Mobility

Verizon Droid: Doesn't match iPhone, but brings Android out of beta

Here is TechRepublic's Verizon Droid review. See how one of the mostly widely hyped products of 2009 stacks up for business users.

Here is TechRepublic's Verizon Droid review. See how one of the mostly widely hyped products of 2009 stacks up for business users.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Verizon has blitzed the airwaves with ads that extol the benefits of the new Droid smartphone and fires shots at the Apple iPhone. So it's time for TechRepublic's review of the Droid, and naturally we'll do plenty of comparisons between the Droid and the iPhone, since that's one of the big questions hanging out there.

Read more field-tested reviews of hardware and software in TechRepublic's Product Spotlight blog and subscribe to the Product Spotlight newsletter (automatically sign up with one click).

Specifications

  • Carrier: Verizon Wireless
  • Manufacturer: Motorola
  • Operating system: Google Android 2.0
  • Processor: 550MHz Cortex-A8
  • RAM: 256MB
  • Storage: 16GB microSD included; upgradeable to 32GB+
  • Display: 3.7" 854x480 WVGA, capacitive touchscreen, 400K pixels, 16 million colors
  • Battery life: Talktime: 385 mins / 6.4 hrs; Standby: 270 hrs / 11.25 days
  • Weight: 169g / 5.96oz
  • Dimensions: 4.56(h) x 2.36(w) x0.54(d) inches
  • Keyboard: Slide-out landscape qwerty; on-screen portrait and landscape keyboards
  • Camera: 5.0 megapixel, auto-focus, dual LED flash
  • Networks: Wi-Fi 802.11b/g, 800/1900MHz CDMA EVDO rev A
  • Tethered modem capability: No tethering at launch, but Verizon has promised to add it
  • Price: $199 ($299 with a $100 mail-in rebate)
  • CNET's unboxing the Verizon Droid
  • Photos of the Verizon Droid

Who is it for?

We should consider the Droid a converged smartphone - one that's meant to combine business and personal functions on one device. That means it can appeal to business users, who would use it primarily for Exchange access but might also want to occasionally do some personal stuff, and also consumers, who would buy the phone for its Gmail, Web, and multimedia capabilities while also using it to occasionally check up on their messages and calendar from work.

The Exchange ActiveSync integration is basically the same as what you get on the iPhone, although the iPhone also has some enterprise application capabilities from Apple and some third party security and management solutions that can make it more palatable in an enterprise environment. The Android platform is missing these add-ons for now and that makes it less likely that you'll see many companies deploying Android phones like the Verizon Droid. But, I also expect more enterprise development out of the Android platform over the next couple years, now that it has Exchange ActiveSync support.

The other thing to keep in mind about the Droid is that it is not quite as user-friendly as the iPhone, as we'll discuss more in a moment. This is still a smartphone for the tech enthusiast more than the average worker. For example, the Droid will definitely appeal to Linux zealots who have been waiting for a good Android phone that they can champion, since Android is based on Linux.

What problems does it solve?

The Verizon Droid is the first device to have Google's new Android 2.0 OS. It's also the first Android device to use a powerful next-generation mobile processor - the Cortex-A8 in this case. The combination of those two factors make this Android-based smartphone far faster and more responsive than previous Android phones, which often felt slow and clunky.

The first Android phone, the G1 from HTC and T-Mobile, was a mess - even more so than the first generation iPhone (which wasn't that great either). While the Droid is actually very similar to the G1 in form factor, it is a much a better executed product that appeal to a lot more users.

The other thing that the Droid has going for it is that the Android OS is an open platform. Anyone can develop applications for it, unlike the iPhone in which all installed applications must be approved by Apple before they appear in the App Store.

Standout features

  • Excellent hardware - Motorola has a history of building thin, powerful cell phones, but the company has gone a long time without a hit. The Droid looks like it will break the slump. This is a terrific piece of hardware. It has a very quick CPU. The high resolution screen makes colors and details stand out. The slim slide-out keyboard is very comfortable. And, the camera is 5 megapixels with a dual LED flash. All of those features come in a very slim, sturdy form factor that has some nice weight to it. The Droid does not have the plastic feel of the Palm Pre or the iPhone 3GS. It feels more substantial, although that also makes it a littler heavier, too.
  • Functional Web browsing - Browsing the Internet on a mobile phone still leaves a lot to be desired on most platforms. Pages tend to load slow and awkwardly when they load at all. The only real functional mobile browsing experience is on the iPhone, and to a lesser extent, on the Palm Pre. The Droid, with its strong CPU and high-res screen and Android 2.0 software, joins that club. It's not quite as snappy as the iPhone and the interface isn't as precise (you don't pinch to zoom, you double-tap), but it still offers a very good Web browsing experience.
  • Email management - As you'd expect because of the Google underpinnings, the Droid offers a great experience with Gmail. It offers full "push" messaging and makes it easy to star, delete, reply, forward, and select multiple messages. It extends this same experience to corporate email as well, with the new Exchange ActiveSync functionality. The mail interface has its own unique UI that mirrors Gmail on the Web in many ways, but it's easy to use and I think most people will take to it pretty quickly. My only complaint is that the mail folders (and sub-folders) load pretty slow the first time you access them.
  • Contact management - One place where the Droid really shines is in its unified address book. With your permission, it can pull in your contacts from Facebook, Gmail, and Exchange, and then reconcile the duplicate entries. All in all, this feature works pretty well. Here, Android has taken a page out of Palm's book, as the webOS offers a similar feature. And, also like the Palm webOS, Android offers a unified inbox view as well.

What's wrong?

  • It's still early for apps - At the time of the Droid launch on Nov. 6, Android will have about 10,000 applications for its platform. Meanwhile, the iPhone recently passed 100,000 apps. I expect that the Android application ecosystem will grow significantly after the Droid launch, since Verizon is hyping it so much, since lots of other Android phones are hitting the market in Q4, and since many of the developers who are having a hard time getting noticed on the iPhone platform may view Android as a greener field to launch new apps. In addition to not having as many apps as the iPhone, most of the current Android apps feel very raw and unpolished. Only time will tell whether that is due to the 1.0 nature of these apps or if Android has deficiencies as an app development platform.
  • UI and navigation - This is going to sound a little nit-picky, because overall the Droid user interface is pretty good. It's a huge improvement over the first generation Android OS and it's better than what you get on Windows Mobile and Symbian, by comparison. Nevertheless, the Android UI just isn't as user-friendly as the iPhone. While the iPhone requires virtually no user manual because of the locked-down simplicity of the interface, Droid is much more customizable and has many more options. That naturally makes it more challenging to use and requires some learning to figure out how things work and why. The other issue here is that the Droid UI just isn't as smooth and responsive as the iPhone, although it's much better than Android 1.0 devices. Still, there are times when you have to tap things more than once or you end up in unfamiliar menus or programs because the screen didn't correctly understand your gesture.
  • Lack of global roaming - The Droid is limited to CDMA, so it's not a true global roaming device. That will be a game-breaker for some business users.
  • Over-hyped - The other thing that could ultimately hurt the Droid is that Verizon is overhyping it with a massive ad campaign, and in many of those ads Verizon targets the iPhone specifically with a bunch of technical jargon about maps, widgets, and open platforms. Most users don't care about that stuff, only hardcore techies do.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

There's a lot more to like about the Verizon Droid than there is to dislike. It's a solid device and I think a lot of users will be happy with it - certainly happier than with a Windows Mobile or a Symbian smartphone. The integration of Exchange ActiveSync immediately opens a lot of doors for business users to get onboard.

Because of the importance of the UI and the application platform, the Droid does not quite measure up to the iPhone. But, it comes closer than just about any other device, except maybe the Palm Pre. I don't think there will be many people leaving the iPhone and jumping to the Droid - even if they do want to move from AT&T to the stronger Verizon network. And, if they do they will likely be a little disappointed by having to downgrade their app experience in going from iPhone to Droid.

However, I do expect that the Droid will stem the tide of Verizon customers leaving the fold to get an iPhone. And, I think this will be remembered as the device that got Android in the game.

User rating

Based on what you've seen, how would rate the Verizon Droid? Rate the device and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. You can also give your own personal review of the Verizon Droid in the discussion thread below.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

Editor's Picks