A Review of Verizon's One-on-One Droid Training

Verizon has taken a page from Apple offering free 30-minute one-on-one training for the Droid phones it sells (the Motorola Droid and the HTC Eris Droid.) Although I've spent several enjoyable hours exploring the features of my new Droid, I still have a bunch of questions about how to get the most out of my Droid. So I called Verizon to schedule some training. Here is an account of my experience. Up front I can say that I had a very positive time with the training, but not before encountering some real annoyances in scheduling it.

Making the appointment for the training was frustrating. None of the automated phone prompts at Verizon mention the training, so you're left guessing which number to press. These free sessions are offered at Verizon's corporate stores, but not at their retail stores. All in all it took me about 10 minutes to reach someone to schedule my one-on-one training. When I asked to be scheduled on a weekend, they explained that the training is offered only on weekdays from 11 am to 7 pm. I let them know that's when my daytime job takes place. After much hemming and hawing, they relented and scheduled me for 2 pm on a Saturday afternoon at their College Park, Maryland, corporate store.

Upon arrival at the College Park store, I informed the greeter I was there to receive a one-on-one training. A few moments later the manager of the store told me I'd be receiving my training from one of their trainers, Jennifer, after she was finished with her current customer. That's a good sign when the manager of a store is involved so directly with customer interactions. The store was bustling with people and I wondered where the training was going to take place. Jennifer led me to a seat where we could both sit comfortably side-by-side to look at the phone.

I first asked how I could better manage battery life on my phone. My out-of-the box experience with my Motorola Droid (which I love) was very poor. The phone was not able to make it through a single day on a battery charge. One evening soon after I bought the phone, the battery was dead when I needed to make an important call.

It turns out that there are several very useful ways to extend battery life on the Droid. Jennifer showed me how to download a program (or app) from the Android Market that identifies what programs are currently running on your Droid. By quitting programs that are running in the background, you can extend your phone's battery life. (In addition, before the training, I independently discovered a very useful widget called Power Control that has dramatically extended the battery life of my Droid. (See http://www.ehow.com/how_5596884_extend-battery-life-motorola-droid.html) I leave Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and synching turned off most of the time – and also make my screen a bit dimmer – so my Droid now lasts two full days (or more) before needing to be recharged.

Jennifer did not mention the Power Control widget, but I could quickly tell she is very adept at using the Droid. With the prepared questions I brought with me, I realized how productive this 30-minute session was going to be. I asked her how to delete icons from the Home screen, how to delete downloaded apps that I no longer wanted, how to download YouTube videos to the Droid and a bunch of other questions. Jennifer impressed me with her wide-ranging knowledge of the device and her ability to patiently transmit that knowledge to me.

I threw in some difficult questions that were clearly not typical of someone casually interested in the phone. I asked her whether Wi-Fi data speeds are faster than 3G data speeds. Her response was that they were both quite fast. Best as I can recall, Wi-Fi is as much as 10 to 50 times faster than 3G. There might be occasions when a Droid user would want to switch off 3G to force the phone to use Wi-Fi. Her answer was generally acceptable, though.

I asked her whether it's possible to hook up a USB keyboard to a Droid. She said she had not heard of any solution for that. I told her that there was a way of doing so, but not an officially sanctioned one.

I asked her whether it's possible to hook up the Droid to a projector. She said she didn't know. But I can't imagine why a solution could not be devised to output the video signal from the Droid to the mini-USB port – and then use a mini-USB to VGA adapter. By having such a solution, Verizon could save money on these one-on-one sessions, as t would let community volunteers – such as myself – train our neighbors in a group setting at a public library, nonprofit organization, college campus, or elsewhere.

I asked her whether it's possible to tether my phone to my MacBook so that I can use my phone's unlimited data plan on my laptop when I'm away from my Internet access at home and work. She said I could do so by calling Verizon to make arrangements for that. When I called Verizon, however, I found out that tethering is currently not supported, but that sometime soon Verizon will be offering a mobile hotspot service for Android phones at a rate of $40/month.

Jennifer's competence as a trainer so impressed me that I inquired whether she had received formal training from Verizon. She said she had not, but that as a trainer she was expected to know the features of the phone very well. I asked her whether it's possible for Verizon customers to request a particular trainer by name (just as you can in an Apple Store), and she said that was possible. Jennifer speaks English and Spanish and works almost every weekend at the College Park, Maryland, store. I candidly asked her whether other Verizon trainers she knows have the same level of competence she has – and she said the other trainers are all pretty sharp.

As a final question, I asked Jennifer if she could recommend a Twitter client for the Droid. She told me she uses Facebook more than Twitter. Fair enough – we all choose the social networking tools that work best for us. Still, it would be good if Verizon trainers were aware of the most popular Twitter client for Android – Twidroid. I find Twidroid very helpful for following my Twitter stream when I'm on the go.

Seeing how busy this Verizon store is on a weekend, I began to understand why Verizon doesn't want to schedule training sessions during this time. That being the case, Verizon needs to do better in scheduling trainings outside of Verizon stores. One possible location? Public libraries. I work as a public geek at a public library. All day long I answer people's computer questions. Could I also be answering their Droid phone questions? I sure could. Would it be better if I were Verizon Android Certified? Yes, and even though such a certification does not yet exist, maybe it ought to.

Cell phone training classes in public libraries are a logical next step as cell phone become an ever more dominant part of our lives. I'm rather surprised public libraries have not begun offering this kind of training yet.

Phil Shapiro

The blogger is an educator and technology commentator in the Washington DC-area. He can be reached at philshapiroblogger@gmail.com and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/philshapiro

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