Motorola Droid: Software Review

The Motorola Droid isn’t only the first Android Phone for Verizon Wireless but also the first Android Phone for any carrier running Android 2.0 – the latest and greatest version of Google’s mobile device operating system. When it was announced last week we highlighted the new 2.0 features, but this is our first time testing it out.

One of the main updates from Android 1.x to 2.x is how the platform handles contacts and communication. Understanding their are a multitude of mediums with which we interact, Google tries their best to consolidate this information, making our social/business lives easier and more efficient to manage. In some regards, they’re beginning to tread on the territory of HTC’s Sense and Motorola’s BLUR, both of which focus on optimizing flows of communication.

Let’s take a closer look:

Brand new in Android 2.0 on the Motorola Droid is a closely knit Facebook integrations as seen in the video above. When you use your phone for the first time it will request access to your GMail account (required), Facebook account, and you can also add Corporate Email information.

The Facebook integration is fantastic as it attempts to correlate the contacts in your Facebook account with the contacts in your GMail/phonebook, and when contact information lines up, it merges the information. It also pulls profile pictures from Facebook to give your contact list a MUCH more polished feel RIGHT off the bat. And don’t worry – Android 2.0 allows you to separate your Facebook contacts from your phonebook contacts and customize what you see and where you see it depending on your needs.

The Facebook Widget is pretty cool as well, right? This Facebook integration gives some other home screen shortcuts funcitonality boosts too – thanks to the account syncing, when you add a Contact, Direct Dial or Direct Message to your homescreen you can see their profile picture, clearly distinguishing the recipient and just giving the home screen a better look in general.

If you ask me, the most SWEEPING changes in Android 2.0 are invisible and the effects are yet to come. That’s right, we’re talking about new APIs and Syncing Adapters that will allow 3rd party developers to build a new level of functionality into their applications.

Software Keyboard Heaven
I’m a hardware keyboard kind of guy but I can’t stress enough how much I LOVE the landscape software keyboard of the Motorola Droid. At times I would certainly prefer to use the hardware version but the new keyboard layout combined with the 3.7-inch touchscreen has me wondering if I’ll prefer a hardware keyboard much longer. And depending on the other advantages of a Touchscreen only Sholes, I would consider opting for that if it existed. But I’m not going to wait until forever to get the perfect phone on Verizon, instead I’ll settle for the best phone on the market right freaking now. As I said in the hardware review, its not like the hardware keyboard hurts.

The portrait software keyboard is a totally different story. With narrow buttons and anything above small hands, using the horizontal software keyboard is tough enough and if you’re multi-tasking it would be pure disaster. The problem is compounded by the fact that Google doesn’t allow alternative layouts in the settings… like T9 or something else that could take the screen real-estate into consideration a bit better. There ARE alternatives you can download from Android Market but many times they come with a price – like Better Keyboard which costs about $3. Not too bad for a huge bump in portrait typing effectivness.

Keep in mind this is mainly a Droid thing and perhaps should be considered a hardware advantage… if the screen wasn’t 3.7-inches I wouldn’t be bragging.

Combined Inbox
Another hint that Google takes from HTC Sense and Motorola Blur is a combined inbox that allows you to view Email and messages from MULTIPLE accounts in ONE source. You are able to add multiple exchange accounts and multiple GMail accounts to Android 2.0 but you can only add 1 Facebook account. So if you maintain an FB account for your dog, your business or your imaginary friend… you’re SOL.

I also learned that you’re outta luck if you have Yahoo! Mail. While my Yahoo Mail syncs perfectly fine on my G1 and was entered directly through the Android interface, I could NOT get it to work on my Motorola Droid despite trying a billion times. I checked with a Verizon rep who claimed support for Yahoo Email syncing in Android 2.0 doesn’t exist. Seems plausible and also incredibly crappy. I said in my video, “I guess I should be using GMail anyways” and perhaps that is exactly why Google made the shift. Or maybe Yahoo! took it away but that would seem like a bad move, although I know they’re trying to push their $19.99/year “Plus” accounts which could be the cause.

Searching SMS/MMS
I don’t know HOW many times I’ve wanted to search my Emails or MMS/SMS on my phone and haven’t been able to. I’m not sure if I could pinpoint an exact time or thing I’ve wanted to search… only that I tried to do it and realized I couldn’t, becoming insanely irritated in the process. You CAN do this in Android 2.0 on the Motorola Droid which is a huge relief.

THE LAG…. and Media, Camera, Google Nav
Yes… the homescreen has lag. Compared to the G1 it seems to switch between homescreens with significantly less zip. At times the OS skipped a beat when performing more complex operations like working the digital camera or searching for directions in Google Navigation. It could be lack of efficiency in Android 2.0. It could be that the powerful processor still isn’t enough to catch up to the needs of the 3.7-inch screen. Whatever it is, the problem isn’t so big that it ruins or even drastically changes the enjoyment of the device. This is the same sort of thing that happened when the HTC Hero first launched and when a OTA update came out, all was solved. I would expect the same to happen here.

If the Android 2.0 Media Player got any updates… I didn’t notice. It still absolutely stinks. In addition to just straight up looking terrible the management of playlists is horrendous and it is lacking an intuitive approach. Hopefully Google will get someone on this ASAP because people are finally starting to use their mobile phone’s as their primary media player and a few small things are holding them back.The Media Player App is one of them and the inability to sync without purchasing an expensive 3rd party app is another.

[VIDEO COMING SOON]

I didn’t spend long looking at the Media Player because… there wasn’t much to look at:

The biggest addition to Android 2.0 was – by far – Google Navigation. I completed a standalone review of Google Navigation because it deserves attention and its stuff that you definitely want to see. Check that out along with a review of the Motorola Droid Camera which comes with a TON of picture samples.

The Bottom Line
Android 2.0 makes a few HUGE leaps and overall is an overwhelming success. Google Navigation leads the way and account syncing, camera improvements and minor UI adjustements follow right behind. But the destination of Android 2.0 is even more exciting as Google has included APIs that will help bring additional functionalities and capabilities to the Motorola Droid over the coming months and years.

Of course everyone knows with the acceleration of hardware you don’t have “years” to wait… at this time next year you’ll have your Droid in hand waiting for a Droid 2.0 and Android 3.0 review to drop, waiting for a Phandroid’s take so you can decide whether or not to buy!

The Droid would have been the best Android Phone on the market even with Android 1.6… 2.0 is like using steroids… its not even fair. Sure we would love to see some improvements around other much needed parts (media player!) but all in good time, I suppose.

[PS: its tough to do software reviews with out showing you guys TMI!]

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  • AndroidFan

    Can I borrow some of your friends? You have a ton and I have a little. Great review.

  • http://marsmoney.blogspot.com/ Marco

    Hello Rob,
    Is there better Google voice integration in android 2.0, or are we stuck with the Google voice app that’s out in the market? It would be nice if we were able to receive google voice SMS through the native sms program.

  • TRICHEBOARS

    i want twitter integrated into android 2.0 contacts. guess i will have to get a crappy facebook account.

  • Frank

    One of the Engadget guys were absolutely insistent in their latest podcast that the Droid does not have multi-touch in any way, shape or form, even in the keyboard. I’m wondering if you’re really able to hit two keys at once and hold them both down. Could you confirm or deny this?

  • Will

    At 3:30 in the video, does anyone else get a weird video/audio overlap?

  • Mike

    @Will Yeah, I did. It seemed like the review of the contacts got a little cut off by it.

    Excellent review though, looking forward to getting my hands on this device.

  • gwlaw99

    for music syncing you can use doubletwist for free

  • john

    i would love a better media player. But i also hate it that google uses customization as a flag for their android os, and you can’t really customize the phone to look better, i belive it is missing that and they should add it. We would love it.

  • David

    I thought I saw somewhere (I think it was Google’s Android 2.0 conf video) that you could go to your contacts list and then just “DRAW – SPELL” out the letters of the contact and it would jump right to it. I.e. if wanting to go to Eric, just draw out an “e”.

    Anyone know if this is true on the Droid?

  • J

    question regarding the facebook integration: if android is unable to auto-match contacts (due to different names, etc) can you manually link contacts one by one?

  • Francis

    As a small business owner that uses my phone for both pleasure AND business, I’m very interested in a couple business related features.

    1) Any changes and updates to the calendar setup in Android 2.0?

    2) We’ve seen how cool the combining of inboxes can be to put an exchange account and a gmail account together….. BUT what if you have already done that in gmail with labels/folders?

    Currently my one gmail account is the central aggregation point for THREE OTHER email addresses, each with its own email and all three of them SKIPPING the inbox and going straight to a label/folder. (I then use the labs feature for multiple inboxes to display them right below the normal inbox).

    How does Android 2.0 handle labels in gmail???????

    3) Email through exchange is a push service. But for everything else, including on the go access, gmail does things exchange could only DREAM of doing. Would I be absolutely dreaming to think or hope that gmail is now a PUSH service to the Android 2 dot O?

    4) YAY, contacts from multiple sources sync in… BUT say I do have a business exchange server running and a google account…. if I hit “add a new contact”, WHERE does that new contact go to?

  • Nicholas

    So, Android 2.0 automatically integrates Facebook contacts with phone contacts, but does it do the same for Facebook calendar events or do we have to use fbCal?

    Also, is there any chance of writing a comparison between Android 2.0 and Maemo 5 (when the Nokia N900 is finally released)? Thanks

  • mulda71

    at this point, why isnt there any video of the eris yet?

  • Joe

    Do browser bookmarklets work in the Android 2.0 browser?

  • Edison Harris

    Rob, are you a nocturnal college student? 4am sheesh!

  • Edison Harris

    Nice review, by the way.

  • Ian

    I was bummed that with that aditional home screen resolution you still only had a 4×4 grid for shortcuts and widgets.

  • Nighthawk700

    On-screen keyboard question… I got to touch a Droid in the Verizon store for about 3 minutes (was running to pick my daughter up from school) When I made a mistake and tried backspace/delete, the cursor got all out of whack. Did you have any problems with this, or is it something I might have done wrong? (there was a ziptie holding the Droid shut, so I couldn’t try the hardware keyboard).

  • ck

    I agree with J, can you manually link up your contacts with their Facebook profiles? I haven’t had much luck so far.

  • Dave Hansen

    I just purchased the Droid and I love except for the media player. It truely does suck. It links to my iTunes library but only shows a fraction of the album artwork and there’s no EQ setting. If anyone can help please let me know of a good third party app that I can download. Thanks!

  • Red

    To manually link a contact with their facebook profile, rename the contact to include their first and last name to match the facebook profile.

    If you really want to call them something else, you can rename the contact after the profile is linked.

  • regreta

    Finally managed to load my 12G itunes music library on my droid. To finally acheive this, I’ll shout from any mountain top: DOUBLE TWIST Rules!

    But there are a couple of things you should know:

    DoubleTwist is working on enabling sync for mac users. So if you’re like me, that would require you to drag and drop each song/file into DW by hand. There was no way I was going to do that with our massive library.

    So, I had to dust off my old xp box and hope shared libraries from our macs would be accessible on the xp box. Since they weren’t, I had to load our itunes backup onto my xp box. From there, DoubleTwist worked to flawlessly and speedily sync my entire music library to my droid.

    After I worked through a few of my kinks, DoubleTwist proved itself to be an elegant solution to a problem none of us should have to endure, imho.

    Sound quality seems excellent. (Was worried about this because some people said that the conversion from itunes would compromise quality.) But if vzw/moto/google really want an “iPhone killer,” they really should make this process easier for average users and, for the love of god, IMPROVE THE MEDIA PLAYER!!!!!

    Now for the rant: Dear Apple: iQuit! I’ve paid you thousands of dolars for hardware and music files, and might have bought an iphone if you hadn’t tried to force me into a contract with the WORST wireless carrier in my town, so I have to spend an entire swunday resurrecting a 7-year old xp box from retirement to do a job my $3k mbp should have handled in seconds! Hey Apple, you suck!

  • David

    bummer! can’t find a way to tie to outlook 07! (not exchange) This is key for a small business with website and email address that matches. Can’t really make the move to gmail. HELP!

  • Terry

    Actually you can move your email indipendently from your host to Google Apps. I did that myself from GoDaddy, they still hosts my website and Google Apps hosts my email. Works just fine with my Droid.

    You could also use Gmail to retrieve and send your email from your business email address. Nobody would know the difference because everything would still go through your original email address with gmail sending and recieving them. I did this for a friend who didn’t want the hassel of changing email addresses. That also worked very well.

  • The Mandroid

    Email App Hang and Push email from Exchange 2007 Issues?

    Let me start by saying this is the best smart phone I have ever had. Of course there are problems but all but one (hardware keyboard design) can be fixed with software patches.

    These are the main problems I have been having.

    1. I have had to force quit the email app many times, usually when the app is in the background.

    2. Yesterday the phone lost all email settings and when I launched the email app the phone prompted me to set up an account?

    3. Push from our company’s Exchange 2007 server works when it wants to. (This is definitely a big problem being in my position; I need to get email alerts immediately) Most of the time to receive new email I have to refresh the account I hope there is a fix soon. I am a system admin for my company and personally set up the Exchange 2007 server. The server works solid with iPhones, WinMo phones, and even “plays” well with our BES server. I don’t believe this problem is just a case of a misconfiguration on either the phone or Exchange side.

    Is anyone else having these issues? Does anyone have any suggestions or solutions to these issues? Also is there anyway to get spell check for email, it is imperative in most corporate environments.

    I also see that the “FIX” will come out after most droid owners 30 day return period is up. How convenient.

  • LOST EMAIL SETTINGS

    I also just lost ALL my email settings. Had a private POP account and corporate Outlook Exchange account set up on my phone and was working BEAUTIFULLY, but went to check my mail and NO SIGN OF EITHER ACCOUNT!!! This is NOT cool!

  • j

    Also just lost all my email settings.

    Had exchange, gmail,and hotmail setup and working since two plus weeks ago. Went to check at lunch and all gone.

    WTF!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.algadon.com Chris

    I am interested to know about the bookmarklets too if anyone knows how to use them with the Android browser…

  • gary

    please help me take my itune on my droid pleas?

  • e-free

    How can I sync Microsoft Outlook Contacts/Calendar etc., without having to go through Gmail?

  • e-free

    I used the palm website article ID: 810930-How to import address book from Palm desktop to Outlook- but the info from my Treo 650 contacts did not transfer into the contacts.csv file as it is in the treo, and some info did not transfer from the .csv files to the phone portal on the Moto Milestone. I am able to get around gmail, but now have to redo it all some how to get all of the info, or manually input the missing data. I just did not want all of my contact info on a Gmail server. I just want to sync with my pc. The other info I will run through gmail. Any ideas?

  • Rowland

    Are they ever going to have voice dial from bluetooth. With all the new laws regarding cell phone usage coming out I think this would be a very important issue!

  • Etascott

    You can link your yahoo account. I found a guide. Just google it. You have to manually do it though. Is not hard at all.

  • rotto

    Im searching for a solution for the Outlook exchange issue with the Droid. As Mandroid wrote back in Nov, 2009 he couldn’t figure out how to get Outlook exchange to work…i too have used the IT department which has many different platforms of phones using Outlook and still today NO SOLUTION for the Droid. Of course by 30 day return is over so i’m going to set up a site that will let Droid purchasers know that the Droid CAN’T WORK IN AN OUTLOOK environment. there are no visible solutions being presented anywhere. the Droid market site has nothing to offer. BTW, my Iphone took 5 minutes to set up

  • Gregg

    It would really be nice if the Droid allowed you to see the Contacts by Groups as in Google. I spent hours categorizing my contacts and then on the Droid they are just alphabetical and I can not even change it to be alpha by last name rather than first. Biggest thing would be to be able to see the groups as alist and then let me pick the list and dial.

  • Patrick kenneth

    how to setup microsoft outlook in motorola cliq-andriod

    please send the answer into my email as soon as possible

    @ cybervakenneth@gmail.com

  • Matt

    My Droid routinely erases my *entire contacts list* and deletes my email settings. And, there is no spell check in the email. Buyer beware! Some parts of the software are HORRIBLE.