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Motorola Droid: Hardware Review

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 blank  – 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 become  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.

Continue reading on the Motorola Droid forums, see the specs, or find news and reviews.




  • Amar

    I cannot wait til someone roots this phone.

  • Darek

    app/memory issue seems like a huge bust. Any way anyone can find out what percentage of the iphones apps are over 10mb?

    @ 10MB a piece that’s only 25 apps for the droid memory. I think 25 apps isn’t very many, even though you’d likely be able to have more since lots of apps are smaller.

    Again, any percentages available for either app market/store and avg size of app or most used apps or something?

  • janus

    The european Version has Pinch Zoom. Take that America!
    No seriously! I feel very sorry for my american friends.
    Why isn’t there native Multitouch. How stupid are laws that allow a patent on Multitouch!?!?!
    Thats a real reason to dislike Apple. Come on you can license Hardware but not Inputmethods that’s just stupid!

  • janus

    @Amar
    we should donate money to cyanogen that he can buy a Droid.
    I can’t wait to see a Cyanogem-Mod on the Droid.
    This would be an iPhone competitor.

  • janus

    @Phandroid.com
    You’re awesome. Thanks for the great Review. Thanks for keeping us informed. You’re the best Androidpage there is!
    I love u!

  • Darek

    I agree with janus. Best android site.

    Now someone make me feel better about the app memory limitation.

  • michaelk

    do you really think the memory is a big deal- not being able to run software off the card? Isn’t it possible, like is done on so many other os’s, to put the program on the phone/primary parition and the data on the SD card/secondary partition? If myst has 1gb of CODE- then I think the authors should be beaten. Clearly most of that is some sort of data and coulld easily be placed on the sd card.

    Or does android not even allow access to the SD card for data?

  • Dave

    Would have been nice to see you actually try to type on the keyboard

  • Zalzadore

    I think michaelk has a point. Surely you only want the executable code on the phones memory and the data on the SD card. Most of the size of games is data.

  • Pablo

    The only thing that is required is that BINARIES are to be stored on the flash. Games and other “rich-media apps” could still place content on the SD card.
    Android already does it with voice :-) So no big problem really.

    Android not supporting sd app installation is IMHO still not excusable

  • bob

    great review rob

  • lostboykev

    The “Chin” you are describing is the location of antennas, for CDMA, wireless B/G, etc.

  • moz

    Just a point I’d like to make about the memory issue. Disclaimer: I am not a developer, I have never written an Android program, and the last time I wrote a computer program, BASIC roamed the earth.

    However, as I understand it, the issue is far, far less serious than it sounds. Yes, there is only 256mb for applications. No, you cannot store applications on the SD card (without rooting, and let’s consider that inapplicable to the casual user).

    That means nothing. The only item required to be in the on-board memory, as I have been told, and as I understand Google recommends, is the executable file, which commonly runs less than 1 mb. The first time the program loads, it can be programmed to download any other data needed (maps for GPS software, board levels and characters for a game, whatever) and save that to the SD card. As long as the user doesn’t take out the SD card, or copies the directories correctly to a new SD card, the user will never be affected by this limitation.

    Would it be nice to have 16 gigs of on-board memory and the 16 gb SD card? Of course. But look at the size of that thing…

  • moz

    Also, I have no idea if this is true or not, but I read that the “underbite” at the bottom of the phone is where they put all the antennas, and putting them anywhere else would have lowered call quality as the metal of the screen half would have interfered.

  • Chad`

    Ok lets talk about app storage. I had an iphone and I had 5 pages of apps. I only used about 5 of them all the time. I can deal with the small size for right now. Boohoo you cant play huge games on the phone. IT IS A PHONE. Go buy a PSP… I am just happy that Verizon will have a good phone. I cant wait to get rid of my storm.

  • Teemu

    Hi!

    What class is the default micro sd-card?

  • Wilko

    Phones looking nice, thanks for the long press on search, same on the hero and hadnt seen that function.

  • Walt

    Some thoughts on the keyboard. The Calgary appears to have the same two blank keys; maybe the blank keys allow moto to use the some of the same hardware?

    Even though the keyboard isn’t great, it has to be an upgrade for someone coming from a Titan, right?

  • Decon

    The memory issues is indeed problem. If moz speaks the truth well then it isn’t much of an issue :P Can anyone confirm or deny this?

  • moz

    Someone with a better understanding of Android than I have should check this website out in full, but I did find this sentence on on the Android website (go to android.com, Dev Guide tab, then click Data Storage under the Framework Topics heading):

    “You can store files directly on the mobile device or on a removable storage medium.”

  • MarvinAndroid

    @Moz I agree with you and I said something very similar on the Android Forums. Two examples of this are the Doom and Quake demos available on the Android Market. You basically install the game engine on the phone and the first time you run it, the software connects to a server somewhere and downloads the data files to your SD card. Problem solved, and it works great. I still think it would be best of the the devices themselves had more internal space to install apps… but clever developers can find their way around things like this. On the plus side… Android devices have removable storage which is a huge advantage over the I-phones I think.

  • MarvinAndroid

    Great review Rob! Thanks for covering all the areas and for your attention to detail. This wasn’t the first review out there… but it is possibly the most in depth and best put together.

  • Erassmy

    Can we have a side by side comparison between Motorola droid and HTC Droid Eric, so we can determine which is the best for our needs.
    Regards.
    Erassmy

  • Vincent Mac

    Rob, your concern about the “bouncing” screen on top of the keyboard has me concerned. Is this really as bad as it sounds? Is the screen that flexible that it’s touchs the keyboard underneath when you tap the touchscreen? Is this a manufacturing quality issue or just the way it’s designed? Do other sliders not do this? Want to know more before I buy it this weekend, may wait til they fix hardware issues if this is the case.

  • http://heavydutyhinges.com greg @ heavy duty hinges

    hey mate.. thanks for the terrific blog about this phone.. i have a phone like this but the keyboard is alot harder to get used to that the normal txt phones im sure ill get it though. the applications are great im just a little slow at the moment

  • Loophole

    I have a huge 7200 person contact database in my Outlook. will it be stored on the 16g chip for access by Outlook?

  • a

    Awesome review! Thanks.

  • Dale Strickland-Clark

    “discluded”? Do you just make up words when you can’t be bothered to think of the correct one? The English language has a rich variety of words and several would have been a perfect fit for your needs so you didn’t leave your reader with the puzzle of trying to work out what the hell you’re on about. Learn to use a dictionary, you inane, slackwitted numbskull.

  • viklove

    Great review, I accept your opinion, but work on your talking skills! Oh, and also, the 256 mb of memory you were talking about is not from the SD card, its from the RAM, which is different. So before you give a review for a product, you should know what you are talking about.

    The review was actually kind of pathetic.

  • Dave Hansan

    Great review. Does anyone know where I can find a 32 gig card for the Droid?

  • ashcanpete

    I like your review, its much more in depth and on point then most of the other ones out there. Just ordered my droid (switched from ATT) after reading your article.

    @viklove: you clearly didn’t read the article or don’t understand what onboard memory is.

    @Dale: Actually discluded is a word, just not the word he meant to use, I think. Regardless, you definitely need to relax, Dale.

    Anyway, I’m hoping the screen bouncing isn’t too bad, but the droid looks like a pretty amazing piece of hardware overall.

  • Mark

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about when you write about the screen coming into contact with the keyboard below when the four touch-sensitive buttons are pressed.

    There’s no way that’s happening with my Droid. It’s very solid.

    You should be getting some nice haptic feedback vibration when those keys are pressed. Could you be misinterpreting that vibration as actual movement of the screen against the keyboard?

  • Jason

    I had the same problem with my Droid slide not sitting snuggly to the lower keyboard. It was highly annoying b/c you could feel movement as you pressed on the touch screen as the review describes. I didn’t notice this problem until after I dropped it on the second day I had the phone. After carefully examining how the slide worked I decided to try a quick remedy. With the slide open I applied light even pressure on the four corners of the screen and then slid the phone shut again. I kept doing this and applying slightly more pressure. Eventually the gap went away. That was 4 days ago and still fine. I’m not sure if I was actually bending the screen(scary!!) or the supporting brackets. Either way, it corrected the issue for me.

  • Bill

    Main Entry: disclude
    Part of Speech: v
    Definition: to disclose, make known
    Etymology: Latin discludere ‘to shut apart’

    Next time look it up before you bash someone for their choice of word.

  • htx

    Thanks for the great reveiw. I was actually looking for the memory discussion as it related to the droid and your review gave an excellent picture of the issues. I couldn’t click into the battery discussion though – perhaps its my fault in some way. For those questioning memory issues, I am having problems with my normal unrooted hero where i can’t add more of those wonderful apps w/o deleting something. It is irritating. Those who don’t use many apps – no problem, but that isn’t a useful solution for those who do. So Yes, a general solution in the future is a good idea.
    And then the disclude discussion. from Ashcanpete’s comment, I think disclude was used to express that the chin is removed from the sprint model, no? – sort of from the older latin shut apart concept? Perhaps not, but Either way, it was heartening the really nice way you and Bill handled the obvious difficulties that befall Dale and in a smaller sense viklov. I was ready to go head on into battle with their inappropriate (mostly Dale’s) comments, but now have also relaxed myself! thanks! That said, the droid does appear to be awesome!

  • http://netsuccessprofits.com Tonedef

    Hi Guys and Gals. Im in a bit of a quandary. Im in the process of looking for a smart phone and would like your honest opinion as to whether to get an Iphone #GS 32GB or the Motorola Droid. Whats your honest opinion. What would be better?

  • http://netsuccessprofits.com Tonedef

    I meant to put 3GS sorry about that. 3Gs 32 GB Apple Iphone

  • http://yahoo.com ColdFusionFlashlight

    MY BIGGEST COMPLAINT: In the past few years I moved from Razer, to BlackBerry, to the Droid. I bought the Droid for the speed on the web, the 10,000 apps and assumed it would have most of the features of previous phones, since this was more “evolved.” BUT, along the way part of its brain shrunk. NO SPELL CHECK! Spell check has been around forever! What happened? Somebody, PLEASE HELP with this! Is there anything out there? I can’t wait for Droid-3. Might go back to BlackBerry. Any solutions?

    NOT A DEAL BREAKER: The pull out key pad’s too small for my man-fingers (size regular). I’m constanly hitting adjacent keys & having to back space – what a waste of real estate! (Even a penstylist easily slips off the slick, flat keypad.) Fortunatly, landscape touchpad fits my fingers a little better. This could be a deal breaker for others. MAKE SURE YOU TRY TYPING ON THE THING b4 you shell out the cash.

    PLEASE STOP WHINING: I miss the programble keys the BlkBerry had on its side that instantly took me to apps I needed fast and often.

    Droid is good, but it has some serious flaws that need to be addressed fast. If I let go of one tool, I want the next I use to work better, or as well as the one I just had.

  • Michael Husar

    When you take pictures, the only way I’ve found to transfer them to my computer is by emailing them. The only thing the USB connection seams to do is charge the battery. I claims to mount but you do not see the phones memory like you would with a memory stick. I have not tried removing the SD card and transfering it to a card slot on my computer. I’d need an adapter to do that since the card is smaller than any port I have.

  • Sean Pedersen

    Michael Husar:

    I’m not sure what you did but I accessed a photo I took last night from the SD card on the droid on my computer using the USB cable. Once you have mounted the SD card, you can bring up explorer (if in Winblows) and go to My Computer. The SD card will be in the list (it was e: for me). You just click on it. The photo I took was in the e:/DCIM/Camera directory. Not sure how much easier it could get.

  • John Williams

    This phone sucks. Balls. HUGE BALLS. If you like this phone you should have a dick shoved in your mouth

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