The Motorola Droid is the first Android 2.0 to be commercially available. Droid is a high-end Android phone with a superb high-resolution screen, a slim shape, a physical QWERTY keyboard and Google’s latest build of Android (the operating system). The inside of the phone is interesting as well: it has a decent CPU and uses a relatively fast 3D graphics chip. Among the improvements that I like most, I want to mention the native support for Exchange, the unified contact list and the awesome new mapping and navigation application from Google. Is the Motorola Droid the Android phone that you were waiting for? It’s time to find out.
Before you read this Motorola Droid review, let me provide some context: I used the Droid as my main phone for about one week. During that time, I tracked emails from an Exchange account and a Gmail account. My work calendar and contacts were synchronized as well. I stay connected with my friends via Facebook and had Android 2 consolidate my contact list with thumbnails and information from there. I read emails several times per hours and reply moderately (1/8 of all emails). I browse the web several times a day to check on news and the stock market. I don’t call much: only 10mn or so per day. Usage pattern is the single most important thing that affects battery life. It also shapes how we perceive, like or dislike features on a phone, so now you know.
Physical design (Slick and thin)
The Droid is a solidly built high-end Android phone that embodies Motorola’s comeback in the smartphone arena. The phone is much thinner than most QWERTY slider competitors, including its sibling: the Motorola Cliq. Despite its thinness, it has a CPU (central processor) and GPU (graphics processor) that is equivalent to Nokia’s best: the Nokia N900, even the beautiful WVGA (854×480) display equals the N900’s and leaves the iPhone 3GS display behind: it is twice as sharp.
Close up video of the Droid body, switch to fullscreen for HD version
The keys are very flat, but they are bigger than in most slider phonesThe sliding mechanism requires more force than usual to open, but it feels solid and has a nice “click” when it locks. The keyboard has very flat keys, but they are also much bigger than the keys on the N900 (or the HTC Touch Pro) and size does matter: with the larger keys, you can type using the meat of the thumb instead of using the tip of the thumbnail – that’s more comfortable. In terms of typing speed, I would say that Blackberry (8900 or 9700) is by far the king of the hill, followed by the Motorola Cliq. But the Droid’s keyboard is still much better than a virtual keyboard, and I’m glad that the phone is so thin, even if it is 25% heavier than the iPhone.
My feedback on the keyboard is that the space bar should be bigger and I wonder if leaving some space between the keys would help (chicklet design). I think that the “menu” and “search” keys aren’t all that useful and they are redundant (how many “search” buttons do you need on a phone?!). There are also two keys slots on the extreme right and left in the spacebar row that are not used. I found the directional pad to be “so-so” (the Cliq’s is much better), but I don’t see an obvious way to improve it without making the design thicker.
Micro-USB to charge/sync: heavenLike many recent phones, the Droid uses a Micro-USB to charge/sync. It’s great and I’m really glad to see so many phone makers jumping on that wagon. At the top of the phone, there is a standard 3.5mm jack audio connector. In the back, there’s a 5 Megapixel camera with a dual LED flash. Next to the battery compartment, there is a rear speaker that is used for games and conferencing mode. There is a physical shutter button for the camera, which is more stable than tapping on the screen or pressing a trackball. We’ll get back to that later.
This is a movie trailer streamed over Verizon’s 3G networkThe star of the show is the 3.7″ capacitive touch display. The sheer resolution (854×480) makes it extremely sharp and nice to look at. Because it’s capacitive, there’s a chance that multitouch will be supported in the future. Although Android 2 does detect multiple touch points at the driver level, the user interface does not do anything with that information (yet). Overall, the form factor is great: the Droid is just a little thicker than the iPhone, but it is the physical proof that it’s possible to create a slider in a comparable form-factor.
Basics (very good)
Placing a call is very easy. You can dial a number on the (virtual) numeric pad, slide the keyboard and type the first few letters of a contact, or select one of your favorites. I tend to use the favorites or the call log. At the moment, you have to slide the keyboard out to type a contact name, so that’s a two-hand operation (well, you can technically do it with one hand, but not comfortably). The call volume is louder than most smartphones that I’ve tested recently, which is good. However, the sound has more “bass” than usual and that makes the voices slightly more muffled. Overall, all the basic functions are covered very well.
Web Browsing (Very good+)
The high-resolution is great for web browsing
A double-tap will quickly zoom to make content readableWeb browsing is very good. Many sites (like ubergizmo) don’t require any zooming if you have sharp eyes. When zooming is required, you can use the zoom button, but my new favorite zoom method is the double-tap. Upon a double-tap on a section of the content, the browser will try to figure out the content’s boundaries and zoom there. It’s not always as smart as I would like it to be, but it’s much better than the zoom button even if it is not quite as flexible as the iPhone’s pinch&zoom. Most of the time it’s even faster. In the end, double-tap covers 85% of my zooming need. I’d say that it works great for text, but isn’t as good as pinch&zoom for images. Because zoom is often required to read does not mean that you don’t need it: clicking on small links/icons can be difficult and that’s where zooming in becomes important. That’s why I still wish that there was a pinch&zoom as good as the 3GS.
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Flash is still not supportedUnlike the Nokia N900, Google Docs documents can be read, but not edited. There’s also no flash support (Hulu…). There is however a YouTube app that works very well (more on that below). Web browsing is neither complete or perfect, but in my day to day use, it has been largely good enough. Not having access to Google Docs or to flash sites like casual games or Hulu isn’t a big problem (to me).
Email (very good, but no search)
The Motorola Droid has a very good email support. Gmail is obviously there, and email in general should be easy to setup when using popular email services. I use Exchange for work, and there’s Exchange support out of the box in Android 2.0. If you wonder, this is true “push email”, just like Blackberry (and other) phones. I question the gray background design of the email app, and I sure wish that there was a way to customize it, but it is not a deal breaker. Having an email widget that shows the last 10 emails on the homepage would be great too. If you setup all your accounts in the Email application (that means not using a Gmail app) you can have a combined view of your Emails.
All in all, the email experience is great – except for one thing: the Email application does not have a search feature (Gmail does), and that could be a deal breaker for intense email users. I personally don’t use search email that much, but when I do, I’m usually scrambling to find something that I need right away.
Security (Good enough)
Like most Android phones, the Droid uses a lock pattern. Here’s what I said about this topic in my previous Android Review:
Android uses an unlock pattern with up to 9 points. I haven’t done any deep analysis, but using 4 points would allows less combinations than a 4-digit code, and using more points possibly becomes harder to remember. That said, I think that it is good enough for most users, but it’s very far from being unbreakable, just like the 4-digit code.
Photo / Video capture (Below average / good)
I’m pretty sure that the camera hardware is fine, but the software is just no there yetThe photo quality has been a subject of frustration. The camera hardware seems great, but there are focus issues with the camera application. I general, the automatic settings don’t do a very good job. In auto-focus mode, I have not been able to get a sharp image of an object of the lens is less than 6″ or 7″ away. If I switch to “macro mode”, it’s fine at 3″. The Flash suffers from similar issues. Sometimes, it kicks in while it is seemingly not needed. Shots from far away objects are easier to snap for sure. Also what is that new design for the photo application? It seems like a “standard issue” skin for Android 2.0, but there is a big textured gray border: yuck. Check out or original photo samples on Flickr
Top: with auto-focus. Bottom: in Macro mode.In video capture mode, it is still hard to focus at less than 6″, but the video quality is very good. It’s pretty amazing that one can capture DVD-resolution videos on a small device like that. The video resolution itself is higher than the iPhone’s 640×480. The Droid captures in 720×840 (3Mbps, 24.61fps, AAC Mono 16Khz) , which is very good, but I noticed that the focus wasn’t very smart. I hope that this gets fixed soon. It’s probably much better if you shoot a video outdoors and if your subject is more 2 feet away. If I can, I’ll upload another video.
There’s no video editing, but I really wonder if that’s a problem. I don’t see it as one for now, but drop a comment if you do. I’m curious to see if people really crop their videos from the phone.
Video sample from the Motorola Droid
This 3G games runs at 25–30fps. It looks like OpenGL 1.x featuresThe Motorola Droid is fast (or not slow) to the point where responsiveness mostly doesn’t become a distraction, which is a common problem on Android phones in my opinion. Clearly, the droid is the fastest Android phone that I’ve tried. It is much better and reactive than the Cliq or than the HTC Hero. Out of the box, we’re entering in iPhone 3GS’ reactivity territory, but like other Android phones, it is not immune to slow downs once apps are running in the background (it’s normal). After setting up and having Exchange, Google Latitude and Skype running in the background, I could already feel that the user interface had slow down.
Droid has a graphics processor that is similar to the one found in the Nokia N900. I’ve recorded a video with a racing game (a “WipeOut” clone) to show you, but basically, OpenGL 1.x graphics can run at 30fps or more, so the machine has a level of performance that would allow iPhone 3G (and slightly above) type of games. I know that OpenGL is going to get better as Google has been hiring top software engineers to work on this.
I’m not sure how much of the performance boost is due to Android 2.0 and how much has to do with the hardware. If it is Android 2.0, how much impact will it have if older phones get an update? What’s important is that it is faster and very usable – if you don’t run too many apps in the background.
Entertainment (Very good)
The Motorola Droid comes with a 16GB memory card that can be replaced by a 32GB version down the road. That’s pretty comfortable.
Music: All the functions are there and it works well. As usual, it is possible to search per artist, album, song or playlist, but it’s also possible to do a search by keyword (just start typing in the music player app), which is very practical, especially if you have a lot of media files. I have tested the sound output with a pair of Bose ComfortQuiet 15 headphones, and the sound quality is like most smartphones – not good, not bad. There are reports saying that the sound quality is “Excellent”, but it doesn’t sound better *to me* that common Mp3 players or smartphones. I’m inclined to say that the Nokia N900 sounds noticeably better (with headphones).
layback: YouTube video playback is very good. I’ve tried playing high-quality files over Verizon’s 3G network and the playback is very good: The included photos and videos speak for themselves. Basically, you can browse Youtube’s mobile site and when you find a video that you like, click on it and it will launch the Android YouTube application that will play the file in full screen (landscape mode). As usual, there’s no support for Hulu.
Dragon Ball Z playing from YouTube over the 3G network Speaker: The Motorola has a mono speaker that is loud enough for entertainment (and conference) use. It’s not stereo, unfortunately. The N900 does have stereo speakers.
Software, Android 2.0 (very good)
Even with Android 2.0, the user interface is very similar to other Android phones. In some applications like the contacts, I noticed that when you close the physical keyboard, the phone returns in portrait mode, even if you are still holding it in landscape mode. The vast majority of apps will display the proper orientation but it is not consistent.
Unified contact list>: Android 2 adds a number of interesting features including a unified contact list. If you add accounts like Facebook, Email (Exchange or otherwise) and more, Android 2 will try to merge the contact information from the various services, based on the available data. This works like Palm’s Synergy or MotoBlur. I wonder what MotoBlur will become if Android continues to head in that direction. As a result, my contacts have their Facebook profile picture as thumbnails (I love it), but you can’t send a Facebook message directly from the contact list like MotoBlur does. Instead you can only visit the profile. That’s too bad.
Can’t remove my Google account without a hard reset? Come on!Adding a Google Account can considered by Android as being “permanent” as this account is then used by other apps (like Gmail, Maps…). The system will prevent you from removing it, and a hard reset will become your only way out. It’s an odd Android 2.0 behavior that should be fixed in the future. It seems that changing/removing an email account is a very legitimate thing to do and should not require a hard reset. Why not reset the other apps’ settings and ask the user for a new login?
Mapping: I tend to see smartphone mapping apps as pedestrian-oriented, and as such the new mapping/navigation application is excellent. It features Google’s new turn-by-turn (with voice prompts) navigation software, which is good and free. The map scrolling is very smooth and the download of new map tiles is relatively fast, thanks to Verizon’s 3G network. The reactivity of the map makes the application very usable (on foot) and it is possible to zoom in with a double-tap (to zoom out, use the zoom button). I usually don’t like driving with one of those because there is a significant lag. It might or might not bug you, but I find that to be disturbing.
Searching for something is very quick and you can also type a partial address like “699 Mississippi” and Google will quickly resolve the address within the city (+other choices). Getting directions is as easy. For example, I typed “699 Mississippi” as the origin point and “Ferry Building” as the destination (that’s a landmark in SF). Google proposes a few choices for “Ferry building” and my destination was the second one. It takes only a second or two to get the turn by turn directions. Wow, that’s cool.
If you get the Motorola car mount, your phone will switch to Turn by turn Navigation as soon as it is docked. The new “Maps” application is great, but there are a few improvements that could be made: 1/ A “my location” icon should be on the map, and not in the menu. 2/ Pinch and zoom would be really nice, but we’ll survive without it. 3/ Finally, it would be out-of-this world if Google would allow users to keep the maps on the local phone storage (even one city!). That would make Google Map usable abroad without getting hammered by international roaming. Unfortunately, my understanding is that Google makes money “by the http request” with Google map for mobile (that’s unconfirmed), so I don’t know if this will ever happen. All in all, the mapping experience is simply excellent. Would this kill Personal Navigation Devices (PND)? Probably not until phones are a little faster and have a better car integration – but that’s coming. At this point, I would go for an integrated GPS if that makes financial sense, or I would use a PND because they are a bigger and faster because there is no real-time maps download.
The Skype call didn’t quite workSkype Lite: being able to leave Skype in the background is great (try that on an iPhone…) . That said, when receiving a message, there’s no visible notification on the home screen or the notification area. This particular version of Skype does not place call using the data network. Instead, it is trying to call a 813-527-2000 number that is supposed to connect me to my final destination, but in this case, I get a “this number has been disconnected” message. I can’t wait to have a fully featured Skype.
These apps are running in the backgroundMulti-Tasking: This is a sensitive subject these days because multi-tasking has become the main anti-iPhone weapon for Apple naysayers (the iPhone OS doesn’t let app run in the background). Just look at the debate in our N900 Review comment threads. Here’s my take on it: multi-tasking is a good thing, if you have a good use for it. Leaving IM clients on, GPS trackers, switching from an IM conversation to copy/paste something in an email etc… There are so many good ways of using multi-tasking. That said, I don’t think that multi-tasking is a deal-breaker for most people. Multi-tasking phones interfaces also need to improve their user awareness about what’s running. Techies often say: it’s “not hard to figure out what’s open and close it”. True, but it takes time, it’s annoying and we’re lazy. Plus, there has to be a better way than installing an App Killer app. The Nokia N900 has an interesting way of showing you current tasks and let you close them quickly. I could also imagine that users should be able to define if each app should
close or stay in the background (and pick up a default behavior). In the end, it’s not *that* hard to tackle, but I recognize that multi-tasking has caused some sluggishness. Today, mono-tasking can cause annoyances if you need background tasks, but it does make the phone more responsive. If you can’t bear having a mono-tasking phone, there are many alternatives, it’s as simple as that.
This utility is kind of handy!With my usage pattern, the Motorola Droid seems to do better than many phones. With a normal use (see context) the battery dies 22hrs to 24hrs down the line, which is better than the iPhone 3GS, the Motorola Cliq and largely better than the Nokia N900. Note that all needed to have the WiFi ON, because 3G reception wasn’t great. That might seem to be an unfair advantage to the Droid, but it is one of the perks of having a good 3G coverage and a good network. In the real world, I am effectively getting a longer-lasting phone because of that, and you *might* too.
The photo above shows that I unplugged the phone 14 hours ago, used it for 30mn to browse the web and left it sit idle (fetching push emails) for 13.5 hours. The battery level is high, but notice how the 30mn of display use is responsible for 50% of the battery drain over 14hrs…
With the Droid, I tend to not use WiFi, even at the office or at home, mainly because the 3G reception is very good. In data download benchmarks (dslreport), I’m getting around 1.1Mbps over 3G for both the Droid and the iPhone 3GS for the Droid. The 3GS 3G quality is not as consistent (due to AT&T’s network) unfortunately.
If you really want detailed information, there is a system utility that will tell you which app or hardware element has drained the battery the most. You can bet that it is always the display that is sucking most of the power. (Settings>About phone>Battery use). We’ve built an Android battery life page with step-by-step instructions on how to save battery life.
Accessories: Motorola has come up with cool accessories, I mentioned the car dock that switches to “Navigation mode” earlier but Motorola also has an Alarm Clock dock (link to video) to use on your beside table. The phone then becomes your alarm clock and gets charged (we told you that a nightly charge was necessary…). I have not tried that one, but you get the idea.
Things that could be better
Lock/Wake button: it seems like a small thing, but I press that button dozens of times a day, and I would love for it to be on the front… may be where that Search button is. I know that Google is providing the OS for free, but as I have been using Android phones for months now, I found that a physical search button doesn’t do much for me.
No email search: there’s no email search (for non Gmail users), and that’s a feature that could be very useful. It’s a must-fix.
Design: the Droid design is OK, but most (tech and non-tech) people that I showed it too still think that the iPhone is a nicer object. It would be a pity to ignore the many qualities of the Droid because of that, but this is a business reality: good design sells.
Droid is a high-end smartphone that works very well and represents the best Android has to offer. It steals the thunder from any other Android handset that I had my hands on. As a phone, it is very good, and besides minor quirks like email search, it is a very good communication device as well. The Verizon network also worked wonderfully in an area (Potrero Hill, SF) that has been usually very difficult for T-Mobile and inconsistent (at best) for AT&T. For once, I never *had to* setup WiFi.
The awesome display, the reactivity of the phones and Android 2.0 are its greatest assets. The Droid handset and Android 2.0 still need some polish and to the question “is it an iPhone killer?” I would say “no, it’s not”, but I would add “who cares?”. The experience is very good and I’m pretty sure that if you have the apps that you need, it will work for you. You will get most of the benefits of a great touch phone, plus the benefits of a full QWERTY keyboard and an open OS. What’s not to love?
I think that Droid is on its way to be a huge success for Verizon and Motorola. Forget the upcoming Storm 2. Droid is now the name of the game at Verizon.
Pricing: $200 with rebates and a new contract. Best Buy has been reported to give an instant rebate, and not a mail-in rebate. The voice + data plan starts at around $70 per month (+tax+charges)
In-depth articles that you might want to check: iPhone 4 Review, Apple iPad Review, Nexus One Review, Palm Pixi Review, Nokia N900 Review, iPhone 3GS Review, HTC Hero Review, MyTouch 3G Review/HTC Magic, Nokia N97 Review.
As usual, I think that these type of reviews is subjective to how I use smartphones, so I would recommend you to seek a second opinion from the following articles, in no particular order: Gizmodo, Gearlive, Cnet, BGR, Engadget. Of course, feel free to drop your own comment or review in the comments section below. Thanks for stopping by.
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