Gadget review: Verizon (Motorola) Droid

Posted by Jonathan Nori on November 11, 2009
Personal Life

I have a new mobile phone.

Last Friday, the official launch day, I picked up Verizon’s Motorola Droid phone, in spite of the ridiculous and confusing television ads.

Like the iPhone, it’s an amazing piece of hardware. It’s sleek, fast, and easy to use.

Unlike the iPhone, it has a slide-out keyboard and is super-customizable, among other things.

I almost got an iPhone. I’ve used them. I do tech support for iPhone users. I’ve even dabbled in iPhone app development. But there was one thing on the iPhone that I just couldn’t get past: (Hate is a strong word, but) I really, really, really don’t like the on-screen keyboard.

I’ve lost track of the number of phones I demo’d looking for a new one, but none of them were the slick, simple, advanced device I was looking for. Eventually I settled on an iPhone 3Gs, but when I came across a couple pre-production reviews of Motorola’s Droid, I decided to wait until the Droid was launched before making a decision on what phone to get.

It’s been almost a week since I got the Droid. I like it, but it’s not a phone for everyone.

The phone itself, physically, is solid. It feels solid in your hand. It’s got a bit of weight to it. Like it’s a solid piece of metal. It doesn’t feel “plasticy” or “flexy”. The phone has a nice rubberized coating that keeps it from sliding around in your hand, and on a note that only applies to me, it looks and feels like the same non-slip coating used on Lenovo Thinkpads. The color and styling also matches my Thinkpad, which is a nice touch.

The touch screen is very responsive (a requirement to even think about competing with the iPhone–Microsoft, your Windows Mobile team needs to take note of this!). It doesn’t support multitouch, which I guess for the first generation of the device is okay, but as someone who is very familiar with iPhones, it’s somewhat disappointing. The screen resolution, however, is better than the iPhone 3Gs (at least, it looks better).

And now the feature that sold me: The slide-out keyboard. Droid does have an on-screen keyboard, which is better than the iPhone’s, but I still don’t like on-screen keyboards. The slide-out on the Droid feels very solid under your thumbs, and has a nice, smooth slide. The keys light up, which is useful in low-light situations. Unfortunately, the keys are fairly small and smashed together. I think the real estate used for the d-pad on the right could have been better spent making the keys a bit bigger. But the keyboard is still quite usable.

The Droid has 4 electrostatic (meaning they aren’t actually buttons, but spots sensitive to touch, like the touch screen) “soft keys” (meaning the keys themselves can be reprogrammed for different functions) below the main screen. They’re pretty useful, but can take some getting used to for someone with iPhone experience. Blackberry users will be able to make the transition a little easier, I would guess. One of the keys is a “menu” button that opens up whatever menu options are available for whatever program you happen to be running.

For future revisions, I have a suggestion for the soft keys: Make the bar above the keyboard electrostatically sensitive too, to make it easier to scroll vertically when you have the keyboard open. I find myself trying to use the “Motorola” logo as a scroll bar when reading my e-mail in landscape mode.

Like the iPhone, the Droid also has an application store, called “Market.” Unlike the iPhone, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of quality control or compatibility testing for the Android SDK market. I’ve downloaded a handful of applications, and several of them have frozen my phone so badly that a hard reboot was required. On the other side, there are some incredible applications for the Droid. I’ve already gone wardriving with my phone, and I’ve picked more than 100 wifi points in Shippensburg, many of them unsecured and configured with default router passwords.

The iPhone’s App Store is significantly more mature than the Market at this point (but Apple has had a several-year head start), but it shouldn’t take much or this to even out. I mean, if people can program something like Fieldrunners (my absolute all-time favorite game on the iPhone) in Objective-C then I would be real surprised if I doesn’t show up for the Droid rather soon (hint, hint).

The Droid is extremely customizable in ways that Apple would never even consider for the iPhone. You can load your own programs on the device, change your icons, replace the default e-mail and text messaging apps, and even download different on-screen keyboards. One of my favorite customizations is the wallpaper. The wallpaper you choose is shown behind the phone menu at all times, even when unlocking the phone. (You can see my current phone wallpaper here.)

Today I decided to run a battery stress-test on the Droid, and I can only describe the battery life with one word: Epic. My phone spent more than 12 hours unplugged today, and six-and-a-half of those hours were spent streaming Pandora radio without wifi, using the internal speakers to play the music. I also sent and received a number of phone calls, text messages, and e-mails, and checked Facebook and The Weather Channel. My phone was still at 10% battery when I got home. I’ll say it again: EPIC battery life. (At least, more epic than an iPhone.)

(If you’re curious as to what I listen to on Pandora, here are the stations I was listening to today: [Angels & Airwaves], [Delirious?], [Vindicated], and [Howard Shore]. I have more than 20 stations.)

Overall, I’m very happy with the Droid. Motorola’s finally got a smart phone winner on their hands. 🙂

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