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REVIEW : Motorola Droid Review
Motorola Droid
The Motorola Droid for Verizon Wireless is solid. We wouldn''t call it a brick, since it''s not too thick and we''re not complaining about the dense, tightly packed design. It''s more like a phone cut from a steel girder, or a large sword. It''s very masculine in design. There are plenty of right angles and sharp corners, and even the standard alert sound, which screams the phone''s name in a robotic sounding voice, was very sci-fi and quite aggressive. Still, after worrying over the wobby build and loose fit of the Motorola CLIQ, we''re happy to see a phone that reminds us this is the company that built the RAZR (and we mean that in a good way). The Motorola Droid has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, and the slide mechanism is stiff, but it opens and closes with a reassuring click like a train on rails, and not like a car on ice. Beneath the screen, Motorola has opted for touch sensitive buttons, a mistake, we think, since hardware buttons are always more responsive, but we had little trouble with Moto''s row of touch keys.

The screen on the Motorola Droid is among the best we''ve seen on a mobile device, thanks to its superior resolution and pixel density. The phone packs a whopping 854 by 480 pixels onto the 3.7-inch, 16:9 display, which is more than twice as many pixels as you''ll see on the Apple iPhone''s screen. All those pixels make icons and text look terrifically sharp, and movies look as good as they would on a high-definition TV, if not better. The AMOLED screen on the Samsung Moment produced deeper blacks and better contrast, but the Motorola Droid was more sharp, especially for text.

The keyboard on the Motorola Droid is the biggest letdown on the whole phone. It''s just terrible. The keys are tiny and packed together. The entire keyboard is too flat without enough definition or contour between the individual letters. Buttons for the Menu and Search option are unnecessarily duplicated on the keyboard, when these keys could have been used to better effect. There''s a 4-way d-pad on the right side of the phone that we hardly ever used, thanks to the touch friendly interface design. Heck, there are even blank spaces in the lower corners of the keyboard. Just empty squares next to the button. Surely there could have been some useful function placed here instead?

The Motorola Droid is the first phone to ship with Google''s new Android 2.0 operating system. The interface isn''t much changed from the original, though there are enough tweaks to make it an enjoyable update. Most significant are the new software apps and capabilities that ship with the device (more on those later). Needless to say, the Motorola Droid is the fastest Android phone we''ve used. The interface isn''t just snappy, sometimes it seems to be in a real hurry. You can see this best switching from portrait to landscape mode when you tilt the phone. While our older T-Mobile G1 took a few seconds, the Motorola Droid took only a second or two.

The Google Android 2.0 interface is very touch friendly and still just as clever and deep as the original. It isn''t any easier, but like the original Android OS, it rewards inspection. We especially like the contextual search feature. There''s a magnifying glass button under the screen, and wherever you press it you get a relevant search. If you''re looking at your contacts, the search button searches your address book. If you''re in the Web browser, it searches the Web. You can even search SMS and MMS messages with the new OS. There are plenty of drop-down and pop-up menus for added features and notifications, and the phone is smart about adding new possibilities to these. For instance, when you download an app to help send pictures to Flickr, Flickr will appear as an option in the pop-up menu on photo uploads. While the Motorola Droid doesn''t come with many desktop widgets or smart folders pre-loaded, there are plenty of options to enhance the desktop or the deeper features on the phone.

Calling and Contacts Very Good
Call quality on our Motorola Droid review unit was a mixed bag, but at its best the phone produced some of the best-sounding calls we''ve heard on a mobile device. At times, our calls sounded perfect, as if we were talking to someone in the same room, and not over a mobile phone. Other times, though, calls could sound distant, with a static buzz in our ears. On our callers'' end, our friends reported fairly good quality sound, though we could sound distant at times. The Motorola Droid also offered little resistance against high winds, and environmental noise could be distracting at times. Reception on the Motorola Droid was disappointing. We usually hovered under 3 bars of service, and sometimes the phone seemed to be running on network fumes. Still, this didn''t seem to affect call quality, and our calls almost always went through, even if a couple dropped out in the middle. Battery life on the Motorola Droid was excellent. Motorola claims almost 6.5 hours of talking time, and our tests concur. We managed to last more than 6.5 hours in a single call, and the Motorola Droid didn''t need a recharge in our first 2 days testing the phone.

The Motorola Droid did a fine job synchronizing our contacts with our favorite online address books, and it even went a step further than most phones in helping us manage our growing contact lists. You can sync with Google''s address book, your Exchange server, Facebook and other popular online services. Instead of simply dumping all your Facebook contacts into your address book, like the Palm Pre, the Motorola Droid lets you decide whether to simply add Facebook info to existing contacts, or add everybody on your friends list. We''d like more options to pick and choose, but this is a nice compromise. As a new feature in Android 2.0, you can open your address book and tap on a contact picture to see all the ways you can get in touch with them. So, you''ll see options to text, e-mail, send a message over Facebook or even call your friends, depending on the information stored in the phone.

For calling features, the Motorola Droid comes with all of our favorites, though the new, updated system isn''t any better for in-call features than the older OS. Connecting multiple calls on a conference was easy, but it could have been more intuitive. Even simpler Verizon Wireless feature phones let you simply dial and press Send to add a new call. Strangely, the Motorola Droid doesn''t have a Send or End key, and we think this is a design flaw. The speakerphone on the Motorola Droid was very, very loud, which is the way we like it. Voice dialing is available, and the voice dial app worked great in our tests, though we wish it got its own button.

The phone features a visual voicemail app, which lets you listen to messages one at a time and out of order. Making visual voicemail a separate app was confusing, though. When you press the voicemail button on the Phone screen, it dials into Verizon Wireless'' service. You have to actually open the voicemail app to see your messages visually.

Social Networking Very Good
Motorola and Verizon Wireless are pushing this phone for its social networking capabilities, and we''re not disappointed with the Motorola Droid''s performance on social networking and messaging features, but we know Motorola could have gone much further with this device. After all, the Motorola CLIQ does more for social networking than almost any other phone, with deep integration for Facebook, MySpace and Twitter built into the OS and the desktop widgets. The Motorola Droid does come with an improved version of Facebook, and unlike the version we saw on the Samsung Moment, it doesn''t always run off to the mobile site on the Web when you look at pictures, for instance. There''s also a desktop widget so you can read the latest updates from your friends or add a quick post yourself without opening the larger app. Still, we''d like to see more support for other networks built in.

Since this is an Android device with the Android App Market onboard, you can find plenty of 3rd party options to check and update your MySpace, Twitter or LinkedIn profiles. It was also very easy to send photos and videos to our favorite services. The YouTube client on the Motorola Droid has a camcorder button to start recording videos for upload directly from that app.

For the new Android 2.0 system, Google has tried to integrate the e-mail inbox on the phone, but they haven''t done a very good job. We set up our Gmail and Yahoo e-mail accounts on the device, in addition to our corporate Exchange account, but Android still keeps Gmail separate from the other services. So, our business e-mail commingled with our Yahoo mail, while our Gmail stood alone, which isn''t the way we would have divided these. We''d like to see an integrated mailbox for all our personal, incoming messages from Gmail and Yahoo, in addition to incoming SMS and MMS, instant messages and even internal messages from Facebook and MySpace. That''s the way BlackBerry devices, like the new BlackBerry Storm 2, handle messaging, and we think that''s the most convenient way.

Multimedia Very Good
Of all the great features on the Motorola Droid, music and video playback could use the most improvement. Google has pretty much ignored the video player on their mobile OS, and the music player hasn''t fared much better. Still, the Motorola Droid did a good job with our media files in spite of the poor player design and lack of features. There''s no media transfer software for the Motorola Droid, so you''ll have to sideload your files manually onto the included microSD card. The Droid recognized all of our music, and track information like artist names and album artwork came through with no trouble. We love that you can hold your finger on an album name or song title to get a search option that will let you search YouTube or the Web for more music and information about your selected song. It''s a cool, fun feature for a music player. But it doesn''t take the place of advanced playback controls and better playlist creation features.

Videos looked superb on the Motorola Droid''s high resolution screen, and the Droid could handle just about every reasonable file we threw its way. The phone chewed up our H.264 videos and spit out a dazzling picture with smooth motion and flawless colors. It couldn''t play videos that were cropped to the screen''s full 854 by 480 pixel resolution, and videos compressed with a high bitrate gave us trouble, but we still haven''t found a high-res phone capable of playing these advanced movies, so the Droid stayed ahead of the pack. Anything the Apple iPhone could play, the Motorola Droid could play better.

The Motorola Droid also comes with some impressive hardware for media playback. Verizon Wireless has generously packaged a 16GB microSD card in the phone''s expansion slot. You''ll have to remove the battery to get at the card, but with so much storage space, most buyers probably won''t need to remove it. The phone uses a 3.5mm headphone jack, positioned conveniently on the top-right corner. The device doesn''t come with headphones in the package, but real music fans will want to use their own cans anyway.

When it''s time to show off photos on your phone, the Motorola Droid does a fine job, thanks to the great screen and speedy processor inside, but we still think Android lags behind the Apple iPhone and Palm Pre for photo viewing. Images look great, but we''d like better gesture control to flick from one to the next, instead of the onscreen buttons. You can tap the picture to zoom, or press the zoom key, but we like the pinch and zoom capabilities on the multi-touch phones we mentioned. From the photo gallery, it was easy to upload pictures to numerous services, including Picasa, Facebook and more, and just as simple to send pics as messages, e-mails or even Bluetooth files to a connected machine.

Business Very Good
Out of the box, the Motorola Droid comes with a nice assortment of features for checking in with your office and staying in touch, but if you want to be truly productive you''ll have to buy and download extra software. The new Android 2.0 OS has deeper Microsoft Exchange integration than the previous version, so you''ll be able to easily synchronize your e-mail, contacts and calendars with your corporate account. Even with the new features, we''ve still seen e-mail sync handled better with 3rd party options. The Droid let us check our corporate e-mail subfolders, for instance, but it did a poor job keeping these up to date and informing us when new messages arrived. Sometimes, we even got notifications for new e-mails that didn''t seem to exist when we checked our mailboxes, and the notifications for corporate mail offer less information than notifications for Gmail, which include the sender and subject on new messages.

If you get Word and Excel documents as e-mail attachments, the Motorola Droid has an integrated document reader from QuickOffice. The phone did a nice job with our large spreadsheets, and navigating multiple pages was simple. If you want to create new documents or edit Office docs, you''ll have to buy a full software suite, though. There are some free and inexpensive options available, but the best we''ve used so far is the Documents To Go suite from DataViz, which costs $30 for the full-featured version.

Unlike the Sprint Hero, the Motorola Droid does not come with easy, built-in tethered modem support. That''s too bad, and we think tethered support is still a great option for business users. You can charge the phone from your laptop on the road, so no need to pack an extra charger. But you''ll need a separate option for a wireless connection on the go.

Traveling Very Good
One of the most exciting, disruptive new features on the Motorola Droid is the Google Maps with Navigation app. Google Maps, already an advanced and powerful mapping tool on Android, now offers turn-by-turn navigation, and it''s fantastic, even in the current beta state (for the record, most Google services remain in beta for years). It isn''t quite as polished or intelligent as some navigation software, like TeleNav''s AT&T or Sprint Navigator, but it beats the pants off of Network in Motion''s VZ Navigator on other Verizon Wireless phones. Maps zoom in close as you slow down, or zoom out as you speed up to offer a better view. The phone speaks your directions to you as you travel, though pronunciations are still a bit off (blvd was pronounced bull''vd). You can even get a quick look at your destination with the Google Street View feature, which gives you a virtual tour of the spot that you can pan around using the compass feature and accelerometer on the phone. Out of the gate, Google Maps with Navigation is one of the best options for getting directions from your phone, and unlike all of the competition, it''s free with the Motorola Droid. One minor note: Google Maps now includes advertisements when you perform a search of the mapping feature. But these were unobtrusively listed at the botton, and always in context to our surrounding and our search terms, so if that''s what it takes to get free navigation, so be it.

The Motorola Droid doesn''t include such niceties as a tip calculator or currency conversion like you might find on simpler phones, but rest assured that all of these tools and plenty more are available from the Google App Market. You''ll find flight tracking software, foreign language translators, subway maps and plenty of other useful apps. In fact, we''d go so far as to say the travel section is one of the most mature and developed parts of the App Market. The most limiting factor might be the phone''s carrier. Verizon Wireless'' network technology works fine across the U.S. and in most of North America, but if you''re traveling to Europe or Asia, you might have trouble using your cell phone abroad. The Motorola Droid doesn''t come with GSM backup radios to use the more common global network standard, even though Verizon Wireless is partly owned by Vodafone, a major player in the international GSM market.

Fun Very Good

The Motorola Droid is styled so aggressively, with futuristic, industrial alerts and ringtones included, that we couldn''t help but giggle every time it announced a new message by spurting out its own name. When a text message arrived, the phone screamed D-r-o-id in a heavily robotic voice. This got annoying after a while, but the phone takes itself and its own branding so seriously that it''s funny. We''d like to see this go a step further with enhanced themes that change the background and icons on the device to match the futuristic mood. That cool red eye you''ll see in our image gallery, for instance, was not included, but we created it ourselves to match the retail package.

The Motorola Droid doesn''t come with any games preloaded, but there are plenty of simple, potentially addictive games available for download from the App Market. None of these live up to the high quality, first tier titles you''ll find on the Apple iPhone 3GS and Apple iPod touch, but there are some gems available. Plus, if you like board games and solitaire, you''ll be all set. There is a YouTube app on the phone, and it worked very quickly in our time loading funny clips onto the phone. You can even upload your own masterpiece directly from the YouTube player, with a button that jumps into the camcorder, then helps you finish your upload to your YouTube account.

The Web browser on the Motorola Droid is Google''s most advanced mobile browser, and it now supports HTML5. Flash hasn''t made an appearance, yet, though Motorola has hinted that the browser will get Flash 10 support in the future, probably next year. That''s great, because the new Webkit browser supports HTML5''s video tag, which should make playing inline videos in full screen mode a breeze.

The camera on the Motorola Droid is a 5-megapixel shooter, and though the Android 2.0 OS offers great improvements in camera controls, we were disappointed with the image quality we got from the Motorola Droid. The camera on the Motorola Droid opened quickly, much faster than on any other Android device we''ve seen, but it could still stall between shots, causing misfires if we weren''t patient. There are now scene modes and more advanced options available to photographers, but some of these, like Portrait and Beach mode, made no difference while other, like Theatre mode, made no sense. You can adjust white balance or focal length, for macro shots, but the interface was still a bit clunky, especially if you''re trying to adjust more than one setting at a time. We''d trade all these scene modes for more features, like a panorama stitching mode or smile shots.

Worst of all, though, the camera on our Motorola Droid review unit just didn''t take good pictures. Images were blurry at times, noisy at others. Colors could be drab even under good lighting, and the camera could hardly handle dark night scenes, even with the night mode turned on. The Motorola Droid uses a bright dual-LED flash, and this helped a lot with the Night Portrait mode. Still, the images from this phone were disappointing, perhaps the worst we''ve seen from a 5-megapixel cameraphone. Images were perfectly usable for picture messages over MMS, but even as Facebook uploads

Staying Informed Very Good
For checking up on our favorite Internet news sites, the Motorola Droid did a fine job using only the included Webkit browser. If you want a dedicated RSS reader on your device, you''ll have to download one of the many available on the Google App Market, but we loaded up Google Reader on the Motorola Droid''s Browser and it worked perfectly. More complicated news sites, like CNN or the New York Times, looked great, exactly like they do on our desktop, though Flash content and videos were obviously missing in action. The Motorola Droid also lacks other popular apps for staying informed, like a weather app or other news tools, but again, the Google App Market features plenty of tools, and most of the apps in this category are available for free.

Price and availability
The Motorola Droid is available from Verizon Wireless as of November 6 for $200 with a $100 mail-in rebate. Rebates will be given in the form of a debit card.
 
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