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Motorola DROID Does? A Deep Dive Look
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Date: Nov 06, 2009
Section:Gadgets
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction


There's no denying that the Motorola DROID is receiving a lot of hype. Not only is this phone a big deal for Motorola, who has struggled to produce widely successful handsets since the famous RAZR flip phone, but the DROID is also the first handset that will be released as part of a partnership between Google and Verizon Wireless. Combine this with the fact that the Motorola DROID has been called Verizon Wireless' "iPhone killer" and you can see why there's so much buzz surrounding this smartphone.

The Motorola DROID has a lot of interesting and cool features that will make it a <HOT> item, including Android 2.0, the latest version of the open-source Google operating system. The DROID also has a high-resolution screen, plenty of customization options, and a thin design along with a full QWERTY keyboard.


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For some users, the fact that the DROID is on Verizon Wireless's network will also be a key factor to consider. Depending on where you live, Verizon Wireless may provide some of the best coverage available. Since Verizon Wireless' entire network offers 3G coverage, one definite benefit is that whenever you're in a covered area, you'll also have a high-speed data connection. As Verizon Wireless has pointed out in recent commercials, AT&T hasn't fully upgraded its network to 3G.


Given that Verizon Wireless has already gone head-to-head with the iPhone in its DROID commercials, it's hard not to make direct comparisons between these two phones. For starters, they're both relatively equal in size—the DROID is just a hair thicker than the iPhone 3GS (13.7mm vs. 12.33mm) with a body that's narrower than the iPhone. On the inside, the DROID uses an Arm Cortex A8 processor clocked at 550 MHz. This CPU is similar to the chip inside of the iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre.


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In addition, as Verizon Wireless commercials point out, the DROID offers some features and functionality that the iPhone does not, including the ability to take pictures in the dark, a hardware keyboard, the ability to run simultaneous applications, a 5-megapixel camera, the ability to run widgets, interchangeable batteries, and the fact that the Android platform allows for open development. While these all sound like cool features to have, are they enough to convince users the DROID is better than the iPhone or any other smartphone on the market today?  Read on in the following pages as we take a closer look at the Motorola DROID.
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Specifications & Box Contents


The DROID will be available exclusively through Verizon Wireless starting Friday, November 6 for $199.99 with a new two-year customer agreement after a $100 mail-in rebate. Verizon's compatible Nationwide voice plans start at $39.99 for 450 minutes per month. The carrier's Email and Web for Smartphone plans start at $29.99 for monthly access. Best Buy Mobile also plans to sell the DROID for a similar price without having to deal with the mail-in-rebate.

Here’s a closer look at the specifications of the Motorola DROID from Verizon Wireless.


Talk and Standby Time

TT: 385 minutes/6.4 hours

SB: 270 hours/11.25 days

Form Factor

Capacitive Touch; Full QWERTY Side Slider

Band/Modes

800/1900, CDMA EVDO rev A

OS

Android 2.0

Weight

169 grams / 5.96 ounces

Dimensions

60.00 (x) x 115.80 (y) x 13.70 (z) mm

2.36(x) x 4.56 (y) x .54 (z) inches

Browser

Webkit HTML5 based browser

Email Support

Corporate (Exchange 2003 and 2007), IMAP and POP, Macmail, Gmail, MSN Hotmail and AOL

Battery

1400 mAh

Connectivity

Bluetooth v2.1+EDR2, 3.5mm Headset jack, USB 2.0 HS

Display

3.7-inch, 480x854 WVGA

Display Resolution

WVGA display houses 400,000 pixels

Messaging

SMS/MMS, Full HTML5 Browser

Audio

AMR-NB/WB, MP3, PCM/WAV, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, MIDI, OGG

Video

Advanced Video record/playback at D1 resolution (720x480), MPEG-4, H.263, H.264

Camera

5.0 megapixel, AutoFocus, dual LED Flash and image stabilization

Memory

16GB card included in phone

Location Services

aGPS, sGPS

Extras

802.11b/g, 3-axis accelerometer

Sensors

Proximity, ambient light and eCompass

Optional Accessories

Phone Holder, Multimedia Station



In the box:
  • Standard Lithium Ion battery
  • Preinstalled 16GB microSD memory card
  • Wall/USB charger
  • Getting Started brochure
  • Product safety & warranty brochure
Optional accessories for the DROID include a Phone Holder and a Multimedia Station. The Phone Holder attaches to your windshield or dash and is helpful for when you're using your phone's navigation and map applications. The Phone Holder includes a Rapid Car Charger.


The Multimedia Station holds the DROID and allows you to display photos and movies, play music, show weather and time information, and use the DROID as an alarm clock. You can also sync your media to your PC using the included USB cable with the Multimedia Station.
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Design


The DROID has a boxy design in comparison to the iPhone and many other smartphones today that have rounded corners and edges. The edges of the DROID are harder with angular slopes. The body is comprised of a mix of plastic and metal and the phone has a very solid feel overall. When you consider this phone has a full hardware keyboard, the overall thickness is really quite impressive.


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The large, 3.7-inch, high-resolution display covers the majority of the front of the handset. The screen does tend to attract fingerprints but we didn't notice a problem with performance even when there were a number of fingerprints on the screen.



Below the screen, you'll find four capacitive buttons (Back, Menu, Home, and Search). There's a short ledge below these buttons since the lower portion of the slider is a bit longer than the upper. This small strip has a small microphone hole that is visible when the device is closed or open.


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The top of the DROID slides to the right to reveal the aforementioned QWERTY keyboard. The slider is smooth, though unlike other sliders we've seen, it doesn’t slide and automatically snap into place. Instead, you'll need to use a tiny bit more force to slide the screen. Once settled, it clicks firmly into place. The keyboard itself is wide and mostly flush. At first, we weren't very fond of the overall feel of the keyboard because of its flat and closely-placed keys, but soon, we felt right at home typing away. The keyboard is also backlit, which is a nice touch. A 5-way rocker is located to the right of the four-row QWERTY keyboard. For users who don't always want to use the hardware keyboard, there's also an on-screen keyboard that's quite usable.


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On the top of the DROID, you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as the power/sleep button. Along the right edge is the phone's volume rocker and camera buttons. The left side of the DROID houses the MicroUSB port. The 5 megapixel camera and dual LED flash are located on the back of the device along with the battery cover and a gold metallic grate that covers the DROID's speaker.


When closed, the DROID measures approximately 2.36 inches wide by 4.56 inches tall by 0.54 inches thick. It weighs 5.96 ounces.  It's clean, almost minimalistic and very well made.
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User Interface


Next we'll take you on a nickel tour of the DROID in action...


During the initial setup of the DROID, you'll be asked to set up your Google Account. You can skip this step if you like, but keep in mind that many features of the phone such as Google Talk, Contact sync with the cloud, Google Latitude, Calendar, and the Android Market require a Gmail account. If you don't already have a Gmail account, you can set one up from the phone for free.

 

After you've completed initial setup, you'll see the DROID's home screen that has three fully customizable panels. The middle screen is shown by default with a handful of icons. You can scroll to the left or to the right to see the additional home screens. By dragging the tab located at the bottom of the screen upward, you'll get access to the full list of applications available on the DROID. You can add shortcuts to any of these applications to your home screens.

In addition to adding icons to your home screens, you can also add widgets. Verizon describes widgets as home screen icons that add content to a page that is not static. To add a widget, tap the menu button, select "add", and then choose Widgets. You can also access the add menu by tapping and holding anywhere on the home screen. You'll then see a list of widgets that you can add. There are widgets for the calendar applications, Facebook, and much more. You can also download widgets from the Android Market.

If you decide you no longer want to see a widget or shortcut on the home screen, tap and hold your finger on that item and then drag it to the Trash can at the bottom of the screen. You can also rearrange items by tapping, holding, and dragging them into place.

 

The DROID comes preloaded with a number of applications including an alarm clock, Amazon MP3, calculator, Facebook, Google Maps, Google Talk, YouTube, and more. For additional free and paid apps, the Android Market is also available with access to quite a few titles.

By tapping the microphone icon at the top of the Home screen (it's also available on many other screens), you'll activate the DROID's voice search feature. This feature lets you speak search terms to the phone. In our tests, the speech recognition feature worked very well. Assuming you've allowed the phone to share location information with Google, you can also perform local searches using the voice search feature. For example, by saying "pizza," we were able to find a list of nearby pizza restaurants using our voice.

At the top of any screen, you'll see the Notifications Panel. Here, you can get information about SMS messages, email, and much more with a simple glance. By touching and dragging the Notifications Panel downward, you'll see a more detailed view of all of the notifications.



For business users, one of the more useful features of the DROID may be the Corporate Calendar and the ability to sync Mail, Contacts, and one's Calendar over the air with an Exchange server. If you set up your corporate email account within the Email application, the Corporate Calendar will automatically be set up as well.

In terms of storage, the DROID comes with a 16GB microSD card preinstalled. You can swap out cards if you like, but you'll have to remove the battery to do so. By connecting the DROID to your PC via a USB cable and mounting the phone via the Notifications Panel, you can drag and drop music, video, pictures, and much more to and from the DROID.

Overall, we were pleased with the DROID's interface. Anytime you pick up a new phone, there's likely to be at least a small learning curve. Thankfully, Motorola kept things relatively simple and intuitive with the DROID, which should help minimize this learning curve for both novice and more advanced users.
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Performance


The DROID's 3.7-inch display is crisp and pleasing to look at. The screen supports WVGA resolution at 480 x 854. The phone's accelerometer rotated the screen quickly whenever we rotated the handset. In terms of responsiveness, the DROID registered flicks and gestures without much, if any, lag. The DROID also offers haptic feedback to let you know when you've pressed an on-screen button.

Browsing the Web on the DROID is a pleasant experience, both due to the fact that the DROID has a large, high resolution screen as well as its Webkit HTML5 based browser.

    

We're seeing more and more phones follow Apple in offering multi-touch capabilities today. The DROID takes the opposite approach—it doesn't have multitouch. Although the phone may be technically capable of multitouch input, for whatever reason this functionality is not implemented on the DROID. Even without multitouch, the phone is very easy to use. For instance, a simple double-tap zooms in on a webpage, etc.

The phone's responsiveness however, no doubt is due in part to the processing engine under its hood.

 
ARM Cortext A8 Processor Block Diagram

Behind the scenes, the DROID runs on an ARM Cortex A8 CPU. This 600MHz, OMAP3430 chip is down-clocked to 550MHz. The phone has 256MB of RAM and 512MB of ROM. Combined, these specs provide for a very capable and snappy phone.


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Although the DROID's 5-megapixel camera with dual LED flash sounds like it should take excellent photos, we were less than impressed with the camera's actual performance. All in all, it's still a camera phone, and the flash rarely seems to get things exactly right – either there's too much or too little light. In addition, many indoor images were grainy when taken using the default (automatic) settings. There's a menu on the left side of the camera application that provides various access to customization options. Here, you can set the flash mode, scene mode, white balance, color effect, picture size, picture quality, and focus modes. You can also choose whether or not to store location data with the image.  Another downside is that the camera is a bit slow to focus and snap pictures. Despite these drawbacks, we were able to capture some respectable photos using the DROID's camera. The problem is, capturing really satisfying images seemed more luck-driven than a regular occurrence.


Infinity Focus

Macro Focus

Automatic with flash
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With smartphones, we spend a considerable amount of time talking about all of the phone's features, but it's important to remember that this is still a phone. As such, no review would be complete without addressing call quality. Overall call quality and sound during our tests was good, and we had no complaints. The earpiece was adequately loud and the phone's speaker also produced good quality sound. When testing the speakerphone, one person we spoke with complemented the overall clarity of the speaker and said they could hear us very well. To help avoid any accidental key presses while you're talking on the phone, the DROID has a proximity sensor that automatically turns on and off the display when you move it close to your ear and pull it away.

We also can't go without mentioning the network that supports this phone. As you've heard before, Verizon offers 3G service throughout its coverage area, which also happens to blanket the majority of the continental U.S. Although service definitely varies from one region to the next, Verizon definitely has an impressive network to help support the DROID's full capabilities, especially since so many of the "killer" features on the phone take advantage of 3G speeds.

Searching for information that resides on the Web or on the phone is a breeze with the hardware search button as well as with the on-screen search controls. By tapping the search button on-screen or the hardware button, you'll enter search mode. To the right of many of the search screens, you'll see a small microphone icon. By tapping this icon, you'll activate voice search. During our tests,  we were very impressed with the ease of use and accuracy of the DROID's voice search capabilities.

Another cool feature of the DROID is the new Google Maps Navigation Beta service. This pre-installed application provides free audible turn-by-turn directions with spoken street names, real time traffic information, and the ability to search nearby locations by voice. During our tests, the Google Maps Navigation Beta service worked very well and provided accurate and quick directions. When we took a wrong turn, the software quickly calculated a new route. The interface was pleasing to look at and provided helpful information much as you would find with a standalone GPS unit.

Motorola claims you should expect up to 6.4 hours of talk time on the DROID’s user replaceable battery. Overall, we were satisfied with the DROID’s battery life and were generally able to get a day’s worth of use from the phone while performing a variety of tasks including making calls, surfing the Web, etc. Of course, your experience may vary depending on how aggressively you use the phone’s capabilities.
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Conclusion


Overall, we were very impressed with the Motorola DROID. The phone feels solid, looks great, and performs very well. The Android 2.0 interface was a joy to use and the touchscreen was vibrant and crisp. Call quality and Verizon's vast network are also key benefits to this phone. Coverage varies widely from one area to the next, so this will definitely not be the phone/network combination for everyone, but it is nice to have a solid network supporting a phone such as this.

We also felt the free Google Maps Navigation Beta service is a very nice addition to the phone. While many phones today come with GPS and some even come with Google Maps pre-installed, free turn-by-turn voice instructions combined with a very usable and PND (personal navigation device)-like user interface is definitely a nice feature to have, one that the iPhone currently can't claim.

That's not to say the DROID is perfect, however. The camera could use a little work; we wish it would have consistently taken quality images. It's a shame to have a 5-megapixel sensor that produces images that are more or less just on-par with an average camera phone.



We've seen quite a few "iPhone killers" to date. While the iPhone definitely has cool features and has changed the way many users think about and use smartphones (which Apple definitely deserves a lot of credit for), it is nice to see a phone that offers a lot of similar functionality for a competitive price. In some senses, the DROID has a bit more of a "geek" factor than the "coolness" factor of the iPhone. That's not all bad, though. After all, there are plenty of gadget lovers out there who are anxious to get their hands on a full-featured and very capable smartphone, and the DROID definitely meets these criteria. In addition, since the phone supports Microsoft Exchange, the DROID is also a great candidate for business users.

All in all, we think the Motorola DROID should put some spark back into Motorola's and Verizon's lineups and should also call some well-deserved, mainstream attention to the Android platform.

     
  • Slick user interface
  • Google Maps Navigation Beta service
  • Large, crisp screen
  • Excellent performance
  • Hardware keyboard took a little getting used to
  • So-so camera



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