Motorola Droid Cell Phone Review
By Sandy Berger on February 4, 2010
Proponents believe that the new Droid cell phone can do everything just short of transporting you to the beach for an instant vacation. Opponents say that it is just another earthbound iPhone wannabe. We set out to see who has the real take on just what the Droid is and what it can do.
The Droid has three big companies behind it: Motorola, Google and Verizon. It is a Motorola phone that runs the Google Android operating system on the Verizon cellular network. So a lot of knowledge and a lot of work went into the creation of this phone.
Motorola and its “Hello Moto” theme take center stage on the Droid box, shown in Figure 1. Inside the box, you will find the Droid itself, a USB cable, a detachable wall charger, and a very small booklet that looks like the back of the Droid. The Droid comes with the battery and a 16 GB microSD card pre-installed.
The overall design is a good one. Like the iPhone and other touch smartphones, it is a rectangular brick whose face is a large touch screen, as shown in Figure 3. The phone is constructed with a mix of plastic and metal that has a very solid look and feel. The Droid is slim and attractive.
Most of the front of the phone is taken up by a bright 3.7-inch, 854-by-480 LCD capacitive touch screen. The screen is clear and text looks especially crisp.
Under the Droid screen, there are four touch keys that can be seen in Figure 3. These are actually a part of the screen, but they are on a black background and are marked with white icons which light up when the phone is on. These four keys are: the Back Key, the Menu Key, the Home Key, and the Search Key. They are always available. They do not change when the screen changes.
Although all of these four keys are useful, we would have like to see a dedicated phone key. Or better yet, a customizable key that could be used for the phone, multimedia, camera, or whatever you use the most on the phone.
As also seen in Figure 3, there is a small recessed ledge under these four keys. In the middle of this ledge is the opening for the microphone, just to the left of the Verizon logo.
At 4.56 by 2.36 by .54 inches (11.58 x 6.0 x 1.37 cm), the Droid is similar in size to the iPhone. Figure 4 shows the Droid next to the iPhone. Although the Droid screen is slightly larger in height, it is slightly smaller in width (when viewed vertically). So the actual screen real estate is about the same. When viewing web pages on the Droid horizontally, however, more can fit on the screen.
Although the Droid weighs only 5.96 oz. (169 g), if you are used to an iPhone, it will seem a bit heftier.
The Droid also has a slide-out keypad hidden in its simple brick-like shell (as shown in Figure 5). When you turn the Droid to the horizontal position to use the keyboard, the screen automatically adjusts the orientation.
Although the Droid keyboard is nicely marked, the keys are a bit too flat and a bit too tight. Our real problem with the Droid keyboard, however, was the scroll pad, which can be seen to the left of the keypad in Figure 5. This is a typical scroll pad with a gold-colored select key in the middle. Our problem was that its location made it difficult for us to thumb-type with both hands while holding the cell phone steady. This keypad layout forces your right hand into a bit of an awkward position. Although we were able to get somewhat used to this layout, we never came to love it.
The keyboard was mediocre at best. However, the Droid also has a touch keypad that is available in either orientation. Figure 6 shows the Droid on-screen keypad in the vertical position. The touch keypads and the touch screen were very responsive.
On the top of the Droid, shown in Figure 7, you will see the power key. You can press the power key to turn the display on or to put it to sleep. You can also press and hold this button to turn the Droid on and/or off, put it in airplane mode, or to mute the speakers. Next to the power key is a standard 3.5-mm headset jack.
The left side of the Droid, shown in Figure 8, has the mini-USB jack for charging and/or attaching to the computer.
Figure 9 shows the right side of the Droid where you can see the camera button and the up/down volume key.
The back of the Droid shows the Verizon and Motorola logos on the battery door which slides open for easy access. Across the back is a thin strip with a crosshatch design. This is the Droid's speaker. We found the sound quality to be excellent and the speaker to be capable of an excellent level of volume. In the upper corner is the 5 Megapixel camera.
Although the Droid’s camera has 5-megapixels and a flash, pictures were just average. Low light pictures were somewhat grainy. However, we were impressed by the videos. At 720-by-480 and 25 frames per second, they were better than most camera phones. The videos that the Droid produced were much smoother than we have seen on other phones. They could easily be used for posting on the Web.
The Droid runs Android 2.0 on an ARM Cortex-A8 processor which results in a speedy device. In fact, combined with the capable Verizon 3G network, the Droid often left the iPhone in the dust. We were traveling during our tests. At one point, our plane was delayed and we needed to get the time and gate of our connecting flight. Upon landing we fired up the Droid and the iPhone. Before we got off the plane the Droid gave us the information we needed while the iPhone was still struggling to redraw the webpage on AT&T’s EDGE network. This scene would have made a great commercial for Verizon and the Droid.
We encountered the same speedy responses when launching applications, playing games, and surfing the web.
Voice calls on the Droid were not perfect. They were sometimes a bit of muffled, but not enough to be terribly problematic. We tried the Droid from one end of the country to the other, and thanks to the Verizon 3G network, our calls were always completed. The speaker on the Droid is louder than most and we really appreciated that when making calls as well as when playing music.
The battery life of the Droid was good compared to many other smart phones that we’ve tried. You will probably be charging it up every evening, but for the most part, in normal use, it lasted the entire day. However, if you plan on playing a lot of music or games, you will want to take the charger with you.
The Droid worked well with all the Bluetooth headsets that we tried, however you cannot do any voice commands like voice dialing or voice search through a Bluetooth headset. We don’t understand why the Droid has this limitation and it may be a deal-breaker for some.
The main screen of the Droid is shown in Figure 11. As you can see, the functions that you use a lot can be placed on the main page. At the bottom of the page is a gray bar that can be dragged up to reveal more pages of applications which can be downloaded from the Android App Market.
We found that some of the Android functions were somewhat hidden. For instance, to delete an application you have to go Settings, then Application, then Manage Applications. Then you have to find the application and click on Uninstall. Cut and paste and a few other functions, also require too much thinking and too many clicks.
The Droid is the best phone that we have tested for surfing the web. As much as we disliked the touch pad for getting in the way of our keyboard typing, we loved it for surfing the web. It provided an easy way to scroll down web pages and make link selections.
Although text on the Droid renders slightly smaller than it does on the iPhone, if you have good eyes and/or good glasses, you can read the entire webpage without horizontal scrolling. You can’t pinch and spread your fingers on the Droid except in certain applications. However, you can zoom by touching the zoom icon that appears on the bottom of the screen. Although this is a slight inconvenience, it did not really interfere with the Droid’s excellent surfing experience.
Of course, the Droid is optimized for use with Google and Google applications. We especially like the Google voice search. Just say what you are looking for and Google will find it for you.
The Droid also comes with Google Maps Navigation. This provides free turn-by-turn spoken driving directions. It even has a simplified large icon interface that you can use in your car. We found the Droid’s directions to be excellent.
The powerful Droid speakers came in handy when using it as a GPS device in the car. In fact, with the optional car mount, we felt that the Droid would do well as a GPS, which we certainly cannot say for the iPhone.
The Droid is only average as a music and video player. The Droid plays WMA, AAC, MP3, WAV, and OGG-format music files. It also plays MPEG4 and WMV videos quite well. We were happy to see that the phone comes with a 16 GB microSD memory card. This card fits into a little slot next to the battery. Unfortunately, you have to remove the back of the phone to get at the card, but most users won’t find that too much of a problem.
To get music into your Droid, you plug it into your computer with the included MicroUSB cable and drag and drop your music onto the Droid. There is no auto-synching as there is with iTunes, and there is also no way we could find to create playlists. Once you have your music and videos on the Droid it plays them quite well. However, the Android operating system needs better support for audio and video.
The Droid handles Gmail, Facebook, Microsoft Exchange, and other POP/IMAP e-mail accounts. The first time you turn on the Droid, a setup wizard guides you through the setup. You can sign into your existing Google account or you can create a new Google account. Set up is easy. Google, Facebook, and Exchange contacts with the same first and last name all appear as one in the address book. Your contact’s photos can also be grabbed from Facebook.
One thing to be aware of is that the entire phone seems to rely on your Gmail account. When we tried to remove the Gmail account that we initially set up, it required a complete reset of the phone. So choose the Gmail account that you want to use very carefully.
The Droid also supports WiFi, SMS, and MMS. In fact, its messaging systems are excellent.
Our only complaints were that Gmail winds up it its own inbox, but all our other email accounts share an inbox and that our Exchange calendar did not seem to have full functionality.
Although Facebook contacts merge easily with your Droid address book, we couldn’t find a way to use Facebook’s IM or email. Although the phone supports Google Talk out of the box, it doesn’t support AIM, Twitter, Yahoo, or Live Messenger. However we found Apps in the Android App Market that can fill much of this functionality.
The Android Market can be accessed right from the phone itself. Although the number of Apps cannot compare to the iTunes App store, the Market is constantly growing. We found almost all the apps that we use every day on the iPhone were already available.
Motorola Droid cell phone main features are:
The Droid will not transport you to that island paradise for an instant vacation, but it will do most of what you need to do with a smart phone. The Android app collection is well on its way, and, like the iTunes store, it features many free and inexpensive programs that are quite useful. The Android App Market already puts the BlackBerry app store to shame.
Web browsing with the Droid and Verizon’s service is a real pleasure. It’s speedy and draws accurate web pages. Because of its open source nature, the Android operating system is developing much more quickly than Windows Mobile or the BlackBerry OS. That said -- Android has not yet caught up to the ease of use of Apple’s iPhone OS or Palm Pre’s webOS. Yet, it is close, and we feel the Droid has surpassed the iPhone in web surfing, messaging, and email.
Although the physical keyboard could be better, finding it in such a small frame is a real plus, as is the clarity of the Droid’s high resolution screen. The Droid along with Verizon’s service has a lot going for it.