That's where the Droid 2 comes in: a phone that's less of an all-new, blockbuster product like the Droid X or EVO 4G and more of a genuine "version 2.0" type of effort -- hence the name, we suppose -- targeting some specific pain points we all experienced with the first-generation device. And just because it doesn't have the beastly, in-your-face appeal of the Droid X doesn't mean Verizon isn't considering it an important device; quite the contrary, actually, rolling out a big new ad campaign and making it the first Droid model to be offered in an official R2-D2 version (and let's be real: you can never downplay the significance of a gadget with a good Star Wars angle).
To put it plainly: on the heels of the Droid, the Droid 2's got some big shoes to fill. Let's find out whether they've pulled it off.
- Handsome hardware
- Significantly improved keyboard
- Mobile hotspot support
- Strange signal strength and data issues
- Motorola's UI skin serves no purpose
- No 720p recording, weak photo quality
Dimensionally, the Droid 2 is basically a dead ringer for the model it replaces; this phone is all about refinement. You know how a car company will design a new car, then give it a quick facelift halfway into the product cycle to extend its useful shelf life and buy a little more time before they need to scrap the design and create an entirely new product? That's exactly how the Droid 2 looks and feels in person -- and that's not an insult by any stretch, because we still think the Droid is a really handsome phone. Formerly black, squared-off surfaces are now fashioned from sculpted dark chrome, the 3.5mm headphone jack is now completely flush, and raised buttons along the edges have been replaced by contoured ones that blend into the body, for example (admittedly, the new buttons aren't quite as easy to feel out without looking for them). The mic has moved from the upper surface of the phone's bottom half to the bottom edge, though we don't know why; it's not noise cancellation-related,
[Update: iFixit's teardown does actually show a second mic on the board, though we can't tell where the hole is for it. There's a small notch at the top of the back, but as far as we can tell, it's not a hole -- or if it is, it's an awfully tiny one.]
Motorola's also made considerably better use of the keyboard's layout, too; heck, the original model inexplicably left two keys as blanks, an unprecedented move on a mobile device where real estate is always at a premium. No longer, though: the Alt and Shift keys are now double-width, the duplicates on the right side have been removed, a Back key has been added, and you've got a dedicated Alt Lock key, presumably useful for when you're going to be dealing with a lot of numbers. They were also able to eliminate the keyboard's Menu key by moving the screen's capacitive Menu button to the far left side, meaning it's now closest to the keyboard when it's open and pretty easily accessible. That's all well and good, but we wish Motorola would just pick a configuration for these capacitive buttons and run with it -- owners of Droids who are upgrading to the Droid 2 are going to have a devil of a time getting used to the new layout for at least the first few days of ownership, we imagine (fortunately, it's the same layout as the Droid X).
Turning our attention to the sides and back, the Droid 2 is coated in a fantastic soft-touch material that virtually guarantees you're not going to drop it (unless you want to, possibly in a fit of rage or what have you). It's basically the same as the Droid, except Motorola's decided to throw in a splash of color this time and make it a subtle shade of blue. Don't worry -- it's not as loud as it looks in some of the photos you've seen, though it's definitely noticeable. Otherwise, there's very little difference on the back, apart from irrelevant changes like the camera being moved a quarter-inch and the raised edge at the top of the back being integrated with the remainder of the top panel and made slightly less prominent.
The display, for all intents and purposes, looks to be the exact same 3.7-inch 854 x 480 component used in the original Droid -- and really, that's just fine. Folks, love those extra 54 pixels over the standard WVGA displays, after all (no kidding, it makes a noticeable difference in some apps like Gmail) and 3.7 inches is a fairly standard size for the upper echelon of smartphones these days. Actually, having been using a number of 4-, 4.3- and even 5-inch phones the past few weeks, we found the Droid 2 a little cramped -- particularly on the soft keyboard -- but if you're already used to something like a Droid or a Nexus One, it won't be an issue at all.
Considering that 720p video capture is becoming something of a baseline in this market segment, we were surprised to see that of all the improvements and refinements the Droid 2 makes, Motorola seems to have glossed over the camera without much thought... it's still 5 megapixels with a max video capture resolution of 720 x 480 (in other words, 480p). The original Droid has a famously bad shooter, and we regret to say the Droid 2 doesn't seem to be much better -- autofocus is still noisy and slow, macro mode doesn't really work, and images are often hazy and heavily artifacted. Making matters worse, Motorola has started using the same cumbersome camera UI featured on the Droid X, which makes changing modes awkward and a less efficient process than it has to be. If there's a bright spot, it's that audio quality in video mode was surprisingly fantastic -- it lacks the Droid X's fancy user-selectable mics and mic modes, but we found outdoor narration to be amazingly crisp, clear, and loud in light wind.
We were able to get a full day's use from the battery and into the start of the second, so it looks like the usual "charge nightly" philosophy for these high-power phones will work more than adequately here. Perhaps our biggest hardware concern, actually, is entirely internal: signal strength was a major issue for all four Engadget editors who've been able to spend time with four different Droid 2s in different parts of the country this week. Symptoms include a wildly fluctuating meter while the phone's sitting still, weak or no reception in places where you're usually fine on Verizon, and a complete lack of data service (which was actually how we noticed the problem the first time). We're used to seeing 3G drop to EDGE, GPRS, or disappear completely on our iPhones on AT&T, but it's a rarity on Verizon -- so to see our Droid 2's data indicator flip-flop from EV-DO to 1xRTT and then disappear entirely was really alarming. We're hoping this is something Motorola can fix with a software update alone, because it was nearly a showstopper for us; Ross, for example, sent an email Thursday afternoon that didn't actually depart his phone until 5AM the following morning, presumably because data was acting wonky.
From a software perspective, Motorola has loaded the Droid 2 with basically a carbon copy of what we've already seen on the Droid X, so we won't go into any great depth explaining what you've got here -- as we've said before, it's a questionably-useful skin atop stock Android with a bunch of bloatware pre-installed. Don't get us wrong, things like Swype, DLNA support and the 3G Mobile Hotspot app are welcome additions -- those are genuine features that deserve to be burned in ROM -- but look, if we want NFS Shift, we'd rather just be able to download it from the Market, thank you very much.
Of course, one big change versus the X is that the Droid 2 comes with Android 2.2 out of the box, which means we were getting Linpack scores in the high 13 to low 14 MFLOPS range, significantly better that the X's 8 MFLOPS on Android 2.1 -- proof once again that 2.2 is a much higher-performance build of the platform since these two phones share the same OMAP 3600-series core at 1GHz (versus the original Droid's 550MHz OMAP 3430). Strangely, this didn't seem to translate into better performance in day-to-day usage -- at least not consistently. Browsing is generally a snappy experience with good render times and smooth scrolling and zooming, but the phone lags in the most unexpected places. In fact, our very first experience turning the phone on for the first time was swiping from the main home screen panel to another, and having it freeze halfway between panels for a couple seconds (we hadn't yet added our Google account, so an initial sync couldn't have been to blame). We've noticed that the Droid X seems to inexplicably "warm up" and get faster over time, and indeed, we've seen some improvement after a day with the Droid 2 -- very odd.
As we touched on before, getting used to a 3.7-inch display after several weeks of using 4-plus-inch devices can be surprisingly tricky, and Motorola's keyboard -- a high point in the custom skin, thanks to its support for multitouch -- actually felt cramped. We were definitely making way more mistakes trying to use it than we were on the Droid X, proving that six-tenths of an inch can be a big deal for this sort of thing (then again, you've got built-in Swype and the physical keyboard at your disposal, so the problem is mitigated somewhat).
There's no question that the Droid 1 was entering its twilight years, especially in the aftermath of the Droid X's release; Motorola and Verizon knew they needed to bring the old model up to spec if they wanted to keep a quality physical QWERTY Android device on the shelves. The problem is that in doing so, they've killed off one of the Droid's most endearing features -- the fact that it ran stock Android -- and have failed to make any improvements compelling enough to warrant an upgrade. In other words, Droid owners, don't feel bad that your phone has been replaced here; in fact, we're pretty sure we'd rather have a Froyo-equipped Droid over a Droid 2, especially since the 2's new processor fails to translate into huge performance gains that you can feel in your day-to-day usage.
Then again, when September 30 rolls around, it'll be pretty hard to argue with a phone that's got R2-D2 painted on the back, won't it?
Additional reporting by Sean Hollister
*Verizon has acquired AOL, Engadget's parent company. However, Engadget maintains full editorial control, and Verizon will have to pry it from our cold, dead hands.