The DROID is an odd and beautiful device. Looking at the hardware from a purely philosophical standpoint, the ID of the phone seems staunchly defiant. Instead of taking its cues (and lines) from current contenders in the smartphone space, the DROID is all hard edges and angular slopes. The construction is a mix of plastic and metal, and the phone has a solid, expensive heft to it. Couple that weight with soft touch materials and gold highlights, and the effect is somewhere halfway between a Vertu device and the European version of the Hero
-- and it's a good mix.
The basic structure of the phone is made up of two main pieces, the large, glass display up top, and the slightly longer keyboard / mainboard lower half. Above, the 3.7-inch screen dominates, almost filling the space edge-to-edge, though there are four capacitive buttons at the bottom of the display: back, menu, home, and search (which might be tricky for folks coming from other Android devices, since they've thrown the order of the buttons in the blender). The top section slides smoothly upwards to reveal the aforementioned QWERTY keyboard, though unlike other models of this ilk, it doesn't snap automatically into place; rather, it requires a bit of force to move up, then clicks firmly once settled. The keyboard is a wide (though mostly flush) affair, with minimal amount of spacing between the keys. To the right of the four row QWERTY is a 5-way rocker -- a bizarre deviation from the CLIQ's left-sided controls -- and the bottom piece has a strip which juts out from the device with a small mic hole (closed or open). It's almost like Motorola's version of the HTC chin... though tempered somewhat. Atop the phone is a 3.5mm headphone jack and a power / sleep button; along the right edge is a volume rocker, and camera button on opposite ends; the left side houses a MicroUSB port; around back the 5 megapixel camera (and flash) are revealed, along with a thin, gold, crosshatch strip that hides the DROID's speaker.
The thickness of the DROID is striking, coming in at just a hair (13.7mm vs 12.33mm) thicker than the iPhone 3GS. The body itself is actually narrower than the iPhone. While thinness is important (though typically not a deal breaker for us), the fact that the phone packs a larger, higher resolution screen and a physical keyboard in such a small frame is notable.
In all, Motorola has pulled off what seemed unimaginable for them just 12 months ago; they've made a device which is truly lustworthy, even next to the best efforts of Apple, HTC, and Palm.
Inside the DROID beats an Arm Cortex A8 CPU (a 600MHz, OMAP3430 chip downclocked to 550MHz), 256MB of RAM, and 512MB of ROM. If that CPU sounds familiar, it should -- it's similar to the chip inside the iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre. If you're wondering about performance, you can breathe a sigh of relief... kind of. Yes, there is a noticeable bump in speed when switching applications on the phone, scrolling through lists, and generally getting any basic tasks done. We did notice, however, that paging through homescreens on the DROID actually seemed somewhat stuttery; odd, considering this phone is certainly better equipped than most Android devices to handle pixel pushing. Pulling down the window shade notification area also seemed less than optimal. We don't know if this was due to the screen resolution being jacked up, or just a software quirk, but it was mildly disheartening -- especially considering that the rest of the phone's performance seemed extra snappy to us. As an aside, in a totally unscientific test of playing a 3D game (Mystique, in case you're wondering) the rendering seemed considerably smoother on the DROID than with other, older Android-based phones we've used.
Throughout our tests, we were consistently impressed with the tightness and speed of navigation on the phone. The DROID makes Android feel modern the way the iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre are -- like machines designed for a pace of life that's increasingly more Twitter and less USPS.
As we mentioned, the screen on the DROID is a 3.7-inch capacitive touchscreen -- a full glass display with a WVGA resolution clocking in at a handsome 480 x 854. We found the responsiveness on the DROID to be on par (if not better) than most of its Android contemporaries; gestures and flicks registered with little to no lag. Whether that can be attributed to Moto's screen technology, Android 2.0 improvements, or just the speedy CPU inside the DROID is anyone's guess, but we certainly won't knock the phone for it. Another perk to having that big screen is seeing webpages how they're meant to be viewed (or at least closer), and browsing on the DROID is a solid experience. Those additional pixels definitely come in handy when you're looking at something graphically intensive or wordy... such as Engadget.
As you have probably heard (or guessed), there's no multitouch on this device. That's clearly an issue with Android 2.0 and choices that Google is making about user interface -- we're fairly certain there's nothing technically holding back the DROID from utilizing multitouch input, and we wouldn't be surprised to see some tweaked ROMs hit the information superhighway with the functionality onboard. Regardless, the resolution, materials, and clarity of the DROID display make it an absolute pleasure to keep your eyes on. Motorola gets a +1 for the bump in resolution, and we can only hope everyone else follows suit.
Note: Android 2.0 does support multitouch events, but the functionality isn't implemented here.
A physical keyboard can be a blessing or a curse, depending on just how well (or poorly) it performs. In the case of Android devices, QWERTYs have definitely been hit or miss. We think the closest case for comparison with the DROID's version would be the G1
; both have shallow, clicky keys, and both force your right hand into a bit of an awkward position. On the G1, it's due to the placement of the "chin," and with the DROID, it's all down to the five-way rocker living next to the 'board itself. We're happy to report, however, that after a short adjustment period, typing on the DROID is a reasonable experience. It's not as slick or comfortable as a nice, portrait-oriented Tour or (better yet) Bold layout, though it bests the CLIQ, and holds its own against other landscape contenders like the Moment
Visually, the keyboard is an easier read (and more aesthetically pleasing) than those other QWERTY phones too, though sometimes the keys can feel a bit cramped. Additionally, we had major issues with the auto-dimming on the DROID. If we left the screen in auto brightness mode, the constant on / off dimming of the keyboard was intolerable; eventually we had to just switch the auto dim off altogether. We also had issues with the keyboard not lighting up at all in some instances, requiring us to close and open the pad again. Not a huge deal, but annoying when you're trying to quickly tap out a message. Admittedly, we missed the CLIQ's two-stage keyboard backlighting that only enabled the second light when ALT was pressed, but it's a luxury we can do without.
As you would expect, Android 2.0 includes the onscreen keyboard as well, but there don't seem to be many improvements in this area. As a backup keyboard for quick SMSs and the like, it works, though we eventually had to replace it with the Better Keyboard application -- which we think is more usable and snappier. In comparison to the iPhone keyboard (really the high bar for virtual keys) Android continues to feel like a distant second. Still, you won't go to it that much -- the DROID's physical keyboard is solid, but it's going to take some getting used to for most people.
Google has made some pretty major changes to the camera application in Android 2.0 (including more control over white balance, focal length, flash settings, and effects), and Motorola has smartly outfitted the DROID with a 5 megapixel camera coupled with an LED flash. It sounds like a match made in heaven, right? Well, not quite.
No, no, no. Yes! Our attempts to photograph a watch in broad daylight.
While the camera certainly seems capable of taking great looking photos, getting everything to play nice isn't as easy as it should be. First off, the camera is painfully slow to focus and snap pictures -- and when it does, the results can be unpredictable. Strangely, the lens seems to be able to take pretty sharp macro photos (it's even a setting in the camera app), but it struggled with getting adjusted to close subjects, even in broad daylight. Sometimes we got lucky and cranked out a decent pic, but the process was frustrating. Furthermore, the new settings Google has added to 2.0 are contained in a hard to get to and counterintuitive menu which sits to the left of your viewing area. Trying to make changes on the fly was a hassle. If this is the best the engineers at Google can do, they need to outsource this work.