Motorola's Photon 4G: The best Android smartphone yet

The Photon 4G, Atrix 4G, and Droid 3 add essential corporate capabilities to Android, but the post-PC dock remains unfinished

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Web and Internet
The Firefox 4.0 support through the optional HD Dock is nice, giving you the regular Firefox browser plus the Adobe Flash Player running in a closed Linux environment. The browser's score of 286 (out of a maximum 450 score) is lower than current desktop browsers but demonstrates significantly better HTML5 compatibility than any mobile browser thus far. What you won't get is support for Microsoft's Silverlight rich application technology -- or even support for the open source version of Silverlight called Moonlight.

But what about the native mobile Chrome browser? Surprisingly, it supports fewer HTML5 features than a stock Google Nexus One running the Android "Gingerbread" OS, with the Photon getting an score of 177 versus the Nexus One's 186. (An iPhone running iOS 4.3 scores 217.) Otherwise, the Motorola version of the Chrome browser doesn't differ from the stock Android version.

Location support
The Photon 4G offers no additional capabilities to those in the stock Android OS.

User interface
Motorola has corrected one defect in the stock Android UI: its use of white text on black backgrounds in settings, email lists, and other areas. Any designer knows that such text is hard to read and should be used sparingly at best. Motorola has reversed the UI's color scheme in such cases to the much more readable white on black.

Motorola has unfortunately also changed many of the stock apps' icons, opting for cartoonish alternatives. Why does every Android smartphone seem to use a custom set of icons for the same included apps? It's very confusing.

Otherwise, the Photon 4G has the same UI pros and cons of other Android devices.

Security and management
Motorola says the enhanced business capabilities in the Photon and its siblings will be standard on all of its Android smartphones. Outside of the email improvements covered earlier, most of these capabilities involve better security such as support for on-device encryption, support for VPNs, and support for more EAS policies (such as failed-attempt lockout and password histories) than the stock Android "Gingerbread" OS. Exchange's remote lock and remote wipe capabilities are also supported, as in the original Atrix.

This set of enhancements will clinch the deal for numerous organizations that have had to deny access to other Android smartphones. You won't get the same level of security as you do in iOS -- which supports more EAS policies and works with PEAP-protected Wi-Fi networks -- but you get enough for many businesses' legitimate requirements.

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