Jan, 16 2015

Ever since the Motorola Droid was leaked it has been oozing elite Android goo all over eager onlookers and innocent botstanders. Sexy looks. Huge screen. Fast processor. Slideout keyboard. Compact body. The Motorola Droid was going to have it ALL… right? For the most part, but when expectations are in another orbit, realistic reviews would inevitably have to bring the mortal object back to smartphone earth.

The Motorola Droid isn’t the Android God you may have prayed for… but at this particular point in time it is undoubtedly King of the Robot Hill:

Screen Of Beauty
The primary reason the Motorola Droid is immediately catapulted to the top of the Android Phone heap is its gorgeous capacitive touchscreen. At 3.7-inches it becomes the largest screen of any Android Phone on the market (on launch day). Whether or not you think “Size Matters” the Droid goes well beyond big: perhaps more importantly, it is robust. The pixels are sharp, the resolution is fine and the colors ring true. When the brightness is turned to the max it is indeed very bright, but doesn’t accomplish the feat with glowing exaggeration of tints and tones. The Droid lets the screen clarity speak for itself… and we like what it has to say.

Keyboard Of Concessions
I consider myself a hardware keyboard kind of guy. I love them. The Verizon Voyager may have flubbed up as a phone but I still maintain that its keyboard was nothing short of fantastic. The T-Mobile G1 took a little getting used to but 1-year in I’m as quick and efficient on the QWERTY as ever before. I fully expected the Droid keyboard to meet and exceed my previous favorites but I’m sorry to say it did not.

The keyboard was still usable and effective just nothing to brag about and if I had to choose between the Droid or G1 keyboard I would easily pick the G1. The problem with the keyboard comes down to a matter of priorities. Motorola wanted the phone to be super thin and it is – at .5-inches thick it is only .02 inches thicker than the iPhone 3GS. Motorola wanted an incredibly classy sliding mechanism and the Motorola Droid has that – the screen confidently slides open and matter-of-factly clicks into place. In these departments it handles its business incredibly well – or as business people might say, “buttoned up.” In doing so, Motorola seems to have either made concessions in other areas or perhaps just decisions that don’t tickle my fancy.

A few things I don’t enjoy about the keyboard:

  • 4 Rows instead of 5 means using the “ALT” button whenever you want to enter numbers
  • Flat keys make it harder on your fingers to find their stroke
  • Keyboard isn’t offset – the one time having all your ducks in a row is a bad thing
  • Lack of spacing between keys increases potential for typos
  • Lower left and lower right keys are blankĀ  – what’s up with that?

Despite the above drawbacks the keyboard is suprisingly clicky and gives a nice feeling when characters are pushed in.

Touchscreen/Keyboard – Bridging The Gap
There are two totally different “gaps” I’d like to discuss. So do you want the good news or the bad news first? The good news? Okay you got it.

The Good News
The Motorola Droid is for people who like, want and need a hardware keyboard. The Motorola Droid is also for people who hate hardware keyboards and only want to use the touchscreen. Think about it – the main complaint of hardware keyboard’s is that they add unnecessary bulk when the user prefers a software keyboard anyway. Well in this case, just pretend it isn’t there… after all it realy isn’t any thicker than the iPhone 3GS and we all know THAT form factor. And if you DO want a hardware keyboard its waiting there for you to fondle. Whether you’re a member of the touchscreen only camp or hardware keyboard clan, the Droid suits both parties equally well. Especially because the landscape software keyboard ROCKS.

The Bad News
Over the course of using the Motorola Droid for a few days I noticed an actual (and slight) physical gap between the sliding touchscreen and QWERTY keyboard underneath. That in and of itself isn’t really a big deal – most QWERTY sliders have some space out of necessity. What was kind of irritating is the further you move from the upper right the touchscreen there is a noticeable give/bounce to it due to the space. I’m not sure I would consider this a threat to the phone’s durability, but it definitely provides an inconsistent touchscreen experience depending on which part of the touch screen you pres. It also affects the next item on our list…

Touch Sensitive Back/Menu/Home/Search Buttons
I consider(ed) myself a hardware keyboard guy so its probably not surprising that I would have preferred hardware keys here. A couple people also mentioned that they missed the inclusion of a dedicated call/end key, but I consider all of the above matters mere opinion. For the most part the keys worked as they should have but I can’t help but feel that the “gap” problem mentioned above caused some inconsistencies.

When pressing any of the 4 touch sensitive buttons you could feel the screen “give” below you. While I can’t be 100% sure this was the cause for some non-responsive presses – glitchy software or user error are certainly possibilities – the fact that I could feel the screen tapping down against the QWERTY below felt unnatural and was thus immediately blamed.

The touch sensitive keys and the full QWERTY Keyboard team up for another round of trouble making in the lighting department. Both appropriately have back-lighting so you can see the illuminated characters on them when its dark and are trying to type. Unfortunately the back-lighting turns off after 5-seconds of inactivity and its impossible to reset this figure to a longer length of time. Typing an angry Email and trying decide how to be tactful? Don’t think too long or you’ll be left in the dark.

And by the way… the dedicate search key? Make sure you HOLD IT DOWN and try out the VOICE SEARCH. Its a truly awesome feature and if you speak clearly, Google gets an astounding amount of your voice searches right. Who needs a software keyboard OR a hardware keyboard when you’ve got this feature?

The Storage Dilemma
At some point this issue is going to HAVE to be addressed – the Motorola Droid has only 256MB of memory on which it can store applications and it CANNOT run applications off the SD Card. To the casual consumer: fear not – this means almost nothing as you’ll have plenty of room to download and use dozens of applications and games from Android Market. But for the greater good of the platform and its growth over the coming year its an important issue.

Of course you could “root” your phone and accomplish the AppsToSD feat but the problem is much bigger. Most consumers WON’T root their phone and probably don’t and never will know what the heck rooting is. With the vast majority of Android phone owners having a 256MB app storage limit, developers and game makers have very little incentive to create software that even approaches 200MB. And as we know, games like Myst that weigh in near 1GB are already being accessed on the iDon’t. Probably not the best time to place that pun as in this department its definitely an iDo.

This storage issue shouldn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of the Motorola Droid or Verizon Wireless as every single Android Phone to date has suffered the same fate. There are two solutions:

  1. Manufacturers increase the on-board storage
  2. Google includes the ability for Android to run applications from the SD card

It’s a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation. The manufacturer COULD increase internal storage but has little need to since the applications on Android Market are limited in size. If Google would include the capability for Apps to run from the SD card it would spur development of larger apps/games but that would also inherently obsolete the basic need to increase on board storage to run large apps/games.

I would think/assume that Google is currently working on an AppsToSD type solution but the legal ramifications and infrastructure implications could be huge. They need to get it right the first time or they could open a HUGE can of worms. I’m perfectly fine with them playing the patience card. But in the meantime I wouldn’t fuss if a manufacturer decided to hook up the goods. The Motorola Droid doesn’t make that leap but I really don’t think you can fault them for that… in the grand scheme of things there is very little to gain when looking at the mainstream success of the device.

And for the “beginners” wondering what this means about all their music, pictures and videos? This is a totally separate issue. You have a 16GB memory card that comes with the phone and you can increase that to 32GB should you so desire – you’ve got PLENTY of room for your multimedia, you simply can’t run Android Applications directly from this memory card.

The Design
There are two main complaints you’re guaranteed to hear when inspired mobile lovers critique the Motorola Droid:

  1. The gold accents are hideous
  2. Why didn’t they make the touchscreen flush with the bottom half of the phone?

Everyone hated the HTC Hero chin… until of course they discluded it on the Sprint HTC Hero and then the masses were suddenly clamoring for more. I think Motorola/Verizon used Gold to be a bit daring and different while trying to remain classy, business and upscale. You might hate it now but I think they pulled it off rather well. It’s not what I would have personally chosen but its growing on me and I can safely say that I personally think its kind of attractive. And no, I’m not wearing any beer goggles.

If HTC has “The Chin” then perhaps the Motorola Droid’s lower face should be called “The Jaw” or “The Underbite”. Was this a design decision? Perhaps. My guess is that they COULD have pulled off a flush face but would have had to make concessions elsewhere – probably in thickness. Think about it – underneath the touchscreen and underneath the microphone are hardware guts that are necessary. If the top half were flush it would cover the microphone or other logistical issues would come into play. I’m completely 100% guessing here but I think its an engineering necessity that they creatively turned into a bold design statement.

Any way you carve the pumpkin, I think the Motorola Droid is an incredibly attractive phone that really shines.

The Essentials
There isn’t much to say about the Micro-USB port, volume rocker and 3.5mm headset jack. Well… the last one is pretty awesome, but this should have becomeĀ  a standard inclusion on mobile phones years ago. Really glad to see this is included. The audio quality of both the headset and the speakerphone was wonderful – the speaker got pretty darn loud on full blast and while I initially thought the multimedia dock was a no-go for me, the speaker volume and clarity has me rethinking that pre-decision.

What Are We Forgetting?
You’re probably wondering how I’m such a doofus and forgot something as vital as the 1400 mAh battery or the 5MP camera. Well you’re wrong… I didn’t forget… its just that these are two particular features of the hardware that deserve their own attention so click to read on:

  • Motorola Droid: Camera Review
  • Motorola Droid: Battery Life Review

The Bottom Line
Could it be better? Sure. Is it already awesome? Absolutely. The Motorola Droid is large and powerful yet nimble and versatile. With the ability to please a wide variety of tastes – even those of opposing preferences (keyboards anyone?)- the Motorola Droid is an ambitious attempt at creating the market’s best Android-powered phone… not to mention a successful one.

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