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Droid X Review

droid x review 52 hero 2
photo gallery

The Motorola Droid X has arrived to augment Motorola’s high-end smartphone offering. With an enormous screen and a fast hardware platform, the Droid X has many advantages when compared against its peers. The sheer size of the screen makes a lot of things better, like typing on a virtual keyboard, watching movies, browsing the web or playing games. But is the Motorola Droid X as good as it looks on paper? Should you go for it? Let’s take a look.

Context: We all have our own way to use the electronics that makes our lives better, that’s why it is foolish to write a dogmatic review that says “buy or not”. I found it much more useful to tell you what I do with these devices and how it worked for me. From there, I hope that you can extrapolate how it will work for you.

I typically check my email often from an Exchange server, and I reply only moderately because a virtual keyboard is not as productive as a physical one. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but I rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are important or not.

Technical Highlights

Verizon Motorola Droid X Sprint HTC EVO 4G
Android 2.1, Motoblur UI/Widgets Android 2.1 + HTC Sense
4.3″ LCD 854×480 4.3″ LCD 480×800
TI OMAP 3630 1Ghz Qualcomm 8650 SnapDragon, 1Ghz
512MB RAM 512MB RAM
8GB internal, 16GB/32GB (microSD) 4GB microSD card
8 Megapixel camera 8 Megapixel camera
3G, Wifi b/g, BT 2.1+EDR, aGPS 4G, 3G, Wifi b/g, BT 2.1+EDR, aGPS
FM Radio FM Radio
TV Out (HDMI) TV Out (HDMI)
Carrier: Verizon Carrier: Sprint
4.6 x 2.3 x 0.47″, 4.6oz 4.8 x 2.6 x 0.5″, 6oz
1540mAh battery 1500mAh battery
read EVO 4G review

Physical design


This video shows the exterior design of the Motorola Droid X, next to other phones
droid x review 27 design body
Design: check the photo gallery and tell us what you think of the design in the comments

Body: At first sight, the Motorola Droid X looks obviously larger than most smartphones. And although “big” used to be a bad thing, touch phone are in fact much more comfortable to use when they display area is larger.

droid x review bulge
“The bulge”

If it wasn’t for that bulge in the back (where the camera module is), the Motorola Droid X has an otherwise very thin silhouette – sensibly thinner than the EVO 4G, and on par with the iPhone 4. The body is made of a plastic that has a “leathery” texture, which reminds me of the Nexus One. The rest is fairly plain and consensual. If this was a laptop design, it would be an HP business laptop… I found the power button to be well placed an easy to reach.

The volume button is on the left side of the phone, which is OK. On that same side, there is a camera shutter button that I really like for taking pictures, but I also hit it accidentally many times and launched the camera app unintentionally. Overall the industrial design is not particularly classy or edgy. The phone would deserve to be nicer looking.

droid x review 25 photo gal
The big display is great to watch and comfy to use: Yum!

Display: The display feels great and is comfortable to use. On paper, the size difference with smaller phones like the Droid Incredible or the iPhone 4 doesn’t look like much, but believe me, when you use it, it is noticeably different. Reading is much more comfortable too: emails, books and movies are simply “better” on the Droid X’s display.

On a more technical note, the Droid X uses a LCD display, which looks OK, but does not have any particular technical edge (resolution, contrast or brightness) when compared to other devices, like the Samsung Galaxy S (OLED) or the iPhone 4′s IPS LCD. But don’t sweat it, while there is a difference, it shouldn’t dictate your decision to go for this phone or not. The screen is very decent.

droid x review 26 ui buttons
The mechanical buttons can be activated while in your pocket

UI buttons: like all Android phones, the Motorola Droid X has buttons at the bottom for quick access to the Menu, Home, Search and Back functions. Those buttons are mechanical and not based on a tactile surface so an accidental click is more likely to happen. Clicking on any of them wakes the phone up for 10 seconds, and I’m afraid that this is happening in my pockets as well, although I’ve had a hard time to verify this.

Basics

droid x review 28 dialing
All the basic phone functions are well covered

Dialing: Dialing a number is easy either by using the dial buttons, the favorites or by searching someone in the contacts. I tend to use the favorites and/or the recent calls, and despite having hundreds of contacts, finding a number has never been frustrating or too long.

Wireless Reception: I always point out that the quality of the network mostly depends on where you live/work. It doesn’t matter if a network is “the best” on average if you live in a “dark spot”. Before you choose a network, get some real information by asking your friends and people around you. For me, I have not had any issues with Verizon’s network anywhere in San Francisco. Because of that, I’m able to shut down WIFI most of the time and spare more battery capacity.
Every little bit counts.

droid x review 48 earpiece
The sound is OK, a bit on the muffled side, maybe

Call audio quality: The audio quality of the earpiece is decent, no problem there. I found the sound to be a tiny bit to muffled/dull, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a “problem”. In speaker mode, the volume is loud enough to be used in a normal environment (living room with TV on, office…).

droid x review 31 keyboard
The slightly larger keys are making a big difference, and Swype is very cool

Virtual Keyboard: It’s pretty established that virtual keyboard tends to slow down the typing rate. However, the large screen of the Droid X does make things a little better. Because of the slightly larger size of the keyboard itself, I make less typos, and I don’t have to exert as much muscle control when typing, so it is more comfortable. It’s not quite as optimal as a physical keyboard (for me), but the size goes a long way to help.

Oh, and did I mention that the Droid X had Swype built-in? That’s pretty awesome, and if you are skeptic, you should try it. In my opinion, Swype reduces typos by requiring you to keep your finger on the display surface. It also has a statistical method for weeding out typos, if you use words from its dictionary. This makes typing on the Droid X clearly superior to the iPhone 4 or the Droid Incredible – but this is not a physical keyboard replacement.

Copy/Paste: Copy/paste is still broken in this version of Android 2.1. You can’t copy at all from a non-editable zone, like an email that you are reading. The same thing goes for web pages. If I’m reading a web page, I can’t copy the content… needless to say, this is pretty much as good as non-existent.

Web Browsing

droid x review 32 web browsing
The web browser works very well. If you wonder, Flash isn’t supported

The web browser works very well, pretty much as well as you can expect from a smartphone. Unlike other Android devices, zooming in and out does not trigger a re-pagination that moves stuff around – great. You can zoom in precisely on a particular spot to click on a small image or link. You can zoom with a double-tap. This is a smart implementation that should work for everyone. I like it.

Flash: Flash is not supported in the browser, I tried simple things like casual games and even ads won’t show up. Too bad, but I frankly don’t miss it – for now. Flash is too slow on mobiles at the moment, but this might change with upcoming handsets.

Google Docs: As usual, Google Docs files are read-only, except for the spreadsheets. Most (or all) Android phones behave like that, and so does the iPhone. The Nokia N900 is the only smartphone that would edit Google Docs in the browser (read ourNokia N900 Review). I found an app called GDocs to read Google Docs. It doesn’t seem to edit, but let’s hope that Google does something about it. Editing Google Docs could be a good thing for Android Tablets.


This video shows the web browser in action

Email / Account sync

droid x review 34 email
This is an email with images and all

Exchange: Thanks to its Microsoft Exchange support, you should be able to connect to your work email, unless IT has made a mess in the name of security. You’ll have to ask them if you need a VPN access and so on… Good luck. The push feature kind of works… I say “kind of” because I get my emails much faster on my Blackberry or on my computer. While the iPhone 4 doesn’t quite as fast as the Blackberry, this is even slower. I’m not sure if this is due to Moto Blur or not, but it can take “minutes” before getting an email notification. Not a big deal for everyone, except if you use email like an Instant Messenger sometimes.

droid x review 35 accounts
Popular services are supported, for those that aren’t, try findinf an App

Popular mail services: Adding an account for a popular email service like Yahoo or Gmail is a breeze. Just enter your account login+password and you should be set. All new messages will go into the unified inbox (and you can check the individual inboxes too). If there’s a service that cannot be recognized, you can always do a manual setup with the POP settings. I fortunately did not have to do that recently.

Accounts Sync: In addition to email services, the Motorla Droid X also supports other social networks and websites. Facebook, MySpace, Picassa and others are supported. Motorola has tried to cover the most popular services, but if you can’t find your favorite, maybe there’s an app for that.

Computer Sync

droid x review 36 usb hdmi
Computer Sync can be as simple as USB. There’s not iTunes equivalent,
for better or worse.

USB Sync (simple): USB connectivity is pretty much a snap with Android. Plug it and it shows up as a USB drive. It’s easy, and most people are familiar with that concept. There’s not management software to install (iTunes) and your Android phone is mostly autonomous – it doesn *need* a computer. The downside is that buying stuff and managing a lot of data might not be as convenient as it is with iTunes, it really depends on how savvy you are. Chances are that most people don’t load their phones with too many media, music and video, or do it in a way that is simple enough to be handled manually (as in “copy everything”).

droid x review 37 mobile hotspot
Just like the EVO 4G, creating a WIFI Hotspot with Droid X is a snap

Tethering (very good): The Droid X can be turned into a Mobile WIFI Hotspot for up to 5 computers/devices. The setup is very easy, as you just need to setup the network name and password, then enable the feature. This is efficient and in our office with 3/4 signal bars, I could fetch 1.43Mbps down and 0.46Mbps up on my laptop (easyspeak.net/speedtest) – pretty good, right? The next test was to watch videos on Hulu (in 360p resolution), and the Droid X passed brilliantly. Because it can create a Hotspot, the Motorola Droid X is superior to the iPhone 4 when it comes to sharing an internet access. Note that this feature costs $20 monthly.

Photo and video
capture (Not acceptable)

droid x review 38 photo app
Frankly, I was disapointed by the quality of the camera module in regards to its size

Overall, the camera is not great by today’s standards. Given the bulge in the back, I was expecting something *spectacular*. Instead, the results are not impressive at all, and the Droid X gets actually killed by the iPhone 4 in terms of image quality for both photos and videos… plus, the iPhone 4 is significantly smaller – ouch.

Photo: Even with good ambient lighting, the Droid X delivers just “OK” pictures at best. Its high resolution of 3264×1840 is even overdone, as it inflates the photo size, but does not help image quality one bit. In dim lighting (restaurant…) it’s even worse, and the iPhone 4 clobbers the Droid X.

from iphone 4 070
I’ve uploaded thefull size photo on Flickr if you’re curious.
This was shot in dim lighting in a restaurant.Compare with the iPhone 4

Video: The video capture has most of the issues raised in the previous paragraph. The video quality is not all that impressive, and I would recommend shooting at 640×480 30fps, instead of trying to go for 720p because it is a little “choppy”. Again, not impressed at all here. I’ve posted some video samples on Flickr too.

Performance


This video shows the UI and the Kindle App
User Interface (UI): The user interface speed is OK, but not the fastest that I have seen on Android (Droid Incredible is better). The iPhone 4 is still the king of smooth user interfaces (with the Zune HD). I believe that it is somewhat of an “Android Problem” as almost every Android phone has the hardware capabilities to have smooth scrolling and fast user interfaces, but instead, they are all plagued with relatively choppy scrolling (some are worse than others). Some users aren’t bothered by it, but I am. Maybe I played too many console video games.


Video: the Droid X is definitely gaming capable
Gaming: Talking about video games, I played with Need for Speed Shift (from EA), and the Motorola Droid X does very well with that game. It is comparable to the best Android phones out there and to the iPhone 4. The Droid X does have some 3D power in its guts.

droid x review 40 benchmark
The CPU yields better slightly benchmark scores than recent Android phones

Benchmark: With Linpack, I’m getting up to 8+MFlops, which higher than other high-end Android 2.1 smartphones (Incredible, EVO 4G). But unlike other devices, the reading was very inconsistent, and I had results all over the place between 1 and 8+ MFlops. I must have had something running in the background, or a wireless update going on. Keep an eye out for that.

Multitasking

droid x review 41 multitask
Multi-tasking is great, but keep an eye on those background apps, or face battery depletion

Of course, Android offers “true” multi-tasking and you can effectively let any app run in the background. But Android 2.1 still doesn’t offer a good mechanism to close tasks, so I recommend getting a free “Task Killer” from the Marketplace, and set it to auto-kill every “x” mn, with a few exceptions. It’s not hard to setup and it’ll save your battery life. This is a must-have, so much that handset makers like Samsung are starting to integrate a similat utility app.

The iPhone 4 offers a more restrictive multi-tasking capability in which only the most popular cases are covered (GPS, VOIP, Music come to mind). The downside is that a case that’s not covered in Apple’s scheme can’t benefit from multi-taking. On the other-hand, the restrictions allow for a better power management because the OS knows exactly what it can shut down.

Entertainment

droid x review 42 photo roll
The 3D camera roll is smooth and fast… faster than the 2D gallery, weirdly

Photo gallery (good): the photo gallery app It looks great on the big display and it is very decent overall. However, I regret that the scrolling isn’t very fluid. This is something that should be fixed.

droid x review 43 mp4
MP4 playback worked great. Every file that I tried worked


Video: YouTube over 3G is impeccable – take that iPhone 4
Video playback (very good): Good news, the MP4 playback is excellent, not only because of the sheer sceen size, but most importantly because it has been able to read every mpeg 4 files that I had at my disposal, ranging from PSP files to a 740×800 mpeg-4 file that I created myself. Other Android smartphones were not capable of handling all the codecs, so I think that this is important.

droid x review 45 music
The music app’s search is effective. It just works.

Music (good enough): As usual, the music player is very decent and certainly good enough. It’s easy to find music with a simple search, or with different categorizations (authors, albums, alphabetical, playlists). If you put the phone to sleep, the music will continue to play, and upon waking up, a minimalist user interface wil
l appear on top of the lock screen. Convenient.

droid x review 47 kindle home
Kindle (or Nook) look great on the large display

eBooks (very good): With Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes&Noble’s Nook apps, you have great options to purchase and consume eBooks. Each has its own pro and cons, but I have tested Kindle simply because I have a bunch of books there already. Overall, the eBook reading experience is very good and it is very similar to what you would get on other platforms. The most important difference here is the screen size: because the screen is so big, I can use the smallest font without any problems. It’s comfortable to use and quite convenient. I’m fairly sure that the B&N Nook experience will be similar, and I recommend looking at both platforms.

droid x review 30 speaker
It doesn’t look like much, but the speaker does have enough punch to be effective

Speaker quality (very decent): The speaker quality is very decent. It is located at the back of the phone. I compared it to the iPhone 4′s and I would give the advantage to the Droid X on this one. Both have OK sound quality, but let’s be real, you won’t get a *great* sound quality out of those tiny speakers. If they’re loud enough, they are doing their job.

droid x review 44 youtube hq
Unlike the iPhone 4, the high-quality mode works in 3G

YouTube (very good): Out of the box, the YouTube experience on the Motorola Droid X is one of the best out there. Again, because the display is larger, and secondly because you can opt for HD movies simply by clicking on the “HQ” button on the screen. In 3G mode, the Droid X blows the iPhone 4 away, but the iPhone 4 gets back in the game with WIFI because its display is so crisp. If you want to watch movies on the go, the Droid X clearly has an advantage..

Misc

droid x review 49 skype
Skype mobile is interesting, but heavy Skype users might prefer the iPhone’s version.

Skype (good, limited): Verizon has a tight integration with Skype that’s worth mentioning. You can place calls to your Skype contacts or a phone number. When calling an ordinary phone, the minutes will be wireless minutes, not Skype minutes. I’m not sure what the pricing is for international calls (if possible at all), but the main idea is that Skype-to-Skype calls are free, although they still use the Verizon voice network. If you want to be reachable via a Skype number, you need a Skype-to-Go number. I tried calling myself on my Skype number (not “To Go”) and it didn’t work. This Skype for Mobile can not be used over WIFI. Other phones can place Skype calls over WIFI, but not over 3G – at least not without a fee.

SD Card disconnection (annoying!): Just like the EVO 4G, the Motorola Droid X had its internal storage “disapear” on me a couple of times (Android would tell me that my card was gone). I’m not sure why that is, but I’m starting to wonder if this is Android-related. This problem was fixed on the EVO 4G with a software update. Usually, a reboot would fix the issue.

Storage (cheap): The Motorola Droid X is using MicroSD for storage, which makes it cheap, evolutive and readily available. You don’t have to worry about running out of space next year, or something like that. This comes down to what you want to do with your phone. I have a 16GB phone and I have a ton (10GB) of space left, so i personally don’t pay too much attention to this.

No data during calls (known): It’s been known for a while that non-4G CDMA phones can’t get data access during a call. This is usually not a problem, except if you’re talking with someone and want to check google maps or even your email. “Did you get my mail” will quickly turn into “I’ll call you back”. Not a killer, but I certainly would prefer to be able to do both.

Battery life (very good)

Overall, I would say that the Droid X has a very good energy management, especially while the phone is in sleep mode which is great because it is in that state most of the time – at least for me. I can get the phone running for more than a day. If I use it more the battery can go down fairly quickly depending on what I do. I suspect that the big screen might require more power (back light).

droid x review 51 battery utility
Knowledge is power… litterally. This will tell you what sucks all the juice from the battery

The battery utility in Android can help you figure out what app is consuming power, and obviously, this will help you optimize your own usage, or at least be aware if what’s going on.

The camera app does not consume excessive power, as we’ve seen in the past with other Android phones. It’s probably the most (if not the only only) positive point of the camera.

droid x review 50 power widget
The Power Widget remains one of my favorite Android Feature. Simple & efficient

The Power Widget remains one of my favorite Android feature. With it, I can turn WIFI, GPS, etc… ON and OFF with one tap, from the desktop, and that saves me power, while keeping all these features at my disposal when I need them. This is great and I wish that the iPhone 4 would have it.

Things that could be better

Design: to be honest, I’m not a big fan of this design. This is a very personal opinion, but I think that it is not very sexy, especially with that bulge in the back. The rest of the phone is a little blend – not bad, but not great. Fortunately, you don’t need me to form an aesthetic opinion, so I’ll stop here. My advice is: try to hold one for a few minutes to get a feel for it before buying it.

Landscape Mode: The landscape more doesn’t work consistently. This is not a big issue, but it’s small enough that we would expect it to work, at some point…

Smooth scrolling: This is an “Android problem”, but the screen scrolling can’t run at 60fps to save its life. I know that the hardware can do it, so I hope that Google will fix this soon.

Wishlist

UMA: given that Verizon’s CDMA isn’t compatible in most international networks, it would be very nice if the Droid X could have UMA support. UMA would let users reach the carrier’s network over WIFI. Unfortunately, T-Mobile is the only US carrier to support UMA at this point.

Conclusion

droid x review 53 conclusion
It comes down to: big screen or not?

The Motorola Droid X offers some really good features, notably the huge screen, mobile HotSpots and the Swype virtual keyboard. However, it has weaknesses too. The slightly slower user interface performance makes the phone a little less enjoyable to use (slow UI, jerky scrolling), but I think/hope that it will be improved down the road by a softwar
e update (maybe…). The camera quality seems irreparable though, so if you care about imaging, this is a no-go for me. In the end, it comes down to screen size: for those who enjoy a big, comfortable, virtual keyboard and YouTube videos that look great out of the box, the Motorola Droid X will do a very good job. If you like the Hotspot feature, other phones like the EVO 4G do it too (read EVO 4G review). If the display size is a secondary issue, I recommend looking at the Droid Incredible (readDroid Incredible review) or the iPhone 4 (readiPhone 4 review). Keep an eye for upcoming Samsung Galaxy S class phones too. The Motorola Droid X is decent, but its life is going to be tough in such a competitive world.

Links

Verizon Wireless, Motorola X homepage at Motorola

Don’t miss these reviews:
Apple: iPhone 4 ReviewMacBook Air Review, iPad Review
AndroidNexus S Review, EVO 4G ReviewEpic 4G ReviewDroid 2 ReviewHTC Hero Review
BlackBerry: BlackBerry Torch Review, Blackberry 9700 Review
Windows Phone 7: Samsung Focus Review, HTC Surround Review

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