More on the DROID: thoughts from the rest of Engadget

Nilay Patel
N. Patel|10.30.09

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Nilay Patel
October 30, 2009 6:10 PM
More on the DROID: thoughts from the rest of Engadget
Somewhat unusually, Verizon and Motorola actually gave us four DROID review units to play with -- and while Paul, Nilay, and Chris all contributed to Josh's official Engadget review, there were definitely some different perspectives (and dissenting opinions) amongst the team. Rather than try to squeeze everything together into one jumbled whole, we thought we'd let everyone add their own take on what's clearly a watershed device for Motorola, Google, and Verizon. Read on for more!

There's a lot -- a lot -- I like about the DROID, but I have to lead off with the physical keyboard, which I think is a disaster. The rows aren't offset, the keys are too small and spaced too closely together, and the whole thing just feels like one huge mush. Coming from a BlackBerry Curve 8900, I found the DROID's board to be essentially useless -- especially because there's no error correction to help with the inevitable errant keypresses. The soft keyboard is better, sure, but I was really stoked about having such a thin slider QWERTY, and the actual experience is quite disappointing.

Keyboard aside, the DROID is very much the ultimate phone for phone geeks. It's not "friendly" in the way that the iPhone is immediately intuitive and welcoming, but that's not what it's trying to be -- at all. It's like a muscle car and a Mercedes: most people are going to take the Benz, but the people who know they want a '69 Boss 429 aren't going to settle for anything less. The Droid is big, heavy, and intimidating, and if you take the time to learn Android's quirks and how to use it, it'll do everything you could ever want -- but at the price of some refinement and style.

I don't think I'm alone in thinking this -- Verizon seems to know it too. Why else would the DROID Does ad focus so heavily on things that are only important to geeks, like open development and customization, and then end with what appears to be a Transformer attacking the Matrix? Hell, every single notification on an out-of-the-box Droid is accompanied by a robot voice intoning DROIIIIID, a sound that appeals only to the nerdiest of the nerds.

But you know what? I am a nerd. The DROID may not be for everyone, but it's very definitely the right phone for some. And in the end, that's really quite encouraging. I just wish Moto would have re-thought that keyboard.

I think the DROID is the best phone on the market that isn't the iPhone. Unfortunately, I don't have a car, so Google Navigation doesn't help me, I don't use Exchange, so that's out, and I can't bring myself to pay Verizon contract prices. I'm also slightly more productive on the touchscreen keyboard than the physical keyboard, which isn't saying much for either of these input methods. What's left after all this negativity? Gmail, one of the best screens money can buy, and great coverage / voice-quality, all three of which are so absolutely clutch that it has me considering making it my primary phone. However, at the end of the day I think I'm going to hold out for something touchscreen only with a similar processor / screen resolution and perhaps T-Mobile for a network. If anything the DROID has convinced me that it's almost time to switch to Android, even if this specific phone isn't the exact fit for me.


It's a rarity in the wireless industry when the design of a phone -- at a glance, anyhow -- actually rises to the challenge and matches the fanboy fantasy: the original RAZR, the original iPhone, perhaps the Sony Ericsson X1. The realities of designing a working handset just don't often allow for it to hold up against the stratospheric, unrealistic expectations of an overstimulated fan base that's always on the hunt for The Next Big Thing. And even on the rare occasion when it does happen, that initial launch-day euphoria is usually squashed by the time phones are in customer's hands, flaws are rooted out, and the once-untouchable device has suddenly been made human -- case in point, the X1, which launched in the US three full seasons after it was announced and never had a prayer of living up to the hype that had reached a rolling boil.

That's why I know the DROID is a special phone: it pushes my geeky fanboy buttons in ways they haven't been pushed in a long, long time. Unlike the CLIQ or any other Android phone before it, Motorola's second Android handset literally looks like it sprung to life out of a fake, pie-in-the-sky rendering posted on some Taiwanese forum, and handling it just puts a smile on your face. Can you say that about a Storm2? A Pure? An Imagio? Hell, in the year 2009, can you even say that about an iPhone 3GS, which looks nearly identical to the iPhone of 2007?

Of course, it's like dating a supermodel: just because the DROID is unbelievably attractive doesn't mean you want to marry it. Those that aren't used to Android (or have tried it before and didn't like it) might cringe at some of the platform's nuances, and it's still not as visually slick as webOS or iPhone OS is. I personally found the physical keyboard to be a pretty miserable experience -- worse than the G1 and the CLIQ -- an inevitable casualty of trying to fit this much technology into a space less than 14mm thick, but the good news is that the capacitive display is large enough to make the soft keyboard very usable for me. It's also the smoothest, fastest, most satisfying Android experience on any device to date, a combination of 2.0's enhancements and the speedy OMAP3 heart powering them.

At the end of the day, realities of the US wireless industry are as likely to decide whether you're getting a DROID as anything else. For Verizon -- historically known for one of the worst smartphone selections of any carrier in North America -- the DROID instantly vaults to the top of the heap, so if you're on Big Red or you want to be, the phone may very well be a no-brainer. If you're not on Verizon but you're an Android fanatic, the DROID's also almost impossible to resist -- yeah, it's just that good. Seriously. For the rest of the wireless world, though, the DROID is little more than "another really good smartphone," and regardless of carrier, those are easier to come by than they've ever been before.

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