Does DROID Really Do What iDon't?

Nov 6, 2009 (Updated Dec 9, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Arguably the best, most responsive Android device.

Cons:Individual features do not reach the bar set by "other" touchscreen phones.

The Bottom Line: The DROID offers a snappier experience than previous Android phones, but, some design issues, lack of multitouch and uniqueness make it just "ho - hum".


I didn’t want to start off this review labeling the Motorola DROID yet another in a long list of failed wannabe iPhone killers,  but, they’ve pretty much done that to themselves. I didn’t even know about this phone until I started seeing commercials being run telling about how much better “DROID” was supposed to be than iPhone:  claiming  that “Droid Does what iDon’t”.

So I’m left to myself wondering…didn’t they learn anything from SEGA? 

 Don't pick fights you aren't coming prepared to win.


BUILD QUALITY


The DROID’s body is many millimeters thicker than the iPhone, but, also happens to be narrower.  It is also heavier at 169 grams vs. iPhone and the sprint Palm PRE’s  135 grams.   Its definitely not as chunky as a Blackberry STORM.

Does the size and weight matter?  Probably not. Its still small and pocketable and the size differences won’t be bothersome to  users.
The extra thickness and weight are due to the large, underslung keyboard with dull, lifeless font like a typical banker’s
calculator.  Why couldn’t Motorola have created a body and keyboard with the futuristic look and feel of the RAZR’s?

The body is definitely high quality, but it is so bland and lifeless it looks like any number of phones already on the market. It definitely doesn’t “jump” out at me and scream “Android”. In fact, you could throw any name on it and call it anything and it probably wouldn’t complain.

And to top off the blandness – the bottom portion has that stupid, ugly Verizon checkmark on it. Lets not even call it “DROID". Lets call it “DRONE”  - it looks so boring.

On top you’ll find the headphone jack and the sleep/wake button (like the iPhone) and on the side you’ll find a thumb operated volume rocker and a palm squeezed camera button. The speaker is on the back and covered by a bland gold foil like some damned BOOST mobile phone.

The App widgets on screen aren’t as vibrant or interesting to look at as they are on the iPhone – which pretty much sets and rides the bar in this category. But for the most part, you are given a greater deal of customization since Android is open source. Too bad the widgets look as dated as the icons on  Windows 3.5.

ANDROID 2.0 isn’t all bad though. I like the ability to see miniature pictures next  to contact names and I like that this phone supports multiple Gmail and Exchange accounts as well as a combined message view  (similar to Palringo)  but, there is a bug that causes this phone to force you to reset it if you attempt to delete all email accounts from the phone (like if you want to start over). This should be the first thing fixed in the first update. 

There is also a neat feature that allows you to choose where to send your message to a contact: whether you want to SMS them or send a message to their email,  Facebook or Twitter page.

Lets also give Motorola applause for not being as stupid as Blackberry was with the Storm and releasing this phone without built in  Enhanced Data Rate Bluetooth 2.1 and Wifi.


SIGNAL

This is not even worth mentioning because some people hate Verizon and love AT&T while others hate AT&T and love Verizon. The only thing we all agree on is: T Mobile sucks.

I had full bars on both my iPhone and the DROID  while I tried surfing the web and the iPhone managed to load slightly faster. This can vary widely depending where you are.

What I can say is that call clarity was crystal clear and about what I expect from Verizon.

What I would like to see is cellphone makers copy the Nintendo DSi and have their browsers load text first and come back for pictures second so we can start reading sooner.

What will also probably disappoint is that this phone is only Dual Band where most other phones are Quad band. The only networks on GSM featured are  800mhz and 1900mhz. Other phones like iPhone are Quad Band and ready to go anywhere in the world. Of course, this phone is on Verizon and was designed toward the CDMA and Ev-Do networks exclusively.
 

CAPACITY
 
Many people are going to disagree with me on this but I personally hate phones without large built in SSD drives.  I prefer this because I do not use my phone as an MP3 player (I use my car for that)  and even if I did want to suddenly listen to some tunes, I  would prefer to have a dedicated MP3 player with a long life battery – especially for my 16 hour flights to Asia.

The Droid contains 512 MB of onboard memory to run software and firmware, and comes with a 16 GB Micro SD card which is expandable to 32GB.  I prefer my iPhone’s access of  its SSD to the DROID’s access of its flash cards. Also consider that all ANDROID OS phones must access applications and firmware from the onboard memory and cannot access from expanded memory while the iPhone can lay apps across its 8~32GB drive.

Using SD cards as the storage medium is a way to produce the phone cheaper and sell at a profit.



MUSIC PLAYBACK

Simply put – the DROID’s music player is PATHETIC. 
And I’m not saying this because I’m an iTunes user, but, because the interface simply looks pathetic.

Most touchscreen phone makers bother to attempt to copy or create their own experience for browsing through music that mimics the iPod Touch. With that device the albums can be viewed when the device is tilted to landscape  and the portrait screen shows the songs artists or playlists as text. But, the iPod/iPhones interface here is black text on white background  with small, simple icons.
The DROID’s  portrait mode only has 4 panes:  artist, song  album and playlists in a pale diarrhea green. It looks like it was an afterthought.  Browsing and scrolling through music is snappy thanks to the great CPU, but some songs can take time to access if the card is filled.

Popular formats such as MP3, AAC,  WAV, and MIDI are supported, but popular video formats such as Divx and Xvid did not work.  Similar to other Android phones, you can download DRM-free music from Amazon.com over WiFi or the cellular network. It takes around 2 minutes to download a single song on cellular but around 15 seconds on my home FIOS Network.

Its too bad Android doesn’t offer a coherent music manager as tight as iTunes. You are left to drag and drop files into your microSD card reader or over USB. 
  
I found music quality to be quite good over the included earbud headphones.  Definitely louder and clearer than the iPhone (especially when pumped through its speakers) ,but, definitely not as good as the Microsoft Zune HD.


MULTITASKING?

Smartphones being produced recently have focused on multitasking  (being able to use multiple programs simultaneously) in order to woo people from the iPhone - which currently can't multitask beyond  using a combination of phone, ipod and webbrowser.

Thus far, the Palm Pre has been one of the best multitaskers I've seen allowing you to realisticly have 7 or 9 apps open at once before processor slowdown sets in.

The DROID offers multitasking but it doesn't do it as well as the Pre. trouble spots include combinations of the music player  and camera but, even worse - in a specific combination you'd want it to be able to perform well in:  combining navigation with the phone.
If you are in the car, driving, and listening to directions coming from the phone, the last thing you'd want is sluggish lag in either the directions broadcast or, the incoming phone call to tell you you have a home emergency.  That could be a deal breaker.


BROWSER 

DROID  features a 3.7 inch screen which is marginally larger than the iPhone’s 3.5 and hosts more pixels  to  (854 x 480  vs. iPhone’s  320 x480).  Without examining the Droid too closely, the screen looks to be just about the same size as the iPhone’s. This is good because more screen equals larger webpages – which of course is easier on the eyes.

Unfortunately the iPhone has one thing over the Droid that previous iPhone users probably won’t be too quick to give up: multitouch patents. The iPhone’s browser interface is almost bulletproof – especially after its gone through so many version upgrades. You can tap to zoom in;  you  can pinch/ unpinch to zoom in/out; you can tap and hold to bring up a COPY/PASTE/SELECT menu or you can shake to CANCEL an action. The droid does not have access to these patents and is therefore devoid of the iPhone’s robust multitouch methods.    It allows you to tap to zoom, but you can’t pinch. There is an hourglass icon which you can tap to zoom in or out, but the iPhone’s is superior in this regard.

However, lets remember something – Android is “open source” wherein iPhone is not.  With some programming knowhow, or some help, you can  compile an Android 2.0 browser that features multitouch  and install it on the Droid to get access to multitouch.  Of course, if you know how to program in  Linux, you might be able to build a browser surpassing the iPhone’s limitations… but that’s theoretical and I myself do not work with Linux anymore.
And Why is it that these wannabe iPhone killers never launch with FLASH and JAVA support?

Flash allows you to watch Youtube videos on webpages rather than through widget enabled clients – or you could play flash games. None of that here – and it continues to be a disappointing omission from top level carrier phones such as the STORM, G1, and now the DROID. 

And Why no full JAVA client?  People would love to be able to use chatrooms on their phone. Considering these phones have more hard drive space and more processor/memory hardware than my old desktop – its mind boggling why they don’t offer it.  
iPhone for example was supposed to get ADOBE Flash but has not yet. Once it does – it is going to raise the bar yet again and everyone else will continue playing catch up. 

 
TYPING

The DROID, like numerous other touchscreen phones on the market offers a softkeyboard (on the screen) and a hard keyboard that slides from underneath the phone. It features an overly large  D-pad which I think should have been omitted in order to increase  the key’s size. The keyboard is weak.  I’ve used better on the Nokia N97 and some iterations of the Sidekick.

I feel the D-pad is unnecessary because the DROID fortunately has inertial scrolling, but, its obvious this phone is targeted towards texters more than the iPhone is.

I found typing on the hard keyboard to be troublesome. If you are a woman with fingernails more than half an inch long, typing on DROID might not be possible. The hard keyboard quality is poor in my opinion. In fact, after a week's use, some of the keys looked like they were slipping off due to the rubber cover appearing worn.  It felt awkward to type on compared to the Blackberry Bold and the Sidekick III. 

I definitely prefer the iPhone’s soft keyboard to the DROID’s.   Even though it features haptic feedback, the DROID felt too inaccurate and I mistyped all to many times while trying to type quickly just as I would on iPhone. Fortunately, Droid has copied a lot from the iPhone’s updates and the softkeys can be touched and held to access accents.  Of course, due to the DROID lacking multitouch, you cannot hold a key and type another like you can with the iPhone.  Most people don’t do that anyway so its probably not a big deal.  But – what about being able to hold the shift key and type in caps?   DROID DON’T DO DAT !

And why couldn’t that D-pad be placed on the left side?  At least then, you could use it for games right?  

The hard button set on the black bezel also includes touch sensitive buttons for home, back,  search and menu. Search auto-activates Google Search and the useful menu button opens up menus and submenus depending what mode you are in on a specific program.

But, why is there no hard CALL/ HANGUP buttons?  Previous Android Phones let you call without having to go back through the menus to do so.


MAPS

DROID supports GOOGLE MAPS  like the iPhone, but, where it shines is in offering turn based navigation (like most Verizon phones)  and offering “layers”.  “Layers” allows you to see different aspects of the map similar to the Google Map app on the PC. If you want to see traffic direction, you can, and even better…you can see “live traffic”  to actually recognize positions on the map that have accidents or delays.  Naturally, the device quickly re-reoutes if you skip a turn and it also includes alternate routing.

Turn By Turn directions also help as a selling point because you can use this phone like you’d use a typical navigation device if you get a cradle for your windshield. iPhone offers a TOM TOM add-on, but its definitely more expensive than the (and other phones with the feature  built in)  when you factor in the extra cost of the $99 app and cradle. 



CAMERA

Thus far, the best cellular camera I’ve used was on the  Palm Pre.  You can snap photos one after the next with nearly no shutter lag and you can decide what to do with them later. That’s a class leading feature !

The iPhone’s camera got slow with the release of update 3.0 and they never patched it. On the 3GS, its faster but its still not as fast or efficient as the Pre.

The 5.0 Megapixel camera on the DROID is capable of taking some fantastic photos – but, you are gonna’ have to hold steady for a long time to get there. For whatever reason, the phone has trouble autofocusing and taking blurless photos even when there is plenty of background light. In lower light conditions you get quicker focus but you’ll need to use the built in flash.

Video recording is definitely better than the iPhone 3GS. Video’s record at around 30 frames per second at resolutions as high as  720 x 480. Not so much because of the clearer lens, but because of the sound quality. Motorola has gotten plenty of practice putting  good speakers in their phones and it shows here. The sound quality from both videos and calls is nearly perfect.  Add to that Verizon’s awesome coverage area and steady 3G service and you’ve got a definite call fidelity winner here.


BATTERY
 
The battery life is claimed to offer over 6 hours of talk time.
So far it seems to be around that of the iPhone, but,  I’ll need to do more testing to see drainout time with the screen always on.   It appears thus far you’ll need to charge it at the end of everyday like most phones of this type.  What will make some buyers happy is you can buy batteries and replace them yourself (unlike iPhone) and that the charger is a standard USB cable – as well as for Synching it.


COST

Options for voice plans include 450 minutes for $39.99;  900 minutes  for $60;  1350 minutes for $80 and unlimited for $99.

Then you have to select your text messaging plan  with highlights being the 250/month for $5 and  and 1500 for $15

You also have to select a data plan. If you want "Data Tethering" you'll have to pay an extra $30 in addition to your Voice and Data Plan. 

People in the department of Education save on Verizon plans - a reason many of them buy STORM over iPhone, so I can't tell you exactly what this will cost you if you don't have special benefits. 

Verizon sells this phone at $299.99 for a 2yr contract but there are some stores such as Sears selling it for as much as $150.00 off  with the contract.
If you fit the requirements to upgrade to the DROID, you can get in for just $149.99.

The best plan offered in my area is the "PDA Smartphone Nationwide w/ Email and Messaging" which is $99 and includes unlimited data, VZ Navigator, text/picture/email messaging and 450 minutes.

I spend $84 a month for my iPhone’s 450 minutes and unlimited data – and I don’t have text messaging because I prefer to use Palringo for AOL, MSN,  and Facebook messaging which is no extra cost and  has push notifications.
 
Thus far, Sprint’s everything plan for $100 a month probably beats both my iPhone and the DROID for overall cost effectiveness, but as I am trying to get unlimited data and don’t need as many minutes, I feel I’m still paying too much and would prefer cutting my minutes down to 100 if I could drop $20 ~$30.



USABILITY (update 11/21/2009)

My  uncle has been able to set wallpaper and assign pictures to his kids and some contact members. A large amount of this phone is still a mystery to him because of difficulty for "non computer users" to  recognize and use medium and advanced computer features.

If you are a person who has trouble using phones with lots of features I do not recommend the DROID. Its very complicated for some. I'd say its definitely more complicated to use than the iPhone, Sidekick and Blackberry Bold.

I tested his phone against mine in Hempstead, Long Island. His Verizon connection seemed just as fast as my AT&T connection with both phones at full bars.


OVERALL 

DROID is the next in line of  “Android”  phones which is stuffed to the brim with all of Google and Motorola’s  knowhow  which has been linked to Verizon’s nationwide network to give it Verizon support  and Verizon coverage,  but, just like all the other iPhone challengers, the Droid succeeds in many areas, but fails in those areas you’d specifically want to make it strongest in to knock iPhone off its pedestal.

And what a pedestal it is:  the iPhone not only squeezes profit margins for US carriers but it is singlehandedly causing other cell phone manufacturers to lose profit and revenue while trying to keep their products refreshed.  No one, and I mean no one can compete with Apple’s bulletproof support,  update stream and product refreshing schedule because the OS-X based operating system gives Apple and, consequently AT&T, an unfair edge that only a computing company the size of Microsoft could possibly hope to match.

Knowing that…why do these cellular companies continue to release products that are either not as feature rich or not as complete a product as the iPhone benchmark and then attempt to compete with iPhone  in a sector that they obviously can’t?

Do I have to spell it out for them?  If you want to compete you need to offer full Flash and Java support, multitouch (like the Windows 7 devices) ;  a graphics processor as powerful as the TEGRA (found in the Zune HD)  and also have an overly simplified  outward design which hides the sophistication underneath.

The DROID has enough good features to suck new touchscreen PDA buyers in,  and possibly enough to offer a VERIZON customer a reason to stay with them for a touchscreen phone (considering how Pathetic the STORM is), but as it turns out, DROID  just isn't  enough to make an iPhone veteran even mildly interested.

DROID is a G1  on STEROIDS.



iPhone - http://www.epinions.com/review/Apple_iPhone_4_GB_Cellular_Phone/content_429900533380

iPhone3G - http://www.epinions.com/review/Apple_iPhone_3G_8_GB_Smartphone/content_436824542852

Blackberry Storm - http://www.epinions.com/review/RIM_BlackBerry_Storm_9530_Cell_Phone/content_452311813764

Tmobile G1 - http://www.epinions.com/review/HTC_G1_Cell_Phone/content_454984765060

Palm Pre - http://www.epinions.com/review/Palm_Pre_Cell_Phone/content_473011621508


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