Verizon Droid: First Impressions

By  |  Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 8:07 am

DroidVerizon Wireless’s Droid won’t show up in stores until a week from Friday, but the company has shared loaner devices with technology journalists and bloggers, including me–PC World has a good roundup of the first reviews. After having spent a bit time with it, I’m not surprised that Verizon is trying to encourage hands-on coverage of the device in the days leading up to its release. A few random thoughts:
Yes, it’s impressive. I keep saying that we’ve been waiting for the first great Android phone, and here it is–Android 2.0 is a much nicer OS than its predecessors, and the Droid shows it off to excellent advantage. No, it’s not an iPhone killer, but I think a meaningful percentage of Verizon loyalists who have been sitting around waiting for a V-iPhone will get this instead, and be pleased. And there are certain things about the Droid–the screen, the openness, Google Maps with navigation for free–that’ll provoke a feeling iPhone users aren’t used to: envy.
High-resolution screens are going to change smartphones. The Droid’s 854-by-480 screen is a delight–it allows for a dozen thumbnail previews of Web pages that are crisp enough to be recognizable, and Google Maps satellite imagery dazzles. If I were the maker of any other touchscreen smartphone, I’d be scrambling to match it right now.
The Droid flies, mostly. The phone’s relatively robust tech specs compared to previous Android phones pay off: The interface generally matches the fluidity of the iPhone (with a few exceptions–when you pull down the list of status updates, it’s herky-jerky) and the browser, like that of the iPhone 3GS, is a joy to use. I need to use the phone in more places before I form conclusions about data speed, but I have noticed that sites designed for use on mobile devices seem to pop into place–no waiting required.
The keyboard is a plus, but not for the reason you might think. I’ve come to the conclusion that vertically-oriented phone keyboards like the ones on BlackBerries and the Palm Pre are more usable than horizontal ones like the Droid’s, because they let you thumb-type without having to stretch your hands too much. And while the Droid keyboard is decent, the phone’s thin case doesn’t leave much room for travel. But here’s why I’m glad the Droid has a keyboard: It leaves all of the phone’s pixels available for stuff that would otherwise be eaten up by the on-screen keyboard. That’s a boon for apps which require a keyboard all or most of the time, such as instant messengers and word processors.
The iPhone still rules for entertainment. This is an area where Android 2.0 doesn’t seem to have changed much–it’s still got a music player and a video player and an integrated version of Amazon’s MP3 store, but the apps are pretty basic and there’s no way to buy or rent movies or TV shows.  Eventually, Android’s openness could make it a more appealing media platform than the iPhone, since purveyors of content will be able to develop cool apps without worrying about whether Apple will approve them, and audio-related ones can run in the background. But for the moment, Android 2.0 feels like Google has ceded the media race to Apple. And Verizon and Motorola didn’t do anything to compensate.
The iPhone OS is still more elegant and intuitive. You can pick up an iPhone and figure out nearly every feature (keyboard excepted) with virtually no learning curve, and once you know what to do, you can do it with remarkable swiftness. Android, on the other hand, is solid overall, but it feels a little more like a desktop OS that’s been shrunken to phone size. There are things that are hard to remember–every time I pick up an Android phone, I need to retrain myself on some tasks, such as how to install widgets. on the desktop
The Droid isn’t Verizonized. When word began to leak out about the Droid, lots of skeptics said that Verizon Wireless would hobble Android. On the review unit loaned to me by the company, however, there’s little evidence of Verizon’s involvement except for its logo on the case. It feels like an Android phone, not a Verizon one, and seems as open as any other Android device.
Google Maps with Navigation rocks. I said that iPhone owners might be envious of certain Droid features, and this would be one of them. So is Google Voice (which isn’t preinstalled on the phone, but is available on the Android Market rather than being stuck in App Store approval limbo).
More thoughts to come–anything in particular you’d like to know about the phone?
 
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21 Comments For This Post

  1. DJ Says:

    Hey Harry,

    Can't wait to see it. Love that the iPhone apparently has real competition now. That's definitely a big win for consumers.

    Your review makes me wonder how many iPhone users (particularly in the SF Bay Area and NYC) will go Droid because of AT&T's reputed network congestion woes.

    Can't see people leaving en masse, unless Verizon slashes their data plan prices.

    My guess is people aren't going to be frustrated enough to jump ship. Especially, since many of the tech-savvy people Verizon seems to be marketing to in their iDon't commercial, probably have a ton of dough invested in iPhone Apps.

    Either way, I'm kinda diggin' this Google/Verizon vs. Apple/AT&T smackdown. It's like a tag team cage match, except that in the end it's our gadget lust and not our blood lust that's gonna get satisfied.

  2. Alex Says:

    My questions are mostly related to pricing, which I tried to understand from Verizon’s website, but just couldn’t figure out. I’ve never had a smartphone before, and I don’t know much about data plans or data pricing (a chart would be awesome):

    How much would it cost to get a Droid on the various plans (limited vs. unlimited voice/data plans)?
    Can I add a Droid to a family plan which doesn’t have any smartphones?
    What if just got another phone a few months ago and I’m not eligible for an upgrade? Can I still get a Droid, and would it cost the same?
    How can I figure out what the data speeds will be like in my area? I know that AT&T doesn’t even have non-roaming coverage here right now, and a few of my friends with iPhones have had their service canceled for using too much time on roaming, but Verizon has good coverage for normal phones, I just don’t know what 3G would be like.

    The Droid is a very interesting phone, but I need to know more before I consider it. Thanks for your help!

  3. Paul Johnson Says:

    Can you talk about battery life? With the extra pixels, the multitasking, etc., I just cannot believe the greater-than-iPhone claims that Motorola is making for the Droid’s battery.

  4. Daniel Says:

    Harry,
    how do you keep us upto date with review over the long term? These reviews are nice to see but sometimes over the long haul do you see what some of the major pain point are. For example the Zune, how has it been over the last few weeks? I’m always interested cause this is the real selling point of the iPhone on the user satisfaction over the life of product.

  5. John Baxter Says:

    I was very encouraged that your loaner wasn’t a “crippled by Verizon” phone. As a former Verizon customer, I was worried about that. I hope the real thing is the same.

    The upcoming Verizon Android phone from HTC may well be even better.

    The Verizon coverage map claims I have good coverage. But it made the same claim when I left them for bad coverage a couple of years ago.

    All this doesn’t matter here, since I have a year left on my AT&T contract.

  6. Eric Says:

    Any more info about Google Voice integration would be appreciated. (e.g. Can the Droid use Google’s contact list to select a contact for an outbound call? Does your GV phone # appear as the incoming # to the person you’re calling?)

  7. Justa Notherguy Says:

    @John Baxter:

    I know what you mean. During five years as a Verizon customer, I experienced a number of annoying problems with their service. This, despite their maps showing my home in one of their best areas for coverage.

    Some were likely systemic (vanishing text messages?), but others were clearly matters of variable signal-strength…like incoming calls that went straight to voicemail, with no ring-through.

    I assumed this was a simple matter of topography vs tower location – parts of this town are well below sea-level – but Verizon didn’t want to hear about it. Seems they adhere to a flat-earth policy. ;)

    Its in beta, for now (~7 cities, I think), but soon we’ll have access to independent mapping of signal strength on US cell-networks. Keep an eye on c|Net’s ‘Root Coverage’ feature.

    http://reviews.cnet.com/coveragemap/?carrier=att&mode=voice

  8. Justa Notherguy Says:

    @eric:

    If I understand both of your questions, correctly, the answer to each is, ‘yes’. See if these links help.:

    http://lifehacker.com/5194098/gv-integrates-google-voice-into-android
    http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/google-voice-mobile-app-for-blackberry.html
    http://gizmodo.com/5315428/google-voice-for-android-better-but-not-perfect/gallery/

  9. Justa Notherguy Says:

    @Alex:

    The minimum monthly fee works out to ~$70…ie: $39.99 for 450 nationwide minutes, plus $29.99 for VZW’s standard ‘Web for Smartphone’ service. Adding a Droid, or any smart phone, should be no problem; but I suggest calling Verizon’s customer service for specific pricing info, relative to your existing plan(s). Dial *611 from your VZW phone or from any phone, (800) 922-0204, Monday-Sunday 6am-11pm

    As to the possibility of upgrading your current phone, I wouldn’t bet on that unless its one of their cheap/free models. Still, it never hurts to ask – especially if your purchase plans will result in boosting your monthly fees. Cell carriers like that. ;) And it might help to first try asking at your local Verizon store…it can pay to have a good relationship with the staff, there.

    Oh – and make sure the store is VZW-owned, not an independent reseller. Big difference.

  10. Michael Says:

    Do you miss the multi-touch (compared to the iPhone or Pre that is)?

  11. Jim Says:

    Battery life?

  12. BVFX Says:

    you need to retrain yourself on how to add widgets?

    wow.

    i stopped reading there, dont need tech reviews from someone that cant handle simple tech.

  13. Motorola Android Says:

    The Motorola Android Droid phone looks amazing – we can’t wait to get it!

  14. Wes Tanner Says:

    We will see, it just so happens I am with Verizon and am upgrade eligible. I called them and they won’t give any info on costs, or allow pre-ordering. I was going to upgrade anyway, probably to HTC, but now I have to get the Droid! Hopefully Verizon will treat it’s long time customers fairly….I have been with them since “the bag”, and now I have 4 lines, one is with a Storm…and I have certainly contributed to their gross receipts!

  15. Patty Says:

    The keyboard is flat… and all the keys are touching each other.

    What good is a keyboard if you can’t feel the keys????

  16. Roger Says:

    Why do VERIZON and AT&T always get the best phones? Any chance of the Droid or the Storm2 coming to SPRINT since it operates on the same type of network as VERIZON?

  17. wm coverdale Says:

    Multitasks!! You should be able to listen to Pandora while surfing the net and e-mailing.

  18. Rob McMillin Says:

    Wow, an entire review article and not one word written about whether the thing supports WiFi? This was one of several deal-breakers for me on the Blackberry Storm; November 2008′s “iPhone killer” is now being practically given away at $50/copy, so Verizon: straighten up and take notice. The rest of the world isn’t going to jump when you tell them just because you’ve got a new smart phone. You’ve gotta start being, well, smarter.

  19. Solitarysherlockian Says:

    Like Hamlet–conflicted whether to change to Verizon for Droid or keep with T-Mobile (who have been great) for a My Touch G3. Any ideas?

  20. pubchum Says:

    Nobody is talking about the Openness of the OS. How is it more open than an unlocked iPhone? Can I customize its graphics? Can I add more “desk top” pages?

    How much OS can I access?????

  21. Janice Says:

    I typed on the Droid for about 5 mins at the store… and couldn’t stand that keyboard.

    The keys are just flat and all crammed together. No “feel” to them at all.
    Can’t be used in portrait-mode at all. Makes the device heavy and twice as thick as I like.

    Is this the *TOP* Droid phone model???

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