Even if you thought the physical design of the Motorola Droid Pro was a bit basic, you’ll love what’s under the hood. On paper, this model has almost everything you could possibly want packed into a business phone.
It starts with a hardware set designed for performance: a 1 GHz TI OMAP 3620 processor and 512 MB of RAM, plus 1.5 GB of internal storage for your data. There’s also a 2 GB microSD card included.
All of this stacks up to mean amazing performance. Full-screen transitions, sliding gestures, window animations, even with plenty of stuff running in the background, it was all as smooth as an oil slick behind a Zamboni. I’m certain that there’s some situation or program which could slow this thing down, but I couldn’t find it, even when running high end games or applications.
Add to that high performance base the standard wireless accessories: CDMA/EV-DO Rev. A for-voice and data on Verizon in the U.S., GPS with network-assistance and geotagging, WiFi b/g/n, and Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR.
Then you start on the rarer components. A secondary cell phone connection in the form of quad-band GSM/EDGE and tri-band HSPA adds worldwide coverage: unlike most Verizon phones, you can take this phone overseas and it will still work.
Mind you, if you intend to use Verizon’s overseas roaming service you’re going to be charged by the limb, but that’s kind of to be expected. You can, of course, get the GSM module unlocked, and then use cheaper prepaid services around the world, at the expense of not having your usual phone number.
It also features dual CDMA antennas for better than average signal performance, giving me multiple bars in areas that are normally sketchy.
Despite the fact that I’ve been neck deep in mobile technology for many years, the Droid Pro is actually my first extended chance to use a device running Google’s Android OS. I was very curious to see how it would turn out, since I hadn’t really developed a firm impression or opinion of the Android platform from the brief look and play opportunities I’d had.
My first impressions were extremely positive. Granted one has to attribute a lot of the software experience to having good quality hardware behind it — the smooth-as-glass performance, the advanced looks, and the robust storage all help to ease the learning curve. But more important than the performance is the true software experience. Complete interoperability between applications, down to the level of being able to hand off a scanned barcode from one app to another from a different, competing developer. Or the integration of OS-level security into the mix to allow you the protection of guaranteed apps, as well as the freedom to go beyond what Google gives you.
Speaking of apps, they’re the centerpiece of the experience. The minute that I got into the Android Marketplace, I think I fell in love. It is, to put it simply, the sort of one-look-one-touch system for finding and installing applications I’ve been looking for for years. Or put another way, the thing that Microsoft never did for Windows Mobile, and should have. If it had, the company might have been in the position Google is right now, instead of having to jettison their entire former platform and start over.
The apps that come with the Droid Pro are basic but good — a complete Office suite and PDF viewer, multiple-account email client with support for a variety of platforms, navigation apps (both Google’s own and Verizon’s VZ Navigator), along with the usual packing peanuts.
Unsurprisingly, the device’s email implementation is most friendly toward GMail. Since I normally use Exchange Server synchronization on my Samsung Jack, I attempted to set up the same, only to discover that it’s a little more complicated. Not that I should be surprised, since Exchange is a Microsoft platform, and here I am asking it to play nice with Google. Eventually, I got it working with the help of the instructions off the Motorola website, but the lesson is to plan for a little more complexity when interfacing across platform brands. Nevertheless, it does work out of the box, even before the wandering eye is drawn to Google’s support framework.
Here’s what I did: I touched the button on the phone marked “Marketplace.” About ten seconds later I was scrolling through a list of hundreds of brilliant, absolutely free applications, all of which could be downloaded and installed in the background with two button presses, while I kept searching for more apps. It’s hard to overstate how easy to use it is.
And these aren’t your run of the mill free calculators and miniature pocket dictionaries. These are some amazingly powerful applications. One of the first ones I downloaded was Google Translate — and if you’ve never actually seen this app in action, it is hard to describe just how impressive it is. Speak any phrase into it, and within seconds it can read aloud a proper translation for the phrase in the language of your choice. This ranges from “Where is the airport” to “Do you enjoy anchovies on your pizza?” For that matter, it will tell you how to ask about anchovies in Welsh or Yiddish.
Or let’s talk about Google Sky Map. This free app uses the device’s internal gyrosensor to track where exactly you’re pointing the thing, and act like a perfect window to display constellations through, and can adjust the orientation automatically based on your GPS location.
Or ZXing Barcode Scanner, which can use the camera to automatically read and look up both 2D and 3D barcodes, including the QR codes that provide instant links to application downloads or websites. And it reads them right off the computer screen.
From Google-search-by-voice to recording DVD-resolution video; from being able to solve complicated math questions almost as fast as you can read them out loud to being able to signal in Morse code using the camera’s LED flash, the standard software package is impressive, and the available add-ons are even more so.
I also need to mention the voice command integration. The impressive part about the Droid Pro’s voice command system isn’t that Android has it — we’ve been experimenting with voice-commanded computers for a very long time. The impressive part is how ruthlessly accurate it is. I have yet to have it get a word wrong when I’m enunciating properly, and it’s still far better than 90% when speaking casually. In fact, I just read the previous sentence to it, and it picked the thing up word for word. I even tested it with obscure, easily missed words like “ferrets,” “anchovies,” and “Wookie.” For the record, it had the most trouble with “ferrets,” which it mistook about half the time for “parents.” But it recognized “Wookie” fine.
In a much more practical application, right out of the box you can order it to dial your contacts by name — without recording voice tags or doing any other setup work. Once it had slurped down my contact information, I simply said “Call Adama,” and my regular cell phone was ringing. You can also dictate text messages and emails with a fair degree of accuracy — not something that you’d need to do in most circumstances, but highly useful if, say, you’re driving somewhere and need to write an urgent reply.
The Droid Pro isn’t sold as a multimedia phone — it’s solidly targeted at business users, a fact Motorola isn’t shy of, emphasizing the bundling of Office applications and the strong password administration support. But make no mistake, if you don’t mind the slightly smaller screen, you can have a very happy multimedia experience.
To emphasize that, the Droid Pro comes equipped for working with Digital Living Network Alliance products, a system for allowing various entertainment products to work together. For instance, being able to stream video from a set-top digital video recorder, or use the Droid Pro to control the interaction of other DLNA equipment like a remote. Lacking any other DLNA-certified equipment, I couldn’t really test this, but the concept looks like it could be brilliant if it takes off and is implemented well.
Even the default browser is quite comfortable, more so even than my usual standby of Opera Mini. I suspect that would change outside of 3G range and the high browsing speed it provides, but for now, the dynamic zoom and automatic reflowing win the day.
As mentioned above, the Droid Pro is faster than hell. And it handles all it’s applications like a champion, even the high end ones that it’s not marketed towards.
The only sour note I have to sound about the Droid Pro’s performance is the one which, when you think about it, is fairly obvious. The more you use all that amazing hardware, the faster you’re going to eat the battery.
I had my review unit fully charged at 2:30, and by 7 PM with all the playing I had done, the battery was down to 15%. I’ve seen worse, but it’s certainly nothing to write home about. I’m accustomed to getting a full day of heavy use, but that expectation isn’t based on a larger screen and what is, in fact, a relatively small battery for the hardware it’s powering.
There’s a nifty little OS component that will tell you in detail what is consuming your battery life. To no surprise, 65% of my power drain was in the form of the screen. The Droid Pro does have a setting to automatically adjust the screen’s brightness, however the automatic setting is too low for my taste relative to the ambient lighting, and unlike on other devices with a light sensor, you can’t give it any guidance as to whether you’d like it just a little brighter or darker than its defaults.
It doesn’t help that Android’s default menus and screens are almost all white text on black backgrounds, making them much harder to see in a lit environment. Indeed, I had to turn up the brightness considerably to be able to see clearly, which led me to my second noteworthy complaint. Specifically, Android doesn’t make it easy for you to choose anything but the default color scheme. There is no way built into the device to choose different colors, and even with some of the third party launcher replacements, you can only get part of the way. I installed ADW Launcher, which allowed me to change the color of the app drawer, but menus were still all white text on black backdrop.
This may seem like a little thing, but it’s important because it has to do with user comfort. Users shouldn’t need to crank up their screen brightness to compensate for absurdly dark colors they can’t change. When you’re not dealing with that, the automatic screen brightness is much more to my taste.
As far as the larger power issue goes, there are some settings you can tweak to help reduce battery drain, such as the frequency of data and GPS updates, there’s supposed to be an extended battery option available soon through Verizon, however it’s rated at 1820 mAh, only 28% larger than the standard 1420 mAh cell. I’d really like to see an option to add a little padding to the entire back of the device in trade for, say, 2 to 2.5 times the standard battery power. That would give the power hogs like myself the guarantee that we could get through a rough day without worrying overmuch about conserving juice. If I’m lost and depending on the GPS, or making a lot of calls to manage a situation, I don’t want to worry whether the battery will hold out.
While these two things are my biggest issues with the Droid Pro as a device, in the big picture they’re relatively minimal. Both can be either fixed or reduced by software eventually, and frequent charging is a reality of life for smartphone users, particularly high end ones.