Like the iPhone, the Droid has a built-in media player. And unlike the BlackBerry, it's a media player you'd actually want to use.
It turns out that touch screens--including that of the iPod Touch, naturally--are pretty much the best interface for media playback. Even with audio, it's great to be able to see album art and swipe through a track to a particular point. The Droid's music player has nearly the same functionality and usability as the iPod Touch during playback. And, while they don't look identical, anyone accustomed to an iPod Touch or iPhone would encounter practically zero learning curve when moving to the Droid.
The biggest difference between the iPhone's media playback features and that of the Droid is iTunes. Android doesn't work with iTunes at all. But Android isn't designed to work directly with any particular desktop app. Instead, you just plug in the player and drag any DRM-free files straight to the device. Optionally, you can use Windows Media Player to sync files to the Droid, if you want to. And Motorola offers a download for Windows called Media Link that does the same thing for all of your media.
For the most part, the Droid is a stand-alone device. So its principal offering for music downloads is not a desktop app, but a direct link to the Amazon MP3 store. Amazon still has some growing to do before it will rival iTunes, though. But, however you buy your media, you can get it onto the Droid as long as it's not crippled with DRM.
For podcast freaks, there's a whole mess of podcatching apps available on Android Market. I've been trying out a few, and so far I'm happiest with a freebie called BeyondPod, which also tracks other kinds of RSS feeds.
Audio quality on the Droid is excellent, and will typically depend more on your speakers or headphones than on the phone itself. My one complaint is that listening to music while plugged into the car charger produces a hideous buzz that ruins the whole experience. This happened with my iPod Touch, too, though.
It's an unfortunate reality that powerful devices have to use a lot of, well, power. The Droid is no exception. Operating Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and all of the various apps at once (it does multitask, after all) will drain this phone in a matter of hours.
On Friday, after charging the device fully and heading off to work, I neglected to put the phone back on a charger until it was too late. Consequently, because I had used nearly every feature of the device throughout the day, the phone died quietly in my pocket while I was having dinner at a local restaurant, and I took a long, lonely train ride home with no Droid to keep me company.
On Saturday I decided to keep tabs on battery life throughout the day, but still put the device through its paces almost constantly. After about 11 hours of playing with apps, listening to music, driving with the GPS, taking pictures, and chatting with friends on IM, the battery was dead again.
Sunday I thought I'd take a different tack and keep the phone in its Multimedia Station cradle whenever I wasn't using it. This made a world of difference, but the battery still dwindled down to 40 percent in the six hours that I had it away from the charger.
Managing battery life on a multitasking mobile device like the Droid is a matter of making compromises. You basically have two options: Use it lightly and diligently kill any apps that you aren't using in the moment, or keep it in the charger whenever you possibly can. I've opted for combination of the two.
The fact is, I hate having to muck around turning off wireless connections and killing apps, so I've purchased a couple of Multimedia Stations, a wall charger, and a car charger. This lets me charge the phone at home, plug it in while I'm driving, and charge it on my desk at work. When I'm traveling, the wall charger will suffice for keeping my phone alive whenever I'm in a hotel room.
For times when I have to go longer between charges, I've downloaded an app called Advanced Task Killer Free, which can quickly terminate any app (or all of them, if I so choose) with a couple of quick taps.
Sure, it's annoying to have to worry at all about battery life after years of using less power-hungry phones. But that's the trade off you have to make for a more powerful phone. Nobody said life would be fair.
It's still far too early to fully determine how happy I'll be with the Droid, but things are looking good. So far, the toughest question anyone has asked me about this device was this:
"If Verizon got the iPhone tomorrow, would you rather have that than the Droid?"
That's a tough question to answer, because it's purely hypothetical. But at the moment, I don't think I would. Over the long haul, the Droid app selection is bound to improve. Meanwhile, the device does actually do some cool things that the iPhone can't. And I'm not particularly moved by the small differences between the two interfaces.
More importantly, I like being immune to the whims of Apple. As Jobs and Company continue to exercise draconian control over the App Store approval process and crack down on jailbreakers, I don't have to worry. Android is a mostly open platform, and that fact doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.
So, as I prepare to call it a night after a long weekend of working this little phone to death, I'm putting it back in its cradle to recharge. Tomorrow's a big day, and my Droid has a lot of work to do.
Robert Strohmeyer is a senior editor at PC World. He's owned dozens of cell phones over the years, and the Droid is his favorite so far. Robert tweets as @rstrohmeyer.