Hardware optimize

Motorola Droid 3: Big and beautiful, but lacking 4G

According to Donovan Colbert, there's a lot to love about Verizon's Motorola Droid 3, including it's physical QWERTY keyboard. Find out if this Android device is best suited for your needs.

The Droid 1 set a benchmark for Android devices, and it's still popular among users today. When the Droid 2 came out, I was quick to jump on the bandwagon - the keyboard and faster processor were improvements on an already great design. Since that time, my eyesight has degraded to the point where I've found myself regretting not going with the larger but keyboard-lacking Droid X.

Verizon's Motorola Droid 3 neatly fills the gap between the Droid 2 as the premier keyboard-oriented Android phone and the Droid X with a monster display. Sure, some reviewers are questioning if there's much life left in the Motorola Droid line, but I'm wondering if we're seeing a mature device that doesn't need a lot of significant improvements to attract loyal owners who want to stick with a proven design.

Specs

  • Processor: Dual core, 1000 Mhz; RAM 512
  • Storage: 16GB internal, up to 32GB external via MicroSD HC
  • Dimensions: 4.90 x 2.50 x 0.50; Display: 540x960
  • Battery: 9.16 hours talk - 300 hours standby
  • Weight: 6.49 oz
  • Camera: 8MP rear; 0.3MP Front
  • Keyboard: Slider; full QWERTY

Who is it for?

The Droid 3 is not a media or productivity powerhouse, but it is a competent, solid device that will appeal to users of the previous two generations of Droid phones. It's targeted squarely at those who want a larger screen mobile device that supports a physical keyboard. While I hear more and more people say that they've grown to prefer a virtual keyboard, I'm among those who still prefer a physical one - in part because I think the Android virtual keyboards and aftermarket alternatives are lousy.

What problems does it solve?

As I mentioned, the Droid 3 is mostly a refresh of the Droid line. In that sense, the majority of improvements address shortcomings of the Droid 2, and so users who are not familiar with previous versions won't notice the progress. However, if you are familiar, the improvements are welcome and add considerable value.

In a nutshell, if there was a complaint with the Droid 2, it has been addressed in the Droid 3. Most of the changes are subtle:

  • The battery cover now snaps on in a far more secure manner that seems less likely to result in a lost back.
  • The speaker grill is now gone. I always thought that the location of the grill next to the battery cover on the Droid 1 and 2 was a design prone to dents by fingernails.
  • The serviceable 5MP back camera has been upgraded to an 8MP camera that's capable of 1080p video.
  • The front of the device remains almost unchanged, only bigger, and with the addition of a forward-facing camera.
  • Internally, the big news is that the Droid 3 features a dual-core processor.

One of the big complaints that many Apple users had about the original Droid was that it was not as smooth or fluid as an iPhone. The Droid 2 took a step in the right direction of resolving that issue, and the Droid 3 narrows that gap even more. In several weeks of using the Droid 3, I did not notice any real lag or performance issues. It's a very fast 3G Android device. The Droid 3 is also "global ready," which means that it's able to accept a SIM card and travel overseas. These features of the Droid 3 are a great fit for executive staff and road warriors.

Standout features

  • Integrated keyboard - The slider on the Droid 3 shows that Motorola has stepped forward as one of the leaders in mobile devices with integrated QWERTY keyboards. The chicklet-type keys offer enough space that there are respectable gaps between each key, and there's enough physical space that the keyboard has dedicated number keys on the top row. It takes some time to get used to the new layout, but I think it's the best physical Droid keyboard yet.
  • Dual-core processor - Android is an OS with bigger aspirations than iOS, and mobile devices are still catching up with delivering the kind of processing horse power that Android would like. So, the dual-core processor is a welcome improvement here. The Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) OS on this device is similar in look and feel to Honeycomb, and it offers a zippy, responsive, and reliable experience.
  • Large format screen - Opinions on mobile device screen size are all over the map, but I'm in the camp that thinks that (within reason) bigger is almost always better. The numbers show that we're not talking on these devices nearly as much as we're interacting with the screen - and other than phone conversations, there isn't a thing you do on a smartphone that won't benefit from having a larger display.

What's wrong?

  • Accessories - Unfortunately, each iteration of the Droid line has made significant changes that rendered previous accessories obsolete. The Droid 1 media dock still worked with the Droid 2, but not the car mount. The Droid 3 renders the media dock obsolete as well. So, if you've owned a previous Droid device, your dock accessories are going to go into the desk drawer with the old phone. This simply means that there's one less compelling reason to stay with a Motorola Droid than to go with the competition. The lesson here? If you're going to maintain a line through three iterations of a device, and you want to build up brand loyalty, then stick with a format that extends accessory devices throughout the product line. Apple has done this with the iPod and other iOS devices.
  • 3G-only wireless radio - This is perhaps the most puzzling omission of the Droid 3. While this device is global, big, and powerful - it only sports a 3G radio. At this point, Verizon's 4G LTE is in limited metro markets, so arguably, most people in most coverage areas will not see any immediate advantage to having a 4G device. On the other hand, having spent some time demoing a Verizon 4G LTE MiFi hotspot, if you're in an area where you can get 4G coverage, it would be silly not to. Ultimately, I might be tempted to hold out for an alternative large-screen Android handset with a physical keyboard and global roaming that also supports 4G speeds. But to be honest, by the time 4G reaches many of us, odds are that we'll be in a new hardware upgrade cycle for our phones anyway.

Bottom line

If you're in the market for a new phone and you want a device with a large, beautiful screen, an external keyboard, dual-core performance, and global roaming capabilities, then the Droid 3 is a solid phone to consider. It isn't incredibly innovative or revolutionary, because it's the result of three generations of refining a single basic product design - but there's a lot to be said for that. The only qualm I have personally about moving to a Droid 3 is concerns over the non-4G nature of the device. However, since I probably wouldn't use the Droid 3 as a MiFi hotspot or tethered, 4G speeds are unlikely to have a significant impact on my actual smartphone device usage.

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About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

3 comments
jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

"If you???re going to maintain a line through three iterations of a device, and you want to build up brand loyalty, then stick with a format that extends accessory devices throughout the product line. Apple has done this with the iPod and other iOS devices." I seem to recall Apple changing their proprietary dock connectors at least three times during the iPod lifespan, as well as switching from Firewire to USB. Third-party docking stations for iPods have come with different-sized adapters to fit different models for some time.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Of particular note; the numeric row on the physical keyboard. The three row keyboard with shared letter/number row that seem popular really do suck when one needs to hit numbers regularily (an "alt" key every time I need a number gets tired quickly). For lack of access to a Nokia N950, it's tempting to compare the hardware and see if the upgrade justifies the switching costs (bah.. not yet.. still not ready to accept Android as my personal lord and savior).

dcolbert
dcolbert

Of course there have been some sigificant changes - but Apple has set a benchmark for accessory longevity by maintaining roughly compatible design from generation to generation. Most changes have been necessitated by *improvement*, as well. There was some net gain in giving up backward compatability with previous accessories in most cases. I don't see this among Android phone devices - and it is something that I keep waiting for one of the Android manufacturers to catch on to... iPod is a BRAND... none of the Android phones has become a BRAND, Android hasn't become a brand, really... When I go into a Target and there is a thriving Android 3rd party accessory aisle - then we're on the right track with Android devices. Just my opinion.