I, for one, am very glad that there is more to mobile phones than the iPhone, which is a very nice phone. But if the world only wanted an iPhone, gadget geeks everywhere wouldn’t have much to look forward to. And today, we’re looking forward to the new Motorola Droid, on sale today from Verizon Wireless (There are 40 Verizon stores within 25 miles of Santa Ana. Here’s a store locator).
After a week with the Droid, I’m seriously digging its Google Android 2.0 operating system, which will pop up in more phones from Verizon Wireless and other carriers. While I wouldn’t call the Droid a game changer for the industry, it’s a game changer for Verizon Wireless because for the first time the company let outsiders help develop the phone. Even tinkerers who want to develop Android apps can influence the Verizon phone in a way that was prohibited before.
The phone itself is an improvement over the original Google phone, the G1 (my current phone), with a sleeker shape and better internal technology. A 3.7-inch screen makes it the largest smartphone screen out there. The slide-out keyboard is a bonus. But, as with any gadget, I have an opinion. There are features I love, like and hate. Let me start with what I don’t like.
1. Screen sensitivity: Nice big screen, but not as responsive and smooth as the iPhone. Not sure if it’s a glitch, but sometimes shortcuts I placed on the main screen did nothing when pressed. Other times, one touch popped up the application. Also, when scrolling on the Web, it can be jerky as images load. Reminds me of pre-broadband everywhere days.
2. Battery life: Like everyone, I want a GPS, Wi-Fi, 3G and Bluetooth-enabled smartphone with a battery that lasts for a week. Turn all those wireless tools on, and the Droid’s battery is dead after a few hours. Motorola didn’t make any advances in this department. The big positive though: It charges up fast! Plugged into the wall, the battery was fully charged in under an hour. One other big plus over the iPhone: You can replace the battery.
3. The camera: The 5-megapixel camera is probably better than your camera phone but it’s on the slow side for me — for a camera. It won’t replace my Canon point-and-shoot camera. Yes, I have high expectations for a camera in a phone but only because the companies continue to improve the optics (this one has flash, scene modes and white balance, autofocus and image stabilization). They lead me to believe that one day, I will get a phone with a camera decent enough to haul to gadget shows to get pretty pictures for my readers. Yes, I know. It’s like comparing home broadband speeds to wireless mobile Internet. There’s no comparison. UPDATE, 11/10: Reader Jason Spielfogel, who has a background in imaging and happens to be a product manager at Sanyo, offers his take on why a camera phone just can’t be compared to a digital camera.
4. Web zoom: Because the screen is so large, the Internet browser opens a Web page at full width. Touch the screen twice to zoom in. Touch it twice again to zoom out. This I like. What was annoying was zooming in, selecting a link within the same site, and pulling up a page that zoomed out, thus defaulting to full width. I wish it would remember that I was zoomed in, at least if I’m on the same site.
5. No Bluetooth file transfer: One of the great things about Google phones is you don’t have to sync contacts, calendar or e-mail. This is done automatically when you first sign into the phone with your Google account. However, all the photos or other files you create on the phone don’t automatically transfer to a PC via the Web or vice versa. Or via Bluetooth, as I found out. Verizon and other mobile providers are notorious for blocking Bluetooth file transfer. In this case, Verizon says it’s Android’s fault. Android doesn’t support Bluetooth tethering for transferring files. Bluetooth is only good for headsets, stereo headphones and phonebook access. One other auto-syncing disappointment: Droid didn’t pull over any of my apps from my G1.
1. Speakerphone & voice quality: You’d think this feature would be a given. But my current phone is just OK, verging on poor some days. The Droid kicks the G1′s butt when it comes to hands-free chatting over a speaker. First, the Droid’s speakerphone is far superior. With the phone in speaker mode and sitting on my lap while I drove, no one on the other end noticed that I wasn’t holding the phone to my mouth. When connected to my car’s Bluetooth speaker (an expensive after-market addition from the dealer that is terrible), there was some static but I could hear people clearer than on my own phone. Motorola really toned down background noise — an excellent feature for all of us hands-free drivers.
2. Google Navigation: The audible street-by-street directions can replace your in-car GPS but Google Navigation is definitely not ready for prime time. It’s the potential that I love. Verizon does offer a window mount for the Droid so it even looks like a portable car GPS. While the navigation did get me to the street I wanted to go to, it left me hanging by not saying what side of the street was my final destination. More stuff that needs work: Sending a Google Map from PC to phone, which is available for certain cars and some portable GPS brands; ability to add traffic alerts so you can avoid bad roads; more warning when an exit is nearby (seemed to tell me only when it was a quarter-mile away. And wouldn’t it be cool if Google navigation synced with your Google calendar so when heading to a meeting, navigation to the meeting immediately shows up on screen?
3. Multiple apps: Droid’s got a big one over the iPhone here. I can’t imagine living without access to multiple apps at the same time. Android allows you to switch between six at the same time.
4. Multiple sources for contacts. I loved the Palm Pre’s mashup of various social networks to create the ultimate address book, which Android didn’t offer previously. With Android 2.0, the phone pulls phone numbers from your Gmail contacts, Facebook friends and your corporate Exchange account. No updating or syncing necessary.
5. Voice search. Hands down, this is my favorite feature. I am trying to figure out how to get out of my two-year contract with T-Mobile because of this feature. Hit the “Voice Search” and just say exactly what you want. Navigate to a restaurant? Map of a store? Look up a phone number? This is like having your own personal concierge. (Added 11:56 p.m.: The G1 has Voice search too but it isn’t as robust.) On the down side, Droid doesn’t always understand your command. You have to say it clearly into the phone. However, I would guestimate that it was correct four out of five times, which was totally unexpected based on my experience with any sort of voice-activated technology. Google has a good video example of how this works.
More on Droid On sale: Nov. 6, 2009
Price: $199.99 with 2-year contract
Processor: Cortex A8
Storage: 16 GB installed, slot for up to 32 GB card
Wireless: 3G, Wi-Fi, EV-DO Rev.A
There are other features of the phone that I don’t feel too strongly about. As mentioned, it has the largest smartphone screen out there, at 3.7 inches. But the size wasn’t noticeably different from my G1′s 3.2-inch screen (maybe because I wear glasses, so everything looks small compared to my 24-inch monitor).
The Android apps market has grown to 12,000 paid and free apps. While that pales in comparison to Apple’s iPhone apps, which is now over 100,000, 12,000 is still a lot of apps and there are new ones out every day. So, Androids apps — or small supply of them — isn’t a negative for me. At least there are 12,000 Android apps!
My conclusion: I love Android 2.0 more than I love the Droid. Yes, it’s a nice phone, but what I love is what its software can do. More Android 2.0 phones are surely on their way. However, the big benefit to Droid? It uses Verizon Wireless’ network, the company I hear the fewest complaints about. As for the iPhone vs. Droid debate? You can’t compare them. One is with AT&T, the other is Verizon. It’s not like we have a choice anyway between an iPhone and Droid. That’s the real issue.
Earlier on Droid:
Recent Gadgetress headlines: