Review: Motorola DROID from VzWireless

By Lisa Phifer

November 30, 2009

The DROID isn't likely to deliver a knock-out punch to the iPhone any time soon, but it is worthy of serious consideration by anyone shopping for an "App Phone" this holiday season.

Motorola DROID from VzWireless


Price: $199.99 after rebate, with 2-year plan
Pros:   Big screen, physical keyboard, navigation, voice-driven apps, Android 2.0, 3G coverage
Cons: Clunkier than iPhone or HTC, hard-to-use keys, tap-to-zoom, sometimes goes AWOL

We have to commend VzWireless: its "iDon't DROID does" ad campaign sparked plenty of buzz about the Motorola DROID—arguably the first business-targeted Android phone. Over 250,000 DROIDs were sold in just the first week; total sales are expected to top one million by year-end.

But does the Motorola DROID from VzWireless really DO more than the iPhone or other Android phones? During our two-week test drive, we found that the DROID delivered what was promised—but still fell disappointingly short of perfection.

Getting physical

The first thing you notice about the DROID is its large, sharp 3.7-inch (480 x 854 pixel) light-sensitive WGVA display. Housed in a nearly-borderless 2.4" x 4.6" x 0.5" black frame, the DROID's frontal view handily bests any other Android phone on the market and rivals that of the iPhone. The only thing missing from this handsome display: pinch-to-zoom.

droid.jpg

If you've entered much text on the iPhone or other Androids, you've probably longed for a physical keyboard. Here, the DROID hoped to slay its competition with a slide-out QWERTY (above). Alas, we found this keyboard to be more of a detriment than an asset. It doubles the DROID's thickness, increases its total weight to six ounces, and creates a multi-edged device that snags too easily and feels clunky in your pocket.

We might not mind if typing were indeed easier. But between keys that cannot be discerned by touch and the borderless display, typing (or dialing) in dim light or with one hand is tough. After a brief honeymoon, we rarely used this QWERTY. Instead, we actually preferred the DROID's virtual keyboard, aided by its large display, haptic feedback, and multi-word suggestions.

Under its hood, the DROID has more to brag about. Its fast ARM Cortex A8 550 MHz CPU, 512 MB ROM, 256 MB RAM, 16 GB (max 32) microSD card, accelerometer, GPS, EV-DO Rev A, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, and 802.11b/g radios all meet or beat the competition. The DROID's 5MP camera sports a 4x zoom, geotagging, image stabilization, and 720x480 video capture at 24 fps.

A removable 1400 mAh Lithium battery delivers roughly six hours of continuous use, tucked under a contact strip linking the DROID to an optional windshield bracket ($29), bedside cradle ($TBA), or anything else magnetic. The former turn the DROID into an automotive GPS or clock radio, but avoid the latter—a nearby magnet can siphon the battery by keeping your DROID awake.

Delivering the (Google) goods

Like other Android phones, the DROID ships with a suite of Google mobile services, including Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Google Contacts, Google Maps, and Google Search. These factory-installed apps are easily complemented by Android Market downloads.

For example, we installed Google Voice, Google Listen, and a Google Docs PDF viewer, along with a free Office Doc reader by DataViz. While the Android Market is an order of magnitude smaller than the AppStore, thousands of handy, interesting, and often free apps can be found there. Case in point: A quick search reveals over 200 Wi-Fi-related apps and widgets (below).

droid-apps.jpg

This extensibility makes the DROID (and other Android phones) popular with consumers. New York Times columnist David Pogue even coined a new noun for the DROID and iPhone: App Phones. Both let users add apps and widgets, placed anywhere on the home screen or side panels. However, neither matches the degree of personalization delivered by "Scenes" on the Moto DROID's slightly slower HTC cousins: the DROID Eris and Hero.

Consumers may enjoy apps, such as Facebook and YouTube (factory-installed), but enterprises are drawn to business apps. The Motorola brand is one of the DROID's biggest business assets. Many enterprises are already comfortable with Motorola Windows Mobile phones. By introducing the DROID, Motorola lent credibility to Android 2.0, which includes businesses essentials, such as 802.1X TLS and VPN. Unfortunately, the DROID's "office" apps are not very business-friendly.

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