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Verizon Droid from Motorola: Android 2.0
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The Google Android phone platform, starting with the T-Mobile G1 phone last year, has a very clear design focus -- not desktop media, not enterprise, but instead rooted in the Internet cloud. The Android is first for people who manage their lives with the online Google apps, access them on the fly from various computers (as on a business site or college campus), and now want to sync and access via a portable device.
Android 2.0, first released with the Verizon / Motorola Droid smartphone, extends further to more traditional business uses (multiple accounts, Exchange support), enhances the interface for responsive navigation and searching, and bulks up the camera with auto-setup, flash, and video.. It also adds the amazing Google Maps Navigation app for real-time, turn-by-turn GPS navigation -- for free.
The Droid is a full-QWERTY slider phone with a large 3.7" high-res WVGA (854 x 480) display and a 5 megapixel camera with LED flash. It features integrated Wi-Fi for fast communications and browsing, and integrated GPS for location-aware searching and mapping. The Android 2.0 platform supports fully-integrated voice search and multi-tasking for clean background downloads.
As described below, the Droid with Android 2.0 is missing common functionality that will be expected by people interested in switching from PDA phone platforms like Windows Mobile and Palm, much less the BlackBerry or Apple iPhone. Particularly glaring are the absence of out-of-the-box support for syncing desktop data and files (as in Outlook and Office documents), and the lack of unified support for managing and syncing media.
The Google Android Marketplace somewhat addresses this issue, with a variety of third-party applications, from a variety of developers, at a variety of prices (and level of support). So you can cobble together some missing applications (Notepad, PDF viewer), but it's still a clumsy combination with different interfaces, inconsistent features, and without common integrated syncing.
Still, it's fun to use the Market app to browse and search the Android Marketplace, and the download and install process cound't be easier -- it runs in the background, with a polite notification when done and ready. However, it is clumsy to search long lists of apps on the handheld device, and would be much more helpful to be able to search and sync online. The Droid can automatically notify you when updates to your downloaded applications are available.
I've had good luck so far with high-rated yet free applications, like a Wi-Fi analyzer, GPS status, NYC subway map, Weather channel, and the fun Google Sky map that responds to your viewing position.
The Droid is very impressive. It's still focused on online cloud computing services, but it's getting closer to filling my needs for a full organizer / pocket digital assistant that fully syncs with my digital life on the desktop.
The Droid was released by Verizon Wireless in November 2009, priced at $199.99 with a new 2-year agreement and $100 rebate.
There's almost no help built in to the Droid, so see the Verizon support site for the Users Guide and some how to use guides on specific features.
Find the Verizon Droid on Amazon.com
The Droid starts with an impression of solidity and elegance. It feels rugged and not like plastic, which also means that it's not light at around 6 ounces (vs. 4.8 for the iPhone, for example). The case is matte black, and not glossy, with some subtle touches of gold, under the battery on the back, for the camera button on the side, and in the control pad on the keyboard.
The front of the phone frames the big 3.7” display -- slightly larger than the Apple iPod (3.5 inch) and significantly higher resolution (854 x 480 vs. 480 x 320). The display is bright and clear and easy to read.
The Droid is a slider phone, with a top slice with the display and a bottom slice with the keyboard. The phone speaker is above the display, and the microphone is actually on the bottom slice, which projects slightly out below the display slice. The phone slides open to expose the keyboard, and the display flips orientation from portrait to landscape (as it also does with the phone closed).
The keyboard has small keys that are flat, without much tactile distinction. The keys take a day or so to get used to, but I can now type reasonably well, especially by angling my fingers. When the phone is closed, the Droid displays an on-screen QWERTY keyboard. This works well in landscape orientation, with dictionary lookup to suggest words, but is rather squished in portrait mode and therefore takes more attention to type successfully. The keyboard uses an Alt key to access the numbers and symbols ("/" and "@" have dedicated keys). It also has dedicated Menu and Search keys.
The case has the power button and headphone jack on the top, micro-USB port on the left side (for power and data), volume controls and camera button on the right side, and battery and camera lens with LED flash on the back. The microSD card slot is accessed under the battery; the Droid ships with a 16 GB card, and can accept up to 32 GB.
The only other physical command keys on the phone are below the display: Back, Menu, Home, and Search. There are no dedicated phone keys -- no Send key, no End key. Instead you use the touch-screen control in the Phone application to manage calls, and typically initiate calls by looking up the recipient in your Contacts list anyway.
The Droid powers on using the power button or by sliding open the phone -- all other keys are disabled. It starts up with a lock screen -- touch and drag to unlock, or to turn the sound on or off.
Press the Home key to return to the main Home screen with your preferred applications. Press and hold the key to display a pop-up menu of recent / active applications.
Press the Menu key to bring up options for the current applications.
Press the Search key to bring up context-sensitive search (for some applications like Contacts), or Quick Search to look in the data on your phone or extend the search out to Google on the web. ** There does not seem to be a way to search the Calendar? Voice Search appears as an option with the search box -- tap the microphone icon, speak the search term, and the Droid displays matching options, including calling a contact name or running an online search.
Finally, press the Back key to move back in your actions -- close the current options menu, move back in your Web links, or, finally, exit the current application back to the Home screen.
The Home screen actually contains three panels that you can customize -- flick left or right to scroll in the other screens. Use a long press (press and hold) in an open location to add icons for your preferred actions -- Shortcuts to applications and favorites, app Widgets, Folders, or Wallpapers. Then press and hold icons to move the icons, to drag them to new positions on the 4 x 4 grid, or to drag them to the Applications tab at the bottom to delete the icon from the screen.
Some applications like the photo Gallery also use a single tap to display an overlay with additional options, such as playback and zoom controls. The Droid is multi-touch capable, but does not use multi-touch actions like pinching in its current applications. You can double-tap to zoom in and out in some applications like the photo viewer and browser.
Home screen: Status bar at top,
grid of icons (with Search widget),
Applications tab at bottom
The long press is also used for options in text input fields (select text, cut and paste).
The Droid give nice haptic feedback (vibration) for major actions (physical buttons, long press).
You can scroll in long lists by flicking quickly to move several screenfuls at a time. The Droid displays a subtle scroll bar on the edge of the screen to show the relative position and size of the screen's contents within the full list. Some applications like Contacts and Music also display a handle as you scroll that you can drag to move alphabetically by initial letter in the list.
Tap or drag up the Applications Tray tab at the bottom of the screen to display icons for all the available applications, in alphabetical order. Flick to scroll through the list -- there's no method to organize in different views or groups.
The Status bar at the top of the screen displays information icons, including connections (phone, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth), power level, and the time. Instead of interrupting your work with alters for new events, the Droid adds other icons to inform you of new alerts, including new messages and email, background tasks like application downloads, and ongoing applications such as music playing. Drag down the Status bar like a window shade to see the full Notification Panel to view and manage your active alerts and activity.
The Droid can run up to six applications at once, including downloading applications from the Android Market while you continue to work. However, you cannot use the data network while you are on a voice call -- no browsing or checking e-mail while you chat.
As a communications device, the Droid does voice calls, and Verizon adds a Visual Voice Mail app to manage voice mails like email.
The Messaging app does SMS text and MMS multimedia messaging, and Google talk does instant messaging.
Email is focused on the Gmail app, obviously -- you need to set up a Google account on the Droid in order to access other services like Google Maps Navigation. You can manage multiple Gmail accounts, all in one combined inbox, but accessing other POP/IMAP email services requires running a separate Email app. You can configure the Droid to poll email automatically. Android 2.0 also supports Exchange email.
Double-tap to zoom,
view Office downloads,
play YouTube videos
Quick Contact widget pop-up
As a PDA, the Droid has the Contacts and Calendar applications which sync with your online Google accounts. But it does not support syncing to desktop sources like Outlook. (It's not clear if there is a third-party solution, or a three-way sync using Google Calendar Sync to sync between Outlook and Google Calendar online.)
The new Quick Contact widget pops up when you touch contact photo or icon: tap to call, SMS, email, or map.
And the other two PDA functions that go back to the Palm Pilot are missing -- Tasks and Memos. There is a Google-developed Note Pad app that you can download from the Android Market, but no all-in-one desktop syncing capability.
PDAs also store and display Office documents, and the Droid has a somewhat hidden Quickoffice feature in the Browser app (but not available separately) that can display downloaded Word and Excel documents. There's also a version of DataViz Documents to Go in the Android Marketplace which can view Office documents, with a paid upgrade to view / edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and/or PDF documents.
There's no built-in desktop sync mechanism to manage and sync collections of documents or files with a computer -- although you can mount the Droid over USB as an external drive and just drag and drop files from your computer. The folder structure on the SD card is not typically visible in normal Android applications, but contains folders for each application, downloads, and for media collections (DCIM (photo), Music, Video)..
Maps app: Traffic Layer
Maps app: At My Location, Directions search
The Droid has both the cellular connection to local towers and the integrated GPS to determine your position and orientation. The Google Maps app offers "Layers" with traffic, satellite, and other information including Wikipedia and transit lines. But the big addition is the new Google Maps Navigation (in Beta), with free turn-by-turn voice navigation. This is amazingly responsive even though it needs to go online to pull down the map information as you are driving, scrolling smoothly to update as we passed though intersections and made turns.
It's even better as an aid to the non-driver navigator in the car, with options to zoom in and out on the route, display each stage of the route, including street view photos with superimposed turn arrows, and to bring up ancillary information like local businesses. There's also a separate Car Home app to quickly start navigation, including looking up contacts as destinations, and voice search.
You can also download third-party applications to monitor the GPS status and use the Droid as a compass and/or level.
These apps have options to not automatically dim the display as they keep updating the status, which means you do need to keep an eye on your battery usage.
Music app: Browse song
5 MP Camera with LED flash
Let's say that the Droid is adequate as a media player, since Google still is not focusing seriously on media playback in Android 2.0. It supports basic playback of common media formats (unprotected, without DRM).
There's a Music app that plays music, organized by artist, album, songs, and playlists (but not genre or style), with album cover display.
And there's a Gallery app that plays photos / slideshows and videos, shot by the built-in camera or downloaded to the SD card. This displays files by folders found on the card, without any other way of categorizing or organizing.
The Browser can play online videos from sites like YouTube. A separate YouTube app can search, play, and share online clips.
The Camera app uses the built-in 5 MP camera to shoot photos up to 5 MP (2592 x 1936, JPEG) and videos at 720 x 480, up to 24 fps (MPEG-4). The Droid has a LED flash, and the camera software supports auto flash, focus, scene mode, and white balance. However, the camera seems sluggish in use.
However, there's no separate Voice recorder app built in (though there are third-party applications).
The most glaring omission, however, is the ability to sync to a desktop media collection and/or browse and integrated online collection, as with Apple iTunes. Instead, you must manually transfer files via USB, sideload via microSD, or download from online, depending on the type of media and where you can find it. For example, you can use the built-in Amazon MP3 Store app to buy and download songs and albums. You also can set up the Droid as an external drive to sync music, with tools like Windows Media Player. And Motorola has Media Link PC software to sync music, playlists, photos, and videos, plus backup and upload online (www.motorola.com/medialink).
The Verizon Wireless Droid by Motorola is a full-QWERTY slider phone with a large high-res display and a 5 megapixel camera with LED flash. It features integrated Wi-Fi, and integrated GPS for location-aware searching and mapping. The Android 2.0 platform supports fully-integrated voice search and multi-tasking for clean background downloads.
It's priced at $199.99 with a new 2-year agreement and $100 rebate.