A Powerful Droid Indeed, but an iPhone Killer?
The selling point of the new Motorola Droid is that it ain't the iPhone.
Well done on the marketing plan guys. Though technically true, is that enough of a selling point? For better and worse, the answer is yes.
Sleek, agile and powerful, the Droid is most likely the strongest challenger to the iPhone I've seen in a while, and for Mainers this is a good thing.
Anyone with an iPhone (and this number includes myself) can spend hours singing the praises and expounding on the attributes of the "one true phone." But they'd also tell you that once you get north of Augusta or west of Windham service gets a little hairy.
And this is precisely why I took on the Droid for the first gadget review from the NXT Desk. The truth is I've had opportunities before, but none jumped out like this specifically because of Verizon's network here in Maine.
So should you be tempted to cheat on your iPhone with the Droid? Not just yet, but if you don't have a smartphone I'd say it's worth a very serious look.
The Droid is a sexy looking piece of gadgetry starting with a 3.7 inch screen that makes browsing the Internet, reading emails or watching videos very easy on the eyes. The dedicated buttons, for the home screen, search, menu options and essentially a "back" key, take some figuring out and are a bit over-sensitive at times. I found myself regularly hitting the wrong button. (Also, it was odd you had to use the touch screen to accept or decline a call)
The Google OS on the Droid looks and feels surprisingly similar to working on a PC, complete with a start menu that brings up all your apps and programs. Unlike the endless screens of the iPhone, the Droid gives you three screens to display your apps and widgets (more on that in a second) while other apps and programs reside in the menu.
As for the body of the phone, hard edges and all, it's very satisfying to hold. I may also just be a sucker for the slide-out keyboard, which presents itself with a nice audible "click" when you whip it out. (This only slightly made up for the trouble I had using the keyboard. Having reasonably sized hands for a guy I found it tight at times. Also the slider keyboard required more attention when typing than using the touch screen keyboard.)
Under the Hood
Now let's talk about widgets. One of the big selling points of the Droid is the ability to multitask, which means not just being able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but in this case provide you constant updates through widgets. Weather, social network updates, news and more can all run (LIVE!) on one of your home screens. Depending on how much information overload you want in your life, this can be a good thing. On a basic level it's nice to be able to do more than one job at once.
So, how'd it work out?
Using the Droid over the last week I can tell you it takes getting used to, but once you're over the learning curve it's not a bad ride. Watching videos, either from YouTube or through Verizon's news video app, was seamless and enjoyable. Running multiple apps is also refreshing, like being able to listen to Pandora, write an email or read an RSS feed (while at the same time widgets are running updates on Twitter status, weather and sports news.)
Verizon's network here in Maine provided good coverage for the Droid with clear sounding calls and near complete support for the applications. I'd be lying if I said there were not a few hiccups with apps, some just quitting and some requiring restarts. While that could also be a Android OS issue, overall the coverage supported the phone at every turn.
I'd say the most innovative and indispensable feature on the Droid is the notification bar, which alerts you to new emails, Facebook updates, app updates and more. The killer is you access the notifications though a drop down "windowshade" that lets you check the alerts and then resume what you were doing.
If you're wondering at this point, yes, the multitasking does take a toll on the battery, but it's a manageable one. The drain is not unreasonable and through a little tweaking you can manage the battery usage. While the phone survived over a day without recharging, I did notice it took some time when it did get reintroduced to a power source.
Apps: The Good and the Bad
The app that's been getting a lot of attention (and rightly so) is Google Maps Navigation, a turn-by-turn GPS directions program. The navigation system (yes, it does speak to you in disapproving lady robot tones) was fairly reliable with a few slip-ups (only on a few occasions did it give bad directions or not know where I was. I did not end up driving into Back Bay.) The product is officially in Beta, but I'd expect the Garmins and Tom-Toms of the world to be sweating.
The feature in most need of help? The camera. I can't stress how bad this thing is. Not only is the picture quality poor (even when using the built-in flash), the response time from the camera is really slow. Shoot one pic and then get ready to wait a while. It takes so long you're almost expecting a Polaroid to come out. This is something that needs major work and, if you're a person who enjoys taking photos or video with their smartphone, a major red flag. (Further proof? Check out these videos I shot. This from the Droid, this from the iPhone. Red flags for Motorola.)
The X Factor
From the few people I've shown and talked to the phone about, the consensus seems to be if you're a PC type of person you'll dig the Droid. If you're an Apple person, not so much. While there's some truth to that I don't know if it's that simple.
The good news is that a lot of the contacts, calendar, profiles and other data you'd have to synch to a computer just gets stored in Google's cloud. That's also the bad news. Depending on how you feel about cloud computing or just Google's grip on personal info, you may or not be OK with it. Still, the Droid does allow for synching info to your computer, be it music, videos, photos (why?) and more.
Was I impressed with the Droid? Sure. Carrying it around I got the sense it would slide into my life effortlessly. But I also got the sense I could spend way too much time getting everything just the way I like it. The apps, while plentiful, still need polish in terms of look and operability.
While the Android boasts its openness (either in development of apps or control over the phone) that's a only a good thing depending on how involved you want to be with your phone. For all its faults the iPhone is pretty much ready for showtime out of the box. The Droid takes a little bit more rehearsal, but when it's ready it can shine.
OBLIGATORY STAR WARS JOKE: While it's no R2-D2, this has the potential to be one reliable little Droid.
- Sleek, sexy design, but requires time getting familiar