My Motorola Droid quick-review

I tried out the Motorola Droid for 2 weeks, including a business trip to Los Angeles last week and here are my quick notes:

  • Google Navigation is nice! I like the user interface — for example, it’s nice how the next step in your driving directions are rendered in white text on a dark green background (just like the road signs on U.S. freeways!). It only made one small mistake that I can remember: rather than directing me to go right onto a jughandle that put me onto the freeway going in the correction direction, it directed me to take a left turn instead (near LAX, getting onto 405 S). We dubbed the female voice Vivian. How long before there are custom voices available? One of the writers at Current TV who had the same Motoroloa Droid as well said, “I’d LOVE to have my directions read to me by Mr. T!”.
  • There were lots random stalls and lock-ups in the user interface. Consistent with Stewart Alsop’s review, I’d be doing something and suddenly everything would cease working for 30-60 seconds. It happened 2-3 times a day, but that was enough to significantly lower my confidence and trust in the device’s reliability.
  • Google Voice is really great. The biggest GV feature for me is being able to click an international number in my phone book and trust that I’m not going to get reamed on the international calling charges. As I noted on twitter 10 days ago, Google Voice charges me $0.07 / minute for calls to India while AT&T (iPhone) charges me $2.49 / minute for the same call — more than a 35x differential! Sure, there are other ways I can get a low rate to India on my AT&T cell phone (and I do — I use Reliance CallIndia), but none as convenient as just tapping on a phone number in my phone book.
  • I never use the keyboard. Maybe I’ve been conditioned by using an iPhone for the past 2.5 years, but I never use the keyboard on the Motorola Droid. I’d much rather take the size/weight reduction that removing the keyboard would bring. Apart from being conditioned by using the iPhone, I guess I just use my cell phone with one hand (while I’m walking, while I’m driving, in a meeting in my lap) a lot more than with two hands (required for using the keyboard). And the context switch from portrait to landscape + sliding out the keyboard is something that slows me down.
  • The apps were fine. They were for me anyways. I know the iPhone app store has more variety and selection, but I was able to get the key apps that I use the most. On my trip, my colleague had entered everything into TripIt and TripIt has a native Android client, so I was happy there. There wasn’t a native Yelp app for Android, which I would have liked.
  • Some UI quirks and lack of polish. I bought the G1 the day it came out and played around with it for a couple of weeks before giving up on Android 1.0. The version on the Motorola Droid is a lot better — soft keyboard in both portrait and landscape mode. Settings menu is less confusing. But as an example of a settings things that’s still confusing: Droid comes with a charming-for-a-few-hours consistent-with-their-branding robotic sound scheme — when you receive a new email the phone cries out in a deep robotic baritone: “DROID.” But you quickly realize that this sound scheme is useless beyond starting a conversation with people around you about Android’s latest phone. In the “Settings” app, you can turn all notifications on or off, but you have to go into the mail app to toggle email notifications on or off and change the sound that’s use as the notification. Kind of confusing and for a basic service of the phone, something that should be included in the phone’s native settings menu, IMO.
  • Battery life wasn’t that great. Especially when using the phone for navigation! On one particular day, I think the phone lasted us for 3 or 4 routes and that’s all. We weren’t even using it for phone calls or anything other than navigation! I should note that I didn’t have the official Motorola Droid car mount because every Verizon Store I visited/called was out of them (maybe this include a power charger?) and that I think there were times when the navigation was still running after we got to our destination (it took me a while to figure out how to turn off the navigation after we had reached our destination!).

So that’s my quick rundown. If I was on Verizon already and didn’t have an iPhone, I’d consider the Droid. But the iPhone is still much better device IMO. I think I even like the Palm Pre more than the Motorola Droid. But Android is getting better and better and the Droid hardware isn’t bad. Given how thorny it is to unlock the iPhone and use it overseas with a local service provider (I tried on a recent trip to Barcelona and could never get data or GPS to work for me), I could see myself getting an unlocked Android phone to use when I travel internationally.

(On a side note, I ran into a friend at the grocery store yesterday using an HTC Hero on Sprint and that looks like a great device — no keyboard, decent screen, pretty thin, none of that chin that the G1 or the HTC Magic had. Where can I get an unlocked GSM version of the HTC Hero?)

UPDATE (12/7/2009, 3:35pm): It turns out that Yelp for Android was just released today and it also turns out that Google’s added a “What’s Nearby” feature to Google Maps for Android, something I would definitely have used last week!

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