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Summary:

Motorola’s Droid X improves vastly on its predecessor — a larger display in a comfortable package, a faster processor and much improved software. Provided you don’t need a hardware keyboard, Droid X is the Android phone to have if you’re on the Verizon Wireless network.

With new Google Android handsets hitting the scene on what feels like a weekly basis, it’s difficult for phone makers and carriers to differentiate between the various devices. Motorola has tried to stand out with hardware nuances like the odd-folding BackFlip and with software such as Motoblur. Both approaches gave it the “good college try,” but fell far short of the sales enjoyed by the first Android 2.0 phone, the Motorola Droid. For the first time however, Motorola has exceeded the original Droid with its successor, the Motorola Droid X, available on the Verizon Wireless network.

As the current owner of a Google Nexus One, I feared that Droid X and its 4.3-inch display would be too large for my small hands. I’m glad that Motorola proved me wrong — even with my small 5’5″ frame, the Droid X turns out to be quite comfortable to use and carry. The main reason is the width of the device. Even though this is a large phone in comparison to most competitors, it’s relatively narrow — perhaps 2 millimeters wider than my wife’s iPhone 3GS and is mostly thinner than my Nexus One as shown in the image gallery below. Yet the 854×480 resolution on the larger screen makes it joy to surf the web, watch videos or read e-books, even when outside in full sunlight.

Running Android 2.1, Droid X has plenty of horsepower to take advantage of the large LCD screen. Like similar high-end Android phones currently available, Motorola chose a 1 GHz processor, but opted for a Texas Instruments chip over one from Qualcomm — a brand commonly used in HTC handsets like my Nexus One or the Sprint EVO 4G. (Related: our EVO vs Droid X head-to-head battle) A PowerVR SGX530 graphics chip does the heavy video lifting — between that and the CPU, Droid X is peppy overall and excels when handling video. For the benchmark geeks out there, I recommend this excellent AndroidCentral video comparing Droid X with the EVO and Nexus One — the video frame-rate tests are of particular note, showing how smooth and fluid video can be on Droid X.

Speaking of video, Droid X can capture plenty of it at a high quality. The phone has 8 GB of internal memory and includes a 16 GB removable microSD card. The 8 megapixel camera sensor is supported by two LED flash bulbs and can take still images or 720p high-def movies. The camera application is simple to use — as is the dedicated camera button on the side of Droid X — and offers more photography options than most average consumers could use, ranging from scene modes to an outstanding panoramic mode that stitches six images together for a super-wide view.

Motorola made it easy to get such images and videos to the big screen by adding a mini-HDMI jack to connect Droid X to an HDTV. Unfortunately, Droid X doesn’t include such a cable with the phone, so that’s an additional expense for those who want it. And that HDMI output is only useful for certain activities — you can’t pipe content from the included Blockbuster application or YouTube from handset to HDTV, for example. Motorola does include both a DLNA and Media Share application for media transfer and control, however.

The Blockbuster movie rental software is one of only a few pre-loaded applications. Unlike many other phones, Verizon didn’t load up the device with carrier-specific applications, which is a plus. And the software that is included or was created by Motorola is another benefit. Droid X accepts voice input natively with Android, but also works with a Nuance-powered voice control applications. The FM Radio software pulls in signals by using a connected headset and Skype Mobile — currently a Verizon exclusive — is pre-installed. And even though you won’t notice it upon first glance, Motoblur is there, but in a far more subtle manner.

Instead of the “in your face” social networking updates present on other Motoblur devices, Motorola opted to tame the experience with custom widgets that can be installed or ignored. Unless you configure them, the phone won’t use them. While this is a positive step, I ended up turning off the Motorola widgets after a day or two because third-party apps often provide more functionality or more information on a single display, and are often more customizable in terms of alerts. Motorola’s social widget for Twitter, for example, shows one tweet at a time — to see more, you tap it and then swipe along tweet by tweet.

One piece of software that impresses is the 3G Mobile Hotspot function. The service costs $20 per month for 2 GB of data, but turns the Droid X into a portable hotspot, able to share the 3G connection with five Wi-Fi devices. The software supports WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption for security and works fantastic. I’ve used it to surf the web on my iPad Wi-Fiand saw average speeds around 1.5 Mbps — plenty fast enough for browsing on a mobile device.

Of course, a mobile device is only as good as its input system and here’s where the combination of a large display and good software really shine. I’ve found it difficult to go back to my Nexus One from the Droid X because I can type so much faster on the bigger screen. The little bit of extra display makes a huge difference. And for those that struggle with an on-screen QWERTY keyboard, the Droid X includes Swype. This software allows you to trace words on the virtual keyboard — you only lift a finger between words. Swype says you can approach speeds of 50 wpm and although I can’t quite hit that mark, the software does make text entry very easy. Overall, navigation is better on the big screen too, helped by the physical buttons under the display — I like these better than the touch sensitive ones on my Nexus One.

At the end of the day, Droid X can’t just be a pocketable computer that plays media, takes pictures and surfs the web. After all, it’s a phone too, so voice quality and battery life are important. Droid X is a stellar phone, thanks in part to three different microphones that help reduce or even eliminate background noise. The speakerphone on the backside of Droid X is more than adequate too — when I put callers on the speakerphone, they were hard pressed to tell the difference. And battery life is quite good as well. The replaceable 1500 mAh battery should see all but the heaviest power-users through a full day. Keeping the display on or using the mobile hotspot often will drain the battery faster, of course. But Motorola has three customizable power-saving themes to help keep Droid X running.

Right now, I think the Droid X is the best Android handset available through Verizon Wireless, mainly because the display is larger and a higher resolution than the Droid Incredible (which is having supply issues). With Android, there’s always another hot new handset around the corner — like the Droid 2 or Samsung Galaxy S, for example — but if I was looking for an Android phone on Verizon, Droid X would be at the top of my list. Verizon says that Droid X will see an update to Android 2.2 by end of summer — bringing faster speeds and Adobe Flash support — which will make the device even more appealing.

 

Verizon is currently selling the Droid X for $299 with a new 2-year contract, but there is a $100 mail-in rebate bringing the net hardware cost down to $199. And although this won’t help current Droid owners, any Verizon customer with a contract expiring by the end of 2010 is eligible for this pricing. I answered initial Droid X questions last week, but will have the evaluation unit for a bit yet, so don’t hesitate to ask specific questions in the comments so I can try to address them.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d):

To Win In the Mobile Market, Focus On Consumers

By Kevin C. Tofel

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  1. I dunno Kevin, you know I respect your opinion… but that thing just looks too big and ugly to make me want it anywhere near my pocket :)

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    1. Ian, I had similar concerns, especially after using an iPhone for 2.5 years and then a Nexus One for the last 6 months. But I’m finding (rather quickly) that I like the bigger display and yet I can still feel comfortable with this in a hand or a pocket. By keeping the width within reason, Motorola made it bigger without it feeling “too big.” And the design may look bland, but it works because there’s no distraction.

      But I think any bigger would be pushing it for me — I have small hands. :) Definitely the kind of device you need to handle for a good 15 minutes or more.

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      1. In the contact list can you set up catagories such as doctors, hotels, resturants, golf courses etc? I like what I see but use the phone for business. I currently ahve a Storm 2 and am able to sink direct to my laptop using the above catorgies. Need help before I buy one. I am with Verizon, the store people are NO help.

        Thanks
        Rdo

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  2. I think this is fair… it might be the best Verizon handset available, but I’d like to hear your take on whether it’s better than the other top Android phone out right now, the EVO 4G.

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    1. Good question and one that we covered here: http://jkontherun.com/2010/07/11/droid-x-and-htc-evo-4g-head-to-head/

      Specifications and features of the two are fairly similar, but some key points for anyone considering the two:

      Do you live in or near a Sprint 4G area? EVO has a clear advantage here.
      Do you prefer the HTC Sense interface or the lightly skinned Motorola UI on the Droid X?
      How important is it that you get Froyo sooner rather than later? Moto should be delivering that within 2 months while EVO won’t see it until close to year end.
      Do you need a kickstand? ;)

      I’d personally go with Droid X over EVO because I don’t live in a 4G area and I like the speed / UI improvements found in Froyo, which I’m running on my Nexus One.

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      1. Thanks Kevin, one other thought: If Froyo is that important to you, I bet EVO users manage to get a Froyo ROM onto the EVO (wait, have they already?) well before Motorola comes out with an official update.

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      2. I know that folks have already rooted the EVO and I’ve seen the development community working on Froyo ROMs, so it’s a matter of time. I would think that Froyo will unofficially appear on the EVO prior to HTC’s official update.

        As far as the Droid X, I don’t think users will have to wait too long for Froyo. Both Verizon and Moto say it will be here before end of summer and with the light skinning of the UI, development to get Froyo on Droid X should be faster than on a Sense UI device like the EVO.

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  3. Johnathon Holroyd Thursday, July 15, 2010

    I don’t think you can call any android device the best if it isn’t even running the newest version of the operating system. I would hold out for something that’s running android 2.2 if I was in the market for a new phone right now.

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    1. Phone choice is personal, so only you can pick the best phone for you. Having said that, the headline is “best Android phone for Verizon,” not the “best Android phone.”

      By your definition, the Nexus One is the best Android phone right now because its the only handset officially running Froyo. I know that Verizon and Sprint customers would disagree since the Nexus One is a GSM device. ;)

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  4. I wanted to like the Droid X but finding out that it self-destructs if the bootloader is tampered with (i.e. no flashing custom ROMs) makes this thing a serious Do Not Buy!

    Just think, in 1 or 2 years when it’s reached end of life, you can’t modify it from the stock MotoBlur interface, can’t drop a custom ROM in there to upgrade to Android 3.0 (or whatever is current) – Motorolo thinks they own your phone even after you’ve shelled out $200 for it. eFuse is the lamest “security system” I’ve ever seen installed on a consumer device.

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    1. Disappointing for those consumers that want to modify and tinker, for sure. I’m one of those — I put a few new ROMs on my Nexus One weekly — so personally, this is a bummer.

      For your everyday, mainstream consumer, I don’t think this has much impact, however.

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      1. This is definitely disappointing. Now in wait and see mode.

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  5. Um. Article is now obsolete. Droid X has a efuse that sploids when you mess with the bootloader. This makes the phone entirely agains the open platform principle and thus a no buy and not the best android device hands down.

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    1. Indeed a bummer, but not a show-stopper for the mainstream, everyday consumer. See comment above.

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    2. no it doesn’t, it puts it in recovery mode, which it comes out off as soon as you load a signed boot. so fail on you. The fact that you actually ever believed that something like that would ever actually be put in a phone shows that you’re mentally impaired.
      http://www.engadget.com/2010/07/16/motorola-responds-to-droid-x-bootloader-controversy-says-efuse/

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  6. That “Verizon exclusive” Skype is mostly useless since they neutered it for Verizon.
    Froyo 2.2 “faster speeds” in real world use are minimal unlike the synthetic benchmarks Google is bragging about.
    Anyone who wants flash on a mobile device simply isn’t paying attention.

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    1. Hands on use of Froyo for the last 6 weeks or so tells me otherwise — the phone is faster in the real world. Not several magnitudes as benchmarks may indicate, but faster nonetheless.

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  7. Excellent review of a new product just introduced. It’s what I’ve been waiting for from Verizon.

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  8. I would like to see real details in any future reviews such as:
    1). Does Droid X fully support bluetooth voice dialing. I had to return the Incredible because it did not.

    2). Specifics of battery life can I get 1-1.5 hours of talk, 1 -1.5 hours of active sending and receiving of email and 1 hour of GPS with at leat eight hours of standby on a single charge. The Incredible was a real lemon when it came to battery life.

    3). Everybody talks about HD video and hidef pictures in camera phones rated by megapixels, but no one mentions lens resolution are number of elements in lens or fixed focus lens. You could have a zillion mega pix ccd and a cheap lens in which a 2 mega pix camera with a good lens would give you better pictures everytime. Get a standard camera test chart and photograph it with the camera to get an idea of the ‘effective’ resolution/quality of the camera as a system.

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    1. PSH, your point is well taken. It’s impossible given editorial and time constraints to cover every single feature or function in detail, which is why I asked for questions in the comments. I’ve got my hands full at the moment, so I’m not going to rush answers to your questions. Stay tuned and I’ll reply in detail.

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      1. Thanks, thats an honest answer and I really appreciate it.
        I think there is a real need for reviewers that actually evaluate new products in a technically objective way. All the reviews I see mention the manufacturers specs and list a bunch of superlatives that are purely subjective.
        Looking forward to see if you can go above and beyond.
        :-)

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  9. On my way to get my Droid X now(hopefully). I can wait to try out Swype, this phone looks amazing…I just hope I can get one!

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  10. Hi — do you know if there is support (via App or otherwise) to print to a bluetooth capable printer?

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