Verizon Wireless Motorola Droid Review

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The Motorola Droid on Verizon Wireless is the world’s first phone running on the next generation Android 2.0 operating system, which offers an evolutionary and incremental upgrade to previous Android 1.5 and 1.6 firmwares. The phone itself is gorgeous with strong angular lines, reminiscent in the wildly popular RAZR consumer flip phone in the earlier part of the decade. Motorola’s new smartphone is a gorgeous slab touchscreen device with a thin profile.

Looking at the device’s thinness, you would never guess that there is a sliding keyboard, but there is underneath the 16:9 aspect ratio glass capacitive touchscreen–which is perfect for multimedia content–and metal shell. Quality, sophisticated styling, and great marketing buzz are some of the features that this flagship phone from Verizon Wireless has–even beating out the BlackBerry Storm for the new head of the lineup title–but does it do everything you’d expect in a smartphone? Read on to find out.

Update: Test video now included.

Update 2: Comparison shots with other cameras (iPhone 3GS, Palm Pre, Samsung Moment, Sprint HTC Hero) now included.

Editor’s Note and Update: We had previously stated that you can’t search the server for emails in the GMail application, which is incorrect. Our review unit had a glitch where that feature didn’t work. After performing a wipe and restoring the device, GMail email search now works for emails stored on the server for the GMail application. Email search is still not available for the separate “Email” application. We apologize for the error.

Hardware:

The hardware is gorgeous, if not a bit too masculine for female users. The device measures 2.36 X 4.56 X 0.54 inches and is a big rectangular slab with rounded corners and a beveled back so it’s easier to hold. At first glance, the Motorola Droid looks like it can be made to be mounted to a wall like a miniature flatscreen television, and that assessment wouldn’t be too far off with the 16:9 aspect ratio on the screen, a FWVGA display showing 854 X 480 pixels, and measuring in at 3.7-inch, which sounds larger than it is but thanks to the device’s elongated FWVGA resolution is narrow and easy enough to hold and grip.

The device’s QWERTY keyboard is thin and the device doesn’t feel as bulky as the HTC Touch Pro2 running Windows Mobile. There is no spring assist in the slider mechanism on the Motorola Droid, but there are satisfying clicks when the device locks or closes in its horizontal landscape sliding positions. The built-in accelerometer also helps to orate the screen.

profile


The Droid shows off its slim profile.

I am torn on the hardware keyboard. Also it is quite good and capacious, it does take some getting used to moving down to the smaller size. After having experienced typing heaven on the Touch Pro2, the keyboard feels like a downgrade. However, it is still one of the finer keyboards out there on the market and users who have never experienced the Touch Pro2’s widely spaced, island keys would be none the wiser. I just prefer the on-screen keyboard, which offers a good correction engine.

key


Keyboard on the Droid slides in landscape; no spring assist,

but solid and has nice click when locked into position.

The metal construction doesn’t feel cold to the hand and is a pleasure to hold and grip thanks to the rubberized, soft touch backing that removes the cold steel feel from the phone.

It also comes with a capacious 1400 mAh battery, which easily lasts me through the day of voice turn-by-turn GPS navigation, a few voice calls, web browsing, Tweeting, push and pull email accounts, and some YouTube viewing. With such a gorgeous device, it is hard to not turn on the screen. The Motorola Droid is rated for 6.4 hours of talk time and 11.25 days of standby time. In general, battery life seems stronger than the HTC Hero on Sprint.

The Motorola Droid also has a proximity sensor so that the screen shuts off when you hold the phone close to your face. This helps to conserve battery life while at the same time prevent accidental screen input if your cheeks press upon the screen. Other features include WiFi, Bluetooh, GPS, and a 5-megapixel camera with autofocus, dual LED flash, image stabilization. The camera can also record video at 720 X 480 “DVD-quality” video captures according to Verizon.

camera


Camera button on the Droid is in gold. Press lightly in to focus; press harder in to snap a picture.

The camera takes decent images, but there are strong expectations for the camera to deliver good images with a 5-megapixel sensor. Casual shooters will be happy, but iPhone images still look better than those captured on the Droid’s camera. In low light situations. The dual LED flash doesn’t seem as powerful or strong when compared with the Palm Pre’s imaging capabilities. In direct sunlight, you get good color saturation, but smaller details, like the flower details were not focused. Instead, the larger focusing area meant that the camera focused on leaves instead in our daylight picture below.

noflash


Picture of fountain in low light at night with no flash

flash


Flash used.

day


Good color saturation, but autofocus set the focus on the leaves, rather than the smaller flowers.

For full resolution photos and a comparison of the hardware camera quality against other popular devices such as the iPhone 3GS, Samsung Moment on Sprint, Sprint HTC Hero, and Palm Pre, please go to my Picasa site.



Test video taken in Los Angeles on Ventura Boulevard using the Droid’s camera

The cinematic display is gorgeous and looks great even in direct sunlight. It performs much better in direct sunlight than the Samsung Moment’s AMOLED screen, which can be washed out under the brightest skies. Indoors, the AMOLED display still is more vibrant, but the Droid’s screen is one of the best on the market for not being AMOLED. I just wish that Android would implement multitouch natively on its capacitive touchscreen. As for now, in the browser, only double tap works to zoom in. You do have Google’s zoom icons to tap on to zoom in or out, but the browsing experience on the HTC’s multitouch enabled screen is more rich.

Speaker sound is loud and clear, and there was not much distortion at all even at the highest volumes. The device is surrounded in black with some minor gold accents. To some, it may look like audio equipment from the 80s, but the gold is inconspicuous enough to be a nice touch. Also, it serves to break down the monotony of the black paint and may help Motorola attract a female, fashion-forward, geek-chic audience. The gold is found on the camera button, a small speaker grill found in a strip on the bottom of the back, the directional pad, and as alternative characters on the keyboard. Some reviewers have noted that chrome or silver accents should have been used, but that may have created too much contrast on this subtle, yet sophisticated handset. Speaking of the keyboard, the keyboard is a contiguous, membrane-like keyboard that offers good tactile feel. Windows Mobile users who have seen the Touch Pro (AT&T Fuze) or the TyTN II (AT&T Tilt) should feel at home with this keyboard styling.



Gold accent on the back loud speaker grill.

Performance:

You get the same Palm Pre and iPhone ARM Cortex A8 600 MHz processor, which seems to be downclocked to 550 MHz, probably to preserve battery life. The processor made things on the Android 2.0 Motorola Droid zippy with no lags, great multitasking, and little slow down.

Software:

Android 2.0 offers an incremental upgrade to previous iterations of the Google Android mobile operating system. You do need a Gmail or Google Account to experience all the Android features and make app purchases through the Android Marketplace. Those who are familiar with previous generations of Android will feel right at home with Android 2.0, which adds some new features such as native Exchange support for multiple Exchange accounts, Exchange calendar, and Google Maps with Navigation for turn by turn.

Native Exchange support is now included, which can support multiple Exchange, POP, and IMAP email accounts. On the email front, if you have email from the large, popular email providers, setup will be easy and simple. Just enter your username and password, and the Droid and Android 2.0 will detect all your settings. If you have a more obscure email account from work or a small service provider, be prepared to enter the settings manually. Compared to the BlackBerry on the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) and the Palm Pre–both of which could automatically detect email settings even from custom domains and obscure email hosts–the Droid could be more consumer friendly in pulling those email settings.

What really may be confusing to some users is that email is divided into two categories–those with GMail and anything not GMail. You have a GMail icon–which you can switch to different GMail accounts and doesn’t offer unified GMail message viewing–for your Google mail needs, and then there is a generic “Email” icon for all your POP, IMAP, and Exchange account, though you can also setup GMail accounts here. Under the Email account, if you do setup your GMail there, it will be pull-based email rather than push email–push GMail needs to be under the GMail icon. That said, if you want push GMail, you can’t have a full, unified inbox experience.

Like email, Calendar also takes on a split personality. There is your regular Calendar, which synchronizes with your Google Calendar, and is more of the consumer-friendly calendar. Also new is the Corporate Calendar, which will synchronize with Exchange.

Speaking of Exchange, the positive thing, as we had mentioned, is that Android 2.0 can handle Microsoft’s push email standard and can support multiple Exchange accounts without OEM customizations (HTC Hero) nor third party applications (Moxier Mail on the Samsung Moment). Additionally, Verizon Wireless and Motorola are touting the “ability to see who has RSVP’d to your meeting invitations” as a feature. You can create meeting invitations within the Calendar (and add guests) but what is lacking is the ability to accept meeting invitations on your phone, which really is a shame.

Furthermore, another deal-breaker for more corporate, or business, customers is the lack of ability to search for Exchange email. In fact, there really isn’t any email search for emails on the “Email” application; searching is, however, enabled through the GMail interface. However, beyond the number of days you want emails to be stored on the device, even the GMail email search capability is limited to what’s actually stored on device and cannot pull additional search results from the servers as you can with Exchange on Windows Mobile or accounts on the iPhone.

Editor’s Note and Update: We had previously stated that you can’t search the server for emails in the GMail application, which is incorrect. Our review unit had a glitch where that feature didn’t work. After performing a wipe and restoring the device, email search now works, even for emails stored on the server for the GMail application. Email search is still not available for the separate “Email” application. We apologize for the error.

Also, on the Exchange front, I could not get Google Sync–Google’s Exchange implementation of push email for the masses–to work with the Email application for my GMail account. That would have solved the GMail application push email versus Email application unified inbox dilemma that I was describing earlier. Regular, corporate Exchange accounts should sync fine. When setting up Google Sync Exchange-style email, emails did not pull in on the Email application, but calendar appointments still synchronized within the Corporate Calendar application for Exchange calendars.

While Google’s push into the corporate environment may seem a bit rudimentary, it will hopefully make Android 2.0 more of a prosumer operating system with on-board Exchange support. However, consumers need not fear that Google is going to be buckling down to those in suits and ties. The Internet search giant is also including turn-by-turn voice navigation–currently in beta and only for Android 2.0–for free! The solution doesn’t store maps on your devices and instead opts for over the air routing and map downloads. The voice guidance, although robotic, is clear, and you can add layers to your maps to get a real-time, location-based contextual feel to where you are at. Cool features, indeed.

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Google Voice Search (for Internet-based search, navigation searches, and searches on the device) along with Voice Dial are on the device. This should give the Samsung Intrepid a run for its money with its implementation of Microsoft TellMe (Voice Search competitor) and Voice Command (Voice Dial competitor); I personally find Google Voice Search more feature-rich than TellMe.

The browser has been much improved and now can render complicated web pages a lot faster. It felt like opening a web page and waiting for pages to load on previous generations of Android OSes took forever, but not so with the speedy Android 2.0 browser that offers a desktop-like browsing experience.

Also, HD videos on the YouTube player can now play without black borders on the 16:9 screen. All you have to do is set the video to play in higher quality. Unfortunately, you can’t set this as a default setting and have to enable higher quality streaming for each video you view.

The contacts application also got an overhaul. Tapping on the contact icon now shows the many different ways you can connect with that person, whether it be through a third-party IM application (Meebo, in my case), through Google Maps, facebook, Gmail, your corporate email, SMS, or phone. Android 2.0 definitely is emulating some of the connected features advertised by Palm on the Pre as part of the Synergy engine of webOS, but does so in a less elegant manner. However, Android 2.0, at least on the Motorola Droid, seems a bit zippier at opening contact cards and juggling things than the Palm Pre, which can feel slugging.

What’s really missing is WiFi tethering to share your Internet connection, which at this time is neither natively supported not available via Android Marketplace. Also, you cannot download and install applications to an SD card. Memory on the Droid is limited to 256 MB RAM and 512 MB ROM, though a 16 GB micro SDHC card is included in the box.

Software Compatibility:

Certain applications on Android Marketplace seem to crash and we’re not sure if it’s support for the new WVGA and FWVGA screen resolutions or if it’s the new 2.0 that breaks the coding. However, as Google adds on additional screen sizes and hardware support, the platform may experience some disparity that some Windows Mobile handsets have experienced in the past. Take for instance, the less common 320 X 320 or 240 X 240 square screens implemented on Palm Treos. Previously, Android standardized in HVGA resolution screens in landscape and portrait.

Pricing and Availability:

The Droid will be available on November 6th for $200 after a two-year service agreement with voice and data plan as well as rebates, which will arrive in the form of a $100 debit card.

Accessories:

A home charging dock and car mount will also be made available, each going for $30. The charging dock will put the phone into clock mode while the car mount will give you a nice Car Home screen. That home screen has a nice GUI that makes things more finger-friendly and will help to make navigation safer while driving. To make things even safer, use Google Voice Search and say “Navigate to location” and let the new Google Maps with Navigation handle the tricky inputs.

Conclusion:

Android 2.0 may not offer all the power and robustness that pro Windows Mobile users have grown accustomed to, but for many people the platform does its purpose–and does it well in offering a refined, cohesive user interface that blends the hardware and software together in an elegant package. It is more open than the iPhone as a platform, combines the best from Windows Mobile, the Palm Pre (Synergy), and connected features from the MOTO BLUR and the HTC customizations on the Hero to enable native Exchange support. The device is the right step in Android’s evolution and offers a more cohesive UI and user experience compared to the aging Windows Mobile platform. Android is definitely designed for touch and you can see that throughout the entire OS.

The device is one of the best on the market today. Strong software, potent hardware that makes Android zippy and not feel sluggish, and great marketing buzz from Verizon and Motorola will probably make this one of the more successful products on the market today. Welcome back, Motorola, to the big leagues. This is definitely Motorola’s come back phone, Verizon’s iPhone and Pre competitor, and Google’s emergence into a basic corporate-capable operating system.

Pros:

-Multiple Exchange accounts supported

-Gorgeous FWVGA cinematic 16:9 display

-Large display at 3.7 inches doesn’t feel too big thanks to the widescreen format

-Loud speakers

-Google Maps with Navigation offers free turn by turn voice guidance for GPS navigation

-Faster browser than on previous generations of Android OS

-Contacts well integrated with communications (like Palm Synergy)

-Google Voice support is awesome!

-Google Voice Search for Internet searching and GPS navigation so you don’t have to type

-Touch friendly capacitive touchscreen is bright even in direct sunlight

Cons:

-GMail and Email apps can be confusing, should integrate into one app

-No Exchange email searching

-Enterprise support

-Some apps may not be compatible

-Requires a GMail account for full features to be operational

-Camera photo quality could be better

Quick Summary:

This is the Android handset to beat if you’re in the Android market. If you’re not in the Android market, the hardware on this device is compelling enough where it will still be the handset to beat in terms of build quality.

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About The Author
Chuong Nguyen