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Review: Motorola Citrus

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Nov 23, 2010, 7:32 PM   by Philip Berne

The Motorola Citrus is an Android phone made with recycled plastics and Motorola's custom interface. Is this a phone you'll want to reuse? Or just recycle?

Form

Is It Your Type? 

Is It Your Type?

Is the Motorola Citrus the smartest green phone on the market? Or the greenest smartphone? In either case, this phone packs Android 2.1, with Motorola’s interface tweaks, into a neat little round package that has less impact on the world around us. So will it make an impact on you?

Body 

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

From the front, the Motorola Citrus looks like an ultra-compact, nicely rounded touchscreen phone. You have a 3-inch touchscreen that dominates the face, with the four standard Android buttons below: Menu, Home, Back and Search. I was pleasantly surprised to find Send and End keys below the Android buttons, too, since those are a rarity on touchscreen smartphones these days.

The Citrus’ key selling point may be its green stance, but the phone uses only 25% post-consumer recycled plastics. Compare that to a phone like the Samsung Reclaim, which uses 80% recycled material, or the Motorola Renew, which is made of recycled plastic from water bottles, and I wonder if Motorola couldn’t have gone farther in its green push.

To help balance some of the rest of the environmental toll, Motorola has paired with CarbonFund.org. CarbonFund calculates the carbon footprint of a product and tries to offset this environmental toll with projects that are environmentally beneficial, like reforestation projects or renewable energy projects. CarbonFund then declares the product “Carbon Neutral.” The packaging is mostly recycled paper and the user manual is entirely recycled and printed with soy-based ink.

Motorola made some poor design choices that make the Citrus at times unpleasant to use. There is a sort of crevice that runs the entire circumference of the phone, between the top and bottom halves. At first I thought I had mistakenly replaced the battery cover wrong. But the phone’s side buttons are all nestled in that crevice, so it definitely was not my mistake. The plastic ridges from the top and bottom make the plastic valley somewhat sharp, and uncomfortable to hold. The phone otherwise has a very smooth and sculpted design, but the break for the crevice ruins both the aesthetic look and the ergonomic feel of the device.

Those Send and End keys might be a welcome addition, but the buttons are placed on a long strip of rubber, which sticks up from the face of the phone. The phone feels like a Palm Pre that somebody cut up and stuck back together, poorly. It’s like a Frankenstein phone.

Around back you’ll find the camera lens and the small Backtrack trackpad. I don’t usually complain about shipping materials, but the camera lens was covered by a tiny protective piece of clear plastic. Because of the dip in the plastic near the lens, it was impossible to remove this plastic even with sharp fingernails. I had to grab a tool and pry it away. I was careful with my pocket knife, but I could easily imagine a buyer scratching the lens while trying to scrape this off. Very bad idea.

On the right side of the phone, in the crevice, you’ll find volume buttons up top, and a single-stage camera button near the bottom. The recessed gap does make them easier to find without searching. The same is true for the power button / screen lock up top, next to the 3.5mm headphone port. On the left side, there is a microUSB port. When the phone is charging, the port glows with a red light. When it’s done, the light turns off. It’s a cool effect, and useful for saving some energy.

The battery cover was a bit stiff to peel off, but it wasn’t a big problem. The phone’s microSD card slot is hidden under the cover, but not under the battery, so you can swap cards without turning off the phone.

The Three S's 

Screen

The 3-inch screen on the Motorola Citrus is awful. Motorola went for a QVGA display, which means it uses far fewer pixels than other smartphones with similarly-sized screens. The low-res screen probably brought the price down significantly, as a similarly sized LG Vortex with double the resolution starts at $30 more. The Motorola Charm uses a QVGA screen that is just a bit smaller, and though I complained about the lousy display on the Motorola Charm, at least that phone had a keyboard to balance things out. The Citrus relies entirely on the screen, which makes it even harder to stomach.

Almost everything looks worse on this screen. Text looks wiry and jagged. Pictures look blocky, with a noticeable screen door effect. Application icons look cheap and unpolished, like this is a Verizon Wireless feature phone, instead of an Android smartphone.

Inside, the screen was bright enough, but the viewing angle was fairly narrow, which means the phone displayed a shimmering effect from time to time. Outside, the screen almost disappeared completely under bright sunlight. I had trouble even finding the unlock slider on the screen, let alone tapping on icons or typing text.

Sound

Call quality on the Motorola Citrus was very good. This is usually Motorola’s strong suit, and the company came through with the Citrus. Calls sounded clear with voices that were up close and personal, with no static or distortion. On their end, my callers heard some fuzziness, but background noise was kept to a minimum.

The ringer was plenty loud. I had no trouble hearing the phone ringing from across the house or stuffed in my pocket. The speaker was also loud and clear, fine for talking hands-free during car rides. I would have liked a much stronger vibration. I had trouble feeling the vibrate mode when the ringer was off.

Signal

The Motorola Citrus fared about the same as other Verizon Wireless phones I have on hand, in terms of signal strength. Even when the signal dropped to one or two bars, I was still able to place calls and connect to the data network with no trouble. The phone would occasionally stall loading data, but this problem didn’t last long. All of my calls went through, and I never missed an incoming call.

Battery

Battery life on the Motorola Citrus was adequate, but not impressive. The phone easily lasted through a full day’s use with some charge left over. On a more intense day of testing, I was able to drain the battery before the end of a work day, but my testing days don’t represent typical use. I would charge the phone every night, and don’t forget your charger on trips, but you’ll have no problem making calls and doing some light browsing from morning to night.

Though the charging port does light up when the phone is charging, it would be nice if the charger shut off completely when the phone is fully charged. Here I noticed a strange anomaly. When the phone claimed to be fully charged, if I unplugged it for a minute then plugged it back in again, it would immediately claim it was only at 90% battery capacity, and it would start charging again right away.

Touch 

The touch response on the Motorola Citrus was horrendous. Usually on an underpowered phone like this I’d expect to see some lag in the homescreen panels or the application menu. But on the Citrus, the poor response hurt even some of the most basic features. Dialing numbers was more difficult, and the phone often misdialed because it couldn’t keep up as I tapped the digits. The same is true for the keyboard. Anything faster than slow, deliberate typing caused significant typos, which is a shame because Motorola’s software keyboard on Android is usually pretty good. The poor touch response on the Citrus didn’t just cause delays, it caused frequent mistakes, and that’s unacceptable.

Basics

Menus 

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

On the surface, the Motorola Citrus seems to be running Moto’s Motoblur interface. The phone and contacts buttons at the bottom of the homescreen panels, the application menu and the slightly tweaked interface design on some of the core apps, like the messaging and address book apps, are all nearly identical to Motorola’s best Motoblur devices, like the Droid 2 and Droid X phones.

A deeper inspection reveals that this beauty is barely skin deep. The interface on the Citrus lacks all of Motorola’s best custom widgets, as well as the unified messaging inbox and deep social networking features that make Motoblur a compelling alternative to the stock Android interface.

To make matters even worse, the Citrus is saddled with Microsoft’s Bing for search and maps. I have no problem with Bing per se, it works great . . . on Windows Phone 7. But on Android, it’s a second-class citizen. Best to download Google Search and Google Maps for free from the Android Market.

The Citrus is a very sluggish phone. When you tap an app, it takes a couple seconds to open. Open the messaging app and tap on a conversation, and the phone will again pause before you can see the messages. The phone was never in a rush.

The Motorola Citrus uses Moto’s Backtrack pad, situated on the back of the phone near the top. Placing it in the middle might have made more sense. The Backtrack lets you interact with the interface without getting your fingers in the way. So, you can scroll through a Web page or jump from panel to panel on the homescreen by swiping on the Backtrack. You can also double tap the pad for fine-tuned pointing with a cursor arrow. I want to like the Backtrack, I think it’s a cool idea. But in practice, I rarely found myself using it, and the actions it performs can be counterintuitive. Will swiping up move the list up, or will it move the scroll bar up (moving the list on screen down)? I could never remember. Plus, the Backtrack was not sensitive enough, so sometimes my swipes would only move the screen halfway, and then when I lifted to swipe again, the panel would snap back into place. I hope Moto doesn’t give up on the Backtrack, I would just like to see it more refined.

A few times during my tests, the interface freaked out. I would perform an action, like swiping a screen or tapping a button, and the interface would jump back and forth between screens or toggle the button quickly. It took me a while to figure out, but it seems to be a problem related to the Backtrack pad. But it happened even when I wasn’t touching the pad, after I had laid the phone down on a desk, for instance. This is clearly a bug that needs killing. It was never a fatal error requiring a restart, but it happened often, and it was disconcerting.

Calls / Contacts 

The calling experience on the Motorola Citrus is fine, but it could have been much better. To start a call, tap the phone icon on the homescreen, which takes you to the last calling screen you were viewing, either the dialpad, call log, contact list or favorites. As I mentioned, the dialpad can be slow to respond, so dial carefully. The contact list can also be jerky while scrolling, so it’s probably best to hit the search button and type your contact’s name.

On the dialpad screen, there is an icon next to the Send button that activates voice dialing. The voice dialing app on this phone was very slow. After I was done talking, it kept listening for a few seconds, so I had to keep quiet until it figured out I was finished. It usually guessed my input correctly, though a couple times it was way off. I’d say it’s useful, but only if you’re alone in a quiet car with the radio off.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Of all the Motorola widgets absent from this phone, I miss the great speed dial widgets the most. Other Moto Android phones get a speed dial widget that adds more shortcuts as you make the widget larger. The Citrus gets the plain old direct dial shortcut from Android, but nothing special from Moto.

Instead of using the redesigned contact list on the Citrus, Motorola would have been better off sticking with a stock Android address book, which has a better design and more features. The Citrus’ contact list loses some of the social networking features you’ll find on better Motorola phones. But it also loses the shortcuts from the stock Android build. When you hold down on a name in the list, for instance, you get an ugly list of options that let you call, message or email your contact. Better Android phones have a cool row of icons that pops up and also let you navigate to that person’s postal address, or check their Facebook profile.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Messaging 

 

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The Citrus gets all of the standard Android messaging options, which is nice, but Motorola usually offers some interesting extras on Android devices, and these are all absent. So, you get a basic text messaging app. It looks good and displays conversations in the threaded format I prefer, with picture messages appearing in line with the text.

There is an email app for POP, IMAP and corporate exchange accounts, and another for Gmail. You don’t get the universal inbox Moto usually offers, which groups social messages, texts and emails (but not Gmail) into one convenient spot.

There is an IM app for Google Talk, and an archaic app for Yahoo, AIM and Windows Live chat. It looks like the same app Verizon has been using on its cheap feature phones for years. It works fine for simple back and forth chatting, but it needs a serious interface overhaul.

As I mentioned, the keyboard on the Citrus suffers at the hands of the poor touch response. If I typed any faster than a snail’s pace, the phone started missing letters. This problem was only compounded by the phone’s “fine” auto correct feature, which did not fill in the missing letters but instead corrected them to what it assumed I meant. The results could range from funny to disastrous. You’ll definitely want to double check messages before you hit send. Actually, you could also dictate messages using the phone’s speech-to-text feature. I found this was even more accurate than my typing, so it is a viable option.

Social Networking 

Of all the custom Motorola features missing from this phone, the greatest loss is the lack of social networking. The phone comes with Facebook preloaded, and you can easily synchronize your Facebook contacts with your address book. But there is no Twitter client on board out of the box; you have to download the app yourself from the Android Market. Unlike other Motorola phones that support a wide variety of online services and sites to sync, the Citrus only offers Facebook for social networking, and a few email options like Yahoo and Hotmail.

Again, the phone lacks Motorola’s extensive collection of social widgets. You can use the official widgets from the Facebook and Twitter apps on your homescreen but Motorola’s custom widgets are completely absent.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Extras

Music 

The music experience on the Motorola Citrus was very disappointing. The phone uses a basic Android music player. It does a fine job with simple playback controls, and it offers the advanced search features I have always enjoyed in the Android player. But there are no sound enhancement or equalizer options, and no fine-tuned controls for scanning through long podcasts or music tracks.

The music player had trouble finding my music. I tried synchronizing with DoubleTwist, but this gave me problems, and after a couple syncs the phone was no longer recognized by my laptop. I tried dragging music onto the SD card in mass storage mode, but the music player did not see my new additions. I was able to find them using the included File Manager app, but they were not added to my music library. Eventually, I had to turn the phone off and on again for the library to recognize my files.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Camera 

Camera

The camera app on the Citrus is very basic, and slow to respond. It took about five seconds to open the camera after I pressed the camera button. There are almost no imaging controls. You can adjust the digital zoom (which I avoid at all costs since it reduces image resolution), or change the resolution. That’s all. There are no exposure controls, white balance options or other shooting modes.

Once you snap a picture, the camera offers the photo for review. You must review the photo, you can’t turn this feature off. Though I had the review set for 2 seconds, it always took longer. A few times I tried pressing the camera button again, hoping this would dismiss the review screen, but this usually just caused the camera to snap another photo immediately as soon as it was ready again. Then, more review time and waiting. It was a very frustrating camera experience.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Image Gallery

The image gallery is very basic, and somewhat broken. It offers a list of photo groups and albums, with a couple thumbnail previews next to each group’s name. Tap a list and you get a thumbnail grid of all the photos in that group. Tap a thumbnail and you get a close up look at a picture.

Want to see the next picture in the group? Good luck with that. I tried swiping from right to left, and the next picture would start to appear from the side of the screen, then snap back into place when I let go. I tried using the Backtrack to browse photos, and the same thing happened. Even when I managed to get the entire photo onscreen at once, it would always snap back to the right, leaving me viewing my original photo. The only way to change images was to back up to the thumbnail grid and choose the next photo manually.

There were other problems, as well. When I tapped the Share option in the menu, I got an error saying that there are no apps that support video sharing. But I was looking at a photo, not a video. There is an edit menu, but the only editing it offers is a rotate feature. Even then, the rotate feature was greyed out and unavailable for every picture I viewed, whether I shot the photo in a landscape or portrait position. Even the “Set as” feature didn’t work, so I couldn’t set my pictures as a wallpaper for my homescreen.

How did this get past Motorola and Verizon testing? The gallery is almost completely broken and useless.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Image Quality 

Photos

The problems with the image gallery are even more egregious because the pictures taken with the 3-megapixel camera aren’t half bad. They’re pictures you might actually want to show off on the camera’s screen. The fixed focus lens had a tendency to look far beyond my subject, even when I wasn’t very close, and focus on the background. But for more distant shots or self portraits, the camera did a fine job. Color looked good, except for some blown-out reds. Indoors, things got blurry, but there was no obvious color noise or speckling in the dark spots. If the gallery was capable of sharing images properly, these pictures would be fine for posting on your favorite social site. At least the picture messaging feature worked, so you can send them as reduced-quality MMS messages.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Video

Video quality from the camcorder was also pretty good. The camcorder can only record at CIF resolution, which is 352 by 288 pixels, so the resulting videos are fairly tiny. But for small videos, at least the Citrus produces a good quality movie. There were no motion issues, and colors were bright and vibrant, especially outdoors. The camera had a tendency to blow out bright spots of backlit areas, but overall the quality was pretty good.


3GPP / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 2.3 MB

Browse / Customize 

Browse

The Citrus uses the standard Android kit for Web browsing. The browser did a fine job rendering full HTML pages. Like most apps on the phone, it could be very slow to start and also slow to load pages, even using a Wi-Fi connection. But once a page loaded, the browsing experience was nice and smooth, with steady scrolling and good use of the Backtrack pad.

My only real problem with the browser has to do with the low-res screen. Viewing a full page on screen, most text was completely illegible. Even up close, the screen produces text that is jagged and unpleasant to read over a long period. I wouldn’t use this phone to read my RSS feeds or the entire New York Times homepage, but for simple browsing and Google searches, it will suffice.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Customize

Sure, there are plenty of options to customize the Android homescreens, but I can’t help feeling disappointed at how many features are missing. The phone doesn’t support Live Wallpapers. All of the best Motorola Widgets are absent. There are still some resizable calendar widgets and settings shortcuts, but these pale in comparison to even the cheapest Motorola Android phones for other carriers, like the Charm or the Flipout.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Extras 

Bluetooth

Bluetooth on the Motorola Citrus worked just fine. I connected to a Bluetooth headset with no trouble, and the reception and sound quality was pretty good. I also connected to my Bluetooth stereo speakers, and this worked just as well. The phone supposedly supports the object push profile for transferring files, like photographs, but problems with the image gallery share feature kept me from being able to test this feature.

Clock

 

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The Citrus uses the standard Android lock screen, with a big clock on its face. It was easy to check the time in a hurry. There are also clock widgets that you can place on the homescreen panels, and a tiny clock in the corner of the notification bar up top.

GPS

Bing Maps and VZ Navigator handle local search and turn-by-turn navigation duties, respectively. Verizon doesn’t ask for a monthly fee for VZ Navigator on this phone, and the app has an updated look and feel on Android that makes it much more useful and easy to manage. Both VZ Navigator and Bing work just fine, but if you’re not a fan of either you can download Google Maps for free, which also offers free navigation. Both Bing and VZ Navigator also work with the contact list, so you can tap on a postal address on a contact card and start navigating or search for that spot on a map. In terms of performance, the phone had no trouble following me on my trips around the unnamed country roads in my area.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Wrap-Up 

I’m not sure how this phone made it past Motorola and Verizon Wireless’ test group. The performance is plain lousy, whether you’re browsing the interface, dialing a phone number or typing a message. The poor touch response and sluggishness make the phone difficult to use. Plus, there are serious bugs on this phone. Whether it’s the screen jumping around and throwing a fit, or the gallery app with almost no features that worked properly, it’s hard to imagine this phone was properly tested. Perhaps these problems were excused because the phone is so environmentally friendly? I think not, especially since it only uses 25% post-consumer plastic. That doesn’t sound very green to me, though it is admittedly better than phones that don’t use any recycled material at all.

The Citrus makes good calls. That’s the only good thing I can say about it. If you don’t misdial, your calls will sound nice and clear, and the battery won’t die on you in the course of a day’s use. But the phone skimps on so many of Motorola’s best social networking features and custom widgets that I’d have a hard time recommending this phone over any other Motorola Android device, or just about any other smartphone, period. This phone may be partly recycled, but it’s one for the compost heap, for sure.

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dang alllllz Nov 29, 2010, 10:28 AM
  • Re: dang by fireredak   Dec 1, 2010, 10:34 PM
 
 
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