Apart from recently flirting with the luxury handset scene with the intriguing Aura swivel phone, Motorola’s post-RAZR phone line-up has been decidedly sparse and unremarkable.

Turning to social networking mania and the Android OS for inspiration, its latest handset, the DEXT, is geared to put Moto back among the smartphone big boys.

Uninspired design

Unfortunately, Motorola’s first compelling handset in aeons doesn’t get off to a good start. The DEXT comes from the T-Mobile G1 school of prosaic design; a tad disappointing considering Moto’s RAZR and Aura heritage.

That said, it’s not entirely humdrum as the G1, with curvaceous edges and silver trim to provoke some emotional response.

The DEXT is also a heavyweight, tipping the scales at 163 grams. Although it feels solid in the hand, build quality is substandard for a phone charged with Motorola’s comeback while the spring-assisted slider action opens and shuts with a resounding but clunky thud.

Out of touch?

It may lack the iPhone and Hero’s consistent lightness of touch but the 3.1in capacitive touchscreen is, nevertheless, very responsive and versatile. The sliding QWERTY is not so sure-footed with the domed button’s close proximity leading to frequent typing mistakes, especially for those with meaty thumbs.

Surprisingly, we favoured the onscreen keyboard and found tapping with our finger much faster. The virtual arrangement only appears in portrait mode – a ploy to engage the mechanised QWERTY - but despite the cramped-looking layout it proved far more effective.

MotoBlur moves

Motorola has readily embraced Android’s open source ethos by overlaying the original flavoured UI with its own MotoBlur skin. Similar to HTC’s Sense UI and the Nokia N97’s Facebook widget, but more organised and fully integrated, MotoBlur uses a brilliant live ‘Happenings’ widget to gather your entire social networking traffic in one place.

After simply logging into your numerous networking account like Facebook, Twitter, Google Mail, MySpace and Last.FM, as well as photosites like Picasa and Photobucket, all new updates are delivered to the homescreen widget and, with one tap, accessible in the ‘Happenings’ inbox, ready for your comments and replies.

Get in contact

Contacts are similarly integrated, complete with ‘Happenings’, history and status tabs, although you will annoyingly find duplicate entries from your Google and Facebook contact lists. A separate ‘Messages’ widget handles all your email, text and other social networking correspondence.

If you’re a highly active networker, be prepared to be overwhelmed, or ecstatic, with a constant barrage of messages and updates. It can be a distraction and unless you completely delete specific social networking accounts, there’s no way of filtering out the inane drivel from the insightful.

Another very handy widget worth mentioning is the time-saving one stop status update for all your accounts while a MotoBlur desktop portal also lets you sync and back-up your contacts, locate your phone using GPS or remotely erase your phone’s data if it gets stolen.

Pimp my homescreens

The Android OS offers one of the most flexible and comprehensive homescreen customisation programmes. The DEXT’s five sliding homescreen can be sprinkled with HTC and native Android widgets, alongside anything from individual contacts, news widgets for RRS feeds, bookmarks, apps, folders, music playlists and Google Mail labels.

Out of the box, the DEXT arrives with a couple of notable apps: Shazam and MySpace. This dearth encourages to you to explore and plunder the ever-growing Android Market. With a thousand apps, on average, being added every month, its current 12,000 line-up of free and priced apps offers a decent selection.

Multimedia lightweight

Previous Android-fuelled handsets have been multimedia-shy and the DEXT follows suit. Plugging in your own quality earphones via the integrated 3.5mm headphone jack is essential to boost the standard issue Android music player’s lacklustre audio performance.

Despite the presence of autofocus, the bare bones 5MP snapper is similarly below par while video recording resolution judders along in half-VGA quality at 24fps.

The DEXT is a mixed bag of garden-variety design and innovative software. The HTC Hero still represents the best all round Android package but die-hard social networkers should still definitely consider the DEXT– if they can overlook the design issues.

Stuff says... 

Motorola DEXT review

The DEXT has humdrum looks, but MotoBlur makes it the most powerful social networking phone yet

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