Motorola Droid Invasion
You’ve seen those menacing “iDon’t” commercials. You’ve heard the buzz. And now, at long last, the Motorola Droid ($200 with a two-year contract) is storming Verizon stores and ready to take over the mobile world. But before you rush to your local Verizon outlet and enlist in the Droid army, take a look at what thrilled us—and what disappointed us—about this much-hyped smartphone.
A lot is going on underneath the hood of the Motorola Droid. It boasts a powerful 550MHz processor as well as a 1400-mAh battery rated at 270 hours of standby time and 385 minutes of talk time. It also comes with a preinstalled 16GB memory card and offers Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 support, which includes the use of stereo headsets and a Wi-Fi adapter.
Slim Dimensions (for a Phone with a Keyboard)
Since the Droid first landed in our offices, many of our colleagues have remarked on how large and bulky the phone is. At 0.54 inch thick, the Droid is slightly beefier than the 0.48-inch-thick iPhone 3GS, but it still has room for a 40-key, slide-out QWERTY keypad. At just under 6 ounces, it's also about an ounce heftier than the iPhone 3GS. When closed, the 4.56-by-2.36-inch Droid is almost the same size as the 4.5-by-2.4-inch iPhone 3GS. But compared with other phones having slide-out keyboards, the Droid is downright skinny. The Samsung Moment and the Motorola Cliq are both 0.6 inch thick, while the HTC Tilt 2 is 0.7 inch thick.
A keyboard is generally a welcome feature on a touchscreen phone--unless, of course, it isn’t designed well. Alas, the Droid’s keyboard is far from perfect. It is so shallow--and the keys themselves are so flat--that our testers (with various hand sizes) had trouble using it. In addition, the top keys are very close to the ledge of the display, so your fingers are constantly knocking against it. We were also thrown off by the two “dummy” keys (fake keys you can’t press) in the bottom row of the board. The keyboard seems wider than it really is due to the four-way directional pad that takes up a good chunk of real estate.
The Droid's 5-megapixel camera includes a dual-LED flash and supports DVD-quality video recording and playback at 720-by-480 pixels. The camera has a respectable amount of advanced features, such as scene modes, color effects, and white-balance controls. Outdoor snapshots looked great, especially on the Droid's stunning display. Indoor shots, however, suffered from a significant amount of graininess. The dual-LED flash didn’t help, unfortunately, and tended to blow out details and wash out color.
The Droid’s snappy browser loads images quickly thanks to the powerful 550MHz processor and speedy hardware-accelerated graphics. Pages on the Droid’s generously sized 3.7-inch, 480-by-854-pixel display looked very appealing, with sharp text and images. Video from sites such as YouTube also looked impressive; the playback of a high-definition YouTube cartoon ("Sita Sings the Blues") was excellent, with no stalling or audio dropouts. But don’t try pinching to zoom into a page’s detail; since the Droid's display isn’t multitouch, you must tap to zoom.
New Features in Android 2.0
Notable new features in Android 2.0 make communication with your family, friends, and colleagues a breeze. You can now manage multiple e-mail accounts through your device, including Web-based and Exchange addresses (left image). Android 2.0 also synchronizes all of your contacts from these accounts and lists them in a simplified view called Quick Contact (middle image). Quick Contact creates a menu bar with easy-to-read icons that show your contacts’ communication modes (e-mail, IM, text message, and so on). You simply tap on your contact’s photo (pulled from Facebook), and the bar pops up, whether you are in your contact list, in e-mail, or even in your calendar. You can also view all of your e-mail accounts in a combined view on one page (right image).
Google Maps Navigation Uses Satellite View
Perhaps the best feature in Android 2.0, however, is the free Google Maps Navigation app for turn-by-turn directions. While driving directions via Google Maps have been available on many mobile devices for years (on Apple's iPhone and iPod devices, for example), Google Maps Navigation raises the ante by adding spoken turn-by-turn direction, something available only with extra-cost additions to the iPhone. Google Maps Navigation has many useful features, but one of the coolest is the ability to see your route in 3D satellite view. You can search for your destination by typing or speaking, and Maps Navigation will start giving you directions.
...And Street View to Get You to Your Destination
Another helpful feature is the nifty use of Google's Street View: As you approach your destination, an interactive photo of the area pops up with an arrow to point you in the right direction. Instead of having to look for a building number, for example, Street View provides visual confirmation that you're in the correct place--or at least mighty close to it.
When you insert the Droid into the separately sold tabletop dock (shown), it sits at a good angle for watching videos or just poking through e-mail. It immediately switches to a sort of alarm-clock mode and displays the time in large figures while providing other information, such as the temperature, in smaller type below.
Another separately sold option for the Droid is a car mount. When you place the Droid in the mount, it automatically enters "Car Home" mode; in this mode, it looks more like a stand-alone GPS device. Large icons labeled View Map, Navigation, Voice Search, Contacts, Search, and Home fill the screen, and the display rotates as needed.