Sprint debuts Motorola Photon 4G, Triumph; hands-on impressions

At a special event in New York, Sprint and Motorola announce a renewed partnership to deliver more innovative products together, starting with the release of the Motorola Photon 4G and Motorola Triumph.

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
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Sprint CEO Dan Hesse and Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha introduce the Motorola Photon 4G and Motorola Triumph. Bonnie Cha/CNET

NEW YORK--In a renewed effort to bring more innovative devices to market together, Sprint and Motorola introduced the Motorola Photon 4G and Motorola Triumph today, 2 of 10 new devices the companies plan on launching together in 2011.

Though Motorola handsets have been available on Sprint and its prepaid brands, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, for years, they have tended to be more on the entry-level to midtier side, especially when compared with the carrier's higher-end offerings from HTC and Samsung. Realizing that void, Sprint said it made the conscious decision about a year ago to work more closely with Motorola to deliver those advanced products to its customers, starting with the Photon 4G and Triumph.

Motorola Photon 4G (Sprint)
Available this summer, the Motorola Photon 4G will be Sprint's first dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 smartphone. As many speculated earlier, the Photon 4G is similar to the Motorola Atrix 4G and also features a 4.3-inch qHD display, 16GB of onboard memory with expansion capabilities, and Webtop app connectivity.

That said, the Photon 4G isn't a carbon copy of the Atrix running on a CDMA network. It's actually a world phone, so you can use it on Sprint's 3G/4G network and overseas. The smartphone also ships running Android 2.3 Gingerbread (with Motoblur) and has an 8-megapixel camera, whereas the Atrix runs Android 2.2 and has a 5-megapixel camera. The Photon is slightly bigger in size, mostly in thickness, but offers a built-in kickstand.

Other notables include mobile hot-spot capabilities for up to eight devices, a front-facing VGA camera, an HDMI port, and extra security features to satisfy enterprise and corporate customers.

Sprint did not talk about pricing today or whether it would offer a dock bundle. However, there will be a number of accessories, including an HD multimedia dock and a car dock, available at launch.

Motorola Photon 4G hands-on (photos)

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Motorola Triumph (Virgin Mobile)
Meanwhile, the Motorola Triumph will be the new flagship device for Virgin Mobile, and it's actually the prepaid carrier's first Motorola device. Sprint said most Virgin customers are interested in messaging, social networking, and browsing the Web instead of talking on the phone, so it wanted to move the carrier's handset portfolio in a direction to meet those needs.

As such, the Triumph offers more-advanced features than Virgin's other devices, including a 4-inch WVGA touch screen and a 1GHz Snapdragon processor. The smartphone runs Android 2.2 Froyo; it has a 5-megapixel camera with 720p HD video capture, a front-facing VGA camera for video chats, 3G support, Bluetooth, aGPS, and HMDI out.

The Triumph is also the first device to come preloaded with the carrier's new Virgin Mobile Live 2.0 app, a social networking music application.

Pricing and release date for the Moto Triumph were not announced today, but it is expected to be available this summer.

Motorola Triumph hands-on (photos)

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First impressions
We met up with Sprint and Motorola on Wednesday to get a preview of both the Motorola Photon 4G and Triumph. Though neither of these devices are ground-breaking, it's nice to see Sprint addressing segments of its customer base and portfolio that have been somewhat neglected in recent years. It's also good to see some new handsets from Motorola, but we'd really love to see something completely fresh and innovative from the company as well.

The Photon feels very solid in the hand, but like the Atrix, it doesn't quite have that same premium feel as Moto's other smartphones, like the Droid X2, though we do appreciate the addition of the soft-touch finish. Initially, we were on the fence about the phone's design. At 5 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, it's bulkier than the sleek Atrix. The cut-off corners give the phone a different shape, but there was something about the design that struck us as kind of plain. However, after spending more time with it at the event, it grew on us.

Part of the attractiveness comes from the 4.3-inch qHD display, which is quite fetching. Colors were bright and text and images looked sharp. Using the built-in kickstand, the phone also doubles as a nice desk-side clock and digital frame. And thanks to Nvidia's dual-core processor, we were able to zip around menus with ease and apps launched quickly. Because of a lack of time, however, we didn't get an opportunity to play any games or browse the Web.

Moving on to the Triumph, I think my colleague Maggie Reardon (who was also at the meeting) described it best when she said, "It's like a mini Droid X." The smartphone very much has the same look and feel as the Droid X but with a smaller 4.1-inch WVGA touch screen. It features more of a stock Android experience, which felt so much cleaner than the Photon 4G with Motoblur, and the 1GHz Snapdragon processor kept the phone feeling pretty snappy.

We're actually really excited about the Motorola Triumph; truth be told, we're more amped about it than the Photon. It makes for a great addition to Virgin's lineup, which till now, has been rather lackluster. The LG Optimus V is a great entry-level, but customers wanting a prepaid smartphone with more features and power were out of luck. Now, with the Triumph and plans starting as low as $25 per month for unlimited text, e-mail and data and 300 minutes of voice, you're looking at a pretty enticing deal.

Other devices
In addition to the Motorola Photon 4G and Triumph, Sprint and Motorola previously announced the Motorola XPRT, Titanium, and Wi-Fi Xoom, as well as the Motorola Clutch i475, Clutch i412, and Theory for Boost Mobile.

We're looking forward to seeing more from this partnership. Let us know what you think!