So all the Verizon hype about “Droid Does” really didn’t drag me in since I had a Smartphone which already did much of what Droid was expected to deliver. Apple’s iPhone while a nice platform really didn’t appeal to me since of Apple’s self made limitations on the ecosystem, and it’s requirement of using AT’&T’s specious network capabilities.
So then why did I find myself at a Verizon Wireless store at 6:30am the day of the Droid launch?
I had decided I was a bit fed up with the HTC Touch Pro that I had, because of the hardware limitations it came with compared to the other carrier’s version of the same phone. Verizon wireless had limited the memory to 192mb from the other carriers 288mb, which severely limited it’s multi-tasking capabilities. I had been running Windows Phone 6.5.1 on it, and even to do that, I had to pair down the features of the OS just to get some basic functionality that I needed. I had started neglecting the use of my HTC phone in favor of using the AT&T Blackberry Bold, even with it’s flaky network. While there are newer, more capable hardware devices on the market, or soon to come, I felt it was time to put WinMo on the shelf until Windows Phone v7 hits the marketplace. I plan to post another item explaining my views on why I’m leaving Windows Mobile after using it for years at a later time.
So back to the Droid, and what my impressions are of it. I had written off Motorola years ago after having both the v710 and the E815, as their latest wares have been subpar in the Smartphone market to me.
The hardware on the Droid is of excellent quality. While the design is a bit angular, it actually is a refreshing difference compared to all the rounded phones that all look alike as of late. It has a heft in your hand so that you definitely feel like you are holding something, which may aid in not dropping it while using it. It has a rubberized back panel which helps when holding it, or when placing it on a surface without it sliding around.
The unit itself is very thin, especially when you consider it does have a full QWERTY slide out keyboard. The keyboard itself has been a point of contention in the reviews I’ve read, but I would have disagree that it’s “unusable”. The keys are flat and square, making them very close together. I would have liked to see a bigger enter button, and a larger space bar, but overall it is very capable. Just like any keyboard on a new desktop or a new laptop at first it feels off putting and strange. The more you use it, the more adept you come at working on it that those things that originally annoyed you no longer seem to matter. In the end I am thrilled to have a hardware keyboard as this has been a point of personal quandary of wondering if I could enjoy a phone that didn’t have a hardware keyboard. I think you have had no option of a hardware keyboard such as on the iPhone you also would learn to adapt to a software only solution, but there is something comforting about being able to slide it out when composing a long email or in an active chat in IM or IRC.
As for the software keyboard itself, it is very usable, but there are better alternatives available from the Android Marketplace. I’ll be posting about the software that I’m using on my phone in another post if you are interested in their differences, but as far as software keyboards go, you really won’t be stuck with all the choices out there.
The phone uses a microSD for expandable memory for storage, and ships with a 16GB SDHC card installed in the phone. You should be able to purchase a 32GB or higher SDHC card, but they are still a bit expensive. The phone also has 256mb of internal storage where applications are installed. You might hear some conjecture from iPhone fanatics claiming this is the downfall of the Droid since you can’t install large apps like games in such a small space. However much of the applications I’ve installed are around 5-6mb, and store their data on the SDHC card, so I doubt this will be a problem in the long run.
The phone has 256mb of memory which appears adequate to be running 5-10 applications at the same time. The iPhone apparently is not capable of multi-tasking well, so Apple seems to not allow multi-tasking except for Apple applications which I think limits the usefulness of the platform.
The phone has the standard built in aGPS which works great compared to my Touch Pro’s performance, and also has a digital Compass for determining your direction of heading. There is a proximity sensor for detecting when the phone is next to your face to turn off the display while the phone is in use, as well as a accelerometer to detect orientation of the device for movement.
The phone hardware itself supports multi-touch, but currently it is not enabled through out the system. This might be a limitation of capability of the current OS version (even though it supports it in the API), but applications written to support Android 2.0 are starting to appear with multi-touch enabled. I suspect the next update to the phone will fully enable multi-touch support in the phone though, as this was the first phone to ship with Android 2.0.
The phone uses a micro-USB port for charging, and for data transfer to a PC. The micro-USB port looks to be the new standard on phones going forward so it’s nice to have a standardized plug for charging and data transfer. This puts it ahead of other devices like the iPhone which require a specialized cable to charge or transfer data.
The battery life has been very good for my usage pattern, but like any new toy, the more you play with it, the less it will last through the day. So you might have to charge it if you are constantly using the phone for data activities. You can easily go a full day with moderate online usage though, so I don’t see it as an issue. It is a replaceable battery so you can easily purchase and carry and secondary battery if you need to.
The speed of the phone is running at 550mhz, which under clocked from the 600mhz the chip supports. I suspect this is done to optimize power consumption for a longer battery life, but based on the user experience I have yet to feel a real slow down on the device.
The display of the phone is in a work, mesmerizing. The high resolution and size really adds a lot to the usage of the phone. I feel sorry for all the iPhone users and their lower resolution phones since the experience is greatly enhanced by the screen itself. There is a nice article on ZDnet outlining the differences here. To quote from that article:
The 854 x 480 pixel, 3.7-inch panel is 273% larger than the iPhone’s 320 x 480, 3.5-incher and is setting itself apart as one of Droid’s flagship features.
Apparently device independent resolution is a new feature of Android 2.0, so I think it will be some time before applications are updated to support such a high resolution screen.
The Droid is an excellent phone as far as hardware is concerned. The processor feels lively, but with other devices supporting 1ghz speeds on the horizon I wonder how it will feel in a year. In fact, if I can get over my desire for a physical keyboard, I am curious how the new HTC Passion phone will be sporting the 1ghz Snapdragon, and if it will release before my 30 day return window is up. It all comes down to the giving up the physical keyboard or not. I suppose I should just stop using the keyboard for a few days and see how I use the phone.
That is really my only concern for hardware, the longevity of the processor model as the newer, faster devices hit the market.
I would have no problem recommending this phone to anyone who wanted a Smartphone and didn’t want to buy into Apple’s controlled ecosystem. I can’t stress how different the Verizon network is than the AT&T network in terms of quality. I carry an AT&T and a Verizon phone, so I can see first hand the differences side by side, and the Verizon network wins without question. While it is true that the phone will not work in many places outside the US, I don’t see this as an issue since many people really leave the US, if not their own region, so home network matters more than a global network to more people.
While the hardware is just part of the Droid experience I’ll post about the software side of the unit later on. That is where the real magic starts to happen with what the hardware design allows you to do with the software.
Motorola has delivered the Android experience that all other phones are going to have to beat.