Google To Go: Observations on the Motorala DROID Smart Phone
This review is all about me. Just like everything else... It's a look at the new Motorola DROID Smartphone using the Android mobile operating system, available to Verizon Wireless customers, from MY standpoint.
This article is also, to some degree, not written for Geeks like me. Oh, there I go again. I hope that it won't make SOME of the assumptions about the reader that other online reviews seem to do.
My needs are simple. A reliable cell phone with full Microsoft Exchange integration, a keyboard (as opposed to a screen-based key pad), tethering, a Maserati, and a million a year. That's all. Actually, if you know me you know I couldn't possibly fit in the Maserat. I didn't get most of these things in the DROID. The million a year was a particular problem and I'm writing this from behind bars. Thank goodness for wireless Internet. It's not that it's a bad phone. But if your needs are like mine, you'll probably want to look elsewhere. Also, I'm a dedicated Verizon customer and, as such, I'm only interested in (and truly able to review) phones that operate on its CDMA network. The perfect phone for me might work on T-Mobile and I won't be buying it.
Here are the good points and a little background. First is that this phone uses a comparatively new and fairly compact operating system. Just as your computer uses Windows or MacOS or Unix to provide the user interface and to be a layer between the programs (aka applications or "apps") and the processor chip, so does your cell phone. The more basic cell phones don't have anything fancy. The smart phones have choices (in order of worldwide share as per http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_operating_system) like Symbian OS on Nokia phones (mostly in Europe), Blackberry's OS (on the RIM Blackberry, obviously), iPhone OS (on the Apple iPhone - I was surprised to see it having 13.7% market share [Q2 2009] & the #3 position), Windows Mobile (currently up to v6.5 on the Imagio and other models), Android by Google and the Open Handset Alliance, and WebOS (for Palm phones). As a capitalist I'm always glad to see new competition and the Android is an Open Source operating system giving programmers the greatest access to it and the phone's hardware. Many people think that iPhoneOS is Open Source - it's not but it does have an amazing base of over 100,000 3rd party programs (aka "apps") available for it. To create an app & have it run fully on the iPhone (and be available at the iPhone App Store) the developer must pay Apple Inc. a fee. Such is not the case for Android. Apps are available for the other OS's too but with them the developer has varying levels of access to the hardware and OS itself. Android stands to be a major competitor to all of these operating systems if it can build a following and huge library of available apps like the iPhone has. I'm rooting for the little, Open Source, guy.
I've been a Windows Mobile user since v5 and have been reasonably happy with it. As much as I'm a geek and I love cool toys, I'm not suffering just because WinMo doesn't have even close to 100,000 apps available for it. The iPhone also has an amazing human interface that nobody can "touch" yet - with your finger(s) you can not only move things around but you can use other "gestures" for ease of manipulation. But the iPhone has no PHYSICAL keyboard - after my underwhelming experience with the Samsung Omnia I've determined that my big fingers only work well with keys I can feel. So, I decided it was time to reassess and the only options with pull-out keyboards available to Verizon customers at this moment are the Droid and the HTC Touch Pro and Touch Pro 2. Which leads me to:
Second: the phone has a decent, backlit, pullout keyboard. There are phones, like my erstwhile Palm Treo and the Samsung Saga, that have "keys" on the phone - they're really just little tiny buttons and, while they're better FOR ME than an on-screen keypad, the keyboard is best. I had an HTC/Verizon VX6700 phone once and, while it wasn't stable and I dumped it, it had a fine pullout keyboard on it yet, unlike it, The Droid's keyboard is part of the main unit and the screen slides instead. I think this makes it better balanced in the hands.
- The phone itself is solid & masculine. Like a hunk of metal & I find that reassuring. It's not a phone for the dainty handed. It's about 1/2" thick and 2 3/8" wide by 4 1/2" long. It weighs 6oz (vs 4oz for my Omnia). I think I could drive over it with my Tahoe and still answer the call from wife asking why am I driving over my cell phone. "Science, honey!"
- The 480 x 854 pixel screen is very crisp with good colors.
- The Webkit HTML5 browser (related to Safari) works well & scrolls smoothly but will there be web pages that reject it because its not Firefox or Internet Explorer? You can double-tap it and get a +/- tool that lets you zoom in considerably to read small text. Nice for us "gently used" models...
- the audio quality was excellent and the speakerphone was loud and crisp
- A Notification bar lets you know the status of everything - text messages, alerts, calls, etc. in one place.
- Has all the modern sensors: accelerometer (tells the screen to switch from landscape to portrait), proximity (probably tells it when it's near your ear and thus to turn off the display until you pull it away), ambient light (probably changes the screen brightness) and eCompass (?).
- The usual Smartphone accoutrements you have to have today to be competitive in the market: stereo Bluetooth, 5MP camera w/ flash and movie, music player, headset jack, USB, WiFi, memory card, & GPS.
Really, it's a Google Phone. Look at this list of Google Mobile Services: ANDROID MARKET™, GMAIL™, GOOGLE CALENDAR™. GOOGLE CONTACT SYNC™,GOOGLE LATITUDE™, GOOGLE MAPS w/STREET VIEW, GOOGLE MAPS™ NAVIGATION BETA, GOOGLE QUICK SEARCH BOX™, GOOGLE SEARCH™ BY VOICE, GOOGLE TALK™ and YOUTUBE™. It's Gmail centric - the first thing I saw when I turned it on was a wizard about setting up Gmail. Call me unhip but I don't use Gmail.
The nav app is excellent - like Google Maps plus - but unlike a true GPS unit it won't work when there's no coverage (the maps data is downloaded, not stored on the phone) so don't take it hiking in the boonies or on a long trip away from civilization. There's an optional car kit so you can use Google Maps while driving. It's absolutely amazing to see not only your route like on a typical GPS, but even photos of each turn and your destination, for extra confirmation that you didn't make "a left toin in Albakoikie or a right toin in Lajawlah" ( -Bugs Bunny). I could not find the very BASIC (that word again) information of my heading, speed, and coordinates.
But, as I said, I just need the basics. Exchange mail, calendar, contacts, tasks, as fully integrated as possible. A good browser. IMAP for my personal mail. Tethering for my laptop. Programmable buttons. Voice dial w/ audible feedback (which makes it much safer to use w/ a headset when driving). For those unfamiliar with it, Microsoft Exchange is a "Collaboration Server". This means it's based around email and contacts and calendars but it enables people working together to share these items as they see fit. Other examples, though arguably less evolved and definitely not even close to as heavily adopted by corporate users. The Exchange integration on the Droid is quite rudimentary and less than I require:
- It doesn't respect outlook folder hierarchy. Exchange, like many email programs, allows the user to have all kinds of folders to keep their mail in. You can have folders in folders in folders, just like on your computer desktop or in you filing cabinet. Droid just shows all the folders at the same level - you can't expand and collapse them. This makes my folder list very long. Also, not one of these folders was synchronized. Only the INBOX. I could find no way to tell it which folders to sync as I can with Windows Mobile.,
- I can't sort contacts. They are all listed by FIRST name. In Windows Mobile, they are listed by LAST name, which makes more sense for business purposes as far as I'm concerned, and I can also sort by business name . However, the SEARCH function for Contacts was quick so that helps a bit.
- Perhaps most important for someone like me who can't remember squat - THERE'S NO TASKS INTEGRATION. I live by my To Do list.
- When I send emails they appear in the SENT folder on my PC but not the SENT folder on the Droid.
Other items that this phone is missing that are forcing me to return it to the ever-patient Franco at Imagineering Wireless (he must have spent two hours with me getting my accounts all moved around and getting the phone registered just so we could "mess" with it):
- There are no programmable buttons which are so convenient. On WinMo phones, one can assign 4 different functions to 2 buttons. I assign camera, voice dial, desktop, and task switcher.
- I was under impression one could change batteries without a reboot but didn't work for me.
- Voice dialing:
- was neither as accurate in recognizing my voice as Microsoft's Voice Command is, nor did it give any verbal confirmation.
- The WinMo "Lady In The Phone" will also give you choices if she finds more than one. Droid just lists them (and typically a lot of them) on the screen and you must pick one. I'll take WinMo's Voice Command any day for dialing handsfree.
- If your Voice Dialer results were incorrect, the app disappears and you have to go back to the application list and restart it each time, while The "Lady In The Phone" will say "try again" and you can restate your request.
- When I told Voice Dialer to dual 858-555-1234, I got 10 results. WinMo just dialed the number.
- There are no SEND and END buttons on the phone itself. Hey, first and foremost this is a PHONE! This isn't a deal killer but I just can't believe there's no good ol' green and red buttons on the phone. The call control buttons are on the touch screen like everything else except the camera button and the power button.
- The specs say it will do IMAP and POP3 mail (the kind you have at home) but when I go to the Add an Account page all I see is Corporate (MS Exchange), Facebook, and Gmail.
- I haven't found a way to have the convenient desktop status like what I have with WinMo. Things like what appointments I have today, how many new emails, how many active tasks, how many text messages, the date, and the WiFi and Bluetooth states. Droid does have that convenient Notification bar that you pull down but I like them in plain sight.
- Technically, this phone can tether to my laptop, providing it with EVDO Internet connectivity. But Verizon, TYPICALLY, will not permit this until "next year".
So, I guess it's going to be the Touch Pro 2. It's about the same price and got such good reviews that it sold out after it was first available. I hope they're still in stock. A review is promised when I've had time to play with it.