No question about it, Verizon’s ad campaign for the Droid has stoked public awareness of the new Android phone. I have been using it solid for a few days now and it is rare to run into someone who hasn’t heard about the Motorola Droid. Like the campaign that Sprint and Palm run for the Pre, it shows how mainstream smartphones are becoming.
Having used the Droid for a few days, let me share my ongoing impressions of the phone. First up, I get asked how I can use so many evaluation phones, while maintaining my sanity having four carrier phones of my own. That’s a fair question, and one with a simple answer. Google Voice is the magic that makes all this work for me. I forward all four of my own phone lines to the Google Voice number, and the GV number is forwarded to the phone I carry with me. Right now that phone is the Droid, so no matter which of my numbers gets a call, it rings on the Droid. Text messages to all four of my phones go right to the Droid through GV, too. And since the Android version of GV is so complete, I set the Droid to use GV for all outgoing calls. It just works.
So back to the Droid, what do I think so far? How does it compare to other phones I own or have evaluated? Would I recommend it for purchase? Patience, I’ll do my best to answer these questions and more.
I have been using the Droid exclusively for the past 4 days, and overall I like it. The size and weight are good for carrying it around in my pocket, and it feels good in the hand. I find the construction is very solid, even the slider has no extra play in operation. It offers a full experience for such a small device.
I am still impressed with the display, it is just beautiful to use for extended sessions. It is bright and vivid, and text is so crisp and easy to read. I find it is so resolute that I routinely use smaller fonts than I do with other phones, and that means more content on the screen at once. The touchscreen has a nice, light touch and is easy to work with.
Android 2.0 is a good evolution for the platform, and I have encountered no issues with phone operation. I am experienced with Android and that no doubt helps, as I find everything where I expect it to be. The widgets work as expected, and while some older widgets do not work on the higher resolution screen of the Droid, most I’ve tried work fine. Having used Android phones with both 5 and 7 home screens that can be customized, I find the three screens of default Android (as on the Droid) to be limiting.
Speaking of customization, that is done using those widgets on Android phones. There are many such widgets in the Android Market, which is good as the Droid ships with none. I found the Droid very plain jane out of the box, and Motorola/ Verizon would be wise to include some widgets for the phone. Widgets not only add functionality and convenience, but they can create the very look and feel of a phone. I am probably biased in this regard having used the HTC Hero for a bit, as the HTC Sense interface is just a bunch of widgets included on that phone. The Droid needs something to make the default home screen special, but all it has out of the box is a few app icons.
The Droid operation is very solid and performance is quite good. Everyone I have let play with the Droid has commented how fast everything happens, and that’s accurate. I find the hardware to be quite capable, even driving that high resolution display. I rarely experience any lags, and find I am able to concentrate on the task at hand rather than the phone itself. That’s the mark of a good device.
I find I rarely use the physical keyboard on the Droid. It’s not a great keyboard to start with, but frankly I find the onscreen keyboards (both portrait and landscape) to be pretty good. The only times I open up the keyboard in landscape mode is if the onscreen keyboard will take up too much of the screen. It does take up over half the screen, and while usually not a problem for short entries, sometimes I need to see the whole screen. The keyboard is useful to have if needed, and since it adds very little thickness or weight I’d rather have it available than not.
Last weekend I took the Droid to a monthly Geek Gathering, and everyone was very impressed with the phone. This was a tough crowd, too, as everyone was tech-savvy and very tuned into the smartphone scene. The performance of the Droid was mentioned repeatedly, and the fact it had a sliding keyboard while remaining so thin was a hot topic.
I have seen on the web numerous reviewers state that the Droid is the best Android phone to date. I largely agree with that assessment, but I temper that a little. If the carrier was not a factor and I was going to buy a phone today, I would buy the HTC Hero on Sprint. There are a few reasons for that choice that I’ll share.
I found the Hero to be just as good a performer as the Droid. While the display was not quite as big as that of the Droid, the Hero was a bit smaller making it a tad more portable. I’ve already stated that I don’t use the physical keyboard on the Droid that much, so the lack of one on the Hero didn’t bother me at all. HTC has included their own onscreen keyboards on the Hero, and they are better than the stock Android versions on the Droid.
The one thing (besides the carrier) that would have me choose the Droid over the Hero is Android 2.0. Specifically, it is the Google Maps Navigation that is included in Android 2.0. I have used the Google Navigation on the Droid and it is flat-out awesome. One 20-mile trip across town I made with the Droid as the navigator demonstrated to me how powerful it is. The ability to follow the route with the overhead satellite view is so useful I can’t state that emphatically enough. I have used navigation systems for years and this first attempt by Google already blows them all away. I would choose the Droid over the Hero for this reason alone, but it’s coming to the Hero soon.
HTC has already stated that it would be updating the Hero to Android 2.0 soon, and that is the clincher for me. Assuming that Google Maps Navigation will be in that upgrade, the Hero is the phone I would choose. HTC includes the Sense interface, a collection of home screen widgets which add a ton of utility while making the phone’s look and feel miles ahead of the Droid’s. Throw in the Hero’s physical phone buttons, and it’s my solid choice.
I still like my Palm Pre, don’t fret you Pre enthusiasts. But I find I can have more utility out of the box with apps already available in the Android Market, and I’m not alone in that regard.