in General, Reviews, Tech

Review: Motorola Droid

Now that the Droid has been out for over a month this review might be a little questionably useful for early adopters, but I’m going to go ahead and write it anyway 🙂

In short, I like the Droid a lot. It’s the first smartphone I’ve ever owned (after 2 years of living on an iPod Touch mostly happily), and lives up my expectations.

Fake Q&A with myself:

How is the Droid as a plain old phone?
Call quality is excellent, better than any other phone I’ve ever owned. It also gets a stronger signal than my previous phone (an env2) did in a lot of places. Granted I don’t make a lot of phone calls, but in over a month of use I don’t think I’ve dropped a call once.

How’s the battery life?
In a word: OK. In a day of average use I drain the battery to about 15%. For me, ‘average use’ means maybe 10-15 minutes of actual phone calls, and the rest of my use is on the data side. Browsing the web, using apps, maybe a bit of GPS navigation, etc. But for a real power user who wants to rely on more battery-intensive tasks like GPS for all day use, the Droid’s battery simply won’t cut it. Invest in a car charger and a docking cradle for your desk. I have both of those, and have managed to get myself into a routine of charging the Droid whenever I’m not using it.
Incidentally, I love that the Droid uses a standard mini USB plug for charging. This is the first time in my life that I haven’t had to buy all new chargers when upgrading a phone.

How’s the screen?
It’s a thing of beauty. I never thought my iPod Touch screen was anything to sneeze at, but it looks downright blurry next to the Droid. I can read much smaller font sizes on the Droid than I ever could on the iTouch.

How’re the apps?
I’ve found an app for almost everything I want to do on the phone. See this post for some of my favorites. My favorite thing about the Android app store is that I can get a refund on any app for 24 hours after purchase. So trying out new things is very easy & risk free.

How’s the physical keyboard?
The buttons are closer together than is ideal, but I got used to it quickly. I have tiny fingers, so others might not like it as much as I do. I should also note that I’m the only Droid user I’ve heard of who uses the physical keyboard whenever possible – everyone else I know prefers the on screen one. The on screen keyboard is fine, I just find I can type faster on the physical option.

How’s the browser?
Mostly good. It does some strange things with auto-formatting text for a mobile screen. This is usually helpful, but sometimes screws things up a bit. Much fuss has been made over the Droid browser’s lack of multitouch. I don’t really miss it as much as I thought I might – double tapping to zoom in works just fine.

Alright buddy, this is a glowing review so far. What don’t you like about the Droid?
There are definite shortcomings. The camera is one of them. It’s supposedly a 5 megapixel camera, but I would never guess that from the results. Any photo not taken in very bright lighting is grainy. The autofocus works well, but the interface for changing focus options is terrible and difficult to get to quickly. The camera has a LED flash, but it’s pretty useless for taking pictures. I get far more use of the LED as a flashlight than an actual camera flash.

Media syncing is entirely user-unfriendly. I’ve been spoiled by using iTunes to get music onto the iPod Touch, and miss it dearly. I’ve found some third party solutions to sync music & video onto the Droid, but none work well enough that I want to endorse them here. Google needs some native software for this, and pronto.

Media playback is kind of mediocre. Again, spoiled by iPods. It works, but the interface isn’t nearly as well thought out as Apple’s.

There’s no bluetooth voice dialing. A small thing, yes, but also something that has no excuse for being left out. My last three phones all had it, and not having this feature makes it technically illegal to make a call while I’m driving in North Carolina – even with a headset.

Let’s counteract that with some good: What are your favorite things about the Droid?
Running apps in the background is amazingly useful – far more than I expected it to be. Swapping between different apps on the Droid is far faster and more convenient than on iDevices.

The GPS driving navigation feels like it fell out of a time machine from 10 years in the future. Melissa and I were in DC recently to see a Swell Season concert. I spoke into my phone: “Navigate to the Swell Season concert in Washington, DC”, and it knew where I wanted to go! Behind the scenes it used the web to figure out the venue of the concert and direct us straight to the front door. It also pulls in live traffic speed info, which more than once has let me plot a detour around upcoming traffic jams.

Full integration with Google Voice is extremely promising, and I’m inches away from converting over to a GV phone number for daily use.

I really love that apps can play nicely with the browser. For example, I installed a great app called GeoBeagle to use for Geocaching. When I click on a link to a cache on, an option pops up – would I like to load this link in the browser, or save the cache it points at into GeoBeagle? Similarly, clicking on a podcast feed asks me if I’d like to subscribe to that podcast in Google Listen.

Widgets on the home screen are extremely handy & useful. I can control music playback, check the weather, change screen brightness, toggle wi-fi, turn on the LED as a flashlight and more without launching any apps or going into any settings menus.

The Droid is a great smartphone. I’m very happy with it and it fits into my daily information needs very well.