Many of you know that I recently broke up with my iPhone due to the sad fact that AT&T didn’t seem to have coverage at my house, my office, or anywhere in between. Since then, I’ve been on a CNET-provided BlackBerry Curve, which I found perfectly serviceable, but I’ve been waiting for the perfect iPhone replacement to come along, hopefully on the rock-solid Verizon network. And lo, along came the Motorola Droid. Which I bought. So, I’ve spent a few days now with the Droid as my personal phone, and while it’s certainly a good rebound phone, it’s definitely not true love.
Here’s what I like about the Droid: it’s a nice, solid piece of hardware with an incredibly gorgeous screen. The touch-screen is responsive, the phone itself is really, really fast, and so far, I’ve been able to download pretty much all the apps I used with any regularity on the iPhone: Pandora, Facebook, Amazon, a Twitter app, a weather app, and a movies app, plus a handy little mobile version of Wikipedia. So far, the call quality is pretty good, the battery life seems to be surprisingly strong, I like the three customizable “home” screens, and the way it grabs and integrates contact information from across Facebook, Gmail, and Exchange is really nice. And I like the way new notifications of any sort appear at the top of the screen — calendar reminders, new emails, app updates, new texts, etc. It’s a great at-a-glance feature for push notifications.
Media-wise, I bought a few songs from the Amazon MP3 store and while I found the process to be a tiny bit slow (you click the Buy button and … nothing happens for a few minutes, which made me panic a bit), I think the media player seems serviceable. I haven’t figured out how to create a playlist, but I can shuffle and I actually find the Droid’s slider, which scrolls up and down a long list of songs or artists, to be easier to use than trying to tap the tiny alphabet letters of the iPhone’s song/artist list. In terms of playback, the speaker quality of this phone is amazing. It’s both loud and clear — I put on my Spanish guitar Pandora station, set the Droid in the upstairs loft of the 2,000-square-foot apartment where I’m house-sitting, and I could hear it all throughout the house. In a pinch (as long as it’s plugged in), this thing is a little portable stereo. Also, I really don’t mind mounting the Droid as a drive and dragging music to it without having to load the monstrous beast that is iTunes. I managed my iPhone with drag and drop, so I’m not missing syncing at all.
I like the auto-suggest/complete of the virtual keyboards, although it’s a bit aggressive, and I like that it sometimes gives me the “.com” key when I’m typing in an email address. I also like that when I’m texting, I have a emoticon key. Cute touch. I love the integrated Google search bar at the top of the home screens, which searches both the phone and the Web, and I also love the Maps. The GPS is quick to find a signal, the maps are fast, and the turn-by-turn direction feature is truly killer. Oh, and I love the application switcher — I just hold down the Home button and go from browser to Facebook to email to Twidroid. Awesome.
But enough drooling. Here’s what I don’t like. I don’t like the physical keyboard at all. I know that’s not a new revelation — no one likes it. The Droid is slightly too wide for me to type comfortably on it, especially since the keyboard is flush left and not centered on the phone (this is to accommodate the phone’s mysterious “lip” on the bottom — why is that there!?). After using it for even a few minutes, I actually feel physical pain in my right hand and wrist from stretching so far across the hardware (granted, I suffer from nagging RSI). So, I pretty much only use the virtual keyboards, and I use them in portrait or landscape mode roughly evenly. It’s nowhere near as fast as the nubby little BlackBerry keyboard, although I’m seeing a gradual increase in my speed.
The Android 2.0 interface is good but not great. I don’t understand why I have to tap a text field to get the keyboard to surface every time — if I put my cursor in a text field, shouldn’t the keyboard pop up automatically? And in landscape mode, the screen real estate with the keyboard gets weird, so when you “tab” to a new text box, you can’t actually tell what you’re supposed to type there. Awkward. Also, I love how I can customize the home screens, but the OCD in me doesn’t like how when I add an icon to a screen it shows up in a slightly random location, rather than in a nice tidy row. (Yeah, that’s just me.) I also don’t like that I can’t easily move icons from one page to the next, the way I can with the iPhone “jiggle” for rearranging icons. (CORRECTION: You can do this if you tap and hold the icon — it just takes a bit of precision to drag over to the next page. Thanks, Vance!)
The Droid’s vaunted camera and LED flash are a little overrated. Compared to the iPhone, yeah, it takes better photos in low light, and in general, the picture quality is good. But the LED flash casts a very specific blue glow so that everything within the immediate, small area is illuminated, but everything outside of it is abruptly dark — there’s no soft illumination as with a normal flash. Full disclosure: I haven’t taken any video. Also, the little button on the side that is supposedly the camera button doesn’t seem to do anything. Maybe it’s broken.
Other nitpicks: the screen, gorgeous as it is, couldn’t be less oleophobic. That thing picks up fingerprint smudges like you wouldn’t believe, and once it’s coated with unattractive schmutz, the screen itself is completely invisible in bright sunlight. Not cool.
On the app front, the Facebook app is a dog, and that is serious business. I can’t filter my news feed by friends lists or even view friends lists at all, which is a major bummer. Oh, and in other nitpicks, I don’t really love the built-in ringtones. But ok, now I’m just being annoying.
No technology is perfect, and the Droid is no exception. But I like it a lot, and I like it enough to port my number to it. It’s a keeper. Plus it’s only going to get better as the software and firmware upgrades roll out. (Seriously, somebody at Facebook? Help me.) But if you came to me and you weren’t super tech savvy and AT&T worked fine at your house (a long shot, I know), I’d probably still tell you to get an iPhone. It’s still just a hair more elegant and easy to use. For now.
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