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.
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.
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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