If you’ve purchased a cell phone in the last few years or know even the slightest bit about technology, you know about the Apple iPhone. The phone has reached critical acclaim and has become immersed in our pop culture, appearing in the hands of celebrities on TV shows and movies. AT&T’s exclusive deal with Apple has been both a prize and a burden. Although it’s been a huge money maker for the company, it has also started a smartphone war. Competitors including HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung have rolled out touch screen devices often labeled as “iPhone-killers” by the media, but just about all have failed to catch on. The announcement of the Motorola Droid on the Verizon Wireless network sets a new milestone. There’s a lot that the Droid does. It’s better than the iPhone, but there’s one thing it won’t be doing – killing the iPhone on its own.
Until today, the right ingredients to create a device truly superior to the iPhone just weren’t available. Companies have tried everything, but the results just never settled well with customers. Fortunately, the Droid has the right mix to back it: Android, Google, Motorola and Verizon Wireless.
The Android OS
The Android OS is a fairly new open source platform, which was a project initiated by Google. In simpler terms, it’s the name of the mobile operating system the Droid runs on. There’s plenty of other ones such as BlackBerry’s OS, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and Palm’s WebOS. But none have generated as much recent buzz as the Android OS. UC Davis even offers computer science majors a class, ECS 152A Computer Networks, that asks students to develop on the Android OS. It may sound complicated, but in reality the interface is just as simple as the one on the iPhone. It’s easy to learn, looks fancy and even runs fast. The Droid also allows something the iPhone doesn’t: multitasking. For example, you can stream Pandora and browse the web or play a game at the same time without any issues.
Google’s additions to the Droid are the next major advantage the Droid has over the iPhone. Before they transferred their Android project into the hands of the Open Handset Alliance, they integrated all their services into the phone. As a result, the Motorola Droid has features such as Google Search, Maps, Talk, Calendar and YouTube included by default. They even did what no one else has done before, including a completely free 3D voice-guided GPS Navigation application that offers turn-by-turn directions. It even integrates Google Street View and satellite imagery so you’ll always know what the next turn and your destination really looks like. GPS Navigation usually costs an extra $15 per month with other phones and a one-time $100 fee on the iPhone; yet they don’t offer nearly as many features.
The phone also integrates a powerful voice search engine. For example, you can speak a phrase such as “Pizza near me.” The phone will instantly bring up a list of pizza places near your GPS location, links to their website to view their menu, a number to place a phone order and, of course, directions to get there.
For UC Davis students who are almost obliged to have a Facebook account, the phone automatically imports all friends as phone contacts. It’s not just their names and numbers either; it also pulls in their e-mail addresses and their profile photo, which appears during an incoming call. And once again, with the voice search, just say something as simple as “Call James Smith,” and it will cross-reference all your contacts and do so immediately.
The other missing ingredient to create a great smartphone was the hardware. Although Motorola seems like it’s been out of the game since the days of the Moto RAZR, they’re back. For starters, the Motorola Droid is built like a tank. Although it’s about an ounce heavier than the iPhone, it’s a lot more durable. Other expensive smartphones almost seem as though they’ve been designed to break with even the slightest tremble.
The Droid houses a 3.7-inch touch screen display that is larger and packs more than twice the number of pixels than the iPhone. The phone has a built in 5 megapixel camera with a LED flash for dark shots and can even record DVD quality videos. It’s still not good enough to replace a traditional camera, but it’s a huge step up from cameras on most phones. Plus, you can instantly upload high quality content to web services such as Facebook and YouTube.
If you aren’t a fan of either a touch screen or a physical keyboard, there’s no need to panic – the Droid has both. The touch screen emits haptic (vibrating) feedback for each key entry. There’s a landscape and portrait mode for typing. There’s also a slide out keyboard that feels great to type with even though it felt a bit cramped at first.
If you’ve wanted to replace your MP3 player and phone for an all-in-one solution, the Droid is a great option. Verizon Wireless includes a 16GB microSD card with the phone that can be swapped out for larger one if you run out of space. It syncs with the included standardized USB cable with both Windows and Macintosh computers. It comes bundled with the Amazon MP3 music store to browse, preview and purchase songs. However, it can also playback just about any major music file format including support for iTunes Plus tracks. The Droid also has a standard headphone jack, so you can continue to use your favorite headphones. Plus with a great built in speaker that is impressively loud and clear, it’s great for media playback when traveling or hanging out with friends.
The Droid also features a convenient centralized notification system that helps organize your life. A dropdown toolbar displays alerts for missed calls, voicemails, new e-mails, new text messages, calendar reminders, Facebook notifications and even Twitter mentions. Responding or reacting to any notification is just one click away.
Did I mention this thing can make calls? Well, yes it can. And it runs on Verizon Wireless, the largest calling network in the country. The iPhone on the other hand, which runs on AT&T network, has become infamously known for its dropped calls and slow 3G data speeds. After almost a week of testing, the results show that the Verizon Wireless network was truly superior. Call quality was excellent, signal was strong and data speeds were often twice as fast as AT&T. Plus if you don’t have signal for some odd reason, the Droid can quickly connect to Wi-Fi networks such as UC Davis’s famous moobilenetx. Unfortunately this also means the Droid is a big distraction during lectures.
So that brings us to the big question, “Would you recommend the Motorola Droid over the Apple iPhone?” Yes and no. If you’re even a bit of geek and enjoy customizing and doing more with your mobile phone, go with the Droid. If you just want a feature-packed phone that might be limited in ways, but is truly simple to use, get the iPhone. The Motorola Droid won’t be killing the iPhone on its own, but there’s a good chance that phones running on the Android platform will. For example the HTC Hero and Samsung Moment on Sprint also use the same Android platform. This means the Apps downloaded through the Android Market, similar to Apple’s iTunes App Store, can run on any of these devices.
If you’re ready to break away from the iPhone trend, the Motorola Droid will hit Verizon Wireless stores on Nov. 6, 2009. Due to its high demand, Verizon Wireless Stores will be opening earlier than normal at 7 a.m. Compared to other smartphones, it is not that expensive, and will only set you back about $199 after signing a new 2-year contract and sending in a $100 mail-in-rebate. If you’re an existing customer who’s eligible for an upgrade, you should be entitled to an additional $50 or $100 discount based on the price of your current calling plan.
Please visit Skatter Tech (skattertech.com) to read Ian Thackston’s full in-depth review of the Verizon Wireless Motorola Droid to get any questions answered.
SAHAS KATTA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.