Can Droid Phones Take Care of Business?

The Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Eris, both available via Verizon Wireless in the United States, proved to be surprisingly good phones in my initial tests. I was surprised that the consumer-oriented

in many key respects than the Motorola Droid, thanks to better UI choices.

But the two new Google Android phones lack basic security capabilities that make them unusable in many business environments, and their utter lack of management features mean that even where businesses can acept their security limitations, they won't be able to deploy them in large numbers. Worse, it appears that the Droids don't support Exchange ActiveSync policies, so many Exchange servers won't grant them access. When it comes to Exchange, Droid doesn't.

[ Learn which smartphones support your business's Exchange security and access policies. | Find out Android 2.0's real odds of unseating the iPhone in "Android 2.0: The iPhone killer at last?" | InfoWorld's Bill Snyder explains why business loses no matter who wins: iPhone or Android. ]

The Droids' Exchange Support isn't Reliable

I set up an Android 2.0-based Motorola Droid using a corporate data access plan, which costs $45 per month on top of voice and SMS charges, and an Android 1.5-based HTC Droid Eris using a regular data access plan, which costs $30 per month on top of voice and SMS charges. Both Verizon's corporate spokeswoman and the local Verizon Store's sa

les staff had told me I needed a $45-per-month corporate plan (even as an individual user) to access corporate e-mail Exchange servers, although some Web sites claim that is not true.

Here's what happened to me in real life, acting as a regular consumer: I was not able to set up access to my Exchange account on the consumer $30-per-month plan. And when I went into the Verizon Store and mentioned that I was going to access corporate e-mail on the Motorola Droid, the staff told me I had to buy the $45-per-month plan even though the phone was not on a business account. I said I would not use Exchange on the HTC Droid Eris -- which I activated on the same "family" account as the Motorola Droid -- and was charged just $30 per month for that device's plan.

But it didn't really matter whether I paid $30 or $45 for my plan: I could not get the built-in Android Email application to access my e-mail. And a check of the Droid user forum showed that I am by no means alone -- the problem is afflicting many others, including Exchange administrators for whom (like me) Exchange access works just fine on other devices. Some users reported that they finally got e-mail in their inboxes after 24 hours, but no such luck for me yet. (Verizon's tech support agent was unable to help, because the support documents had no recommendations. Motorola's agent was one of the mosty clueless support agents I've ever encountered, and unable to help.)

The Motorola Droid did let me set up my Exchange account, but it could not retrieve e-mail using the built-in Email app -- it simply continued to show a blank inbox for that account even after 24 hours. At first, it also did not send e-mails from the Exchange account, leaving the messages in the Drafts folder instead. But after I powered the Droid down to reset it, finally it did send e-mails via Exchange -- even though it was still not receiving them.

The Motorola Droid did immediately sync to my Exchange calendar, but not my Exchange contacts. (And note that the Droid's calendar does not let you accept invitations you receive, although you can send invitations.)

The HTC Droid Eris let me set up my Exchange account on the device, but it displayed a "cannot set up account at this time" error message when I tried to finish the setup and begin the sync with Exchange. On other devices, this is typically a sign of an ActiveSync policy support mismatch. The Droid Eris also could not sync my Exchange calendar or contacts.

Note that I had no trouble setting up POP e-mail accounts on both devices. And the manager at the local Verizon Store showed me his Droid, which was connected to Verizon's own Exchange server, so it's clear that the Droid can connect to Exchange servers in some circumstances -- it's just not clear which ones.

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