My First Weekend With the Moto Droid

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Apps

One feature that sets Android apart from other mobile platforms--not including the iPhone, of course--is its robust app store. While Android Market currently offers a fraction of the apps that Apple's App Store does, that number is rapidly growing, and the momentum generated by the Droid and Verizon's massive user base will likely spur a broader embrace from the development community.

I spent much of my first two days with the phone downloading various productivity and lifestyle apps, and I've barely managed to get my head around the massive selection that currently exists. I've found an unholy ton of interesting and useful utilities for customizing the phone, a wealth of apps for creating and editing documents, and some cool health and fitness apps that will likely make this device an essential tool for every facet of my daily life.

In reality, it doesn't matter whether you have 10,000 apps to choose from or 100,000. What matters is whether you can find the apps you need. At present, there are a few apps I'd love to have for Android that aren't yet available (and are available on the iPhone). For example, my bank doesn't yet offer an Android app for mobile banking, but does have an iPhone app. I can only hope that the Droid's popularity helps to get the ball rolling in cases like this.

But of the apps that do exist, quality is generally high. From the little widget that tracks my phone's battery life to the detailed calorie counter I downloaded this morning, the interfaces are fairly polished and the apps are robust. Inevitably, there are some lame apps in the bunch, but that's the case with every platform.

Gmail integration is as clean as you'd expect from a Google product, and many of Google's services--such as Picasa, Google Talk, and Google Voice--integrate seamlessly into the phone. There is still a lack of integration with Google Docs, but it appears Google is working on this.

GPS

The most touted new feature of the Droid is its GPS navigation, which will be standard on other Android 2.0 devices as they roll out. I tried it out on several trips, both on foot and by car, over the last few days, and frankly, it's just plain awesome.

The GPS offers navigation in three modes: driving, walking, and public transit. I gave each a shot. Not only does the device quickly and accurately pinpoint your location with the assisted GPS, but it actually gives verbal directions that come respectably close to correctly pronouncing most street names. Public transit mode offers up bus and rail schedules for your route.

Because my car has a built-in GPS, I don't necessarily expect to get a lot of use out of this one. But the next time I'm on foot and need turn-by-turn guidance through an unfamiliar city, I know I'll be in good hands. Overall, the quality and versatility of this GPS are difficult to match with stand-alone units, let alone the expensive add-on navigators you can get for other phones.

Network

Like a lot of Verizon customers, I had been holding out for a better smartphone than RIM and Microsoft had to offer. I lusted after the iPhone for a long time, and even considered jumping ship to get my hands on a T-Mobile G1 or an HTC Hero. But I could never persuade myself to trade Verizon's amazing coverage for a better handset. So I waited.

It was worth the wait.

Data connections on the Droid are blazing fast. The Web browser loads pages immediately, and apps connect to their servers without hesitation. Friends and colleagues who've checked out my phone have been unanimous in their praise for Verizon's data service on this device.

Also worth noting is the fact that Verizon is going to begin offering tethering service with the Droid next year, for an additional fee of $30 per month. That can sound like a lot, but given that service on a separate data card will set you back upwards of $60 per month, this is actually a reasonable option for those who only occasionally need to access the 3G data network from a laptop or netbook.

Calling

For most smartphones, actual phone calls are practically an afterthought. And with the Droid's sprawling set of computing features, it's easy to forget that calling actually matters. Of course, it does matter.

I've had issues in the past with call quality on some Motorola phones. My Moto Q, for instance, offered only mediocre reception compared with other handsets I had used on Verizon's network. So far, I've only had a few conversations on my Droid, so it's still too early for me to render a judgment on call quality.

Where the Droid does impress, though, is in its use of Google Voice. Having used Google Voice for a couple of years now (since the days when it was called Grand Central), I've grown dependent on the service for my business calling. Droid lets me extend that user experience to my cell phone with true seamlessness and style.

I had already been using Google Voice with my BlackBerry, which also gave me the ability to place calls from my Google Voice number and read my voicemail transcripts on the phone. But the Droid's massive touch-sensitive screen is a gargantuan improvement over the experience of scrolling around the menus with the BlackBerry's trackball. Google Voice makes voicemail visual, and this phone delivers those visuals splendidly while letting me toggle between my cell phone number and my Google Voice number with each call.

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