Motorola PHOTON Q 4G LTE Review

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 Next to the microUSB port is a microHDMI port, which seems a bit outdated in this day and age of MHL.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:



1. XPERIA-KNIGHT unregistered

A 7??

2. mas11

Posts: 1034; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

Yeah I was expecting something more like an 8.5

6. 305Bucko

Posts: 506; Member since: Aug 07, 2011

yea, not get your hopes up. I Did :( and I got to play with it (I work at sprint) and its Mediocre. 7 is pretty accurate. Was very disappointed myself.

12. Izzy_V

Posts: 216; Member since: Jul 07, 2012

PA has been butchering reviews a lot lately, particularly those of non-Samsung devices with the exception of the N7. Too much S3 hype I suppose.

14. 305Bucko

Posts: 506; Member since: Aug 07, 2011

You kinda have to use it to know what they to see what they are talking about. If they rated the GS3 a 9.3 I think its very fair that this received 2.3 points less. Especially since they have the same price tag.

15. mas11

Posts: 1034; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

But you should also take into consideration the market this phone is meant for. It's not a flagship device, it's just a high-end physical keyboard phone. I should be compared to other high-end physical keyboard phones, not superphones like the SGSIII and the One X.

18. 305Bucko

Posts: 506; Member since: Aug 07, 2011

very true. Not everybody has the same needs. This is aimed at Business people that travel outside the US and get frustrated at touchscreen typing. For them this is a 9.9 but for the average user still a 7

47. user312

Posts: 68; Member since: Aug 21, 2012

I'm an average user and would would give the phone a 9 I've used it and it's amazing!

28. crogs

Posts: 14; Member since: Aug 20, 2012

You should take into consideration that we want flagship specs and we had flagship specs in the Samsung Epic. So if you want to compare it to other sliders, compare it to that one. Samsung Epic, a Galaxy S slider that went toe to toe with EVERY SINGLE SLATE that was introduced around the same time including the tops from HTC (Evo and Incredible). So your argument is crap. We have been stuck with the Epic for TWO YEARS and we get a phone that would've been premium last year. It has a fixed anemic battery that is counterproductive to the business user especially with sprints non penetrating signal. It is not "global friendly" as Motorola points out since it will put you in the poor house should you use it when you travel. Sprint users are now stuck for two years with a phone that has last year specs and piss poor battery. Going to a fixed battery should provide more space to max out the battery like HTC did with the One. If you're going to go that route and skimp on the battery but keep the phone nice and bulky, you might as well gone with a replaceable battery and kept the kickstand. Learn the market and the user next time.

19. downphoenix

Posts: 3165; Member since: Jun 19, 2010

Actually its very fair to compare it to those phones, since its being priced the same as them, but offers less phone for that money.

22. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

Not necessarily. Everybody will put a different value on something depending on their needs. Somebody that needs a QWERTY keyboard may pay $200 for this phone, but wouldn't pay a cent for a GSIII. This is why number-ranking systems for reviews are worthless.

24. XPERIA-KNIGHT unregistered

same price tag.....True! but a 9.3 for the galaxy and a 7 for the photon?? come on dude the galaxy s has a HORRIBLE design and a HORRIBLE screen with a blueish tint...........If anything the S3 should have a 8.5 and phones like this should have a 8....becuase the photon has both good design and alot of power.......nuff said


Posts: 3131; Member since: Jan 12, 2010

A horrible design and bluish tint? My ass it does sir. Its slim, removable large battery, and a great super amoled display at 720p. Its the hottest and most popular cell phone there is right now. I agree, this was a bad review and should have gotten a better score but come on, don't bash Samsung, they didn't review this phone.

26. 305Bucko

Posts: 506; Member since: Aug 07, 2011

Specs look good on paper but I go to a Sprint store and play with one 1st hand and you will see eXactly why it scored what it scored. At most this phone is a 7.5. Anyone that thinks it should score over 8 has not seen it in person. For the same money I would get the EVO LTE or the GS3.

37. KingKurogiii

Posts: 5713; Member since: Oct 23, 2011

i've seen it in person and i'd give it a pretty solid 8.5. it's got a very good design (MASSIVE improvement over the Photon) and great build quality, the display is okay, i don't know why they decided to stick with qHD for this but whatevz, maybe there'll be a Photon HD to complement this? anyway i digress, it's an okay display but it has a 4.3" display and on top of that (technically below that) it has the Droid 4's fantastic keyboard. you use this keyboard long enough and decide to give it up it'll be like you just got off of crack. i to this day think about having a relapse of that keyboard...and in terms of power this matches the heavy weights and that's all that really matters, the rest is pretty much subjective to your needs. i'd give up the higher resolution display for that keyboard though let me tell you.

29. crogs

Posts: 14; Member since: Aug 20, 2012

A 7 is kind especially for users coming from the Epic. anemic battery compared to the Maxxx, and it's fixed to boot. SIM is fixed so it's useless overseas unless you have FU money. Design is still bulky considering the anemic embedded battery and SIM (space saving decisions even if they screw the customer). Last year's screen resolution while losing the physical buttons means your lackluster screen res takes a hit due to the onscreen buttons using your real estate. GS3 has 2gb of RAM. Business users multitask and are power users. They are used to having a flagship slider in the Epic. They waited over two years for a replacement. And this was the best Sprint could get them. A 7 is generous considering user expectation of a replacement.

35. 305Bucko

Posts: 506; Member since: Aug 07, 2011

thank you crogs. 100% agreed

45. crogs

Posts: 14; Member since: Aug 20, 2012

Unfortunately it probably doesn't mean I won't pick it up. Not like we have options. the LG will be even worse at WVGA. Love my Epic, but I'm in need of new tech and need a keyboard. Don't know how people work in Office with on screen typing.

40. Izzy_V

Posts: 216; Member since: Jul 07, 2012

Just to point out a few things: 1. The Razr Maxx was basically Moto's flagship at its time, hell I don't know why this phone was really expected to have that size battery given the it was gonna be a bit thicker because of the keyboard plus we didn't see it on the Atrix HD, shouldn't have expected it on this phone. 2. I'm mixed on international roaming since I wouldn't think many people who are on Sprint would be the kind to have the money to travel. 3. I hope you're not forgetting keyboards add bulk to phones. 4. "Last year's screen resolution" + "lackluster screen res" This sort of attitude makes me look down on some consumers because it shows how efficient companies are when it comes to convincing us newer means "must have". If a qHD screen isn't cutting it then you need to reevaluate your standards. 5. Comparing it to the S3 = read #4. 6. Business users would probably get a phone built for that kind of stuff but w/e. 7. "The best Sprint could give them" Sprint isn't the phone manufacturer last time I checked. It's not like they had the power to force Motorola to make a phone with a keyboard that could compete with the current top phones.

3. pats4thewin

Posts: 29; Member since: Jul 10, 2012

i work at a sprint preferred retailer and we have activated a few out of my store, and im highly surprised a 7 is what this phone gets. I personally think that even though its a smaller screen size than the other phones to pick from (evo LTE, GS3) but it has a beautiful screen with the colorboost and i love the smartactions feature and the circles that motorola has started putting on their homepage to differentiate themselves. and the keyboard is good with smart placement of keys, and the only drawback ive seen is that the microphone dosent pick up your voice on calls if your phone is held farther than an inch away from your face. but thats better than me having to have my phone in speaker or use a bluetooth to even talk to someone! I personally have one on order and cant wait to use it and get rid of this evo shift (bleh) just giving my two cents :)

7. 305Bucko

Posts: 506; Member since: Aug 07, 2011

Its not so much the screen size. Yes colorboost IS nice, but the Standard now is 1280x720 for hi-end phones and the ppi density is also low @ 256. Yes its a world phone but the SIMcard is sealed inside the phone along with the battery which defeats the whole purpose. I too work at sprint btw (prefered retailer) and holding this phone reminds me of the Epic :/

9. pats4thewin

Posts: 29; Member since: Jul 10, 2012

i wouldnt have known any different i just love this phone haha.

10. 305Bucko

Posts: 506; Member since: Aug 07, 2011

On another sidenote, it is currently the best slider phone Sprint has, also it is better than the old Photon in every category. But the EVO LTE and SG3 are still better options

4. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

Pardon my naivete, but why does the review state that the Photon Q's keyboard is every bit as good as the Titan II's keyboard when the Titan II doesn't even have one? Also, Blackberry's keyboards are over-rated. The keys are tiny and uncomfortable to press. There, I said it! Come after me, tech-world...

41. PhoneArena Team

Posts: 258; Member since: Jun 27, 2006

oops :)

5. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

Mr Brian K, what do you mean by "Two big disappointments with the phone is the fixed removable battery...." Is there anything called FIXED removable battery???

8. 305Bucko

Posts: 506; Member since: Aug 07, 2011

lol that mustve been a typo. he probably meant Non-removable battery. good catch xD

38. KingKurogiii

Posts: 5713; Member since: Oct 23, 2011

maybe the Droid 4's battery? it's removable but it voids your warranty to do so.

43. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

What's the purpose of having a removable battery if it can't be removed??

46. KingKurogiii

Posts: 5713; Member since: Oct 23, 2011

they made the back cover removable to be able to access the microSIM and microSD Card slots but the battery is sealed in by plastic wrapping. take it out, warranty voided. silly i know. it might have something to do with it staying water resistant.
  • Display 4.3" 540 x 960 pixels
  • Camera 8 MP / 1.3 MP front
  • Battery 1785 mAh(7.5h talk time)

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