NEW YORK — After weeks of ads teasing us with glimpses of a handset that could do what iPhones don’t, Verizon Wireless finally unveiled the Droid by Motorola. This is an impressive phone that flexes its raw data and graphics processing muscle as much as its does its smart features such as Google’s new turn-by-turn 3D Maps Navigation service. The Droid is the first mobile phone to sport the Android 2.0 (previously code-named Éclair). The Droid will cost $300 (with a two-year contract), but a $100 mail-in rebate drops the price to $200. Monthly voice plans start at $39.99 and the monthly charge for e-mail and data services such as Web browsing start at $29.99.
Google GPS Surprise
Also announced here, during a joint Verizon and Motorola press event, is Google’s 3D Maps Navigation application which will be available first on the Android 2.0 OS. The mobile application is a hybrid GPS and Internet-based system. When using the GPS system it has the capability to do some slick tricks. When you get closer to your destination, it can switch to Google’s Street View (an interactive street-level photo). It also supports voice navigation, allowing you to say the name of your destination (“Yankee Stadium, New York,” for example) and get quick turn-by-turn directions.
At a busy press event in New York’s Times Square, representatives from Verizon Wireless, Google, and Motorola showed off the new handset, which includes a 550MHz processor, hardware graphics acceleration, and a 3.7-inch, 480-by-854-pixel display, which is significantly larger and sharper than the one on the iPhone 3GS. Also included is a 5-megapixel camera that can capture DVD-quality video and a 16GB memory card (upgradeable to 32GB).
Connectivity is King
“It’s built for best-in-class connectivity,” said Giancarlo Fasolo, director of product management at Motorola, one of the demonstrators at the Droid launch event. He noted that the Droid’s browser was “very fluid because of the hardware acceleration.”
During a test of the Droid, I noticed the Web surfing was indeed very snappy, with images coming up as quickly as Web pages loaded. A high-definition YouTube video took a few moments to load, but played smoothly without a stall and with excellent audio. Call quality was also quite good; the earpiece was comfortably loud and the people at the other end could hear me without any static or other problems.
When closed, the 6-ounce phone has a clean look with a camera button and volume rocker switch on the right side, a mini USB port on the left, a standard headset jack, and a power/lock button on the top. The bottom of the faceplate has touch-sensitive Back, Menu, Home, and Search icons like other Android phones. A four-way rocker button with a center mouse button is embedded to the right of the slide-out QWERTY keypad.
The phone turns on with a disconcertingly deep and bellowing “Droooooid;” something sure to generate smirks if it happens during a business meeting. The handset has a solid, brick-like feel even when the QWERTY keypad is out. While the keys are flat, there’s enough positive tactile feedback to enable touch typing.
Google Maps now includes a Layers feature which allows you layer new location-enabled features on top of its maps. For example, you can bring up a standard map view of a city and then add a Wikipedia layer that pinpoints locations associated with Wikipedia entries. Thus you could look at a map of, say, New York’s Fifth Avenue near the Museum of the City of New York, and pull up the Wikipedia entry for that museum as well as for nearby ones. You can also use the Transit Lines layer to map the subways that run in that area.
An optional multimedia dock (price unavailable) turns the Droid into a bedside or deskside companion. Once inserted in landscape mode, the phone looks more like an alarm clock or a digital frame with a large time display, a temperature readout, a dimmer swit,ch and quick access to photos and videos. When the phone is placed in its auto dashboard holder it automatically switches to a landscape “arms length” mode with large icons.
Android is Open
Android 2.0 is built with a new contacts framework that allows application developers to link with the contacts list. As you bring up contact, a group of icons pop up that show the applications, such as Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn, that the contact has links to. Since these links are built in by the app developers, there’s nothing the customer needs to do to enable them, said a Google representative.
The new version of Android also offers push support for Microsoft Exchange and Google Gmail and includes a mode in which you can view e-mail from multiple mailboxes in a single color-coded view. The Droid’s 1400 mAh battery is rated to provide up to 270 hours of standby time and 385 minutes of talk time. Of course the Droid is compatible with thousands of apps in the Android Market.
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