REVIEW: Motorola’s DROID

I’ve always felt the mobile phone market to be different from any market. It’s set up in such a way that there is no competition between pricing for a plan, only in coverage and the device you’ve got. And when it comes down to buying the right device, you get what you need, then what you want. Sometimes the bare minimums you need is just a phone that can call. That’s what I have right now, an unlocked Sony Ericsson, with a T-Mobile prepaid minutes SIM card. Then there’s what you want to have: texting, a data plan…This is all stuff I’d like to have but am not gonna pay for. What I have right now is the cheapest for me, and works.

Except for one small problem: I don’t have a DROID.

See, I thought much of the DROID as I would have any other phone out there, except it’s running Android OS, a mobile operating system I know to be great, as I often used my friend’s prototype model of the G2 while on a trip. It had the old Android OS on it, but I liked it a lot. Did some good stuff, but I still really liked iPhone OS in comparison. So my expectations for the DROID were that it’d be another iPhone, just with Android OS. And I was slapped in the face today when I entered the Verizon Wireless store and picked one up. I played around with everything there is to play around with: on-screen and physical keyboards, sound quality, the camera, 3G speeds, but also software, the Android Market, performance of games, and more.

Home Screen

The first thing I came to was the home screen. Now, I’ve never really gotten the hang of Android OS, hell, it even took me a while to understand that each app has a menu involved with it. However, the home screen looks very similar to the iPhone OS, and organizes very similarly. Oh, and that’s just 25% of the mess.

When I first picked up the device, there were three pages. The first had the Google search widget on it and a few apps, the second was app central, with the majority of shortcuts, and the third was covered in widgets: CNN, NYTimes, etc. I began to figure it out as I went along. On the bottom of the screen is a tab you can slide up to display all your apps in alphabetical order. See, the home screen is only there to show the stuff you want it to show. Moving apps around is simple: hold down the app you want to move and put it in a blank spot. Yes, it must be a blank spot. This is really the only problem with the home screen: you must have space to put something before you drop it there. Besides that, this is a great organization method. If you want a blank spot, simply drag an app out of that spot and put it somewhere else. It makes organizing apps really easy, unlike the iPhone OS, which I feel is one of the major flaws with it: the SpringBoard. Seriously, that thing needs an overhaul!

Moving on now to the Widgets, this is probably the single most important thing about the Android OS that gives it a real boost over all other mobile platforms. I first got a look at them with the ones that were already on the home screen. CNN and NY Times hadn’t updated their news articles, so they were blank, and the Google search toolbar was pretty simple. Now, I had played around a bit with the Facebook app. It’s the same as the iPhone version or any other mobile version of Facebook. I had figured out how to add new things to the home screen, so I decided to add a Facebook toolbar. Simply put: I need something like this. It displays one news article at a time, and you can switch between them easily by pressing the arrows, or update your own status. I use qTweeter on my iPod touch to automatically update my Facebook and Twitter, but having this accessibility easily on the home screen is extremely instantaneous. Widgets exist for any app that supports them, and if there’s ones more extensive that Facebook’s imagine the possibilities: see your bank balance immediately, change the song playing with the press of a button, or view recent tweets.

Web Browsing/Internet Speed/QWERTY keyboard


Android 2.0 comes with a basic web browsing app called Browser. It’s really no different from Safari, but there are some noticeable differences. When rendering a page on the Android browser, it’s displayed better than on the Safari browser. Elements of a page are better spaced, navigation is still as simple as before, but I still am curious as to why there’s no two-finger zoom. Apple copyright? I mean, the DROID is a multi-touch device. It would be nicer than pressing a + and — button to look around.

Testing out the 3G speed on Verizon Wireless, I must say, hands down, that Verizon has better 3G than AT&T. You tell me though. I tested this in San Francisco, a metropolitain area that’s bound to have good Internet coverage wherever you are. Web pages load just as fast as they do on my iPod touch with WiFi as it does on the DROID: there’s maybe a second or two waiting time on pages (one second for AllTechRelated.com), but overall a very nice connection and speed. There were no open WiFi networks around or at the store, but if I had to say something about it, I’d say it would be just as good, probably not much better. Maybe better when downloading files like MP3 songs, or watching a high quality YouTube video, because when you’re on 3G it plays the video in it’s low quality version.

While we’re at it, why not discuss this new physical keyboard the DROID packs? I’m starting to jump into hardware discussion, but hey, what’s the problem with that? If you’ve ever used the T-Mobile G1 you’ll probably agree, it’s difficult to type with that bump underneath your right finger, and I’d continue to say that the buttons on the keyboard are smaller than I’d like. Well the DROID packs a large keyboard, with buttons not at all difficult to press. As with any new keyboard it takes getting used to, and I found myself using the on-screen landscape keyboard because of it’s size, but after about half an hour I took some more tries with the QWERTY keyboard and became well adapted with it. It’s really nice to have the screen totally clear when typing out a message. It’s also very easy to slide out into place and begin typing. Holding the phone in your hand, a simple push of your right thumb to the left will slide it out, and when you’re typing the grip is very nice. I’ll have to mention however, the on-screen landscape keyboard is extremely accessible to anyone without previous use. In comparison to landscape on the iPhone OS, it’s easy to press any key without making a mistake because of how well spaced the keys are.

Camera

Now this is just amazing. The five megapixel camera the DROID packs creates detailed images, and above-average video. I wish I could detail this more, but I have no example pictures of video of my own. So I’ve made my way to Google. Here’s two great examples of the quality the DROID can capture with it’s camera (thanks to Android Central for the pictures):


Picture taken with Motorola DROID



The pictures are great quality for a mobile phone. I was surprised at the level of detail left when I zoomed in on my images I took at the Verizon store. Definitely better looking than iPhone pictures, and you can certainly use your DROID as your regular camera for taking pictures instead of a digital one if you’re not all that picky. It’s also aided by the great auto-focus, the same technology digital cameras use to capture pictures, and it can really do some good focusing. As for video, it’s a good capture, above average quality, but the audio isn’t all that wonderful. This is a mobile phone microphone, so conditions like loud noise and heavy wind will affect the input of audio.

On a different note, processing video on the DROID is brilliant. I was talking with some people working at Verizon, and they gave me some insight on the phone’s hardware. Apparently it has a separate processor to take care of video and possibly audio processing, similar to the dated iPod Video for video playback, which is why playback of media is instantaneous and at a good resolution. Well, that’s also due to the display, which is high-res, but I digress. When capturing video there’s no long save time. Just press stop and it’s done.

Notifications

Something I found very nice was this system of notifications that was integrated into the OS and worked with most apps. Basically, notifications are popped up on the status bar on the top of the screen, left side, with different icons for what the notification is. It’s used in cases when you’re installing an app, downloading a file, uploading a picture in the Facebook app, a new email…Notifications will appear in the left of the status bar, and when something new pops up or a task is completed, the status bar scrolls down to show text saying something along the lines of “Photo successfully uploaded” or “File done downloading.” Swipe down from the status bar to bring down a list of all notifications. It’s a handy system that quickly lets you open things of interest. Tap on a new e-mail notification and it’ll open that message, or tap on a notification for a file that’s done downloading and it’ll open it. It’s one of the many things that makes Android OS a great platform.

Performance

Now this is also one of the key factors into why this device kicks major ASS! Let’s begin by listing some tech specs about the device:

  • 550 mHz ARM processor
  • 14 Mpolys/s PowerVR SGX 530 GPU
  • 430MHz DSP (digital signal processor; they use this for video playback)
  • 256MB RAM, 512MB ROM

Good tech specs for a mobile device, but what’s all the hype for? Oh, nothing really too big, except that this thing runs six apps simultaneously on the device. So, if I’m on Facebook, then I open the web browser to check something out on a site, I can go back to Facebook and it’ll load immediately. Seriously, immediately, and this applies for games too. Close a game, it’ll just save its state, then open it up again and you’re back where you stopped. Nothing slows this device down, no mater how much you touch the screen or play games or anything, something you need to be careful with on anything besides the iPhone 3GS, and even then you don’t wanna do too much at once. We’re talking jailbroken devices here.

As for games, that’s a good area to test performance. Well there’s nothing that was free in the Android Market that had intense graphics, and the device at the store wasn’t like an iPhone at an Apple Store, loaded with apps for you to play around with. So I had to go for a basic 3D racer with low-res textures. A game like this wouldn’t play easily on my iPod touch, but on the DROID that and another game like it running both at the same time creates no problem for DROID. The processors can handle whatever you throw at them, and when they can’t, which happened once to me while trying to process a video, Android OS will handle it like a non-responsive program, let you force quit it if you’d like.

Android Market

I think the last thing worth commenting on is the App Store “knock-off” that Google has in their OS. It’s called Android Market, and it’s great. The first thing I noticed was when I went into the Games section of the marketplace and I saw, under “Top Paid Apps”, were three things you’re never gonna see in the AppStore: Nestoid, SNestoid, and Gameboid, respectively an NES, SNES, and GBA emulator for the Android OS. Under no circumstance would Apple ever accept an emulator into their App Store. Sure, the Commodore 64 emulator that’s available, but seriously, nothing more than that from Apple. Plus many apps I’ve seen in the App Store can also be found in the Android Market. Obvious stuff like a Facebook app, but a series of games developed by Sunflat, a popular Java developer from at least five years ago, who’s applets he has recently ported to the iPhone platform. I was surprised but very pleased to see his games also ported to the Android OS in the marketplace. These are popular free apps on the iPhone, and now on Android? Going even further, I saw Gang$tar on Android OS, a very popular Grand Theft Auto style game for the iPhone OS, and now on Android OS? Assassin’s Creed as well…

We can already see popular games making their way to the Android platform, and while there’s still room for improvement, albeit already an excellent library of apps to choose from, new ones out each day, and many free as opposed to the iPhone OS, that Android Market could easily become on par with Apple’s App Store. I once thought this never possible until I actually saw the marketplace today, and apps you’ll find both in the App Store and the Android Market have the same level of quality. So what stops Android Market from getting amazing apps? Popularity of devices with the OS, but with all the DROID advertising going on it’s become a known phone in many people, and a device obviously competing with the iPhone. I’ve got high hopes for Android Market, but in the meantime there are many apps already. And I’d have to say, in an argument of why Android Market is better than the App Store, it’s because the quality of the apps in the marketplace is higher than that of the iPhone. You always find “lite” apps on the iPhone, or a worthless one that’ll let you drink a glass of beer for $.99…What happened? Where’s the quality? Personally I think it’s Apple’s way of letting apps into their store, and on the Android many good apps are let in, or there may be some sort of point where if an app isn’t good enough it’s not accepted…

I’ve digressed too much, talking about mobile application markets on mobile devices nowadays is a point I like to stand strongly next to. Let’s close up this review with a conclusion.

Conclusion

I’ve always been an avid fan of the iPhone and the iPhone OS, and it’s a great device, don’t get me wrong, but today has opened me up to a new level of awesome. The device is fabulous, spotting hardware that the iPhone could really use, with a 5MP camera that can take great quality pictures, and a QWERTY keyboard that clears up a cluttered display when you’ve got a virtual keyboard, and is easy to type on. Then we get to what I think really makes this device win: the platform. Android 2.0 is simply epic. It has things I’d absolutely love: Widgets, running applications in the background, the notifications system…I’ve always bought Apple products and used my iPod touch cause I know when I get an iPod, we all know in fact, that we’re getting quality software to play our media, or go online, or talk with friends. I know I’ve had this promise since the day I got my iPod, any of the iPods I’ve owned actually. But now I’ve found a device with the hardware I would really like, and software that I can trust in, that can do stuff I’ve always wished my iPod touch could, even with a jailbreak stuff that it still wasn’t able to do, and after using it and knowing who the software is coming from, I know that for Android OS I can have that same promise, that software I get will always have a high quality to it.

So, if you think you need to stick with your iDevice because of what it gives you, give DROID a try and see if it does what you want it to. It does for me.


Advertisements
  1. Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: