Motorola DROID

Motorola_DROID_Android_2_Multitouch_Smartphone

DROID by Motorola is epic. The Android 2.0-based multitouch smartphone from Motorola will certainly catapult up to the top as the most powerful Android-based phone and challenge Apple’s iPhone in many ways. I believe DROID is also Motorola’s modern RAZR and will become the company’s killer product of the year and hopefully get the company back up and running with the big dogs. Combine the most powerful smartphone from Motorola with Android, the most open mobile OS by far, from Google and connect it to Verizon Wireless, the most reliable cellular network in the US, and the DROID becomes very interesting.

Motorola’s DROID is the first Android 2.0 smartphone and according to Motorola it is the thinnest smartphone with a full QWERTY keyboard that slides out. In the video one of the couple of  voices of a woman states that this DROID smartphone is a “Google Experience Device”. So Motorola didn’t mess with anything and it seems neither did Verizon. A solid trend I hope continues with other Android phones.

Thankfully, Motorola went with a large LCD. It is a 3.7-inch LCD and sports a 854×480 pixel format. The DROID makes use of capacitive multitouch technology. The display looks to be very sharp and bright enough for most situations. “That big screen is killer,” is how Engadget describes it. With powerful chips running a better Android OS, operating the DROID via your fingers on the large LCD should be fantastic. Speaking of touch, there is a row of buttons on the bottom. These buttons (Back, Home, Search, Menu) are virtual buttons that respond to touch; they also give haptic feedback. I personally prefer real keys as they provide real feedback. The LCD is also capable of 16 million colors, the same number of colors that your monitor and TV shows.

Based on what you plug the DROID device into it will automatically show the appropriate apps. For instance, when docked into its “Multimedia Station” it brings up the clock and lets you dim the screen, has the option of using it as a digital picture frame, or a video player. When docked into its “Car Dock” it brings up the navigation apps with voice control. How does it do that? Magnetically! There will be third-party docks and there might be massive development in the associated interface modes: the first ones you saw in the video were created by Google.

I guess 854×480 on the DROID smartphone can be considered DVD resolution. In some cases it is a bit more and in others a bit less. In Europe, DVD in MPEG2 at 25 frames per second (fps) the resolution is 720 x 576 while in the rest of the world it is 720 x 480 at 23.976 or 29.97 fps. These formats are called D1 can be captured and played back on the largish 3.7-inch display. Just as a comparison, Apple’s iPhone sports a slightly smaller 3.5-inch LCD and has significantly less pixels at just 480×320. Motorola’s DROID has over twice the number of pixels! After taking the D1-quality video you can directly upload it to YouTube without need of a computer. I hope developers will code an app that can quickly add titles and transitions.

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Low light photography using a smartphone? If true, this will be great. But most likely it will fall short of its promise since even dedicated digital cameras including the newest ones from Canon (S90 for example) are much better but not perfect in low light. But as long as the DROID from Motorola beats the iPhone’s solid low-light performance, it can be called a success in my book. The 5 megapixel sensor has a lot more pixels than the 3.2 megapixel one inside the iPhone 3GS. But we all know that it isn’t the total number of pixels that determine the quality of the pictures but how effectively those pixels grab light and then how information is processed that make the difference. Here’s hoping that Motorola did a fantastic job: I don’t have to carry a dedicated digital camera that can take pictures and capture video. The dual-LED flash should make overblown photos the standard. I hope there is some type of connection with its ambient light sensor so the two LED light output is throttled to prevent blinding your family and friends.

“… DROID will get you turn-by-turn directions from Google Maps, with spoken directions, showing real time traffic and 3D-imagery of the destination.” Motorola’s DROID device has a built-in GPS chip as well as an e-compass. You need two to do turn-by-turn. This feature called “Google Maps Navigation” will rock the GPS world: there is now very little reason why you would want a separate GPS unit (including the separate additional cost) when you can have it in your smartphone that you carry with you all the time, and for free. Thank you Google! Motorola’s DROID device is the first to offer this feature but I am absolutely sure that it won’t be the last. The iPhone by comparison is getting to be relatively quite expensive if you had to buy the Tom Tom GPS holder and the software. You can control Google Maps Navigation (GMN) with your voice, as you should expect it to. GMN was built from the ground up to work with Internet-connected devices. You never have to download massive updates for businesses and maps; it happens in real time from Google Maps. Here are some things you can do with GMN:

  • Search in Plain English: You can just say where you want to go and GMN takes care of the rest. Address, place, name of business, kind of business… just enter as if you’re entering a search phrase in Google.
  • Search by Voice: Typing isn’t always easy. Uses Google Search by Voice.
  • Traffic View: Live traffic data. Information is updated every ‘few’ minutes. You can also choose an alternate route.
  • Search Along Route: Search for gas stations, parking, ATMs & banks, etc. on your way.
  • Satellite View: Helps visualize your route. Downloaded as needed.
  • Street View: Actual street-level photographic images. Shows actual street view of your destination.
  • Car Dock Mode: Some Android phones have specifically-designed docks for your automobiles that automatically goes into Car Dock Mode.

Because I am an iPhone user I consider the ability to replace your battery a wonderful feature. The one thing I would like to see is something like an instant-on for smartphones so you don’t have to be down for too long when you’re replacing the battery. With a tiny built-in rechargeable battery that can be used to keep juicing flowing through the system for about a minute, you could be back in business as soon as you replace the main battery: instant-on! I hope Google is working on supporting something like this.

The process is TI’s OMAP 3430 CPU running at 550MHz. The CPU is certainly quite capable. What makes Motorola’s DROID the most advanced Android smartphone are the additional specs: PowerVR GPU, 256MB RAM, WiFi BG, Digital Magnetometer, Accelerometer, Proximity Sensor, etc. “Speed is noticeably improved–particularly when moving from app to app,” is how Engadget’s Joshua Topolsky described his experience. Topolsky did mention that the home screen scrolling looked a bit laggy.

Boy Genius Report (BGR) thought the quality of Motorola’s DROID smartphone was quite good. Most of the chassis is made of metal, making it heavy, but providing a high-quality solid feel. I don’t like light, cheap-feeling plastics and would rather carry around a device with a few more ounces that I know will last. The mechanism by which you push the large 3.7-inch LCD is non-spring-assisted and provides a solid ‘click’ when in position. The bezel surrounding the display is also metal. cnet’s Kent German and Bonnie Cha comments that the sharp angles make the DROID look a bit boxy. Looks are subjective and in my subjective opinion I would rather have angles than curves and boxy rather than candy-bar. German and Cha also notes that the “front face doesn’t really lock into place on either end,” which is contrary to what BGR experienced.

Android 2.0 seems to have caught up to Safari on the iPhone. The browser has been significantly improved and loads up pages in fully zoomed-out mode. To zoom in you double-tap. I am not sure there is support for multitouch gestures such as pinching for browsing webpages. The time it takes to load pages have been reduced and scrolling is much more responsive.

BGR mentions that the keyboard doesn’t provide as much feedback as he would have liked–probably a small compromise that Motorola had to make to thin-down the DROID. The keys are a bit too close but did not get in the way of cranking out emails, text messages, etc. Compared to the G1? “Definitely better.” How do you position your hand with the top-heavy G1? The same question applies to DROID. There are dozens of answers and they depend on the size of your hand and how you like to type. Topolsky from Engadget seems to think the keyboard is “fairly usable.” With Android 2.0 there are virtual keyboards that you can use in both portrait and landscape positions. cnet’s German and Cha echoed some of BGR’s concerns: “The keys are flush and squashed next to each other, which makes it difficult to text quickly or by feel… they’re a bit slick and we were thrown off by the ‘dummy keys’ on either end of the bottom row.” They concluded the keyboard was better than the G1’s but not as good as the CLIQ or Samsung’s Moment.

Of course we need to make sure the DROID is a solid phone and BGR thinks so: “The Droid sounds great as a phone.” Calls are dialed and connected quickly to Verizon Wireless’ voice network. Google Voice also worked without any problems, as expected.

FaceBook is fully integrated into accounts and gives you the option of pulling all the information and contacts from FB or just the ones related to your existing contacts. Nifty.

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November 6, 2009 is the day when Motorola’s DROID device will be hitting Verizon Wireless stores. The price will be US$199 with $100 MIR. That price includes a bundled 16GB memory card. $199 for the most capable Android smartphone with full GPS capabilities running on Verizon: I am very tempted to ditch my iPhone…

Source:

  • “Google bringing free turn-by-turn navigation to mobile Maps [w/ VIDEO] – Autoblog
  • “Motorola DROID first hands-on! (update: video, impressions, more pics) – Engadget
  • “Droid from Verizon Wireless” – Verizon Wireless
  • “DROID by Motorola – Android phone – Motorola USA” – Motorola
  • “Motorola Droid live review” – cnet

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