Monday, January 4, 2010

Motorola Droid Review

Motorola Droid Review

Each new Android smartphone seems to improve on its predecessors. But Motorola’s latest, the Droid from Verizon Wireless, is a veritable quantum leap well beyond recent peers such as the Samsung Moment and the HTC Hero, both from Sprint – and even the Motorola Cliq (available on T-Mobile). Thank three advantages that the Droid possesses over all other previous Android phones: Its gorgeous 400,000-pixel 16×9 3.7-inch LCD touchscreen, the largest available on a cell phone; the handset’s status as the first to run the Android 2.0 operating system; and its pedigree as the first Android phone for Verizon, which arguably operates the nation’s best 3G network. However, the Droid’s superiority over recent rivals surpasses mere technical comparisons alone. This is one of the most solidly-built smartphones available, featuring a stolidity that lends it a gravitas lacking in all but the most boring BlackBerrys, yet belies the mobile handset’s more playful side, which also makes a great impression. To put it simply, the Droid isn’t the perfect choice for cell phone owners, but as iPhone alternatives go, it’s pretty darn close.

Features and Design

Interestingly, it’s hard to separate the Droid as a piece of hardware from its Android 2.0 heart. As a result, this is as much a review of the upgraded OS as the phone itself.

Unlike its more aesthetically rounded Android predecessors, the Droid is a stern rectangle with a slide-out horizontal QWERTY keyboard. But instead of a springy QWERTY slide option a la the Sidekick, the Droid’s keyboard firmly glides out like a solid oak drawer and clicks into a locked position. This QWERTY plate is actually a quarter-inch longer than the screen top, with a lower lip containing the microphone jutting out underneath.

Tile keys with white backlighting on the QWERTY keypad are nearly smooth to the touch, but we had no trouble tapping text quickly and nearly mistake-free. Unfortunately, the Droid’s QWERTY, like the Cliq’s, lacks a dedicated row of number keys, which restricts quickly substituting numbers in place of text (i.e. “2″ for “to,” etc.)
At .54 inches thick, the Droid is one of the thinnest slider phones around, thinner even than the .61 thick Cliq.

Moreover, the Droid is the first Android phone with no physical navigation or control keys on the front. Just below the screen you’ll find four touch keys instead: Back, Menu, Home and Search.

To read more about the Droid’s Android 2.0 feature set and screen, check out our Motorola Droid hands-on impressions.

Ports & Connectors

On the left side of the phone you’ll find the microUSB jack, while up top is the 3.5mm headphone port, uncomfortably close to the power on/off button. If you have a right-angled headphone jack, you’ll have to annoyingly twist it around to wake the phone up or put it to sleep.

Note that you will have to remove the battery cover to slide in/out the microSD card. Since the Droid comes with a 16 GB card, however, you’re not likely to be swapping memory cards too often.

Even though the Droid captures 720×480 H.264 DVD-quality video, there is no video out jack of any kind.

Audio, Video and Multimedia Performance

The Motorola Droid doesn’t take full advantage of its fabulous screen, at least as far as YouTube is concerned. Videos don’t run in full-screen mode, just in the middle third of the display, and there are no full-screen zoom touch options as there are on some other Android phones. On our test unit, choosing the HQ versions of clips resulted in a never-ending “loading” process as well. We’re hoping that this is just a glitch on the evaluation sample provided.

Oddly as well, the handset doesn’t bookmark your spot in the music queue. When we switched to video capture, songs being played paused, but didn’t pick up from where we stopped when we left the camcorder app. We had to restart shuffle play, and the Droid just initiated a whole new song sequence. This is a puzzling glitch as Android is supposed to multitask comfortably, meaning the music queue should have frozen in the background until we returned to it.

Sound Quality

Do you know who the crooner Mel Tormé was? Well, he was nicknamed “The Velvet Fog” for his smooth, enveloping tenor. Even though Motorola’s promotional materials don’t say so, we’re assuming the Droid is equipped with Motorola’s Crystal Talk because it delivers the cell phone equivalent of Mel Tormé tone. Voices are revelatory, realistically smooth and soothing, unlike the harsh digitized tones through which they’re conveyed on other cell phones. We did detect some background feedback echo, however – it wasn’t disconcerting, just lurking.

In our unscientific side-by-side comparison, music from the Droid did sound crisper and brighter than it did on an iPhone, though… an altogether pleasant surprise.

Phone Functionality

The Android 2.0 operating system makes it incredibly simple to connect with others verbally or non-verbally as well. Simply search for a contact by typing or speaking via the Google Search widget on the home screen. Once your contact is found, Motorola merges all the party’s contact info, including social networking info, into a single entry.


Verizon is hawking two docks, both likely to be priced at around $30. When the Droid is docked into the home charging dock in landscape mode, it becomes an alarm clock, complete with current weather updates; touch keys for alarm, music and photo viewing options; and even a dimmer. Snapped horizontally into the dashboard car dock, the Droid immediately pops into portable navigation mode.

Internet and Mobile Web Options

Thanks to Verizon’s superior EV-DO Rev A network, most mobile optimized Web pages such as CNN, ESPN and The New York Times load in around three seconds. More graphically-intense pages obviously take a little longer.

But speed isn’t the Droid’s most impressive Web surfing attribute; rather, it’s the device’s screen. Frankly, even the tiniest type is clearly readable. Text and images are so finely rendered that the Droid lets you view bookmarks as easily identifiable thumbnails as well – a much easier way of quickly locating sites than scrolling through a long list of text.

You can double tap on a loaded page to increase text size, and articles thankfully re-justify to fit the width of the screen as well. All in all, functionality here proved right on-target.

Digital Camera and Camcorder

Outdoor shots taken on the Droid’s 5MP digital camera are just plain spectacular: Even blown up to actual size there is surprisingly little grain.

Indoor shots, however, are problematic, even with the dual LED flash and built-in image stabilization options. It’s nearly impossible to capture a sharp shot pressing down the shutter release button. Indoors, you’ll have better luck using the on-screen touch shutter release, which, once tapped, automates the auto focus and image capture functions with no additional phone/camera movement. But even then, indoor shots are just shy of sharp.

Surprisingly, the camera overall is a little sluggish, needing two or three seconds to process the large snapshots, a problem inherent with high-quality cell phone images. It would have been nice to have had a Kodak camera on this Moto, like the Motorola ZN5, which seems to have sadly disappeared.

While you can upload videos directly to YouTube, you can’t email them, a minor annoyance.

Battery Life

Motorola rates the Droid’s 1400 mAh battery at 6.4 hours of talk, well above-average for touchscreen phones, and we squeezed out substantially more in our tests. After a full day of constant usage, the Droid still had half its power remaining, a shocking development considering how much juice it takes to power that large energy-sucking screen.


Host of minor niggles aside, the Droid does so many things (and so many things well) that it’s tough to cover them all. For example: There’s barely enough room to even scratch the surface here with Google Maps Navigation, a free (soon ad-supported) app offering turn-by-turn GPS directions, voice search capabilities, and up-to-the-minute traffic updates that could put all other expensive add-on navigation applications out of business. Just one of many amazing features the smartphone offers, we’ll say this: Taken together, the Droid and its Android 2.0 backbone simplify a plethora of communication and multimedia functions, making the phone a real joy to use. Now if only Google or some third-party would create an iTunes-/Android-like PC client to enable desktop aggregation and syncing of contacts and content. But truthfully, even this missing link and a few other quibbles don’t detract from the handset’s wondrousness. If you’re not already married to an iPhone 3G S, or happen to be a Verizon Wireless customer desperately seeking a fresh relationship with the cellie of your dreams, Motorola’s Droid is the smartphone world’s hottest new date.


• First Android 2.0 device
• Gorgeous WVGA 16:9 3.7-inch LCD
• Excellent voice quality
• 5 MP camera w/flash and DVD-quality camcorder
• Google Maps Navigation included
• Long battery life


• Slow camera
• Music play doesn’t stay paused in background
• No dedicated row of numerical keys on slide-out QWERTY
• Heavy


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