Smartphones: Motorola XT720 burns early adopters with limited mobile features and no Android 2.2 upgrade

Back in August I bought my first Android smartphone, Motorola’s XT720. It rocked a 720p HD video camera and an 8MP stills camera with xenon flash- a major lure to a digital media content creator like myself. It was also one of the first of its kind to offer an HDMI output. Combined with a wireless Bluetooth keyboard, this unlocked in my mind the promise of this handset replacing my laptop and functioning as a true pocket PC.

Motorola XT720 back with 8MP camera & xenon flash

Alas, Motorola fell short of answering my prayers with the XT720. My first revelation was that the HDMI output is extremely limited in its usefulness. The port only plays 720p video via the Gallery application. I was shocked by this, as my prior handset, the LG Viewty Smart, reproduced its entire interface over an analog TV output with much more primitive hardware under the hood. An independent app developer set to work on this problem, releasing an app called RealHDMI some months back. This solved the problem on the device’s bigger brother, the Motorola Droid X, and reportedly did the same on the XT720. Shortly after its release, the application was voluntarily retracted from the Android market after correspondence with Motorola. The app switched the devices display from the handset to the HDMI out, allowing the HDMI out to serve as the primary monitor. Clearly this unlocks the true power of the device and it infuriates me that Motorola not only crippled the device with this imposed limitation, but has prevented independent developers from opening up this exciting possibility.

Motorola XT720 with provided HDMI cable attached

While the XT720’s screen itself is great to look at (WVGA 854 x 480 pixels) and the device’s angular design is pleasing, a truly useful HDMI output remains elusive. So much for me realising the pocket PC dream and shelving my laptop in 2010.

Another rude surprise was the pain caused by the limited 150Mb of internal storage on the device. The microSD card slot can take high capacity cards up to 16Gb. ‘So no problem,’ I thought. More fool me, as the provided operating system, Android 2.1, does not support the installation of apps directly to the SD card. Inevitably, as the internal storage fill up with apps and other data, the performance of the device gets laggy and the device yelps constantly about lack of storage space. This was something to be remedied with the Android 2.2 upgrade. Then came the news from Motorola.

In their infinite wisdom, Motorola denied XT720 users an Android 2.2 upgrade… unless you have a Korean handset, in which case you’re probably already running 2.2! While a petition was started to overturn this decision, the likelihood of success is as limited as the device itself. Lucky for us, the independent development community has a couple of bandaid solutions which help compensate for Motorola’s failings. If you’re reading this and shaking your head knowingly, check out Apps2SD and Milestone Overclock applications… or better still, flash your phone with a rom that has all the patches to compensate for Motorola’s sub-par support of the early-adopter tech community. Needless to say, my next phone won’t be a Motorola… in fact LG’s dual core Optimus 2X with 1080p HD camera and HDMI out is looking like a worthy successor.

Dan Monceaux

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