All things considered, you can't help but feel a bit sorry for the Motorola Cliq 2. Though it offers a sleek design and an exceptional keyboard, it made its debut at CES 2011 alongside the more glamorous Atrix 4G and Droid Bionic. With their dual-core processors and 4G support, Moto's other handsets quickly grabbed the spotlight while relegating their poor sibling to a supporting role. T-Mobile did its best to boast of the Cliq 2's merits, but the competition proved too fierce.
We admit we also got swept up in the hubris at the time, but now we're eager to judge the Cliq 2 on its own merits. And for the most part, we like what we see. It's slimmer than the original Cliq while sporting a larger and more vibrant display than the most recent Cliq, the Cliq XT. We also enjoyed decent performance and we appreciate that it offers Froyo (Android OS 2.2) out of the box. The continued inclusion of Motoblur wasn't as welcome, and we were hoping for a few more features over the previous models, but the Cliq 2 does its job as a midrange Android device. Pricing details are still to come, but we expect T-Mobile to offer it for about $129 with service.
Though it shows a design evolution from the original Cliq, the Cliq 2 has a lot in common with that device. You'll notice the same basic shape, a slider keyboard, and a similar placement of external buttons and peripheral ports. Yet, Moto made changes where it counts. The rounded edges give the phone a slimmer feel, and the darker color around the display gives it a more professional look. At 4.56 inches long by 2.34 inches wide by 0.57 inch wide, the Cliq 2 is about halfway between the Cliq and Cliq XT in size, but it's heavier than either model (6.17 ounces). That's more bulk than we like in a cell phone, but the trade-off is a sturdy feel and a solid slider construction. We also like the textured soft-touch material on the back cover.
The 3.7-inch display makes great use of the phone's real estate and offers a vibrant resolution that shows 854x480 pixels. That's a big improvement from the previous two Cliq models, so we weren't disappointed. The touch interface is quite responsive, and we welcome the ambient light sensor, accelerometer, and proximity sensor. Just like on other Android phones, you can change the backlighting time and the brightness.
Below the display are four touch controls (menu, back, search, and home). They are rather small, but they're still responsive and easy to use. And, in any case, we wouldn't advocate shrinking the display just to get larger controls. On the home screen itself you'll find additional touch controls for accessing the dial pad, calling menu, main menu, and your phone book.
One of the Cliq 2's best features is its physical keyboard. Though the design may be arresting at first--some people see a spiderweb, whereas others see reptile scales--we loved almost everything about it. Not only are the individual keys quite large, but they're covered in a comfortable rubbery material. We were able to type quickly with few mistakes. What's more, the large space bar is located conveniently in the middle of the bottom row, and there's plenty of space at the top edge and on either side. Our only beef with the keyboard is that we'd prefer more shortcut and function buttons beyond the dedicated search control and the navigation arrows.
The Cliq 2 also offers the revamped Android virtual keyboard that came with Froyo. You can access it only when the phone is closed, but it has a spacious layout and the benefit of the Swype feature. Even with Swype, however, we usually stuck with the physical keys. The virtual dial pad is almost unchanged from other Android phones; expect large buttons and shortcuts to various calling features.
The camera lens and flash sit on the top of the phone's rear side. Unfortunately, there's no mirror for taking vanity shots. You'll have to remove the battery cover to access the microSD card slot, which isn't ideal, but at least you don't have to remove the battery as well. The power control and 3.5mm headset jack sit on the Cliq 2's top just around the corner from the Micro-USB and charger port on the left side. The right side holds the volume rocker, ring silencer switch, and camera shutter. It's worth noting that most cell phones put the volume rocker on the left side, but the switch on the Cliq 2 made no impact on usability.
As mentioned, the Cliq 2 runs Froyo so you'll get all the new offerings that the OS update brings. Voice dialing over Bluetooth is one of the highlights, of course, but Froyo also brings the ability to store apps on the memory card. The Android interface is intuitive as ever and the main menu shows the standard icon-based design
The Cliq 2 has seven home screens that you can program with the usual widgets and app folders. You'll also find shortcuts to connectivity options like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the usual Google search bar, a music player widget, and an area for programming one-touch access to your favorite contacts. Accessibility features include voice readout (text to speech) and a menu zoom, though the latter option slows down the phone somewhat.
Motorola continues to put Motoblur on its T-Mobile Android phones. We're fans of a stock Android experience, so Motoblur wouldn't be our first choice. Also, we don't like that you have to register for an account before you can use the phone. Still, that's not to say the interface doesn't have its strong points. The social media (such as Facebook and Twitter), news, and weather widgets can put useful information up front and the universal inbox effectively gathers all your communications into one place. We're also grateful that Motorola made some much-needed tweaks to the interface in its last round of updates (see our Moto Flipout review for more information). Fortunately, Motorola allows you to use Motoblur as much or as little as you wish, so we advise you to consider your options carefully.
The Cliq 2's phone book size is limited by the available memory, with each contact holding phone numbers and e-mail addresses, street addresses, an instant-messaging handle, a company name, a birthday and anniversary, a nickname, a URL, and notes. You can save contacts to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 55 polyphonic ringtones for caller ID. Keep in mind that Motoblur dumps people you follow on Twitter into the main contact list. So don't be surprised if you see a celebrity's name listed above your mom's cell number. Fortunately, you can change the view to show only people for whom you actually have entries in your phone book.
Organizer features include a calendar, a calculator, an alarm clock, a timer, and a task list. The Cliq 2 also syncs with your Google calendar and any other calendars that you keep with POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts. For higher-end options, the handset has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Microsoft Quickoffice, PC syncing, USB mass storage, voice search, speaker-independent voice dialing and commands, T-Mobile's visual voice mail, and Assisted GPS. And, best of all, the Cliq 2 can function as a 3G mobile hot spot and even has a T-Mobile app for Wi-Fi calling. Both worked as expected.
When you're not talking, you can send text and multimedia messages or use the Cliq 2's integrated instant-messaging application. For the more creative, the handset also lets you send an audio postcard with a phone and a recorded message. E-mail support is just what you'd expect. Beyond the full syncing with Google mail, you also can add a Yahoo e-mail account and corporate sync through Outlook without Access (OWA).
As you may remember, a disadvantage of the Froyo OS was that it disabled third-party task killers. That's still the case, unfortunately, but the Cliq 2 has an option that's more efficient than killing apps individually in the Settings menu. The Task Manager feature (accessible through the main menu) lets you kill multiple apps at once, and you can set certain apps to end automatically when the screen times out.
We're also glad that the Cliq 2 offers a dedicated file manager, an option that Android gained only recently. There's also a battery manager and a menu for moving apps between the phone and the memory card. You'll still have to wait for Gingerbread to see how much battery a given app is using; hopefully Moto and T-Mobile will deliver that update soon. For more information on Gingerbread, see our Samsung Nexus S review.
The Cliq 2 comes with Moto's useful Phone Portal application, which serves as a central place for transferring content between your phone and a computer. Android phones always have had this capability through the main Settings menu, but we like the idea of a dedicated app with a more visual interface. The Media Share feature offers similar functionality for media files, and there's a DLNA app for streaming media files to other compatible devices via Wi-Fi.
Speaking of media, the Cliq 2 has a 5-megapixel camera that also shoots video. For still shots you can choose from five resolutions, use the digital zoom, tag your images with your location, and select one of four picture modes (single shot, panorama, multishot, and self-portrait using face detection). Editing options are located under the media gallery feature after you take a shot. Among other things, you can adjust the brightness and contrast, crop and resize your image, rotate its orientation, and add text and color effects. The camera interface is fluid and intuitive, and there's very little shutter lag. The camcorder shoots clips in four resolutions, and you get a similar set of editing options.
Photo quality is satisfying under most conditions. The flash offers enough light, and the camera adjusts efficiently, if a bit slowly, under bright outdoor light. The autofocus also performs reasonably well for motion shots, but don't expect wonders. Video quality is pretty average. There's some pixelation, and clips look a bit blown out, but they're not bad by any means.
Transferring media off the phone is easy using wired or wireless methods. We also welcome the Cliq 2's generous amount of memory. On top of the 1GB of shared internal memory, the microSD slot accommodates cards of up to 2GB.
For tunes and video, the Cliq 2 has a standard Android media player. It's still not as polished as we'd like, but it does its job. You'll also find an FM radio, an airplane mode, a song ID feature, a music video channel through YouTube, and an app for Slacker radio. As always, you can transfer music onto the phone from a PC or buy songs from Amazon.com's MP3 portal.
Of course, the Cliq 2 also offers the standard assortment of Google apps like Google Talk, Google Latitude, Google Places, Google Maps, and Google Maps Navigation. We're not fond of bloatware in the least, but the Cliq includes a few useful apps out of the box like the Android Kindle app, TeleNav GPS Navigation, and a Blockbuster app for downloading and playing movies. The latter option in particular is something we've needed on Android phones for a while. Naturally, additional apps are available through the Android market.
The Cliq 2's WebKit browser shows few surprises. You can create bookmarks, open multiple windows, and use pinch and zoom multitouch. It all shows up well on the sharp display and you have a lot of space for scrolling around. Keep in mind that the browser will default to a mobile page if one is available.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) world phone in San Francisco and Las Vegas using T-Mobile service. Call quality was quite good. When calling both landlines and cell phones, the audio was clear and free of any static or distortion. The volume could be a bit louder--we had some trouble hearing if we were calling from a noisy place--but that was the extent of our complaints. T-Mobile's reception was strong in our test areas, though it petered out deep inside buildings and in underground transit stations.
On their end, callers said we sounded fine. Most of our friends could tell that we were calling from a cell phone, but they reported satisfactory conditions during calls. A couple of people said there was a slight background hiss, though we didn't hear it on our side. Also, Moto's Crystal Talk Plus feature does a good job of canceling out background noise. We didn't have to yell even if we were calling from a loud location.
Speakerphone calls were quite clear and there was little distortion even at the highest volume levels. The external speaker has decent output, as well, so we could sit a few feet from the phone and still be heard. Callers could hear us most of time, and we didn't have any problems using voice-automated systems. Bluetooth headset calls will vary by headset model, but we didn't have any big problems.
The Cliq 2 lacks support for T-Mobile's "4G" HSPA+ network, so 3G (850/1700/2100) is as fast as you'll get. It's fast enough, though coverage can vary sharply by your location. The phone itself is also quite zippy. The Cliq 2 isn't dual-core, as we said previously, but it runs on a respectable 1GHz processor.
The Cliq 2 has a rated battery life of 7.9 hours of talk time and up to 13 days of standby time. Our tests showed that the Cliq 2 has a talk time of 8 hours and 1 minute. According to FCC radiation tests, the Cliq 2 has a digital SAR of 0.77 watt per kilogram.