in hot-spot app works very well and would take just a second to turn on. The connection, however, wasn't fast enough if you want to stream YouTube movies on two devices at a time.

Internet speed (in Kbps)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Clear 4G+ Apollo
iPhone 4S AT&T
iPhone 4 AT&T
iPhone 4S Sprint
Motorola Admiral
iPhone 4S Verizon

The Motorola Admiral is a workhorse smartphone that delivers. While lacking 4G and a few other fancy features found in other smartphones, its good battery life, great performance, ergonomic design, and rugged build help make it a very good companion for those who want a tough yet stylish phone. The phone is especially a good fit for a group who needs real-time communication, thanks to its well-designed Direct Connect feature.


Motorola Admiral (Sprint)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8