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Motorola Droid 3 Review

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Motorola Droid 3 Review

Highs
  • Fantastic slide-out keyboard with number row
  • Larger 4-inch screen
  • Android 2.3 is fast and speedy
  • Solid battery life
  • 16GB internal storage
  • GSM-capable world phone
Lows
  • No 4G LTE
  • Screen quality is poor
  • Camera takes washed-out images
  • NinjaBlur UI is bland
  • A lot of unremovable bloatware apps
The Droid 3 is a definitive step up from previous slide-out Droids. The 4-inch screen is appreciated and we think the keyboard is pretty much best-in-class.

The phone that ignited the Android revolution is now in its third iteration, and if you’ve read our review of the Droid X2, then you already know more about the Droid 3 than you think. Though it has an upgraded physical design and a keyboard, the Droid 3 is largely the same phone on the inside as the Droid X2. Unfortunately, while it shares many of the positive traits of the Droid X2, it has nearly all of its downsides as well. If you’re looking for a 4G LTE phone, you won’t find it here.

Design

This is the third Verizon Droid phone in two years, and in many ways, the third time is a charm for Motorola. The Droid 3 expands the screen size of the line from 3.5 inches to 4.0 inches, which should make it spacious, but not too large for most people. Meanwhile, the phone is about as thin as its predecessors and its keyboard is far superior to that of the Droid or Droid X2.

The Droid 3′s slide-out QWERTY keyboard is the best keyboard we’ve used on a smartphone. For those who place high value on button typing, this is it. The buttons are flat like the previous Droids, but they are easier to press and have a more satisfying click to them. The layout is also better, with larger buttons all around—the larger space bar and return key are especially helpful. The most exciting improvement of all is the addition of a row of number keys up top. Android keyboards, physical and touch, have never dealt with numbers well. To type a number usually requires switching to a separate keyboard or holding down a special button to type. Not anymore. The Droid 3 has number keys and they are fabulous.

The rest of the Droid 3 is similar to its predecessors, but the added space the 4-inch screen brings is pleasant. The handset is almost exactly as thin as the original Droid, but looks thinner due to its wider and longer body. Perhaps influenced by the Droid X2, the power button has been moved to the center top of the phone and the camera button has been removed (bummer). A micro HDMI port has also been added near the microUSB charging port on the lower left. We also like the Droid X-like rubberized backplate, which doesn’t smudge up and helps you keep a good grip on the phone while you’re doing whatever it is you do on your smartphone when you aren’t charging it.

Overall, the Droid 3 is the sturdiest feeling Droid yet. Our only design complaint would be that the camera on the back of the phone protrudes out a bit, making the phone somewhat unsteady when it’s sitting on a surface, like a table that wobbles because one leg is shorter than the others. It’s not a big problem, but it is noticeable if the keyboard is extended.

Screen issues

We won’t go into detail again about the screen technology Motorola is using on its phones this year, but we’re sad that the Droid 3 seems to have the same issues as the Droid X2 (read about them here). At 540 x 960 (qHD), the resolution of the screen is great. It’s the cost-saving screen technology Motorola has employed that doesn’t measure up. While certainly usable, the Droid 3 screen seems incapable of displaying vibrant, vivid color. Colors tend to look washed out. Motorola does itself no favors by recoloring the Android interface in dark blues and grays. We’re not sure what they were thinking.

Also, thanks to the combination of a PenTile display on LCD technology (as best we understand), the screen also has a noticeable array of tiny black subpixels that cover the screen, further washing out color and somewhat ruining the beauty of the high-resolution display. Some color banding can be seen in the right circumstances as well.

If you are like us, the Droid 3′s lackluster display may cheapen your experience, but regular users may not notice it at all. Until, that is, they see someone else’s screen and how colorful it is. We recommend you try out the phone at a store and look deep into its screen. If it doesn’t please you, move on.

Specs

The Droid 3 is one of the most powerful phones on the market with a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, 512MB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage built in. It also has a slot for a microSD card, which can hold up to an additional 32GB, bringing the total potential for the Droid 3 to 48GB, meaning it’s probably the best option for Androiders looking for media storage. We have our issues with the qHD (quarter high definition) screen, but it certainly gets the job done. And hey, it runs Android 2.3, which means it actually feels as fast and powerful a dual-core phone should.

Android 2.3 with NinjaBlur

The Android 2.3 NinjaBlur experience is quite similar to what we experienced with the Droid X2, but its deficiencies are less bothersome when its optimized and running on Android 2.3. The Droid 3 is fast. For its Gingerbread debut, NinjaBlur has been spruced up, with new 3D-like home-screen transitions (a la HTC Sense 3.0) and a shiny gloss that glimmers across the screen on each new page. When you enter the apps menu with the keyboard slid out, you’ll also notice that Motorola has increased the number of app icons that show up on a page from 20 to 24.

We also like Motorola’s set of resizable widgets and its custom onscreen keyboard, which is reminiscent of Microsoft’s fantastic Windows Phone keyboard. Other than that, NinjaBlur doesn’t add much. It would be nice if Moto invested in some of the customization or notification tray enhancements that HTC and Samsung have added to their Android handsets. And please, let’s ditch the boring gray color scheme.

Apps and Web

Like many Android phones, the Droid 3 is full of bloatware that cannot be deleted (for some reason). The phone comes with apps that you may not need or want like Blockbuster video, Amazon Kindle, Google Books, Citrix, City ID, Skype, QuickOffice, NFL Mobile, Slacker, and a bunch of Verizon apps. It would be great if we were able to clear some of the clutter.

Still, there are some useful apps here. Like the Droid X2, Motorola has included a useful file manager, IM app, task manager, and task list maker. We also like the MotoPrint app, in theory, as printing from a phone might be nice, though we were unable to properly test the feature.

As for the Web, well it’s there, but it isn’t very fast. Like the Droid X2, the Droid 3 is not a 4G LTE-capable phone. If you choose this device, prepare to be locked into Verizon’s 3G network for another two years. In our New York City tests, we attained about 1.5Mbps download speeds and 800Mbps upload, which is much slower than the 8Mbps to 12Mbps download and upload speeds we’ve been getting on Verizon’s 4G network. Moto fans who want in on the 4G network will have to wait for the Droid Bionic later this month, which will be the first dual-core 4G phone on Verizon’s network. Unfortunately, those who like physical keyboards are left in a bit of a bind. The Bionic has no keyboard and the Droid 3 is the best keyboarded phone we can find. It looks like sacrifice will be the name of the game for now. We hope Motorola releases a 4G-capable, keyboarded Droid sometime soon.

With that said, perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing. Though Verizon is speeding up its network, it has also begun offering less bandwidth for more money, instituting new data prices that are pretty steep. Current users will be grandfathered in to their current ‘unlimited’ data plans, for now.

Camera

The Droid 3 may have a fancy 8-megapixel rear camera that’s capable of 1080p video recording and a front-facing camera, but don’t get too excited. Motorola has removed the physical camera button and the front camera is only VGA, meaning it can only take pictures at 640×480, or about the size Facebook used to crunch your pictures down to back in the day.

The Droid 3 camera software is a step up from the Droid X2, but the fundamental issues are still present. The camera has autofocus and an LED flash, but it’s slow, especially in low light. It can take several seconds to snap a photo with the phone’s slow shutter speed and the camera (or filtering software) tends to drain color from images, outputting pictures that look washed out and slightly blue, in many cases. These shots compare the Droid 3′s camera to the Samsung Focus, which we consider to be one of the better camera phones out right now. If you take a lot of outdoor pictures, you may not have as big a problem.

Motorola Droid 3  Samsung Focus

 

Phone functionality

Like previous Droids, the Droid 3 has no problems with reception. Roaming around New York City, we rarely had less than four or five bars until we got into busy areas, but the phone held its own, even then. Other reviews have stated that the phone’s call quality is a bit weak, but we did not find it worse than any other smartphone. Like the Droid X2, the earpiece can also get quite loud, which helps when you’re taking a call in a crowded room or noisy area.

It should also be noted that the Droid 3 comes with a Vodaphone global SIM, which will be helpful if you plan on traveling outside of the United States. Because it runs a GSM SIM and supports the appropriate wireless bands, the Droid 3 can technically be unlocked and used on AT&T’s network as well, if that’s something you think you might be into. At least there, it can take advantage of AT&T’s much faster HSPA+ network, which tends to average about 3Mbps, or twice as fast as Verizon 3G.

Battery

The Droid 3’s battery is good. Motorola claims that the phone’s 1540mAh battery averages 9.16 hours of talk time and 300 hours (18 days) of stand-by time. Our testing seems to verify this. We’ve had no problem going two days without charging on light to moderate use and have been impressed with how well the battery holds up on standby. As always, however, battery life will vary wildly depending on how many and what apps you have that need to sync data and how difficult it is for your phone to find a signal on a regular basis. We recommend turning off Android Sync and GPS if you are having consistent battery life issues. The Droid 3 doesn’t have a revolutionary new battery, but it is a solid performer, like the Droid X2.

Conclusion

The Droid 3 is a definitive step up from previous slide-out Droids. The 4-inch screen is appreciated and we think the keyboard is pretty much best-in-class. Also, thanks to Android 2.3, it runs much more smoothly than the Droid X2, which means users can actually take advantage of the fact that they own a dual-core phone. On the downside, we’re not fans of Motorola’s NinjaBlur interface, and found that the phone’s camera and screen are both somewhat washed out, taking and displaying faded images.

More than anything, we wish the Droid 3could connect to Verizon’s fast 4G LTE network. It’s hard to recommend sticking with 3G speeds for two more years. Those hoping for a keyboard phone that connects to 4G may be waiting for a year or more, though the touch-only Droid Bionic will be released sometime soon. We recommend you give that a whirl before committing to the Droid 3. Why can’t we have a great keyboard and 4G, Motorola? Why make us choose?

Highs:

  • Fantastic slide-out keyboard with number row
  • Larger 4-inch screen
  • Android 2.3 is fast and speedy
  • Solid battery life
  • 16GB internal storage
  • GSM-capable world phone

Lows:

  • No 4G LTE
  • Screen quality is poor
  • Camera takes washed-out images
  • NinjaBlur UI is bland
  • A lot of unremovable bloatware apps
DT
Jeffrey Van Camp

As the Mobile Section Editor for Digital Trends, Jeffrey Van Camp is responsible for the content and direction of coverage on smartphones, tablets, ebooks, and other mobile gadgets and software. Jeff has been writing about tech, video games, and movies on the Web for more than a decade. Before joining DT, he spent several years working with mobile app/game developers and wireless carriers. You can reach him @JeffreyVC on Twitter or Facebook.

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