Google is now in your phone (or in my phone, at any rate)! After a rocky start – bricking my device after two days – I’ve now had a functional Motorola/Verizon Droid™ phone for a week.
I’ve occasionally lamented that many organizations looking at the mobile world have forgotten there are phones other than the iPhone (Read the post). Google is certainly looking to change that perception.
The Droid is the current top of the line device running Google’s Android operating system. It represents the greatest threat to the dominance of the iPhone on the market today. I come to my Droid from a Windows Mobile device rather than an iPhone, but the real decision for most people considering the Droid is the choice between the Droid and the iPhone, so I’ll do my best to frame my comparisons in that way.
The overall phone experience really comes down to a few key components: the network, the device, the software and the overall experience.
The network is the single biggest strike against the iPhone today. I moved to Verizon years ago because of network coverage and quality, both locally and nationally, and my opinion on both has not changed. This is the one reason why I never moved to the iPhone. Despite an aggressive campaign by AT&T extolling the virtues of its 3G experience, it can’t overcome the complaints of my co-worker who routinely misses calls on his iPhone when at his desk.
While it lacks the distinctive look of the iPhone, the Droid is an incredible device. The form factor is slightly more natural as a phone than the iPhone (which I find to be a little wide to be comfortable, particularly with a protective cover). The screen is gorgeous compared to my old HTC phone, but isn’t significantly better or worse than what the iPhone offers. The phone itself is heavier than I expected and feels very solid.
The thing I like best about the Droid is the full slide-out keyboard. I liked my old keyboard better, but this is still far better than not having one. I’m becoming more comfortable with the on-screen typing option and use it regularly for quick items, but when composing emails or working with a document, I bring out the keyboard every time. I think this is something I would have missed had I given it up.
The Droid sports a 5mp camera, although I’ve had some difficulty getting it to focus crisply. The battery is also replaceable, so you can carry a spare if you’ll be unable to charge for a long time. Battery life is highly variable depending on what you’re doing (more on that in a little bit). Audio quality is good both for handheld mode and on speaker, although music quality is better served through external speakers or headphones.
The Software – Google Android
Android is very well done, with only a few rough spots that show this is still a first generation device compared to the iterations that Apple has under its belt.
My single favorite feature of the Droid is the native Google Maps implementation. I’m a Google Maps addict. I used it so much on my old phone that I remapped a button to bring it up. On Android, it’s a whole different experience.
To begin, mapping works as it does online or on other phones’ Google Maps implementation. There is support for layers (map, satellite imagery, traffic reporting and streetview) along with the ability to generate directions for drivers, walkers or public transit.
Droid takes Maps to a whole new level with turn-by-turn audio navigation — comparable to a stand-alone car GPS unit — and voice recognition for finding places (along with the full power of Google’s search engine). Most importantly, Google maps is pervasive – loads of other applications use it because it is baked into Android. This last point can’t be stressed enough — Droid is brimming with location aware and mapping-enabled apps that all run off of this same platform.
Android also supports apps running in the background, which is an issue on the iPhone. It’s great that I can leave my Twitter client running and swap between apps as I work. But it’s also important to shut things down as some of those background apps can take a real toll on the battery life.
The interface for making calls is easy to use. In addition to syncing contacts from Gmail and Exchange, the Facebook app that comes pre-installed pulls your Facebook friends in as well.
Droids shortcomings come in its support for corporate users. Microsoft Exchange support is incomplete. Although it has some basic contacts and email syncing, you can’t perform some key functions — such as approving appointments or accessing corporate email directories — and it lacks the sort of policy support that would make your IT folks happy. Droid also lacks the native ability to remote wipe the phone if it gets lost, although as the saying goes, there’s an app for that.
Tune in next week for part two of this post covering apps and overall experience with my Droid.