Droid X2 Review

With the Droid X2, Motorola has come up with an update to the original Droid X, another Android smartphone for the Verizon network. The changes are mostly internal, most notably with the use of a better qHD display -the best resolution for Android phones today- and an NVIDIA Tegra 2 SoC that powers the handset.

Because of those changes, the performance and gaming capabilities have much improved from the Droid X days. However, the competitive landscape has also changed quite a bit since, so how is it like to use the Droid X2 in the real world, and how does it do relative to other powerful smartphones? In this Droid X2 Review, I’ll try to answer those questions.

Technical Highlights

Android 2.2 (Froyo) OS with Motorola Application Platform
4.3” qHD touch screen (960 x 540) display
Battery: 1540 mAH Li–Ion
Nvidia Tegra2 Dual Core 1Ghz processor
8GB Internal memory for emails, texts, and apps
8GB pre–installed microSD card for music, videos, and pictures (expandable to 32GB)
8.0 megapixel
WIFI, Bluetooth
Dimensions: 2.58(w) x 5.02(h) x .39(d) inches
Weight: 5.47oz (155g)
Full specifications at Motorola.com

Context

We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that I tell you what I do with them: I check my email (often, with Microsoft Exchange), and I reply  moderately because virtual keyboards are slow to type with and require more concentration. I browse the web several times a day to check on news  and stocks, but I rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all. On the “apps” side, I use a couple of social networks, and I rarely play games on the go, but I may use my phone as a TV remote from time to time. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful.

External Design

Droid X2 Review

Left: Droid X2, right: Droid X

Droid X2 Review

The Motorola Droid X2 looks very much like the original Droid X (read our Droid X Review). It’s interesting how times have changed When the Droid X came out, it felt HUGE. But with the recent flurry of 4” and even 4.5” Android phones, I doesn’t feel all that big now. On the back, the “buldge” that houses the 8 Megapixel camera is still there along with the 2-LED flash.

Both USB and micro-HDMI ports are on the left side, and would get in the way if you tried to use the phone while tethered with these cables. At the top is where you would connect a 3.5mm audio jack. This is a great location for folks who keep the phone in their pockets.

Aesthetics are a matter of personal preferences, but Motorola has not done much to make the Droid X family evolve. In fact, other than losing the camera button, the physical design did not evolve at all (!). Anyhow, if you liked the first one, this may not be a problem. However, there were certainly things that could have been improved, such as removing the “buldge” in the back. That said, I still appreciate the physical Android buttons at the bottom.

Display

Droid X2 Review

The Droid X2 display is supposed to have a “dual–layer anti–reflective coating” that should help it in bright environment. Possibly, but it doesn’t fare any better than most smartphones that I had on hand. Here’s a comparison with the recently reviewed HTC Sensation. To be fair, that “coating” isn’t on Motorola’s website.

The good news is that Motorola is using a qHD display, which has a higher resolution (960×540) than most Android handset (800×480). But again, the Verizon spec sheet says that it can display 16M colors, which should assure smooth color gradients. But in reality, it doesn’t do as well as the HTC Sensation. I doubt that the Sensation displays more than 16M colors, so my guess is that the X2 display isn’t as good as the Verizon site suggests.

Droid X2 Review

Very difficult lighting conditions for both phones. Although this photos shows the X2 doing better, they are very close

In absolute terms, it is “decent”, but there are better displays out there, but the pitch on Verizon’s website is probably a bit too aggressive in this instance. Also, Motorola could have showed it off much better simply by using better background images and lock screens. The default ones don’t do justice to the screen.

In short, the display resolution is great, but others displays are as good, or better, most notably the HTC Sensation’s LCD, or the LCD IPS displays on the Optimus 2X and the iPhone 4. AMOLED displays would also be better in terms of contrast and saturation, but not in color accuracy.

Basic functions

Call audio quality (average): the audio quality during calls was decent, although neither great or bad. I think that most people won’t complain about it as it is average. Users have certainly heard similar audio quality before.

Droid X2 Review

Dialing / Contacts (easy): dialing a number, or finding a contact is very easy. You can use the virtual numeric pad of course, or head into the contact list and scroll down or type a name. If you have a lot of contacts, creating a list of favorites may help quite a bit. My personal favorite on Android is the “direct dial” shortcut. Basically, you choose a contact and a number, and you create an icon on the home page. Upon pressing it, the call is directly placed. It’s the fastest way to call someone, and I use it all the time.

Droid X2 Review

Web Browser: Like most high-profile Android phones, the Droid X has great web browsing capabilities. Most sites (desktop or mobile) will work without any issues, but expect highly interactive sites to be a bit slower than their desktop counterpart. This is a mobile after all, and this a problem that every phone out there has to contend with. With its dual-core processor, the Droid X2 should do better than most.

Droid X2 Review

Flash Support: Of course, you can install the latest version of the Flash player in order to watch videos, and even play casual Flash games. Keep in mind that most Flash objects/applications have been designed to be viewed on much more powerful computers, so, some application may not work at desired speeds on a mobile device, even a powerful one like the Droid X2.

Software

The Droid X2 comes with a version of Android customized by Motorola. Unlike the original Cliq, which featured a central HUB called MotoBlur, there’s nothing truly out of the ordinary here. You can find many widgets that replicate functions also present on other smartphones, but to be honest, I don’t like using most widgets because many of them deplete the battery faster. I love any widget that helps controlling power usage, but the stock Power Control is present on all Android phones.

Lock screen: when turning the phone ON and OFF, the image takes a second to fade in and out. That’s cool, but I truly think that turning the phone ON should make the screen “pop” to life right away. It is a bit like the fancy animated effects in Windows, and I’m clearly someone who would disable them to have a snappier OS. Sometimes, I want to turn my phone ON and I think that it didn’t register my button action, while in fact, it was fading in… In direct sunlight, it’s even worse because the “faded” image appears all black until the display light is fully ON. This may sound harsh when you read the review, but I use that power button a zillion times a day, so this is a cumulative effect.

Lock screens have evolved on Android and iOS. Check my review of the HTC Sensation to see how lock screens can boost your productivity. Heck, even Apple is going to allow direct access to apps from the lock screen. It works.

Critical Apps

After surveying smartphone users, these are the apps that I think people use the most (outside of the obvious “phone call”. It is therefore of great important to perform a check on those:

Keyboard

Droid X2 Review

I have have observed that text communication is still of critical importance in modern smartphones. Whether is it SMS, email, chat or social networks, using a keyboard in key is getting the job done. The Motorola Droid X2 keyboard uses a clean design that does not have alternate characters that can be triggered by pressing a key for a second or so. The good thing about it is that there is less visual clutter, which might help you type faster.

Droid X2 Review

Swype Keyboard: if you really must have alternate quick access to alternate characters, the Droid X2 has a second keyboard, powered by Swype. First, this second keyboard does feature the alternate characters access, but more importantly, it has Swype, a quick trace keyboard that on which you type by tracing a line between the letters that form a word. I personally like it a lot.

Droid X2 Review

Voice Keyboard: This is an edge that Android wields without mercy in the smartphone world. I’ve been in a situation where typing on a virtual keyboard was not an option, and a quick voice to text translation was very much more efficient. Neither iOS or Windows Phone have this. The next Windows Phone 7 (Mango) also has an excellent voice to text feature, but it works only on SMS, while the Android version truly acts as a keyboard replacement.

Email

Email support is good, and I like that fact that users can select multiple emails for deletion or archiving. It’s important because most people do a lot of inbox “curation” so that things are clean by the time they get to the office.

The messaging app also supports email search. It seems bizarre, but many Android phones out there do not have a proper email search, so this is a big deal. While not “vital”, the lack of search feature is truly annoying for anyone who searches for an old email. If you’re an “email person”, you need a search function.

Facebook

Droid X2 Review

The Facebook app for Android is pretty good, and most of the most used functions (updates, news feed, photo upload, like, comments) are now well supported. The apps still has a fair amount of lag, and seems more “web-based” than its iOS counterpart, but overall, I think that it is good enough, so most people won’t complain. I certainly don’t.

Maps

Droid X2 Review

I have a lot of meetings if places or offices that I’ve never been to, sometimes in a new country or city. Having a reliable mapping software is paramount and this is an area where Android phones tend to be very good at because they have the best version of Google Maps. The Droid X2 has the latest Google Maps (version 5) which contains improvements such as offline maps availability for the most frequently used areas. It also features a turn by turn navigation feature that non-Android version of Google Maps still don’t have.

The bottom-line is that this is one of the best mapping options that you have out there. If maps matter to you, you should not be disappointed.

Skype

Skype works pretty decently for text chats and phone calls, including calls to regular phone numbers. Keep in mind that calls typically work great over WIFI, and can be decent over 3G.

Because the Droid X2 is a Verizon phone, it can work with two distinct version of Skype. The Verizon one, and the generic one. Skype for Verizon will use your Verizon minutes when calling regular numbers. Skype-to-Skype calls use your data plan.

The generic Skype only uses the 3G data an can call to Skype and to regular phone numbers as well. Depending on your situation, you can choose either version. For example, if you are in a foreign country, you might get away with a data-only SIM and you’ll be able to Skype as many places in the world without any problems.

Anyhow, the thing that I miss the most is the video chat option. iOS devices have it, but the Skype version of Android still doesn’t. This is way overdue. Obviously, there are great alternatives like Tango, but frankly, nothing is quite like Skype. If Skype video-chat is a must-have, then you’re out of luck at this point.

Update: as of June 30, Skype for Android now supports video calls, but on a limited number of handsets. The Droid X2 is not supported at this time.

Photo and Video Capture (mixed)

Droid X2 Review

Continuous auto focus: The Droid X 2 has some interesting photo capabilities. First, there’s a continuous auto-focus, which is a really good thing: we wish that all Android handsets would have it. It’s not super-fast when compared to the iPhone, but let me tell you that “existence” is always superior to “perfection”. In other words, it’s a lot better than nothing! It is fast enough so that by the time most users are ready, the focus is done: Mission accomplished. Now, it doesn’t mean that it should not get faster…

Droid X2 Review

This photo was shot with the Droid X2, which does OK in good lighting

Face recognition? According to the Verizon website, the Droid X2 is supposed to be capable of recognizing faces, but I have yet to get this to work on anyone’s face… In fact, the Motorola site does not mention this feature at all, so I think that this was a mistake from Verizon.

720p HD Video capture (smooth, but): the Droid X2 is capable of recording 720p videos, and unlike many other phones, it does save videos that do not exhibit any signs of suttering. However, the quality of the optics gets in the way of the processing capabilities here. First, the camera is not very good at shooting anything focusing onto nearby objects (<2 feet), so shooting something that is farther away would work better.

Optics and sensor quality (average): in the end, if often comes down to what the camera can see, and in which conditions. In my opinion, the camera does reasonably well in good lighting conditions, but on a cloudy day, or on a dimly lit room, things quickly become more difficult. It stays well within the standards for smartphones, but the new generation of camera sensors such as the Sony Exmor is bringing things to the next level. Also, many manufacturers such as Apple tweak the software to favor light sensitivity, even if it adds noise. Keep an eye out for our Galaxy S2 Review…

Fast-shooting modes: The Droid X2 offers features that are mostly available only on Tegra 2 Android handsets like the panorama mode or the multi-shoot quick “burst” mode. I really like the panorama mode on the LG Optimus 2X / G2X, but unfortunately, the Motorola implementation is not as good. It’s too bad, because we know that the phone’s hardware can do it. It just needs the software…

Entertainment / Play

Gaming

Droid X2 Review

Pinball HD: only for Tegra-powered Android phones

Just like other Tegra-powered phones, the Droid X2  is very much capable of gaming, which is the single most power-hungry activity in terms of computing. Interestingly, it’s only the only hardware platform that currently has specific titles optimized for it, if not exclusive to it.

I’ve played with games like Pinball HD, or Samurai II: Vengeance HD. Both are very smooth and run at 60FPS at all times. It is very neat to play at full frame rate. Both are very enjoyable, but to be honest, they look that much better on a tablet. Anyhow, the bottom-line is that the Droid X2 can power games, and that you will likely have a bit more choice with Tegra 2. I wonder if other chip companies like Qualcomm will end up having exclusive deals with game developers.

Video Playback

In terms of video playback, the Droid X2 should be able to play up to 1080p files (within a 5Mbps bitrate limit). All my MP4 PSP movies and the DVD-quality movies that I created myself worked, so I think that MP4 compatibility is very decent. Remember that you can also find other players on the Android Market, but keep in mind that they might not use the video-decompression hardware.

Droid X2 Review

Image output on a 46" LED TV

HDMI output: it is possible to connect the Droid X2 to an HDMI HDTV to play 1080p movies, however, users should know that: 1/ the Android user interface will stay in its native resolution. 2/ Not every video player will be able to output 1080p 3/ Games will play in the native screen resolution.

I enjoyed playing Samurai II on the big screen, and it’s true that the graphics were not completely sharp (still using the phone’s resolution, not the TV’s), but it was still enjoyable. That said, it’s important to know what to expect in that regards.

Droid X2 Review

Speaker Quality: Just like the Droid X, the speaker quality is fairly good. It’s located at the back of the phone, which is usually not the best location (the bottom seems to work better), but other Motorola phones like the Atrix do very well with a back speaker. This Droid X2 isn’t as good as the Atrix, but it’s very OK.

System Performance (Very good+)

When talking about performance with a consumer electronics device, I always try to separate the “measured” and “perceived” performance. Measured metrics are obtained by running synthetic (not always life-like) benchmarks to stress specific parts of the system.
On the other hand, “perceived” performance is the user observation of performance. Although they should correlate, I would always place perceived performance as being the most important thing. After all, what is performance good for if you can’t tell?

“Measured performance” (excellent)

To measure performance, we ran a number of tests that show how the Droid X2 measures against other popular smartphones.

Droid X2 Review

Droid X2 Review

BrowserMark, SunSpider: BrowserMark and SunSpider are two tests that measure the speed of Javascript, a key component for interactivity in websites. To be clear, this does not measure “how fast” pages are loading. Instead this look at how fast scripting code can execute. Javascript is used in modern websites for user interface or even complete applications/games.

Although it doesn’t rank first, the Droid X2 is up there with the other Tegra 2 devices. I’m not sure why it is slower than other Tegra 2 devices, but in any case, it’s probably close enough for most users and there is a significant gap with the closest non-Tegra competitor.

Droid X2 Review

GUIMark 2 (Flash): This test measure the Adobe Flash performance. Flash is a widely used multimedia platform and you can find it virtually everywhere as advertisement, video or other forms of interactive web page module.

To put things in context, there are plenty of phones that don’t support Flash at all (including all iPhones), so the mere fact that it works is already a good thing. But on the Droid X2, it not only works, it works really fast! in this particular Flash test, the score is nearly twice as fast as the recently reviewed Samsung Infuse 4G. Clearly, the investment that NVIDIA has put in Flash optimizations is paying off.

Flash performance addresses several needs, like browsing Flash websites like small businesses, restaurants, art galleries etc… There, you won’t have any problems – they work well. Secondly, you can go on more complex promotional sites or Flash gaming sites. Remember that Flash games or HD Flash video might still be out of reach of powerful like this one, because those applications have been designed for PCs.

Droid X2 Review

CPU Benchmark: This test attempts to measure the pure number-crunching capabilities of the phone. The Droid X2 gets an excellent score. There is not much else to say about it. Again, it’s fast.

Droid X2 Review

NeoCore Graphics Benchmark: Neocore is an old polygonal 3D graphics test, but most Android games are still using relatively old graphics techniques, so it is still relevant – hopefully not for long.

Ironically, this is the test where one would expect NVIDIA to win, however the HTC Sensation 4G, takes the lead. It is powered by a Qualcomm system on a chip (SoC). We’ll have to re-match those two chips on more modern OpenGL 2.0 benchmarks. The important takeaway is that the Droid X2 can truly propel gaming performance.

Perceived Performance (very good)

The synthetic numbers are great, and the real-world usage mostly reflect this. There is no doubt that this smartphone performs great whenever a lot of processing power is required. However, in seemingly basic usage, the competition has managed to do better.

For instance, I find the HTC Sensation to have a more fluid scrolling when navigating displays. Also, Motorola has induced some “perceived” lag by adding animated effects when you turn the phone On and Off.

To be clear, this is a matter of software, but in the end, software decisions do impact the end-user experience. Overvall, the perceived performance is very good.

Battery Life

Droid X2 Review

The battery life is good. With my usage, I can go by a day without any problem (I actually don’t play or watch video though), and I *might* even make it to the evening of the second day. At that point it’s time to charge, or I’ll have a dead phone by the morning. I think that this is very decent for a modern smartphone.

To give you a more meaningful view, I’ve picked a few things that are typically power-hungry. I’ve run those apps for about 30mn each and here’s how much battery life they consumed. (display 50% brightness, WIFI ON, browser goes to 50 popular sites with cache ON, no sound).

Gaming: %20
Youtube Video: 10%
Web Browsing: 10%

As you can see, gaming is the most demanding application, and while this is not a surprise, I’ll remind you that because this smartphone is capable of playing games at higher framrates, it also consumes more than slower phones. In fact, we should really look at this in terms of Watt-per-frame rendered, but it would be much more complex. The good news is that when not using those apps, the battery life comes down to a very normal/reasonable level that is comparable or better than many smartphones on the market

The short story is: the battery life is good, but keep an eye on the battery life when you are using power-hungry apps. They might end up using more power than on less-performing phones. Also, don’t miss our tips to get better Android battery life.

Conclusion (Good)

Droid X2 Review

The Motorola Droid X2 is a good phone, but I think that Motorola could have made it better in terms of physical design, photo capabilites, and user interface. If you are the type of power user who only cares about the specifications, the Droid X2 is indeed a very powerful phone. However, I think that most people are looking for more than sheer performance and specifications.

If you like Motorola, I would recommend taking a good look at the Atrix (read our Atrix Review), which I would recommend over the Droid X2, except for its display size. Obviously, if you absolutely want to be on Verizon’s network, then your choices for a Tegra 2 phone are limited. If gaming is not a priotity, you should look at the Droid Incredible 2, also on Verizon. It’s not as fast, but it gets the job done for non-gamers.

As always, I have tried to provide a review that helps most people, but if you have additional questions, or if there is something that I have not covered, please drop a comment, and I’ll do my best to reply. Thanks for reading this.

Links

Android Smartphone Reviews: Samsung Galaxy S2 ReviewHTC Sensation Review, Infuse 4G ReviewNexus S ReviewDroid Incredible 2 ReviewDroid Charge ReviewLG Optimus 2X ReviewHTC EVO Shift 4G Review,

Android Tablet ReviewsGalaxy Tab 10.1 ReviewMotorola Xoom Review
AppleiPhone 4 ReviewiPad 2 Review
Windows Phone 7HTC HD7 ReviewSamsung Focus ReviewHTC Surround Review

Droid X2 on Verizon’s site

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