November 23rd, 2009 by Kevin
So a couple days after the Droid was released I picked one up and since then I\’ve had a number of people ask about it. I\’ve had a few weeks to get used to it so I thought I\’d toss up a review. Keep in mind I\’ve been aggressively opposed to smartphones in the past and only very reluctantly admitted the need for something other than a phone that simply dials numbers. So while I\’m a computer geek, I can be a bit of a technophobe at the same time.
It\’s solid, and by that I mean heavy for it\’s size. For me this is a plus. I\’ve had phones I thought were going to fall apart in my hands and I hate that. With the droid it\’s solid and I have no worries about whether I should pack it in cotton to keep from breaking it. The plastic case is solid and I\’m not worried about it getting cracked by any day-to-day activity.
Only thing I was concerned about was the display, seems every phone with an external screen I\’ve had gets scratched up just from being in my pocket. Within a year it\’s barely readable. But they did have \”screen protecters\”, basically a thin film you apply to the screen that they gave me with the phone. However, after viewing this video my worries are vastly misplaced.
One complaint is the placement of the camera/flash on the back of the phone. If you\’re comfortably holding the phone it\’s placement is at a natural point where your fingers are likely to wrap around back of the camera. More than once I\’ve tried to take a picture only to see a black screen as my finger is covering the camera. This is also a problem when not using a camera because it uses the camera reticle to detect the brightness of the environment to set how bright the room is. Fairly often in a bright room my phone display has gone very dark as my finger has accidentally slide over the camera reticle.
A slide out keyboard that is impossibly thin. Some have described it as clunky but I\’m pretty happy with it. It\’s by no means especially comfortable but then again any keyboard smaller than a full sized ergonomic really isn\’t that comfortable. But the buttons are about as small as they could be and still be usable by men\’s fingers. There is a \”clicking\” feeling when pressing the keys so you know that you succeeded. In fact that biofeedback is a common, and very welcome, feature through the phone.
There is also an onscreen keyboard via the touchscreen but I haven\’t used it much as it seems a bit silly using a cramped onscreen keyboard when I have a full slide out available. And it is cramped and my fat fingering gets the wrong letter fairly often. But it does have keyword suggestion while you type which is nice. In fact it would be nice if the physical keyboard had the same feature.
Quite frankly the screen is huge and is incredibly sharp and readable. I honestly have no idea what the resolution is but it must be incredibly high as maps (especially satellite images) are impressively sharp. I don\’t think my desktop screen is this sharp.
The touch feature is pretty nice, although it prefers a light touch as opposed to jabbing. On the plus side though a heavy touch isn\’t necessary as once again biofeedback, called \”haptic feedback\”, cause the phone to slightly vibrate when you select something. It\’s such a natural effect I didn\’t even notice how much it helped until I accidentally turned it off once.
The screen presumably uses the heat of your fingers to detect your touches, and it\’s not very sensitive because this will not work if you are wearing even thin leather gloves.
Overall very good, the Android OS is solid and fast. Response time is good. Stability is actually fairly decent. I have had a few times where I had to force an app to close via the OS but I\’ve never had a hard lockup.
The Achilles\’s Heel. If there is a major minus for the droid, this is it. Although to be fair it\’s been hard for me to judge and I\’ll explain why. First week I had it I was deer hunting, I was in backwoods and swamps a lot, not exactly hospitable signal wise so I was forgiving lack of battery life. But when I got back and spent most of my day in the office, frequently I would notice my phone blinking red in the afternoon indicating the battery was at less than 15%. Half a day taking only the occasional call is not cause for a battery to drain, especially considering the factory specs say it should last 9 hours of constant use.
I did my research online and found plenty of others with the same complaint, although some of them exchanged the phone for a new one and had much better results. After calling and confirming this with Verizon, I went into a store to do exactly that. Only in the store I was told there were restocking fees and all sorts of paperwork. What I wanted was what I paid for….a working phone. Only after much arguing did I get them to mail me a new battery.
I installed it and so far it\’s worked pretty decent. Although I also did a little more research and learned that the Droid ships with all the bells and whistles turned on. And if you turn some of them off, it greatly assists in battery life. This is an area for improvement by Motorola.
The camera is very respectable for a phone camera, but it\’s not going to replace your regular camera. Camera is 5 megapixels and uses a flash. Press down the button halfway and it auto-focuses, press it all the way to take a picture. The button is a little quirky that way in that the halfway point is very subtle. But it\’s not bad.
Here is one huge point the Droid has over the iPhone, the Verizon network, biggest 3G network of all the providers. The network has speeds up to 1.4 MBs, which means that for most of your functions you\’re in good shape but I wouldn\’t do any major web browsing with it. The 3G connection is a bit quirky as it seems to fluctuate on and off a bit but it\’s always reliable.
It also has wifi capabilities, and when it detects a wifi connection it knows how to connect with it automatically switches to that rather than the 3G Verizon network, which gives you greatly improved speed.
Like every other phone it does bluetooth, but it seems to be a step backwards from my old phone. On my old phone the phone interacted with the buttons on the bluetooth headset. A click of the button activated the voice recognition software of the phone, or if in a call it hung up the phone, making hands-free calling very easy. With the Droid it seems to ignore any button presses on the phone and has no settings to do otherwise. Pretty disappointing for a phone marketed with the phrase \”In a world that does, Droid does\”.
It\’s fully understandable why Garmin\’s stock plummeted when the Droid was announced. In fact anyone that buys a Garmin at this point either has too much money or is just plain stupid. The phone is a wonderful GPS device and more than comparable to ANY other GPS device. The phone is hundreds cheaper than any GPS device and rather than having to pay extraordinary fees to update the maps, Google is updating the maps for free.
The driving directions are pretty good as well. I\’ve driven to several destinations with the Droid and my Garmin side-by-side, and the Droid performs just as good or better on most everything. The Droid has the advantage of automatically taking traffic into account which allows it to truly plot you a faster route.
That traffic calculations are probably the one downside of the Droid\’s GPS. On trips to rural areas where Google doesn\’t have traffic information, the Droid seems to assume moderate traffic. Hence, at first, the Droid says a two hours drive from western Minnesota is going to take three hours.
You use GMail by default but it lets you setup up a POP3/SMTP email account. And to be honest setting it up is easier than Outlook Express. You can use a combined inbox of setup separate inboxes for each account. Simple and easy to use. Can\’t ask for much more.
One downside is that when you delete emails off the server, they delete from your Droid inbox as well. Would be nice if there were an option not to auto-sync quite that completely.
Integrates very nicely with Google\’s calendar. Hard to say much more. It does exactly what you want and expect it to do.
Text messaging conversations are organized into threads with previous messages sent/received from a contact being displayed just above. Very well organized and very intuitive setup.
This was one of those areas in which I took a double take and asked \”How did it do that\”. I had put my Facebook login into the phone so I could use it to check Facebook before I got around to tweaking my contacts. When I got to my contacts I found the Droid had synced all my contacts with the information on their Facebook page, including their picture. Very nice especially since I didn\’t have to do anything to make it happen.
It\’s less than what I expected, especially on contact names. The accuracy could use some improvement.
Clear sound, easy to use. When dialing it pops up the name, picture and number of the person you are calling. Allows you to turn on/off bluetooth, mute or speaker phone right from the interface. While the call is going on the screen darkens to saves battery. That is a little inconvenient if you need to do something on the phone during the call, such as look up another person\’s number. But it\’s a mild inconvenience for saving battery life, which as I mentioned before requires all the help it can get.
Proprietary browser of Google\’s design specifically for Android. Does all the basics…bookmarks, history, cookies, save passwords, etc. You can use tabbed browsing, with up to six tabs. Double tap to zoom and use a flicking motion to move around the page. It seems to automagically detect column widths, because the zooming seems to automatically zoom just enough to fill the screen with the main part of a webpage. Very nice implementation.
This is where you can download additional apps, and there are apparently thousands of apps. Although this is an area people keep saying the iPhone dominates the Droid, in the number of available apps. I just don\’t see it. Perhaps I\’m just not using my phone to it\’s full potential, but I haven\’t found something I couldn\’t find an app for in Droid\’s Market.
Only real improvement I might like is a desktop interface for the market. Sifting through thousdands of apps on the droid can get tedious and it would be a lot easier at a desktop and then have it push the app to the Droid via the USB interface.
Excellent phone. You won\’t be disappointed if you can deal with the battery issue, or if that gets resolved. Put it on the charger each night and turn off the features you won\’t use. If you\’re going to use it heavily, it might not be a horrible idea to grab an extra power cord and charge it occasionally from your work PC during the day.