Rating: ★★★½☆

Pros:

  • Strong build and design
  • Improvements all around
  • Good keyboard

Cons:

  • Slow software
  • Poor screen sensitivity
  • Mediocre still camera

Slider phones have a bad habit of being bad habits. We always want to play with them, whether we mean to or not. The Droid 2 is no exception, even if the popular Droid X sought to replace its predecessor’s physical keyboard with a larger screen. No, it remains a toy in the unassuming hands of millions of buyers, but a required one for Motorola’s latest.

Hardware

The Droid 2 is almost identical to the older Droid in design and build, though some significant updates have been implemented. The physical keyboard is no longer a joke thanks to a directional pad. Now all the keys are properly placed and typing is easier on a more tactile keyboard. The front bezel has also been smoothed out, so it no longer sticks out like a sore thumb, and actually feels good to have on the handset. It still seems like a waste of space, like the screen could go farther down, though considering the phone’s girth, that probably would be too much.

When you pick one up, the first thing you’ll notice is the solid feel. Like a brick, but in a good way. It feels like a smartphone, with a good weight and shapely design, fat as it may be. The physical keyboard is the reason for that excess thickness, but if you’re interested in a physical keyboard, your options are small screen or thicker phone.

One of the bigger improvements over the Droid is the battery panel. On the Droid, it was awfully easy to take off, and when I tested one the panel tended to fall off in the pocket. The Droid 2’s back is just stronger in every way. It’s a heavy aluminum sheet this time around, and the latches are no joke. It won’t fall off, and your kids won’t be able to open it to play with the battery or memory card. Once again, the battery blocks the SD card, so you’ll have to reboot to take it out. Then again, there is only 512MB of internal memory, so I expect users to take out the included 8GB card less than rarely. Possibly just once, to replace it with a larger memory card (up to 32GB).

The screen is polished and high resolution at 800×480. Reading text is easy, though not as good as the iPhone 4, but very similar to other 3.7” and 4” Android devices. Lights do tend to get washed out in bright environments, and we’ve seen better screens for viewing media on. My biggest concerns was with the capacitive touchscreen, which didn’t read finger presses very well. This has been an ensuing problem on Android devices, which may be in part due to the software, though I believe the hardware is also at fault. The Samsung Fascinate, which I got in to test last week, has a much more sensitive touchscreen than the Droid 2. Put it this way: for iPhone users, the Droid 2’s screen would feel like a serious step down.

Battery life is nothing special, and it lasts a good day under moderate use. Users will be charging it nightly, or at least once a day. One thing I do like about the Droid 2, similar to the Droid X and original Droid but not native to some Android phones, is the notification light. It’s one of those things that when you have it, it’s great, but when you don’t, the phone feels like it’s missing something.

Telephony and Modem

Call quality for the Droid 2 is good. There is certainly room for improvement for the receiver, which sounds tinny, and the shape of the phone doesn’t help at all, though callers said we sounded clear over the line. With Verizon, I rarely ran into trouble connecting to the network and calls connect immediately, which is amazing for an iPhone user.

I also tested, briefly, download speeds and quality of the 3G (actually EVDO, but even Verizon and Sprint have given up on their CDMA nomenclature). Loading web pages is relatively quick, slowed mostly by the phone itself (when running only the browser app, pages loaded faster). I ran several devices off the 3G Mobile Hotspot app (an additional $20/month), including a laptop and iPad, and both running simultaneously were faster than some Wi-Fi routers I’ve used. It won’t beat a home network, but on the road it’s a lifesaver.

Software

Using Android OS 2.2 (or Froyo), the Droid 2 is a very barebones phone. Some apps are built-in and cannot be deleted, which is beyond annoying, like Blockbuster, Need for Speed Shift, and a few others. For users who still use the apps screen often, this is an especially bothersome nuisance.

While I won’t go into 2.2 for this review, I will say that many times the Droid 2 is just slow. The software tends to hang and stutter. Apps run smoothly enough, so you won’t find music stopping and starting, but moving from screen to screen or even dialing a phone number is often met with lag, which often kills the phone. Waiting to make a phone call because the phone needs to load the button press is just sad. Of course, I tested running the phone running no apps, and slowdown was minimal. But considering most users won’t shut down their apps often, if at all, this memory problem is serious. On my front page I had to install Advanced Task Killer, which closes all apps, because the phone would just be impossible to use.

With minimal help from Motorola, the OS has almost nothing added to it, which isn’t good or bad. Doing so means that when new updates to the OS become available, the Droid 2 will have them ready sooner than other handsets with more manufacturer software included, but simultaneously Froyo has a lot of room for improvement, and we’ve already seen some great software improvements from other companies. Still, some users are happy with the bare minimum, so whether you’re happy with no additions from Motorola is completely personal preference.

Camera

Little has changed from the original Droid camera, which for shooting quality is a shame. You can see the differences in picture quality below.

The 480p camcorder provides pretty good quality video, small as it may be. Better yet, audio recording for video is very impressive. If you plan on shooting a family get-together, the Droid 2 is a good phone for it. It won’t fill up your whole HDTV screen, but quality is always better than extra pixels. Considering the mediocre picture shooting quality, having decent video quality at a lower resolution is much more preferred than higher resolution but lower-quality video.

Final Thoughts

The Droid 2 prospers above it’s predecessor in nearly every way, but doesn’t put up much of a fight compared to other newer Android phones. The build quality is great, and except for the mediocre still camera, as a phone the Droid 2 is pretty great. Yet the software tends to hang, and it clearly isn’t made to run multiple apps simultaneously, which the OS clearly is meant to do. For all it’s lacks and mishaps, the Droid 2 offers style, especially with the R2-D2 special edition, that no other Android handset has.

You can buy the Droid 2 from Amazon for $0.01 after signing a 2-year contract.










James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.