There seems to be a whole lot of buzz surrounding the new Motorola Droid phone, so much so in fact that people are now referring to it as the “iPhone Killer”. With all that hype I just had to check one out for myself and try to answer the question; does it have what it takes to knock the iPhone off it’s perch as the coolest phone on the market? Since I’m including it in my Black Friday series for the WBIR Morning Show, you have probably already guessed that I like it… but just how much do I like it? Let’s take a look around the device and see what it’s strengths and weaknesses (Hint: there aren’t many) are, and I’ll let you decide for yourself.
What did you say?
Before we dive in, lets take a quick vocabulary break, as this has the potential to get a little confusing. Android is an operating system, designed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance, to run on phones and like devices… much the same way Microsoft Windows runs on your PC. Droid actually refers to a model of phone manufactured by Motorola and is currently available on the Verizon network in the US. So, while there are several phones on the market running Android, there is only one Droid phone.
Now that we’ve got that cleared up, I know there is another question looming in everyone’s mind… YES, there is a fart app. Moving right along.
It slices, it dices!
Lets cut right to the chase. From a feature standpoint, there was nothing I wanted the Droid to do that it couldn’t do. The Droid can be configured to check multiple email accounts, including your corporate Microsoft Exchange account (Android 2.0 supports this natively now), and then leaves it up to you whether you want see all those emails in a combined inbox or in separated mailboxes… and you can easily change this view at any time. In the combined mailbox configuration, email accounts are assigned a different color flag which is displayed to the left of each message, so even though all the emails are displayed at the same time you can still decipher which account the message came in on.
Composing emails can be done with an onscreen keyboard in either portrait or landscape layout, however if you don’t particularly care for the touch screen, slide it over and there is a keypad underneath (although, call me crazy, but I swear I can’t find the question mark on the keypad). This is a particularly nice feature as some people seem to just not quite get the hang of the onscreen keyboard. I would suggest that new users at least give it a shot though, as the word recognition seems to be pretty intelligent at determining what it is you were meaning to type… even if you fat finger the word pretty badly, and doing so in portrait mode is really the only way the phone can realistically be operated with one hand.
If you are using an Exchange account, all your contacts and calendar events can by synced to the phone in one easy step, which greatly simplifies day one of using your phone. You will note, however, that you now have a “Corporate Calendar” and a “Calendar”. The “Corporate Calendar” is obviously the one from your Exchange environment.
Surfing the internet is extremely easy as a Google search bar is built right in to the home screen. Tap twice and your recent searches are displayed. Favorites can be saved and placed right on the desktop as well, so you can quickly get to the websites you visit often. Non-mobile enabled websites render very well in the built in browser, and while the zoom feature is nice, I will admit it’s not quite as sexy as the iPhones’ two finger zoom in / out feature. Zooming is done by double-tapping the screen and selecting the zoom in / out button for the function you’re after. The browser will also log in to Google Wave as well, despite there being pretty stern sounding warning that it is not yet supported on the Android browser (apparently this is possible on the iPhone as well). While I was playing around with Wave on the Droid, the browser did crash a few times during certain actions, so clearly this is still being sorted out, but the mobile version of the page promises to be very user friendly and easy to navigate.
These days, everyone is concerned about the amount of apps that are available for a particular phone, and this is certainly an area where the Droid doesn’t leave anything on the table. Verizon claims there are over 10,000 apps for the Droid, and while I didn’t count them all, I can say there are a LOT of them out there. Android has a “market”, which is similar in functionality to the Apple App Store, that allows you to download apps and install them to your phone (which, like the App Store, may be free or have a small fee associated). One edge the Droid has over the iPhone (unless of course you want to void your warranty by jail breaking the phone) is that you don’t have to get your apps from the Android Market… you can download them from anywhere. I personally appreciate the openness of this platform in that light, however users need to be aware that installing apps that aren’t written very well could cause overall stability issues. All the popular apps; like Facebook, Twitter (checkout Twidroid), Pandora radio, YouTube, and so on, are readily available from the Market… some even come pre-installed on the phone (like Facebook and YouTube). Want to tether your phone to your laptop so you can surf the internet there (queue famous and now trademarked slogan regarding apps)? Check out an app call PdaNET.
An app that really stood out to me as a “game changer” was the total integration with Google Voice. If you haven’t checked Google Voice out yet you should really give it a look. The service allows you to consolidate all your phone numbers in to one number which can then forward to all your phones should you choose to set it up that way. The (free) service also provides visual voicemail and call blocking just to name a few. With the Android phones, you can configure the dialer to dial out as your Google Voice number or your actual cell number and there are no extra apps to launch before dialing… just open your address book and call someone. This is a great improvement over Google Voice integrations I’ve seen with other phones out there (read: Blackberry and iPhone). Additionally, the integration can be configured where it does not even prompt you, it simply dials everything through Google Voice (or not at all).
GPS / Navigation, while not singular to Android phones, is also another cool feature of the device and one of the more impressive apps. Using the maps from Google Maps, and audible turn-by-turn directions, it is as good or better than any of the dedicated GPS units on the market today. Turn on the satellite layer and zoom in and it will take you all the way to “street view” where the image on the screen is literally what you’re seeing out our windshield (FYI, this image doesn’t advance forward as you drive, you actually have to zoom back out to continue with the visual navigation. I would venture a guess that as hardware and connection speeds increase, this will be changed). Pretty amazing stuff really… so much so, it could be a little dangerous! I’m kind of a map geek anyway, so playing with all the functionality is best done in the parking lot… or the passenger seat. Oh, and by the way… because I know someone will ask, I had my wife drive me around while I was jumping between nav views and grabbing screenshots. I was not operating a vehicle AND doing all that at the same time. I have to draw the line somewhere. Note to entrepreneurs out there; someone make a windshield mounted holder for the Droid like all the other GPS units have and you’ll make some sales I promise (I require a 10% royalty fee for the idea though). In addition to driving routes, you can also search walking routes, bus routes, find local favorite restaurants, movie theatres… you name it.
…But is it the iPhone killa?
I could go on and on about the features, but really, you get the idea. The phone is awesome. So how does it stack up against the iPhone? In my opinion it fares very well against the iPhone. It might not be as rounded, and some would argue it is not as pleasing to the eye; but does it do everything that the iPhone does? Absolutely yes. Would this be a good alternative to the iPhone to people who want better coverage than AT&T has to offer? I mean, after all, Verizon is going to great lengths to tell everyone their network is better (to which I would agree). Absolutely yes. So will the Droid knock the iPhone off its perch as the coolest phone in the land?? No. Why? Because in my opinion there is so much more to the iPhone than just the device. I think people who make statements like that miss the fact that Apple turns each of it’s products into a franchise. Their marketing people are geniuses, their brand recognition is off the charts, and THAT is something that can’t be outdone by simply releas
ing a device that “does the same thing”. Six months (or less) from now there will be another phone, by a different name, and probably running Android, that will hit the market… all the while, there will always be an iPhone. Is it possible that the sum of all Android phones sold will be greater than that of iPhone sales? Absolutely… unless of course Apple adds more networks to the fold and then I would say you can forget it. 😉
Should you check out the Droid if you’re considering the iPhone? YES!
Okay, so let’s talk price. As of this writing, the Droid can be had for $199 with a mail-in rebate and a contract commitment. The plans for the phone start out around $69 a month ($39 / month voice plan + $30 / month data plan), which lines it up exactly with the 16GB 3GS iPhone (which I might add here that the Droid comes with 16GB of storage but is upgradable… try THAT with an iPhone. Oh yeah, and you can replace the battery yourself instead having to send it off).
That’s what I think… what do YOU think?
— Dan Thompson
P.S. Special thanks to my friends over at Cellular Sales for hooking me up with a Droid to demo… I promise I’ll give it back one day.