A week with the Droid

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by Mike
Posted November 14th, 2009 at 10:19 am

Today marks one week and a day that the Motorola Droid has graced the masses. I was one of the many that were eagerly anticipating it’s release bringing us the first tastes of Android 2.0 as well as the first Android slider device since the G1. While not perfect, it is truly a good device. I’ve had many smartphones over the last couple of years and have a fairly robust knowledge of the various platforms. Coming from BlackBerries and iPhones more recently, how does the Droid stack up after a week, and how will it hold up for the months ahead….?

(It’s a long one, but thorough)


I guess I should start by saying that if you don’t link to tinker, don’t like to know the inner workings of your phone and instead just want it to work with minimal input, Android is probably not for you. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not rocket science by any means, it’s just not “iPhone simple” if you will. There are some navigation and UI quirks that will turn off some and appear no more than an “extra option” to others. So what do I think?


Software

It’s awesome. Coming from over a year on an iPhone, I quickly began to love the unbound nature of the Android. Since this is my first meeting with the OS, everything was new to me. But as I mentioned before, it isn’t rocket science. After 10-15 minutes I had pretty much everything squared away and could answer just about any question about the OS itself. Trust me, it’s easy.

The methods and features that make the iPhone both successful and hold it back are attributed to the locked down nature of the platform. It makes features and services extremely tightly integrated at the expense of customization. Which do you prefer? For me, I’m pretty tech savvy so I can do my own troubleshooting and get stuff working — hence my eagerness to move to Android.

Looking at the iPhone again, it is a device for entertainment and multimedia. It excels at that market. Android is fully capable of multimedia and entertainment and does in fact handle most if not all of your entertaining needs without much fuss. The only difference between teh two platforms is Apple adds considerable more flash in the form of a more streamlined UI and “pretty” face. And no, Android isn’t ugly, I like a lot actually. It’s just different. The point is, if you came from an iPhone or iPod and want Android to be both your phone and entertainment device, you may find the mediocre and bare music/video offerings a turn off. Not to worry, the media player is set for an update and there are a bus load of video choices in the Android Market — which brings me to the next point….

Apps! Apple now has well over 100,000 apps in the app store. Android is packing around 12,000. Big difference. On the surface Android is at a big disadvantage. All things considered, the simple difference in number of apps is a con for Android at the moment, but the list is growing. I must stress however that while there are over 100,000 apps in the app store, there aren’t 100,000 useful, worthwhile apps. I guarantee there are at least a hundred different farting apps alone. They’re fun and novel at first but quickly wear off and soon after get deleted from the device and the users’ minds. There’s a fair share of “novelty/useless” apps in the Android Market too, I’m just highlighting the fact that you can’t take a number at face value. Get it?

One other huge thing that has me liking the Android Marketplace even more than Apple’s stuffed to the gills App Store is the lack of any review process whatsoever. For many this means that apps are more prone to larger bouts of bugginess and unfinished products. Such a point does have some merit. I’ve run across several apps that just felt unfinished and certainly wouldn’t have passed based on Apple App Store standards. But that’s just the thing, there are no standards. And that’s a good thing. Who really has the right to claim universal standards for other people? Apple’s standards and rules are different from mine are different from yours. There isn’t any one rule fits all approach which is why devs and customers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the approval process and other App Store policies. A perfect example can be found in ex-Facebook for iPhone developer Joe Hewitt who announced that he was dropping iPhone development. The Android Marketplace will have some rough apps here and there. But again, I’m not an idiot. I understand when something is awry, how to contact the dev, and end up happy overall.

Furthermore, the lack of any review process means virtually no wait between the time devs hit “submit app” to the time it appears in the Marketplace. Another perfect example of this was a first hand experience of mine. Wednesday I download a widget called “Beautiful Widgets” which mimicked the flip clock weather widget seen on HTC’s Sense UI. The Moto Droid not being from HTC loses out on this awesome skin. Once I installed the widget I noticed that when flipping into landscape mode the icons and text were misaligned and overlapping because of the Droid’s higher resolution (as the widget was built for past Android devices with lower resolutions). I fired off an email to the dev, received a response an hour later, and by the next day — Thursday morning — I was alerted to an update for the very problem I experienced and wrote the dev about the day before — not even 24 hours ago. That is how an App Store should work! It is this lightweight sense of speed and “closeness” that draws me and many others to the Android market.

**Small aside…: Another commenter mentioned a growing number of people having problems syncing with Exchange. I don’t use Exchange but I have a friend who does. He got a Droid after playing with mine and he was trying to connect to his work email. They use Kerio which uses Exchange services. I’ve gone through and set up the email and it acts as it set up correctly but then when it goes to loading mail, it just loads….and loads….and loads without ever actually loading any mail. We’ll see if the December 11th update fixes that.


Battery Life

What good is a smartphone with bajillions of apps, a first class browser, and gorgeous display if you can only use it for 10 minutes at a time before the battery comes to a completely halt? It isn’t worth much. I am a heavy, heavy mobile user. 100-300 texts per day, ~50 emails, a couple hours of web browser combined with feed reader going in background, facebook/twitter checks every couple of hours, and a quick game here or there. My iPhone wouldn’t last a full day on a charge. When I take it off the plug at 6am it’s screaming for help like a poor lost child in a supermarket by 2-3 in the afternoon. Oddily enough, if I have at least 75% charge when going to bed, by the time I wake up in the morning it’s nearing the red zone. I’m up to date with the OS and not jailbroken at the moment.

My Droid on the other hand easily goes a full 24 without the plug anywhere in sight. And that is with the energy sucking, end of the world harboring backup processes that Apple stubbornly refuses to embrace. (**Small side note: WinMo is an example of poor multi-tasking/app management, Android while not perfect is many leaps and bounds ahead — Apple take note.) With that aside, I must say I’m truly impressed with the Android OS’s ability to manager power with so many things going on in the background. There really is no replacement for true background app support. Push notifications where a novel idea. But at the end of the day they’re just a second class citizen plain and simple. Of course, the fact that the Droid has a 1400mAh battery compared to the iPhone 3G and 3GS’s 1150mAh does have something to do with it as well. Though, 250mAh really isn’t that much of a difference and isn’t the sole reason 24+ hour chargless runs are possible. There’s some definite refining present in the Droid’s flavor of Android.


Hardware

So far I’ve only been talking about software, but the Droid itself is a fine piece of hardware, a fine piece of glistening gadgetry. The hard angles and sharp edges don’t appeal to everyone. Some prefer the more rounded appearance of HTC Android devices and that’s ok. The fact that Android is scalable and gives users choices is another draw. Moving back on topic, the Droid has stood up to my vigorous usage this past week. So much so I’m confident it will last many months to come. I am no doubt impressed though concerns of small areas stick in my mind. The slider mechanism doesn’t feel as snug as it should be. The screen and keyboard are constantly sliding open in my pocket. Now don’t fill your head with horror as holding up the phone and shaking will result in it not moving an inch. It’s just too easy to open….hard to explain. You have to hold it to understand I guess.

The volume and camera shutter buttons on the Moto Droid also feel loose, almost like they were an afterthought. The volume buttons on the iPhone or just about any other high-end smartphone are much stiffer and properly formed by comparison. It’s not anything that would keep me or just about anyone else from buying the phone, just something I noticed. The power button, like the others, is a tad too loose for my tastes. One other thing you may run into is when in landscape mode using the slide out qwerty, your finger naturally rests right around or on the power button leading to accidental presses putting the phone to sleep. Is it a make or break thing? Again, this will vary from person to person. Though I don’t see it as that big of a deal — just a minor annoyance from time to time.



Camera

A lot of people have mentioned the sorely lacking characteristics of the camera. To this I can mostly attest. The pictures I took were decent overall, though they were’t as sharp or colorful as I’d hoped. The auto-focus seemed to stumble at all times taking many refocusing attempts with the outcome often resulting in a blurry mess. A deal breaker? For some yes. But I rarely use the camera on phones. I have a Nikon D80 for that. Those on the fence solely because of the camera take note that December 11th an update is supposed to drop that should correct the issues with the camera as they’re simply the result of poorly implemented camera software. Overall the pictures taken with the 5 megapixel camera are just average. I haven’t taken any video yet, but the general consensus from various reviews is that video capture is significantly better than it’s still counterpart.

Sample pictures taken with Droid’s 5 megapixel camera



Keyboard

Finally the keyboard. Yes, the keyboard that so many have talked about in their reviews both harshly criticizing it for it’s diminutive size and flat feel while at the same time praising it for it’s feats of engineering — getting a fully qwerty side sliding phone into such a thin form-factor. The keyboard is the make or break area of this phone since there’s no point in getting a phone marketed with a physical qwerty keyboard that sucks in real life usage. I am a smaller guy with small, slender fingers. I don’t have any problems whatsoever with the keyboard. At times it can be a bit of a stretch for my left thumb — as I desperately wish Moto would have moved the D-pad to the left of the board — though it isn’t something I haven’t gotten use to. I’ve merely started using my left hand more. Side bonus I guess, on my way to a more ambidextrous lifestyle. It is this small flaw that I think holds the most weight for me. Simply switching the D-pad’s placement on the keyboard from the right side to the left would balance out the board considerably since there is already a small chin that requires your right hand to maneuver over. Another idea, get rid of the pad altogether and instead throw in some arrow keys if they must. Personally, I think that the arrow keys would have been better by allowing bigger keys and more spacing. Such things can’t be helped now. Still, I love my Droid.

It is everything I thought it would be and then some. It allows me to indulge my inner geek when I want and how I want without stupid, artificial limitations. It truly becomes my device. I have many choices when hardware is concerned. Coupled with the close relationship devs can share with end users without any moronic middleman means the Marketplace and Android are the place to be. Maybe not the most popular, but liberating to say the least. This past week has been an adventure and I’m excited to watch Android grow (2.1 is already rumored to be coming December 11th) and me growing along with it.

Are you next?

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9 ResponsesLeave a comment
  • Carren
    November 15, 2009 at 8:53 pm
    Reply

    Hi! just got a droid. i saw the first picture in your review and saw that htc hero clock widget with the little sun/cloud picture on your phone. where did you get it. been searching my phone and marketplace for hours. thank you

    • Mike
      November 15, 2009 at 9:03 pm
      Reply

      It’s called “Beautiful Widgets” and it’s by levelup studios. It’s in the Market Place.

  • Paul
    November 15, 2009 at 12:33 am
    Reply

    Great review! Haveyou heard anything about the problems synching with Microsoft Exchange that many businesses have?

    • Mike
      November 15, 2009 at 8:38 am
      Reply

      Yes I have, Come to think of it, my friend has had some problems connecting to one. I’ll add a small blurb.

  • Jordan
    November 14, 2009 at 5:33 pm
    Reply

    Actually, very well done on this review. I played around with a friends, and it is quite nice. I feel it is better than a stock iPhone, for sure, but jailbroken, I have no problems. Everything(fooking flash!!!!) I could want I have, but oh well. We’ll see with the new one next summer if they will come back punching the droids in the face or not. lol

    • Mike
      November 14, 2009 at 5:40 pm
      Reply

      That’s a mighty large concession from you….I’ll take it!

  • Deofol
    November 14, 2009 at 3:40 pm
    Reply

    Terrific job writing this! Extremely well done!

    I too defected to Droid from an iPhone, its extremely refreshing having freedom of my media, and the openness of this device is nothing short of amazing.

    iPhone, pffft. There’s no looking back.

    • Mike
      November 14, 2009 at 3:42 pm
      Reply

      ah, another switcher. Welcome aboard! Thanks for reading!

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