In almost every respect, Motorola’s Droid X2 a better phone than the Droid X, which we gave high marks to one year ago. It has double the processing power, a better camera, and a higher resolution qHD display. However, the world of Android changes quickly. What is impressive one day is out of date the next. Motorola’s Droid has some great attributes and is not a bad phone, but in a few key ways, the device isn’t keeping up with the features and performance of its competitors. Let’s dig in.
From a design perspective, nothing has changed between the Droid X and X2, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The original Droid X was thinner and larger than almost anything on the market. While the X2 doesn’t break new ground in size or thinness, it still looks good amongst the many 4 to 4.3-inch competitors that have emerged in 2011. The only major physical difference between the X2 and X is the removal of the dedicated camera button on the lower right side of the phone. We’re not sure why Motorola chose to remove it, as a physical button comes in handy, but it’s no longer there.
Aside from that, the unit has the same solid, rubbery feel that made the original Droid X so appealing. The back cover is easy to remove and the Menu buttons on the front of the device are actual buttons, not haptic touch controls. The top rear of the unit also has the familiar bump for the camera. The lack of a front-facing camera is a bit disappointing. Very few smartphones have come out this year lacking a front camera, so we’re perplexed why Motorola decided to omit it. Granted, we really don’t use the front camera often, but it’s a nice comfort and may come in handy as video calling becomes more popular.
As with the original Droid X, we like the placement of the power button on the top middle, and the volume toggle on the right side is a bit small. In addition, the rear speaker is serviceable, but just as weak as any other smartphone as of late. (Why must all media speakers face away from the user?) Finally, micro HDMI and micro USB ports are located on the lower right side, with a microSD card slot inside the unit.
Kudos to Motorola for stepping up and including a qHD (940×560 pixel) display in the X2, but we can’t say we’re overly impressed with its performance. While we have no problems with brightness, and like the scratch-resistant nature of the touchscreen, it has some fairly apparent issues with washed out color, banding, and pixelation. We believe this has to do with Motorola’s choice of screen technology.
As best we can tell, Motorola has chosen to use a PenTile display with an LCD screen on the X2. Does that sound like gibberish? Well, here’s what it means. When you look at the Droid X2 screen from a normal distance, you’ll notice that everything looks kind of pixelated, as if its overly sharp. A grid of small little black dots are noticeable at all times (though they are sometimes white). While commonly used on AMOLED screens like Samsung’s recent Droid Charge and Infuse 4G, this PenTile technology tends to stand out in a negative way on an LCD screen like the X2’s.
The phone also has trouble cleanly displaying gradients (where one color gradually turns into another or fades away). This problem is reminiscent of the difference between having your computer run on 16-bit color and 32-bit. Colors tend to form bands that span across the screen instead of a smooth and unnoticeable fade.
Finally, the color of the screen is ever so slightly washed out compared and discolored when compared to competing phones. This is hardly noticeable, but the discoloration becomes a bit more apparent when you tilt the screen. With that said, the overall viewing angles for the screen are impressive. You can make out what’s going on from nearly an 80-degree angle.
From what we’ve read, the Motorola Atrix uses the same display as the Droid X2, and it did not seem to bother our own reviewer for that phone. I also did not notice this effect on the Atrix, but I have not spent much time with it. If screen clarity is an issue to you, please be sure to try out the X2 and examine its screen for yourself. We imagine that some will find this PenTile screen utterly distracting and cheap looking, while others won’t notice its shortcomings at all.
The Droid X2 packs some raw horsepower with a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, 512MB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage, and an 8GB MicroSD card built in. Couple all that with the high-resolution screen (minus its problems), and you have a fairly impressive package. Competing phones tend to pack a bit more RAM, but we can’t argue with the power of the Tegra 2. The only problem with the specs of the X2 is how Motorola’s software takes advantage of it.
Android 2.2 with NinjaBlur
We’re not sure why Motorola has renamed MotoBlur to NinjaBlur, but it may be because the UI does some things really great and quick, but hides before you can ask it a question. A good ninja is never around when you need him; he just attacks from the dark. Motorola’s customized user interface is similar. Certain upgrades, like the Windows-Phone-like keyboard and resizable widgets, are quite impressive. While many manufacturers offer different widget sizes, all of Motorola’s new clock, social, calendar, and mail widgets are completely resizable, and that’s awesome. Similarly, Motorola knows a good keyboard when it sees one, as it has mimicked Microsoft’s WP7 keyboard almost perfectly and we couldn’t be happier. It works great.
Unfortunately, the rest of NinjaBlur is somewhat inconsistent and bare bones, lacking many user-friendly features that are in HTC’s Sense or Samsung’s TouchWiz. We’re not really sure why Motorola feels the need to modify Android at all, except perhaps, to hide the fact that the X2 is still running Android 2.2, though an upgrade to 2.3 (Gingerbread) has been promised soon. NinjaBlur is almost a pure Google Android experience, save for a few small features, Moto’s widgets, and a custom paint job that looks okay, but makes some apps look pretty crappy. (See the shot of Google Listen below; that gray area is black on every other Android phone).
Motorola has included a tray of icons along the bottom and a few useful apps, however, but the company doesn’t seem interested in providing a full user experience upgrade like HTC Sense. Sadly, though it is bare bones, the manufacturer also locks down the bootloader on its phones, so there’s no easy way (as far as we know), for knowledgeable geeks to modify the phone themselves.
Apps and Web
Motorola has included a few helpful apps, like a file and folder manager, FM Radio, IM app, a task manager, and an actual task-list maker that lets you create lists of to-do lists. Other non-removable apps, like Blockbuster, AmazonMP3, Lets Golf 2, My Verizon, Quickoffice, Slacker, Skype, and Vcast are also included. We’re still puzzled why no major Android manufacturers seem to understand that there’s no reason why a user shouldn’t be able to delete Skype or Let’s Golf, if they wish.
The Web works as well as one might expect. Motorola appears to be using the standard Google Android browser, which has its share of downsides, but gets the job done better than any other custom smartphone browsers we’ve seen.
3G speed barriers
We’re very disappointed that the X2 doesn’t have 4G LTE connectivity, especially being a phone on Verizon’s network. The difference in speed between 3G and 4G is immense on Verizon. On the 3G-only X2, we attained speeds of about 1Mbps to 2Mbps and upload speeds of 0.5Mbps to 1Mbps, but have reached speeds 10 times faster on 4G LTE devices. It’s hard for us to recommend you lock yourself into a 3G phone for the next two years, so please test out the device and its Internet speeds before you purchase, and then try out a 4G phone like the HTC ThunderBolt, Samsung Droid Charge, or perhaps the Motorola Droid Bionic, which should be hitting shelves soon and will be the first dual-core LTE phone on Verizon’s network.
The 8-megapixel rear camera on the Droid X2 works fine, but fairly is weak when compared to Samsung and HTC’s cameras as of late. It tends to capture less color, outputting brighter, but more lifeless pictures in most conditions. Like the HTC Sensation 4G, you can select a portion of the shot to focus on, but the process involves dragging the viewing retical and isn’t as fast or effective as it is on the HTC devices. Still, outdoors it does fairly well, and Motorola has included some nice options for wideshots and “scenes,” which tailor the camera to different situations like portraits, high speed sports, or landscapes.
The Droid X2 is a fine phone. We had no problems making and sustaining calls here in New York City and were pleasantly surprised by how clear calls were. Granted, phone calls are never what you’d call high fidelity by nature, but Motorola’s receiver is good, outputting audio that seemed a bit clearer than some phones. The earpiece was also fairly loud, which was good for those of us who already have bad hearing at a relatively young age (me).
With a 1,540mAh battery, the Droid X2 is comparable to most major Android phones. It’s been rated to have 480 minutes of talk time and 220 hours (nine days) of standby time. As a dual-core device, the Sensation seemed to hold a charge somewhat longer, but we have no complaints about the Droid X2’s battery life. It got us through an entire day full of audio streaming, Google+ing, downloading, and calling after several days of sitting on standby with Google Sync on. Previous days of high use have been good as well. Without pesky 4G LTE to nip at its battery, users can expect the X2 to last long enough to get the job done.
We have nothing against Motorola, but the Droid X2 is not the company’s best effort. As the name itself implies, the X2 is mostly a rehashed 2010 phone, now equipped with a dual-core processor and a higher resolution qHD screen, but that screen lacks clarity compared to similarly priced phones from competitors like HTC, Samsung, and LG. Overall, however, it’s what the Droid X2 lacks that says the most about it: It doesn’t have 4G LTE connectivity, a front-facing camera, more RAM than its predecessor, Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), or a particularly stunning user interface. If any of these features matter to you, you should think twice before committing. The Droid X2 is a great 3G Android phone, but if you want to be on the cutting edge, keep looking.
- Dual-core Tegra 2 processor
- Rugged and sturdy design
- Great touch keyboard
- Phone call clarity
- Decent battery life
- Poor screen quality
- No 4G LTE
- Still on Android 2.2
- NinjaBlur UI is clunky
- No front-facing camera