As a Verizon customer for years, I was a little reluctant to switch to AT&T just for an iPhone. I mean really – your smart phone has to first work properly as a phone, and I know from observation that the Verizon network is better almost everywhere. I’m a little miffed about the rumor mill, suggesting that the iPhone will come to Verizon. I doubt that will ever happen. So, finally a contender arrived – the Motorola Droid. I upgraded my 4-year old Motorola Razr, got the data service, and I’m now sorry I waited! So here’s my review so far.
OK, I’m no smart phone expert. I’m going to make some casual observations. The Droid is a little heavy probably because of the physical keyboard, which happens to be a worthless piece of crap. Ever so rarely do I use the keyboard. The smooth keyboard surface is near useless for big hands. The little mouse thingie is the only good thing – allows for fine positioning of the cursor for corrections, etc. I think one of those trackball things like the Blackberry would be beneficial. The touch screen keyboard with auto-fill is by far fastest for input, particularly in landscape mode. Yes, it auto-rotates.
Next, the battery cover is a super cool feature but it’s also a pain in the neck. Yes, it’s easy to replace the batteries, especially if you’re out on a multi-day bike ride and away from power for a while. But, the battery cover slides off very easily from the factory. I fixed it by putting two layers of masking tape on the outward facing side of the battery, creating a small amount of pressure on the cover. I haven’t had it slide off since I made this "modification". I don’t know how safe it is or whether a little tape might cause the battery to catch on fire or whatever. Mine hasn’t yet.
The Droid has a series of home keys across one end. The back key is on the bottom left corner, menu key next, Home key third, and Search on the bottom right corner. Just trying to hold the thing, I sometimes accidentally press the Search button. This is a little annoying, but I’m not sure if that’s common on all smart phones?
Tip for Newbies: Hold the Home button to pull up the apps that are running. Android is a multitasking operating system (more on this later, very cool)
Another Tip: Experiment with holding anything anywhere on the Droid – buttons, maps, etc. Many apps support long hold on objects to launch menus, options, etc.
When I was writing the tips above, I wanted to mention that the documentation either sucks or I don’t know how to access it properly. There’s an enormous PDF online on Motorola’s website, but why didn’t they put it on the stinking Droid? A short tutorial would be nice. Since the Youtube viewer is native, a nice video would be good. Again, it’s so common sense, maybe I don’t know how to get to it.
As a Phone
Coming straight from a plain phone to a smart phone, I’m having a real struggle. If you’re searching for a restaurant and there’s a phone number on the screen, BAM! Long hold the number and the phone dials it for you. If you simply want to pick the phone up and dial, you have to turn it on, get to home screen, click the phone app, then touch screen dial. It’s a lot of steps.
Tip: Copy the phone app shortcut to all three home screens.
As a Camera
Three words: the camera sucks (right now.) Yes, it’s 5 Megapixels, it has an LED flash and you get all kinds of storage and sharing options, but it only focuses in very bright light, and it’s slow and confused most of the time. The white balance is seriously lacking or non-existent. I really believe it’s a software problem, and I hope the rumored December 11 software release will fix it. I’m embarassed to share any of my pictures right now. I could just say screw it because I have a bunch of different picture taking gadgets. But the convenience of always having a phone and your computer in your pocket is an exciting feature that makes me want this fixed.
As a Browser
Again, this is my first smart phone. The tiny screen, though VERY clear and sharp, is still a handicapped version of a real computer. Double-tapping the browser screen zooms in quickly, and dragging around to view the entire screen is pretty easy.
Many websites detect a mobile device and will give you a different view. Webmasters, this is a really good idea. I don’t think my version of Geeklog has one, but I haven’t looked very hard. Ones that come to mind are Flickr, CitySearch, Harpeth Bike Club (that webmaster is awesome! ;), Google, CNN, NYTimes, etc. Most sites have a m.domain.com format if it’s mobile-aware.
One thing that’s annoying – no Flash viewer (Adobe has promised an Android Flash viewer in 2010.) So many websites, including the Verizon Droid promotional page, are delivered with Flash.
For Social Networking
The Droid comes native with a plethora of social networking capabilities, including Facebook and Google Apps. Other apps for Twitter, Myspace, etc. are easily available in the Market. When you first set the phone up, you put in your user ID and password for Gmail and Facebook. The phone automatically extracts everything it can about your friends and contacts and merges them into your phone contacts. In my case, I’ve been using gmail for years, and I have a pretty huge list of contacts. It swamped my contacts with people I barely know, and the list is a little bit unmanageable. I haven’t figured out how to use grouping on the Contacts app on the Droid yet. I probably need to do that.
The Facebook app IMHO is barely functional. You can’t tag photos. It basically redirects you to the browser for any updating to the m.facebook.com page.
Some apps worth adding:
Twidroid – an excellent and free app for Twittering. (I’m not a big tweeter – I personally think it’s of limited use, but I may also be getting old.)
HandCent – I highly recommend using this as your SMS app. Way way way better than native. You can see an entire conversation with it. Very cool.
Tip: Use the star to mark contacts as favorites. They’ll show up on a "short list" for you.
Tip: you can import contacts as a CSV (comma separtated values) into your Gmail contacts. Your Droid will pick them up automatically.
Tip: While editing a contact, hit the menu button and use "Join" to merge duplicate contacts. It takes a while to clean up duplicates, but it’s worth it.
For Mapping and Navigating
Navigation – this is one thing that makes my iPhone friends jealous. Touch and hold an address in the browser, the Droid figures out that you might want to go there. Then, Droid offers turn by turn directions, announcing the street name, "follow signs to Chattanooga". You can also click a streets view button if it’s available for the turn, and Droid will show you what the next turn or destination looks like. Very cool. And it’s all included for FREE.
Is it as good as a dedicated Garmin? No. There’s no hot button to go home. The menus are a little clunkier than a dedicated device. The screen isn’t as big – do you carry your Garmin Nuvi around in your pocket? But, the Droid doesn’t charge for map updates. But, the Garmin still works if there’s no data service. The Droid is still an excellent navigator.
What navigation needs to be great, IMHO:
- A hot button to immediately start navigation to get you home.
- Favorite places pulled into the Navigation app.
- Navigation app should be a "primary" app. It launches from within Google Maps, which kinda stinks.
Other apps worth mentioning in the mapping category:
- Glympse: Share your position temporarily with someone, either through email or Facebook or whatever. People can track you temporarily using satellite view. Making a long trip to visit someone? Send them a link and they can see when you’ll arrive.
- Have2P: Find a public bathroom. It needs some help from the community, but it’s a cool idea. How many times have you been in a strange place and couldn’t find a public bathroom? French Quarter in N.O.?
- PhotSpot: this app picks up your position and displays buttons that lead to pictures of things near you. It’s great to see pics of things "I have to go see that!" Kind of like Panoramio I guess, but mobile.
- I’m playing with Bread Crumbz and Approaching. Bread Crumbz allows you to build directions for friends using GPS position and pictures your camera. Approaching is supposed to announce things you like (like favorite restaurant chains) if you’re heading towards them.
For Biking and Running
OK, I’m gonna steal from the mapping and multimedia section for this.
RUNNING: this is where I really LOVE my smart phone. Running is a horrible activity. The only thing good about it is the runner’s high you get when you’re "in the zone." Otherwise, your eyeballs are bouncing around, you listen to your feet hitting the pavement, your gasping for air. A little music is a pleasant distraction and preserves your will to live. With MP3 players, it’s getting to hear the same old stuff over and over again, or the drudgery of building play lists. Introducing Pandora. Pick a song or artist to build a "channel" and it starts suggesting songs. Choose thumbs up or thumbs down and it learns what you like. If you like to listen to "Eye of the Tiger" while you run, build a channel with it as your base. I like 80’s and 90’s dance/club music when I run.
Since the Droid is a multitasking OS, I use a workout tracking application called CardioTrainer. You pick whether you’re indoors or outdoors, and then your activity. Start it and it announces your pace and distance. And it overrides my Pandora music channel to do so. Results are accumulated on the home website, and security coded so only you can see them. My Pandora channel was playing some 80’s euro band and the British CardioTrainer announcer came on and I suddenly felt like I was in another country!
BICYCLING: I haven’t found a good bike mount yet, so I haven’t tested it. But there is at least one dedicated bike computer app called Velox. I’m more planning to use CardioTrainer (activity chosen as bicycling) once I get a good way to carry it.
NEVER listen to music with headphones while riding your bike. You need all your senses to ride safely. If you’re riding on the greenway, you can’t hear someone announcing they’re passing, which creates unsafe conditions. Just don’t do it.
No MapMyRide support, yet. I’m really not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.
Carrying the Droid while running is a challenge. I use a fanny pack, but I’d rather have some kind of belt. For bicycling, I did find a holster that fits on my Chrome bag shoulder strap. Chrome needs to come up with some well-integrated waterproof smart phone holsters, or someone could start a third-party company to make some.
I don’t think MP3 player is Droid’s strong suit necessarily. Apple started with an MP3 player and added a phone and computer. Android starts with a computer and added a phone and MP3 player. I think we’ll find that the Android will be a better computer, and Apple will always be a better multimedia platform. Sound familiar? PC versus Mac?
- Shazam – yes, it’s available for Android. Turn it on and it figures out what you’re listening to. If you want to buy it, Shazam gives you several links to find it. I just tag music, then get it through TuneWiki or Pandora later for free.
- Pandora – I already mentioned this earlier in the running section.
- TuneWiki – put in a song, it plays it, and gives you the lyrics so you can sing along. Lots of fun.
- Pix – you can stream LIVE video to the Pix website. Then it saves it. Very impressive, and works remarkably well on the 3G network.
- Youtube – yes, it has a good Youtube client. Videos come up full screen. Touching the screen pulls up the play, pause controls, just as you’d expect it to behave.
Discovered Uses / Paid Apps
When browsing the market, I’ve discovered a few uses for the Droid that I wasn’t expecting.
- ShopSavvy – scan a product barcode using the camera (after it finally focuses) and it gives you prices and places to buy it locally and on the web. It’s a little embarassing doing it in front of a salesman! Free app.
- SnapTell – like Shazam, but through pictures. Use it to snap a picture of the front cover of a book or CD, it figures out what it is and what to pay for it. Very cool and free.
- Bump – start the app, hold your phone in your fist, and your new friend does the same. Bump fists and it magically transfers contact info between the two. I assume it detects the fist bump with the accelerometer, shares some info using bluetooth, then it sends back and forth through a web service? I don’t know exactly, but it’s very cool! Goodbye business cards. I’ve tested it between my Droid and an iPhone. Free.
- ToMarket – my first paid app. It’s a fancy shopping list. You build a list of things you regularly buy. Pick the things you need and it builds a shopping list. Check them off at the store. You can text others your shopping list. Keeps me organized.
- Documents To Go – my second paid app. View and edit real Word, Excel, PPT and view PDF’s. I haven’t done anything useful with it yet, but I expect it will be very handy very soon.
- CraigsPhone – Craigslist browser. Works quite well. Free.
- Others worth mentioning: Where (kinda like CitySearch), OpenTable (restaurant reservations), PktAuctions (Ebay)
Corporate Email / Calendar
OK, I have a problem here. The native Exchange client supports ActiveSync, but it doesn’t support the full standard. My work requires remote wipe and pin lock so a third party client is needed. (Apparently the iPhone native Exchange client works perfectly. Boo…) Third party apps – I’ve tried both of these paid apps with varying degrees of success:
- Touchdown – Email client worked, but I couldn’t get the calendar to connect properly. My boss’s boss’s boss’s boss had someone from the email group help him get it working. I haven’t been able to get anyone to give me the settings.
- Roadsync – Both email and client work. I’m still in the trial period, but I expect to buy it since it sort of works. I don’t like the way work contacts integrate. I don’t like that I can’t forward meeting requests. It’s really barely functional. Peers with iPhones at work report similar functionality limitations. I’m sure it will improve in the future.
Your work email might not be as stringent, so don’t write this off if you’re evaluating.
Docking the Droid
So far, I have the bedside dock which turns the Droid into an alarm clock / weather station, switched on by magnets in the dock that operate reed switches. It’s very handy. However, it doesn’t have any way to attach speakers, RCA Out, HDMI, etc. That’s too bad. I guess there might be a Bluetooth-to-RCA box out there somewhere? Anyhow, I believe the bedside dock is a must-have.
I’ve been reading about the car dock. Turns Droid into a car computer using the magnet technique. I have a Garmin Nuvi 205W with the bean bag mount thing. I haven’t proven it, but apparently the Droid uses the same ball mount, same size, as the Garmin. I’ll be trying it and I’ll update on this topic at a later date. I don’t think the iPhone has a feature like this, so the Droid wins in this category.
Unfortunately, you can’t go to virtually any electronics store and buy accessories for the Droid like you can an iPhone. Since the Droid is slightly bigger than the iPhone, it doesn’t fit very well in most belt cases, etc. iPhone wins in the "available accessories" category.
What Up With That?
- Why doesn’t Google release Google Earth for Android? It’s available for iPhone. We have Google Sky, but that’s nothing more than a toy IMHO.
- iPhone App Store and Android Market application count is a farse. In both, a set of wallpaper can count as an app. Some piece of scripting code that only means something to a programmer counts. There are at least 100 restaurant tip calculators, and dozens of other stupid apps. Three years of iPhone wallpapers probably adds up to 90,000 of the 100,000 apps.
- I wouldn’t suggest this phone to people that don’t understand computers to begin with. It’s not super-easy to take full advantage of what it can really do.
- MyVerizon app sort of sucks. It’s really not a very clean mobile app. It pushes you to the browser, and a weak mobile-enabled website. BTW – as of late November, having my Droid less than a month, I’m up to almost 600MB of data transfer. Thank goodness data plan is unlimited.)
Don’t switch to AT&T just for the iPhone. The Droid is pretty dang good, and Verizon’s network is outstanding. For that matter, anything with Android 2.0 is pretty dang good.
And don’t believe any rumors that AT&T is rapidly expanding their wireless network. That rumor is about like Verizon is going to get the iPhone. It’s probably not gonna happen, rumor only designed to keep customers from switching. Maybe someone has some hard proof?