The hardware is great, but the Motorola’s software may be even better. It’s running Google’s Android operating system, and comes with a suite of software for all the basic tasks you want a smartphone to do, from making calls to writing e-mails and surfing the Web.
I found Android easy to learn to use, at least partially because it acts a lot like my regular computer does. It has a desktop that you can put icons on, and there’s a pop-up windows with a listing of all your installed software.
You can customize the desktop with widgets, giving you a quick view of your calendar, the weather, etc.
There has been some concern about the fact that the Motorola Droid runs Android on a 550 MHz processor. Don’t worry, unlike some of its competitors this OS isn’t bloated, and runs well on average processors. The real-world performance of this phone is good. I’m not seeing any lag or irritating delays.
The Droid is the first model with Google Android 2.0, which has some new features.
Easily most important of these is support for synchronizing with Microsoft Exchange. Until now Android was a decent option of consumers, but not for business users. Now that people can send and receive their corporate e-mail messages, that has changed. The Droid can also sync your Calendar and Contacts, too.
However, this feature is somewhat limited, in that it doesn’t allow you to move e-mails into sub-folders, something I do to categorize the tons of messages I get. Hard-core e-mail junkies like me are going to need third-party software to get the folder support we need.
This OS has been able to sync with Google’s services from the beginning, so you can have your GMail, personal calendar, and contacts on your phone, too.
And the Droid doesn’t stop there: it can pull the contact info for your friends out of Facebook, too. But don’t worry, all this information won’t all be jumbled together.
Android 2.0 doesn’t try to combine your Google and Exchange calendars — those are completely separate. It does have a new combined e-mail inbox, but I found this to be fatally flawed. This can handle push messages from Exchange, but not from Google. If you use the combined inbox, you can only get your GMail messages by setting the device to periodically check for them. Thankfully, there is a stand-alone GMail app that does support push.
This smartphone comes with a suite of applications for handling many basic tasks. I already mentioned the e-mail, calendar, and contacts apps for both personal and business use, but that’s just the beginning.
The Droid does not come with a stand-alone Office suite, but it can display Microsoft Word files that come in as e-mail messages. if you want to be able to edit them, you’ll have to turn to one of the several third-party options available.
Android was created by Google, so it’s no surprise it has one of the best web browsers available. It’s one of the few that can go toe-to-toe with Safari on the iPhone. The latest version is tweaked, but there wasn’t much room for improvement. About the only feature missing is Flash support,and that’s coming early next year.
There’s also a music player, and a combined video player and image viewer. I’m happy to report that this plays a much broader array of video formats than its predecessors. Previously the limited selection of formats really hobbled Android when it came to entertainment, but not any more.
There’s also a YouTube app, which can operate alone or in conjunction with the web browser. If you come to a video embedded on a web page, just tap on it and the video will play in the dedicated app. Sadly, there’s no equivalent for Hulu or similar sites.
The Droid comes with a 16 GB microSD/SDHC card, giving you loads of storage space for your music and videos. And this is removable, so you can buy a larger card if you want (Note: 32 GB microSD cards are expected on the market in 2010).
The internal speaker isplenty loud. So loud I keep it turned way down. Still, you’re probably going to want to use a pair of headphones (not included).
Generally, Verizon seems to have taken the attitude that “less is more” and didn’t load the Droid down with extraneous software. But if you want to fill it up, you can; there are over 12,000 apps available for easy download in the Android Market.
These run the gamut from games to productivity, with a wide selection in every category. And they hit all the high points, with multiple options for Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and similar services.
Mapping & Navigation
A relatively simple mapping application was part of Android 1.0, but Google has taken this to the next level in the new version. Voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions have been added, making this app vastly more useful.
It now works like you’d expect a stand-alone GPS receiver to, giving you audible directions of when to turn, and automatically re-routing you if you miss a turn. You can even program it with voice commands.
Motorola is offering a car cradle for the Droid, and it’s something I’m going to recommend if you plan to do much navigation, mostly because running the screen and GPS four hours is a serious battery drain. The cradle is only $30, and it will let you arrive at your destinations with a full battery.
Voice Quality and Wireless
For all its power as a mobile computer, let’s not forget that this is a phone, too. In many ways, voice quality is the best I’ve heard from a cell phone in years. People’s voices sound rich and natural, with no tinniness at all. However, the device have an odd habit of “skipping” where no sound will come through for just an instant. The people I spoke with said my voice sounded fine, though.
Like virtually all smartphones these days, the Motorola Droid has mobile broadband, in this case Verizon’s EV-DO service. This gives you high-speed access to the Web and e-mail when you’re on the go. Verizon has one of the best 3G networking in the U.S., and it’s available from big cities to tiny hamlets.
The Droid has a 5 megapixel camera, but you shouldn’t judge too much from a single number. In real-world use, I’d say this camera is average… barely. Pictures don’t seem very crisp to me.
It has a flash, which is usable for taking pictures of objects within a few feet of the camera.
There are a decent number of settings; among the most useful are the ones that let you set your lighting conditions. The least useful feature is the digital zoom, which doesn’t do anything with any purpose.
The camera is definitely not one the this smartphone’s strong points, but it’s not a real detriment, either.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear than I’m a very heavy user of my smartphones. In addition to constantly using push e-mail for work and my personal messages, my phone is where I keep track of Facebook and Twitter, and do much of my personal web surfing. There are few devices that can last a whole day for me, and the Motorola Droid is one of them.
I have pushed this thing hard: hours of web surfing, two different push e-mail accounts, GPS navigation, you name it. And Droid can take it. Its battery is flat at the end of the day, but it’s still an accomplishment. Someone who doesn’t use their smartphone as hard as I do is going to be able to go much longer between charges.
A quick warning: battery life was extremely bad the first couple of cycles, which isn’t unusual. After a few days it settled into more than acceptable performance.
I put together a short video demonstrating the Motorola Droid, including a quick overview of its hardware, user interface, and web browser.