On Nov. 6, the new Android champion will be the Motorola Droid. That'll make Verizon customers/Apple haters happy now that the carrier has a phone to match its vaunted 3G network, or will have when it becomes available on Nov. 6 for $200 after the usual contract stipulations and rebate.
Handling the phone for the last couple of hours, we find Droid's imperfections overwhelmed by Android 2.0 advances that help unify related functions and, first and foremost, its gorgeous screen.
At 3.7 inches diagonal, Droid's display is the biggest on a cellphone, yet the Droid is only a hair larger and actually a bit thinner than the CLIQ. Even better, the LCD is 854 x 480 (WVGA) or 400,000 pixels. Most similarly sized screens are 480 x 320. In less tech terms, text and colors are sharper, bolder and crisper than on any other cellphone LCD I've seen.
All Together Now
Droid is more than its screen and slide-out QWERTY keypad. To make non-verbal communications easier, Motorola borrows the contact-centric phone book from CLIQ's MOTOBLUR social-network interface. Contacts in your phone book include text and email data, but let you compose a message or post to varying your contact's pages on social-networking sites such as Facebook without having to actually boot the Android Facebook app. Droid also handily merges all the info from contacts culled from varying app phonebooks and email contact lists, such as Facebook and Gmail.
Further unifying disparate functions, the home page-based Google Search now scours not only the Web but data on your Droid. For instance, if you do a search on U2, you'll find websites, plus websites you've visited or bookmarked, apps, contacts or, optionally, YouTube and your music. You can change these search options in the settings.
Google Maps now comes with voice-prompted turn-by-turn directions and "layers" — instead of having to choose a normal map view or a traffic view or a satellite view, you can overlay these options on top of each other. You can also share your location with other Google Navigation users for keeping track of your peeps or coordinating arrival at a mutual destination, i.e., "I'm lost, do you see where I am? How do I get to where you are?"
We have some initial complaints. First, the 5MP camera is slow to process the large images. And, despite included image stabilization, indoor shots with the dual LED flash come out blurry if you don't hold the camera stock-still until the shot is processed. Photos also can be geotagged, but oddly this is not the default setting. We're not even sure why there is an option to begin with — what is the drawback to having all your photos automatically geotagged?
Like the CLIQ, Droid's slide-out horizontal keyboard is three-line rather than four, which means you'll need to tap ALT to access the number keys.
YouTube playback was hinky on our demo unit, especially when we tried to watch videos in HQ. They'd get stuck in "loading" and never actually play. Unlike other Android phones, there isn't a "full screen" zoom option, which means videos that do play play in the middle third of the screen.
But Droid's big, sharp screen makes everything easier to read, Android 2.0 adds the kind of intuitive interface that makes using a complex cellphone easier, Verizon's EV-DO network speeds net surfing, and Droid's solid metallic body fills klutzes with confidence.
Now all we need is an iTunes-like Android client software.