Motorola DROID review (Verizon Wireless)

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By now you’ve seen Verizon’s iDon’t/DROID Does campaign on TV or on the streets. The first commercial can be found here. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek and Verizon has admitted this, but it does highlight a handful of things that the iPhone clearly cannot do. It should also serve as a clear indication that any rumor of the iPhone moving to the network is now squashed. Or they’re confident enough that Apple won’t hold a grudge. The former scenario is more likely. (See the best travel gadgets of 2009.)

Motorola’s DROID has a very industrial look and feel to it. Gone are the days of lightweight and dainty devices. You don’t have to coddle the DROID or shell out an extra $30 for a case. Wrapped mostly in metal, the DROID is chock-full of features that have become standard on ‘smartphones’ or whatever else you want to call these mini computers. Here’s a quick rundown on features and specs:

Network: Verizon Wireless (CDMA 1X 800/1900, EVDO rev. A)
Operating System: Android v2.0
Processor: Arm Cortex A8 processor 550mHz
Memory: 256MB built-in, ships with 16GB microSD card (expandable to 32GB)
Display: 3.7-inch capacitive touchscreen (480×854)
Camera: 5-megapixel with dual-LED flash, auto-focus and image stabilization
Browser: Webkit HTML5, Flash Player 10.1 ready (coming soon)
Bluetooth: v2.1+EDR
Wi-Fi: 802.11b/g
Battery: 1400 mAh battery
Sensors: proximity, ambient light and eCompass
Size/Weight: 2.4 x 4.6 x 0.5 in., 6 oz.

DROID’s 3.7-inch display is the best looking capacitive touchscreen we’ve ever seen on any device. It renders images and text beautifully. Colors appear to pop right off the screen. In other words, you can read e-mail, browse Web pages, read eBooks or comics for hours without suffering major eye fatigue. Touch response is good and most taps are registered with very little lag or issue. But the DROID is the only Android device running version 2.0, so it’s difficult to say whether or not it’s perfect. There’s very little evidence to dispute this claim, though.

Just below the screen are four touch-sensitive buttons: back, menu, home and search. For some odd reason, Motorola has excluded buttons dedicated to initiate or end phone calls. You’ll have to initiate the dialer from one of three home screens that you can use to populate various applications or widgets. The buttons are awkwardly placed and often times, we inadvertently tapped the search button when doing anything one-handed (right hand of course). A short tap of the search button will bring up Google Search and the virtual keyboard. A long press initiates Google’s Voice Search, which works amazingly well. The rest of the buttons are pretty self-explanatory. Home takes you back to the home screen and so on. (See the top iPhone applications.)

Underneath the screen is an offset full QWERTY keyboard and directional pad. Anyone used to a BlackBerry or Sidekick will feel at home with the DROID’s keyboard, but will quickly find that it doesn’t offer the same experience. The keys are a tad cramped and there isn’t enough tactile feedback making it difficult to know where your thumbs are without having to look down. It works and is by no means a deal breaker, but depending on how big or small your hands, you’ll want to check one out in person. The directional pad is great for navigating through mobs of text but doesn’t offer much else. (Watch TIME’s video “iPhone vs. BlackBerry: Which Wins?”)

On top of the DROID, you’ll find the on/off switch and 3.5mm headset jack. Around the upper right corner on the right rail, the chintzy volume switch does it what it needs to do. The lower left corner is where the camera button has been placed in all its brown sugar colored glory.

Moving to the back of the device you’ll find the 5-megapixel camera and brown sugar colored speaker. The camera is horrible. Probably the worst of any phone on the market and there are a lot of bad camera phones on the market. Start up takes a long time, focusing takes even longer if it can even manage to focus and then you may as well pull out the La-Z-Boy while it takes the image. However, we’re confident that an over-the-air (OTA) update will remedy the situation as it doesn’t appear to be a hardware issue and mainly a software one. The jury is out until Motorola tries to fix this flaw. (See pictures of the cell phone’s history.)

First and foremost, the DROID is a phone, which is something people seem to forget when fawning over the latest devices. Does it make it phone calls? Yes. Will you experience dropped calls like your iPhone user friends? No. Verizon’s 3G network is the nation’s largest and it’s close to perfect. The caller and receiver sound crisp and clear. The speakerphone is loud and clear.

Shoddy battery life from any 3G device with GPS, a Web browser, Wi-Fi are commonplace, but the DROID seems to be ahead of the pack. Mileage will vary here, but light Web browsing, sporadic app usage, background tasks, a phone call or two and Gmail will have you running anywhere from 10-14 hours. Certain measures can be taken to lengthen your battery life, like switching from 3G to EDGE (d’oh), lowering screen brightness and turning off GPS, but it’s something we all have to deal with these days. (See the 50 best websites of 2009.)

From a hardware standpoint, the DROID flies but the software will either take advantage of the hardware in a manner that offers a flawless user experience or it’ll crap its pants trying to take a picture.

Android became a viable contender with version 1.6. Check out the video below.

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And here’s what new with 2.0.

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Google Maps Navigation (BETA) is a major coup for Verizon and Motorola. It offers free turn-by-turn voice commands as well as Street Views along your route so you can actually see what the upcoming turn will look like and it even says the full name of the street. A dedicated car mode allows you to use the device when driving hands free. It’s driven purely by voice commands whether you’re trying to call someone, find the closest gas station or plotting a new destination. But don’t worry, it won’t replace your Garmin or whichever PND you might currently own. It’s a good start but it has a ways to go before it will actually replace your PND.

Android 2.0 also comes with Microsoft Exchange support (calendar too!), a better Web browser and more functional camera. But it doesn’t support multitouch even though it’s been proven to work relatively well in previous builds of the operating system. For whatever reason- legal or not- Google won’t allow us to pinch to zoom on Web pages or when we’re viewing images. Speaking of browsing the Web, 2.0 offers a more polished experience, but it still plays second fiddle to the iPhone’s Safari browser and that’s because there’s official support for multitouch. (See the 25 best blogs of 2009.)

We’re pretty sure the camera stinks because of the software. You can now fiddle with settings, but that becomes a moot point because of its lackluster performance. Multimedia playback continues to be a disappointment as well. There’s no way to natively sync your music library so you’re relegated to dragging and dropping files. There are, however, third party applications that will allow you to do so. With only 256MB of on-board storage, the DROID is limited to the amount of applications you can store and maybe even the possibility of not being able to run future updates of the OS. It was rumored that 2.0 would allow you to store apps to the external memory card, but that’s obviously not true.

At $200, the DROID is without a doubt the best Android device currently available; it’s also the best phone Verizon has to offer and it doesn’t hurt that Verizon is the best network. Android, as a platform, has a come a long way and 2.0 adds more polish and sheen to the OS. It might not be as friendly as we’d like it to be, but it comes in right behind the iPhone in terms of a seamless user experience.

Verizon DROID

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