Ever since the iPhone became one of the most ubiquitous smartphones on the market AT&T’s service has just straight up sucked. In fact, Apple’s Genius bar states that a 30% call drop rate in in NYC isn’t outside the norm. Shame on you AT&T. So the next logical question is what is one to do if they want an iPhone like experience, but not the shitty call quality that comes with it? Enter the Motorola DROID from Verizon Wireless. Battery life issues aside this phone is the just what Big Red needs to play down AT&T’s competitive edge.
The DROID rocks a 3.7-inch 854×480 capacitive touchscreen. It’s a bit on the heavy side (169g), but that is largely in part to the slide out QWERTY keyboard. Build wise its metal body feels extremely solid in the hand; as if it could take a tumble down a flight of stairs and keep on ticking.
Other features for the DROID include 3G connectivity, a 5 megapixel camera, 3.5mm headphone jack, removable battery (grin), microSD card slot, Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS (more on that later), accelerometer, haptic screen feedback and 4 dedicated touchscreen buttons (back, settings, home and search).
OS wise were looking at Google’s Android OS. And although this is my first review, heck even my first experience with Android, I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s just as intuitive as any other Smartphone OS on the market today and includes an application store, though it’s still growing and attracting developer talent, but it still boasts one of the strongest app libraries. While I didn’t find the UI to be as intuitive as I hoped, 90% of my experience was pain free; navigating some of the back end menus, such as phone settings were a bit cryptic.
The DROID’s screen is very bright and actually looks fantastic even in direct light. It’s capacitive which means it’s very reactive to the finger with no lag and requires no stylus. When rotating the phone the DROID will rotate the screen to landscape mode, but unlike the iPhone can’t rotate 360 degrees; it can only rotate the screen in orientation compatible with the keyboard and not upside down.
As of now the Android OS on the DROID lacks multitouch (no pinch to zoom), so you’ll have to depend on some on screen buttons to zoom in and out of say Google maps, though tapping will work for zooming in. It has kinetic scrolling when scrolling through a long menu or web page, but it’s not as nice as the iPhone’s OS as it tends to stop abruptly and just doesn’t feel as natural – hardly a deal breaker.
The QWERTY keyboard will surely draw in those folks who are moving from a Palm handheld. Let me preface my experience with the fact that I’ve never been a physical QWERTY keyboard guy. My preference is for the virtual QWERTY keyboard or on screen keyboard, but fortunately the DROID rocks both. Slide out the QWERTY and the screen will immediately convert to landscape mode. During my texting and email experiences I found the keys to be a bit too close together resulting in an ‘A’ instead of an ‘S’. This could be resolved in the next iteration by adding a slight oval shape, or bump to each key. The right side of the keyboard includes a directional pad with a single click button. This I found useless since the phone sports a touchscreen and took up vital keyboard space – Nokia learned this lesson with the N97.
Voice search has long been the thing of gimmick. But in the case of the DROID and Google’s Android OS, no more. The voice search is actually useful. Speak “GadgetReview” into the iPhone and it will dial a phone number. Speak “GadgetReview” into the DROID after hitting the Google Voice Search button and it will perform a Google search. In the case of the Voice Dialer it will bring up the contact’s name and require you to confirm before placing the call, but nonetheless it’s very accurate.
Battery life on the DROID could be better, but since you can replace the battery you could very well just purchase a set of separate batteries. During my testing a partial day of GPS use (Google Navigation) resulted in a dead battery. Standby time, with no use, maxed out around 2 to 2.5 days give or take depending on signal quality (the less signal or bars the more juice cell phones use).
The camera on DROID is 5 megapixels and includes an LED flash. Unfortunately, and as you’ve probably read it’s not problem free. There is a bug in the software which causes ‘soft’ or out of focus pictures. Fortunately, this will eventually be fixed (December 11th) and since it’s not a hardware problem it’s nothing to tear your hair out over or should negate the purchase of this phone, unless of course you’ve got some serious plans for photogging. The DROID can also record video, 720 video to be exact. Strangely there is just a fixed focal length for video capture mode. When it comes to picture quality the DROID’s preview of the photo (what you see on the display before snapping the photo) is worse than the results. I was a bit turned off by this since it made it difficult to know if I was going to achieve a quality pic. I tested the DROID’s camera – still photos – against the iPhone 3GS and despite the greater amount of megapixels and sporting a flash, the iPhone reigned slightly superior.
Bluetooth on the DROID works, but was a bit finicky, at least when pairing it with the Jabra Stone. Now I can’t say which had the problem but it took me more than a few attempts to get the DROID to agree with the Stone. When it finally did I had no problems making calls. As of now you can’t place a call using the DROID’s Voice Dialer with a Bluetooth headset; you’ll need to speak into the handset.
As for syncing the DROID with your computer: forget it if you’ve got a Mac. There are a few aftermarket options out there, but as of this review Motorola has yet to develop a Mac friendly sync tool. For all you “PC’ users, though, you’ll be glad to here that Motorola developed a piece of software, called Medialink, that syncs your contacts and even your iTunes music. Nonetheless, I find it extremely disappointing that Motorola couldn’t make the time to develop a Mac friendly sync tool, especially seeing as they’re clearly attempting to compete with the iPhone.
What makes the DROID completely unusual from any other phone, including other Android based Smartphones, is that its the first to receive Google Maps Navigation. Some might still question whether or not Google Maps Navigation can supplant a stand alone GPS. Three words: without a doubt. Although the Google Maps Navigation UI isn’t as speedy as a stand alone GPS it has yet to completely fail me; it put me at the wrong end of a street that was in fact a dead end and required me to walk two minutes to my destination, something stand alone GPS devices have long done. There are so many options that I can hardly go into all of them and nor will I since I could write 5 pages on the app. But if you’re looking for a new Smartphone and a GPS device, look no further.
So one question remains: Is this the DROID that you’ve been looking for? Unequivocally, YES! Unless of course you’re a Mac user. Apple sync software issues aside (as in there is none in existence), the DROID is a stellar phone, with a solid build, fantastic touchscreen and an awesome OS.
- Fantastic touchscreen
- QWERTY keyboard is nice to have
- Google Maps Navigation means just one device
- Battery life could be better
- QWERTY keyboard keys too close together
- Camera preview misleading
You can currently buy the DROID from Wirefly for just $120 after a 2-year contract signing.
Of note, Motorola just issued a software update that actually enhances the phone’s abilities, such as better call quality, battery life and more. You can find more info here.