Each new Android smartphone seems to improve on its predecessors. But Motorola’s latest, the Droid from Verizon Wireless, is a veritable quantum leap well beyond recent peers such as the Samsung Moment and the HTC Hero, both from Sprint – and even the Motorola Cliq (available on T-Mobile). Thank three advantages that the Droid possesses over all other previous Android phones: Its gorgeous 400,000-pixel 16×9 3.7-inch LCD touchscreen, the largest available on a cell phone; the handset’s status as the first to run the Android 2.0 operating system; and its pedigree as the first Android phone for Verizon, which arguably operates the nation’s best 3G network. However, the Droid’s superiority over recent rivals surpasses mere technical comparisons alone. This is one of the most solidly-built smartphones available, featuring a stolidity that lends it a gravitas lacking in all but the most boring BlackBerrys, yet belies the mobile handset’s more playful side, which also makes a great impression. To put it simply, the Droid isn’t the perfect choice for cell phone owners, but as iPhone alternatives go, it’s pretty darn close.
Features and Design
Interestingly, it’s hard to separate the Droid as a piece of hardware from its Android 2.0 heart. As a result, this is as much a review of the upgraded OS as the phone itself.
Unlike its more aesthetically rounded Android predecessors, the Droid is a stern rectangle with a slide-out horizontal QWERTY keyboard. But instead of a springy QWERTY slide option a la the Sidekick, the Droid’s keyboard firmly glides out like a solid oak drawer and clicks into a locked position. This QWERTY plate is actually a quarter-inch longer than the screen top, with a lower lip containing the microphone jutting out underneath.
Tile keys with white backlighting on the QWERTY keypad are nearly smooth to the touch, but we had no trouble tapping text quickly and nearly mistake-free. Unfortunately, the Droid’s QWERTY, like the Cliq’s, lacks a dedicated row of number keys, which restricts quickly substituting numbers in place of text (i.e. “2” for “to,” etc.)
At .54 inches thick, the Droid is one of the thinnest slider phones around, thinner even than the .61 thick Cliq.
Moreover, the Droid is the first Android phone with no physical navigation or control keys on the front. Just below the screen you’ll find four touch keys instead: Back, Menu, Ho
me and Search.
To read more about the Droid’s Android 2.0 feature set and screen, check out our Motorola Droid hands-on impressions.
Ports & Connectors
On the left side of the phone you’ll find the microUSB jack, while up top is the 3.5mm headphone port, uncomfortably close to the power on/off button. If you have a right-angled headphone jack, you’ll have to annoyingly twist it around to wake the phone up or put it to sleep.
Note that you will have to remove the battery cover to slide in/out the microSD card. Since the Droid comes with a 16 GB card, however, you’re not likely to be swapping memory cards too often.
Even though the Droid captures 720×480 H.264 DVD-quality video, there is no video out jack of any kind.
Audio, Video and Multimedia Performance
The Motorola Droid doesn’t take full advantage of its fabulous screen, at least as far as YouTube is concerned. Videos don’t run in full-screen mode, just in the middle third of the display, and there are no full-screen zoom touch options as there are on some other Android phones. On our test unit, choosing the HQ versions of clips resulted in a never-ending “loading” process as well. We’re hoping that this is just a glitch on the evaluation sample provided.
Oddly as well, the handset doesn’t bookmark your spot in the music queue. When we switched to video capture, songs being played paused, but didn’t pick up from where we stopped when we left the camcorder app. We had to restart shuffle play, and the Droid just initiated a whole new song sequence. This is a puzzling glitch as Android is supposed to multitask comfortably, meaning the music queue should have frozen in the background until we returned to it.
Do you know who the crooner Mel Tormé was? Well, he was nicknamed “The Velvet Fog” for his smooth, enveloping tenor. Even though Motorola’s promotional materials don’t say so, we’re assuming the Droid is equipped with Motorola’s Crystal Talk because it delivers the cell phone equivalent of Mel Tormé tone. Voices are revelatory, realistically smooth and soothing, unlike the harsh digitized tones through which they’re conveyed on other cell phones. We did detect some background feedback echo, however – it wasn’t disconcerting, just lurking.
In our unscientific side-by-side comparison, music from the Droid did sound crisper and brighter than it did on an iPhone, though… an altogether pleasant surprise.