Droid: a mini-review

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(1) The difference between Apple and Motorola is that Apple will trade antenna design or call quality for slightly cooler case design; meanwhile, the Droid is built like a tank, does phone calls really well, and looks like it belongs in a belt holster. Also, the default email alert tone is “Droooiiiidddddd!!” Either you find this charming or you don’t, and if you do, there is a quite high probability that your job title contains the word “engineer”.

(2) The screen is gorgeous, albeit fingerprint-greedy, and the Google-designed interface is surprisingly polished; in fact, it’s the first sign that the notion of “polishing an interface” in the Apple/Palm sense has actually occurred to Google, Inc. But it retains some puzzling choices from earlier versions of Android. For example, there’s a sideways-scrolling desktop, with three pages of 12 icons each, and a vertically-scrolling application drawer, and if you add an app to the former you end up with the icon in both places. I understand that one of them is technically a “shortcut” to the other, but they look identical — this metaphor is broken, not to mention a waste of precious small-screen real estate. It’s hard to see how this interface could work well with the 120+ apps I have installed on my iPhone at the moment.

(3) I expected the physical keyboard to be a slight benefit, but I’ve used it exactly twice now and I don’t really plan to use it again. It feels like a lot of work to open, and I’ve gotten so used to the iPhone keyboard that the Droid’s onscreen keyboard just seems natural now (also note the rumor of the future keyboardless Droid). And the onscreen keyboard has one nice touch that the iPhone’s doesn’t have: a “Caps Lock” function.

Update: it turns out that the physical keyboard has one value — since the power button on the phone is so tiny and hard to access, shifting the keyboard is the only way to wake up the phone one-handed, for example if you’re using the other hand to steer your car. Was any of this tested in the real world?

(4) The integration with online services is a little bit spooky: even if you choose not to import your Facebook contacts, it apparently queries your public profile anyway. As a result, the Droid “magically” knows the suggested spelling of your friends’ names when entering them by hand. Also, a friend who wasn’t in my contacts phoned shortly after I activated the Droid, and his name and photo appeared on my screen, cross-referenced through Facebook in a way I can’t figure out (I assume he must have his mobile number posted in his own profile?)

(5) The Android Market is surprisingly weak, even if you allow for the fact that it’s 10% as big as the iPhone App Store. The top paid games aren’t very slick by iPhone standards, even though the hardware should be roughly comparable, and the ratio of trivial apps seems even higher than the App Store. As an iPhone developer, I hate to say this, but I have a sudden new appreciation for Apple’s annoying editorial oversight. On the bright side, there still seems to be a lot of opportunity here for independent developers to break through with new hits.

Summary: this is easily the best phone on Verizon right now, and it’s much more of a serious iPhone competitor than I expected. The major remaining problem is the selection of apps. Since I use my iPhone entirely for apps, this is kind of a big deal, but your priorities may vary.

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