Motorola PHOTON Q 4G LTE Review

Introduction and Design

The QWERTY is dying. Once considered a must-have feature on any top-tier smartphone, the QWERTY is beginning to fall by the wayside as touchscreen technology and keyboard software quickly advance. With the original DROID line moving towards mid-range, even Motorola opted for all touch devices on last year’s flagship devices in the Photon, the RAZR and the Atrix. They may have stuck with thin for the follow-up Atrix HD and the rumored forthcoming RAZR HD, but the sequel to the Photon has broken that trend and the Photon Q 4G LTE aims to offer one of the best QWERTY experience this side of Waterloo. Featuring laser-cut keys, individual LED backlighting and a full five rows, the Photon Q certainly makes a strong case for this fading piece of technology. Of course, a healthy feature set such as Android 4.0, 1.5GHz dual core processor, 4.3” ColorBoost display and an 8-megapixel camera don’t hurt the Photon Q’s case either. Read on to find out how the Photon Q compares to its all touch competition.


At first glance the Photon Q 4G LTE does not stray far from the original Photon design, retaining the same color scheme, screen size and funky corner design. Unfortunately Motorola did not carry over the kickstand to this new Photon, but that was likely at the expense of the Photon Q’s physical keyboard. Despite that, size is nearly identical too, with the Photon Q coming in just 1.5mm thicker and half an ounce heavier than the Photon.

You can compare the Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Sliding open the Photon Q reveals the large, 5-row QWERTY keypad. It is wonderfully constructed with adequate room between the keys, good tactile feedback and a natural layout. The laser-cut keys are each outlined with white LED backlighting that really pops even in bright light. There are plenty of extra keys, including directional arrows and a tab key. It may not be as good as the BlackBerry Bold, but the Photon Q’s keyboard is very good and is quite pleasant to type on.

Around the phone you’ll find the requisite physical buttons, including a camera shutter. They are styled like the original Photon and offer good travel. Next to the microUSB port is a microHDMI port, which seems a bit outdated in this day and age of MHL. The back has a soft-touch trim and a textured coating, making the Photon Q comfortable to hold.

Two big disappointments with the phone is the fixed nonremovable battery and SIM card. We knocked the EVO 4G LTE for its fixed battery, but at least the EVO is super slim and the battery rated at a healthy 2000mAh. The Photon Q is far from thin and only has a 1785mAh battery. The fixed SIM means that while the Photon Q is a global device, it can only be used on Sprint’s terms. This means paying high international roaming rates versus popping in a local pre-paid SIM.

We’ve come to expect a high build quality from Motorola and the Photon Q does not disappoint. The phone feels very solid in the hand, and the spring-assisted slider mechanism glides smoothly while offering good initial resistance. There is a slight amount of wiggle at the top when the slide is closed, but not enough to worry us. All-in-all Motorola has done a good job refreshing the Photon design with the slide form factor, though we would have preferred a higher resolution display.


When the Photon was launched, its 4.3” qHD display was top of the line. Unfortunately the same cannot be said today, and with the 4.7” HTC EVO 4G LTE and 4.8” Samsung Galaxy S III both sporting 720p HD displays in Sprint’s lineup the Photon Q’s display is a bit behind. The 256ppi though not into the 300+ range like the HTC and Samsung is still pretty good.

Like the Atrix HD, the Photon Q’s display features ColorBoost technology which promises to make colors more bright and vibrant. Motorola claims ColorBoost offers the color saturation of an OLED with the performance and efficiency of LCD. However they go about it, we will say that in spite of the lower resolution the screen is still very good, plenty bright and colors do indeed pop.

Motorola PHOTON Q 4G LTE 360-degrees View:

User Interface:

The Photon Q 4G LTE is powered by Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, clocking in at version 4.0.4. It appears to be the same interface we saw with the Atrix HD, save for the carrier apps. While a few traces of previous BLUR interfaces remain, the build is closer to vanilla Android than anything else. The lock screen keeps with the circle-unlock philosophy of ICS, but adds an extra pair of shortcuts over what you’d find on a Nexus device. Motorola has also stuck with their own icons for system apps, and certain apps like Calendar and Calculator are basically pure AOSP while others like People and Dialer have an AOSP feel to them but have been reworked.

The circle clock widget is nifty, allowing you to flip the circles to get a different style or different weather information. Also handy are the widgets Motorola has for many system apps like Phone, People, Text and Browser. Flicking on the icon brings up a pop-up with relevant information, not dissimilar to opening folders.

Motorola has chosen on-screen navigation buttons, something Google encourages but has thus far really only been found on the Nexus devices. Like the rest of the system icons, these are also slightly different than you’d find on a Nexus device. Given that there is plenty of room below the display we’d prefer the Photon Q to retain physical buttons to give us some more screen real estate. We’re really not sure what is going on with the mashup of software here. We’d like to think that as a subsidiary of Google, Motorola is taking baby steps towards running an unadulterated version of Android in the future, but as it stands the mish-mash of contrasting AOSP and Motorola styling is just awkward.

Processor and Memory:

Thankfully this has no effect on the phone’s performance, which is quite good. With a dual-core 1.5GHz processor (Snapdragon S4), 1GB of RAM and 8GB of onboard memory we’d expect it to run with the other high-end devices on the market and it does not disappoint. Benchmark numbers were on par with what we found on Sprint’s Galaxy S III, and not too far behind the EVO 4G LTE.

Quadrant StandardAnTuTuNenaMark 2
Motorola PHOTON Q 4G LTE4746650856,7
Samsung Galaxy S III 53351201658,6
HTC EVO 4G LTE5459697358,8
LG Viper 4G LTE3002552855,9

As always real world performance trumps benchmarks, and using the Motorola Photon Q was a very smooth experience. Transitions were natural and fluid and overall the OS performance was quite snappy.

Motorola has no partnerships that offer online storage like HTC and Samsung have with Dropbox, and the 8GB of internal memory only gives the user about 4.5GB of usable space. The Photon Q offers expandable memory, but does not come bundled with a card so out of the box storage is quite low comparatively. Still, with how cheap memory is these days it’s an easily remedied drawback.


The Photon Q features Motorola’s Smart Action software that first showed up on the DROID RAZR. The software is conceptually very cool, but requires a more knowledgeable user and some time to really get the most out of it. The Vehicle Mode app is similar to apps we’ve seen from HTC and Google and aims to make your driving experience safer with large icons and driving-friendly apps. The other included software is Quickoffice and- interestingly- Chrome. We say interesting because Motorola touted it in their promotional materials, but it is not the default browser.

One important thing to mention is that this will be the first phone Motorola offers with an unlockable bootloader. To many, this means nothing, but to the Android development community this means the gates are open for whatever custom software they can cook up. This is something that was promised nearly a year ago, but we’ll take late over never.

Connectivity and Internet:

The Photon Q 4G LTE offers just about any connection option you could want. From the obligatory awkward name you know it runs on Sprint’s LTE network, as well as their 3G EV-DO Rev. A network when LTE isn’t available. Internationally it is a quad-band GSM phone, though as mentioned earlier you’re stuck with Sprint’s SIM and international rates. The Photon also has Wi-Fi (with support for Wi-Fi direct sharing), GPS, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC.

We told you before that the Photon Q ships with two browsers; the stock browser and Google Chrome. The latter is not set as default, but that can be easily fixed and absolutely should be any user’s default browser. It offers smooth performance with standard gesture support and great page rendering. It should be noted that Flash is not officially available for the Photon Q, and Chrome doesn’t support it anyway.


Motorola has stuck with an 8-megapixel sensor for the Photon Q, and unfortunately results could have been better. In general photos turned out with muted colors and soft detail. The Photon Q has good detail in close up shots, but from even just five feet away the sharpness begins to wane.

The camcorder performed better than the camera, shooting video at 1080p and 30fps. Color reproduction was still muted, but overall we were impressed with the quality and fluidity of the videos. It would benefit from image stabilization, but we were still pleased with the results. Despite the sunny skies, the frequent glints you see in our sample video is large raindrops which the Photon Q did a good job of filming.

Motorola PHOTON Q 4G LTE Sample Video:


Of note, Google Play Music is the only loaded music player, something we’d imagine is directly related to Google now owning Motorola. Google Play Books and Movies & TV are also preloaded for your reading and watching pleasure.

Call quality:

Callers were impressed with the Photon Q. They said we sounded realistic with no echo, and that we were clear even with a lot of background noise. Overall they rated us an 8.25/10. We would have liked a better sounding earpiece, but it got the job done. Callers sounded a bit hollow and thin, but we didn’t have any issues understanding them.


The 1785mAh is rated for 7.5 hours of talk and in our time with the Photon Q it was passable. As one might expect the screen was the biggest culprit in battery drain, but most users could go through the day without having to recharge. It would be a good idea to keep a spare charger at the office though, due to the lack of a removable battery.


So, is Motorola’s Photon Q a good enough phone to keep the QWERTY alive? Probably not, considering it is probably the carrier's fourth best LTE phone. Still, for those who just can’t let the QWERTY go, the Photon Q does offer an outstanding keyboard to go along with a respectable set of features. The Photon Q may not have the highest resolution screen or best camera, but it does offer quality hardware and quick performance with some nice software tweaks. There is plenty of room for improvement and we hope to see a true high end Motorola device on Sprint again soon, but for now the Photon Q is a good option for users upgrading from the Epic Touch or coming from a BlackBerry.

Android 4.0.4
Software 77.6.36.XT897.Sprint.en.US
Build number 7.7.1Q-6_SPR-89_ASA-36

Motorola PHOTON Q 4G LTE Video Review:

Video Thumbnail


  • Well designed, comfortable to use physical keyboard
  • Snappy OS performance
  • Bright, vivid display


  • Non-HD screen resolution
  • Camera performance could have been better
  • A fixed battery means you’ll need to manage your battery better

PhoneArena Rating:


User Rating:

5 Reviews

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