The comparison you didn’t know you were waiting for: Motorola Milestone vs Samsung Galaxy S2

A year is a long time in the world of smartphones, so 18 months must be… well, half as long again. I mention this because as I have an 18 month tariff with T-Mobile I was faced with this challenge: upgrade my phone, or get a cheaper deal. It seemed a no-brainer – get a new toy!

With a clutch of new dual-core devices on the market, an upgrade couldn’t fail to impress. After the usual fervent reading of reviews, and worrying about the negatives buzzing around the forums, I plumped for the Galaxy S2 which seems fhe current darling of the market.

I’ve never found a purchase so easy – T-Mobile clearly know how to take your money, and to get you the goods miraculously fast – so almost before I’d blinked I was installing my favourite apps and wiping the old Motorola Milestone to ‘hand down’ to my wife.

It’s probably the first time I’ve been really conerned whether I was making the right move.

Why? Well, initial impressions weren’t good. It wasn’t so much the flimsy back, and the wincing as it flexed dangerously when I levered it off to insert battery, SIM and microSD card. It wasn’t so much the build quality, which has been reported as relatively poor but in my view it’s actually pretty solid. Nor was it the size, as I actually think a bigger phone offers a better experience – so long as it fits my pocket. No, it was the weight and the slimness. As other reporters have commented, it feels far too easy to drop, doesn’t feel natural in the hand, and has no satisfying feel of value-for-money.

The Milestone, on the other hand, feels chunky (even rather tubby), solid and resilient; it fits the hand well, is easy and pleasant to grip, and can be used with one hand fairly easily. With apologies to those of you who love your tech slim and sleak, in the look and feel stakes I give the Milestone the win.

Once up and running with the Galaxy S2 the striking thing is the screen. The screen is, yes, very nice. But. Yes, there has to be a but. It does not feel as nice as the one on the Milestone. Yes, it’s bigger and yes it’s brighter. It might have better colours or contrast, I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison because that isn’t the point – the point is it is not something which strikes me as an upgrade. In fact, the Milestone has a resolution of 480×854 vs the Galaxy S2’s of 480×800. And it shows. It’s not a big deal, the screen is nice and it’s certainly much bigger, but greater resolution would have been a good thing. I’ll call it a draw between the two.

The move from one Android device to another is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the OS neatly personalised the device from my Google Apps account in a way which no previous upgrade has managed – really very, very simple and very, very effective. There were some negatives – for some reason, although many of my apps automatically installed onto the new device quite a few did not. I have no idea why, and in fact I don’t care too much – re-installation from the market is easy. With most of my data on the microSD card, aside from the email, calendar, contacts and tasks which Google holds and hence syncs back seamlessly, I was up and running in no time.

So why a mixed blessing? Well, my previous device upgrades have been standard GSM > Nokia 6600 > Treo (Palm OS) > Nokia E61 (Symbian OS) > Milestone (Android). So this is the first time I’ve upgraded basically like-for-like, and it’s a relatively disappointing experience. Although I’ve got a 2.3 variant instead of a 2.2 variant, and Touchwiz instead of vanilla Android, the difference is minimal. And Launcher Pro replaced the Touchwiz launcher within minutes, to reduce the difference even further. The stock Samsung software is similar to that from Motorola, and in fact many of the “apps” pre-installed from Samsung and T-Mobile are just trying to sell me music or software. Disappointing, but not unexpected.

What I would really have liked to see is a few decent paid apps included as standard, maybe a decent media player to replace the very ordinary standard Android one. Anyhow, this is all easily rectified for a few quid on the Market so it’s small beer but a missed opportunity for brownie points for the new device. The only real addition in the features stakes is the FM radio, which seems to work really well although the software is lacklustre. I doubt I’ll use it very much, but it’s nice to have it there.

So, on to the keyboard then. Hang on, there’s no keyboard on the Galaxy S2! Yes, I of course knew this before I got it and it was one of the reasons I considered long and hard before taking the upgrade. But with few Android phone shipping with a physical keyboard, my options were limited and I decided to bite the bullet and switch to the software-only route.

Samsung offer the Swype keyboard as well as a stock one, it’ll take me a while to decide if I love it but in truth typing on the screen is not as bad as it might be because it’s a good sized screen. It is no substitute for a physical keyboard, and despite the opinions of many across the ‘net I found the Milestone keyboard to be absolutely excellent – I must be wierd, I’ve grown to be able to type very fast and accurately with thumb nails and the Milestone’s flat and boring keys worked for me as well as any I’ve ever tried on a phone. Still, I would sometimes use the software keyboard for quick things like entering a password. For writing emails, blog posts or the like the physical keyboard was brilliant.

The Galaxy S2 has no keyboard, so the point goes to the Milestone.

So, is there anything I actually like about the Galaxy S2?? Of course, and they’re reasons why my wife won’t be having to hand the Milestone back.

The speed. It’s fantastic. The Milestone was blisteringly fast when I bought it, but somewhere over the 18 months a combination of apps, widgets and the Android 2.2 upgrade slowed it down a lot. Switching between apps was especially slow. The “home” key seemed to have become hard to hit accurately, despite having no moving parts to go wrong. The camera on the Milestone is rubbish. The internal space for apps was not huge, and I had run out, and my 16 Gb microSD was (is) full of maps. These were the telling signs of the Milestone’s increasing age.

For speed and storage space, the Galaxy S2 wins hands down.

So we need a conclusion, and this is it: if you have a Milestone and you’re happy with it, keep it. If the speed has become a chore, you need a camera that works properly, and can live without a hardware keyboard then upgrade to the S2 (or one of the other current best-of-breeds). But here’s an even better conclusion: Motorola need to brings a Milestone 3 to the UK, with 16Gb or greater of storage on-board, more apps storage, 1.2Ghz or greater dual-core, and a decent camera.

If it had existed, that is the phone I would have bought.

About mikbarne
I'm a writer and freelance communications and collaboration consultant with nearly 20 years experience in UK telecommunications, specialising in VoIP, Unified Communications and Collaboration, and building effective communications architectures. Visit my Google+ Profile

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