The Motorola Droid, the spunky phone Verizon recently introduced as the anti-iPhone in a barrage of clever commercials, is now in our hands as a press sample. My initial impression? The Droid lives up to its promise as one of the more capable and interesting phones of a busy fall season.
Available from Verizon on November 6 for $199, the Droid has attracted attention initially for being the first phone to offer the “free” beta version of Google Maps Navigation, which provides spoken turn-by-turn directions and other features previously available on phone only at extra cost.
Our Cars blog will be taking a closer look at Google Maps Navigation on the Droid later this week. Meantime, here are other highlights of the phone:
“Raw” implementation of the Android operating system. The Droid employs the latest, 2.0 version of Google’s Android operating system in a different manner than many other Android phones we’ve seen. Phones such as the Motorola Cliq have fine interfaces that sit over Android, and enhance its features and functionality. Droid does Android “raw,” without such customization. It doesn’t suffer for it, however. Instead, the Droid brings out the OS’s capability for personalization via the addition of widgets and other tools.
Full access to Android’s app store. In a surprising but welcome touch, about the only Verizon app you’ll find on the Droid is Visual Voicemail, a $3-per-month service that lets you “view” and forward voice mails. Verizon relinquished its customary tight grip on phone functionality by giving Droid users full access to Android Market, Google’s app store, which features some 10,000 free and paid apps. For example, you can use widgets to passively monitor power consumption, stay updated on Facebook or the weather, and other services.
It’s thin. Measuring 2.36 in. x 4.56 in. x 0.54, the slick-looking Droid is one of the thinnest slider-style phones with QWERTY keyboard we’ve ever seen.
It’s fast. Several of the latest smart phones, including the Samsung Moment, boast speedy processors. But, to me, the Droid seems noticeably faster than them all, both when switching apps and when downloading Web pages—provided there’s a strong 3G or Wi-Fi signal, of course. It also responds quickly if you need to abort a mistake, such as launching the wrong application.
Big, bright display. At 3.7-inches, the high-resolution LED touchscreen outsizes the the iPhone’s 3.5-incher. It appeared sharp and bright indoors and out, even when it was sitting in the sun. A built-in sensor automatically adjusts brightness for different conditions.
Nice navigation. Touch-sensitive symbols for Back, Menu, Home, and Search handle most of the operations. The touch-screen display is not multi-touch (like the iPhone’s), so it can’t interpret gestures. But I found it quite responsive. You can move about a Web page or document by dragging your finger along the screen. A double-tap and you can zoom in and out, thanks to Android 2.0. Slide open the keyboard and you’ll find a 4-way toggle/OK button, which comes in handy when you’re trying to maneuver the cursor to a specific word or Web link. But I found it a bit too easy to accidentally launch the touch-sensitive Search Key when I held the phone in my right hand.
Interesting interface. The Droid allows you to view all of your e-mails from different accounts (except Gmail) under one view. To keep them properly sorted, each account is assigned a distinct color, which appears a little bar to the left of each message. You can also do the same for multiple text-message accounts, if you have them.
Serious searches. The Droid’s search feature works pretty much like the ones on some other smart phones, such at the iPhone and Palm Pre. Just start typing a term and Droid scours you contacts, music, and documents for that term before it moves on to the Web, where it also considers your GPS location. You can also perform these searches by voice, which, thanks to Android 2.0, works quite well. But it doesn’t search your calendars, as does the iPhone.
Fine keyboard. The real QWERTY keyboard is responsive, well-spaced, and backlit for dark environments. The virtual keyboard was responsive, too, if a bit squished when the phone is in the vertical position. The wider version you get by tilting the phone on its side is better, but the virtual keyboard disappears when you turn the phone on its side to switch from narrow mode to wide—a mild annoyance. (You can bring it back by tapping a text field.) There’s no vibration feedback in either virtual mode; it’s available only for the soft keys on the bottom of the phone (Back, Menu, Home, and Search) and for some app operations.
Cool camera. The 5-megapixel camera comes well equipped, with auto-focus and auto-flash. You can launch the camera by pressing a button on the right side of the phone, or tapping the camera icon on the phone's desktop. Tapping the menu button after snapping a photo summons action buttons to share the image via Facebook, e-mail, SMS, Picasa, or Bluetooth data. It’s easy to toggle between still images and video, which you can record in true 16x9 format. The Droid seemed sluggish when taking next shots, but that’s typical of many camera phones.
Decent phone controls. The large virtual keys make dialing easy, and a proximity sensor disables virtual keypad when you bring the phone to your face; reactivates it when you pull it away. But, as with the iPhone, getting to the phone requires pressing a virtual button on the phone’s desktop.
We’ll have more details on the Droid as we test it more fully in our labs. In the meantime, check out our smart-phone Ratings, available to subscribers, for some other interesting phones. —Mike Gikas