Don't let the iPhone's pretty exterior cause you to overlook the Droid's features. Deb Shinder details eight ways in which the Droid outshines the iPhone.
The biggest splash in the smartphone market since the iPhone occurred last November when Verizon Wireless unleashed a new potential iPhone killer. The Droid, which runs the Android 2.0 operating system, was heralded by an ambitious ad campaign proclaiming that "what iDon't, Droid does."
Is it all hype or should Apple be worried? A close look at the Droid's specs and features shows that it does indeed have some big advantages over the iPhone. While it may not be as sleek and "sexy" looking as the iPhone, it has features that those of us who depend on our phones for work, as well as for play, want and need. Here are eight reasons smartphone power users may want to consider trading in their iPhones for a Droid.
1: The keyboard craze
As virtual keyboards go, the iPhone has a good one. However, if you need to write a long, involved email message or actually edit a document on the small device, soft keyboards just don't cut it. Another problem is that the onscreen keyboard takes up a large part of the screen, obscuring much of the document that you're typing or the form you're trying to fill out.
The Droid has a slide-out physical QWERTY keyboard that's surprisingly useful, considering the small size and flatness of the keys. And Motorola has managed to fit the keyboard in while still keeping the phone thin -- it's only about one and a half millimeters thicker than the iPhone.
2: On display
At the time the iPhone came out, it had one of the largest displays ever seen on a smartphone. Just a little difference in display size can make a big difference in usability on such small devices. The Droid's display is larger than the iPhone's (3.7 inches vs. 3.5 inches). More important, the Droid's screen is higher resolution at 854x480, compared to the iPhone's 480x320. Both have capacitive touchscreens that are comparable in responsiveness.
When you're trying to read a Web page or view a spreadsheet on the monitor of a handheld device, bigger definitely is better.
3: Thanks for the (additional) memory
One of the most common complaints that many of us have about the iPhone is the omission of a flash memory slot to allow you to add more storage capacity. The standard iPhone comes with 16 GB of memory built in, or you can pay more for a model that has 32 GB, but you can't add memory to the phone you already have.
The Droid comes with 16 GB, but you can expand that with a 32 GB microSD card. Another advantage of the expansion slot is that you can swap out cards if you want, storing different types of files on different cards. This kind of flexibility and expandability is especially important to business users.
4: A picture is worth a thousand words
Cameras are becoming important components in smartphones, and more and more people are relying on their phones rather than carrying a compact digital camera to snap quick portraits or capture a visual record of what they see. There are a number of factors that affect photo quality. The Droid's built-in camera has specs that rival many standalone digicams. It takes 5 megapixel still photos and can record videos at 720x480. It also has a double LED flash that works quite well for taking photos when there isn't enough ambient lighting.
The iPhone's camera is lower resolution at 3 megapixels and 640x480 video, and it has no flash so that in low light, you're out of luck.
5: Apps just want to be free
iPhone proponents boast of the number of applications available in the Apple Store -- ostensibly close to 100,000. Android, being a newer platform, currently has only about 10,000 apps available in the Android Market. On the other hand, Apple's App Store is the only place you can get programs for your iPhone, and Apple has complete control over what apps you can get. For example, Apple rejected Google Voice -- which many iPhone users wanted -- because it "duplicated the core dialer function of the phone." Perhaps it's just a coincidence that the app provides an alternative way to make voice calls without paying for AT&T's costly minutes.
Android, on the other hand, is an open source operating system based on the Linux kernel. Developers can add extensions, and the Software Development Kit (SDK) is freely available. You can create your own apps for it if you're so inclined, and although Google has an Android Market site where you can download applications, you're not limited to that one source.
6: Multitasking mania
The iPhone has only limited multitasking; you can run its built-in apps in the background, but you can't run third-party apps simultaneously. The Droid allows for multitasking with all of your apps; you can keep one third-party app open while you're running another and use the 6 way application selector to switch between your open apps. (To be fair, there is one type of multitasking that the iPhone does and the Droid doesn't: simultaneous data and voice transmission).
7: Batter(y) up -- and out
Another area in which the Droid outshines the iPhone is in battery life. The iPhone provides about 5 hours of talk time, whereas the Droid gives you around 6.4 hours. This can vary depending on how you adjust the settings (screen brightness, Wi-Fi, etc.). But it's not just the extra capacity of the battery that matters -- with the Droid, you can remove and replace the battery yourself. Not only does that mean you don't have to send or take the phone in to get a new battery installed if it dies permanently, it also means you can buy an extra battery, charge it up, and take it with you to swap out when the one in the phone runs out of juice. Thus, your phone doesn't become a brick until you can charge it again, as the iPhone does.
8: Getting there is half the fun
The iPhone has a GPS and Google Maps + Compass to get you where you're going, but you have to be able to follow the highlighted route on the screen or read a list of text turn-by-turn directions. That may work if you're walking, but if you're trying to drive, not so much.
The Droid with Google Maps navigation comes with voice guidance, just like the dedicated GPS units you're used to. You can also search for a location by voice; just say "Navigate to <address or business name>" instead of typing it in. As with the iPhone, you can view your route overlaid with Street View imagery or with 3D satellite views. There's also a traffic view that alerts you to the traffic on your route in real time. And there's even a car dock that you can place your phone in, and it automatically activates the special mode that makes it easy to use at arm's length.
Up until now, the iPhone has been the standard by which all smartphones are measured, but the Droid may prove to be a better choice for many users, especially business users and power users. While the Apple device indisputably is a bit prettier and has the advantage in sheer numbers of apps (although many of them are not very useful), and even though the simultaneous voice and data use on the GSM/HSPA network is nice, the better battery life, gorgeous display, physical keyboard, removable memory, application multitasking, and more sophisticated camera of the Droid give you more bang for the buck -- especially considering that the initial cost and the ongoing cost of the voice/data plan for the two phones is virtually identical.
Related TechRepublic resources
- Five interesting details about Verizon's new Droid smartphone
- Verizon Droid: Doesn't match iPhone, but brings Android out of beta
- Droid: Creepy invasion of privacy has never been so enjoyable
- 10 must-have Android apps
- Motorola Droid photos
Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.