My First Week With DROID

Summary:The Verizon/Motorola DROID is by far the most powerful and versatile smartphone I have yet encountered. My first week with the device was one of joy, adapting to the learning curve of the Android OS, and understanding the device's limitations.

The Verizon/Motorola DROID is by far the most powerful and versatile smartphone I have yet encountered. My first week with the device was one of geeky joy, adapting to the learning curve of the Android OS as a former BlackBerry user, and understanding the device's limitations and quirks that come with being an early adopter.

Updated 11/16/09: As many of you know, I became a Verizon Wireless customer on November 6, on the launch day of the Motorola DROID. I had extremely high expectations of the new Android 2.0-based smartphone given the many reviews/previews that had appeared on the Internet, and from extremely positive feedback from my colleagues that this indeed was the device that would fit my needs. I had gone without a smartphone device for just over a month, having terminated my BlackBerry AT&T contract and now was ready to try something new.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Gallery: Jason Perlow's First Week with the DROID

For the last 10 days, I've been traveling with the DROID and really putting it through its paces. Having never been an Android user or an iPhone user before, I was not accustomed to using a touchscreen/keyboard slider device, so it took a bit of adapting to the DROID after being a BlackBerry user for two and a half years, which by comparison is heavily reliant on using a thumb trackball and is a speedy and efficient interface that can be used with one hand.
If you are used to a BlackBerry and are considering a DROID or other Android-based touchscreen smartphone, be aware that you really cannot use an Android device one-handed. The interface is definitely tactile, so if you are used to thumbing around like you can on a BlackBerry, and loved the speed in which you could get to your core applications, be prepared to slow down a little. The DROID is indeed extremely fast and fluid for a touchscreen interface, and probably even faster than an iPhone in that regard, but a BlackBerry it isn't.

The other thing I had to get used to was that my email was now of a Pull/Sync model that was specific to GMail rather than the Unified Inbox/Push approach of a BlackBerry. Since I was already a heavy GMail and Google Calendar user, having the ability to affect changes on data in the cloud directly from my device was really cool, but I miss the "Unified Inbox"on the Bold 9000 that showed me my GMail, Yahoo and Hotmail accounts.

The web version of GMail has the ability to consolidate POP3/IMAP accounts and the DROID comes with a regular POP3/IMAP mail client, but I'd really like to see all the accounts in a similar Unified Inbox with messages flagged or color coded from their originating accounts.

Additionally I really liked the BlackBerry dedicated GMail J2ME application, which allowed you to quickly search through a huge archive of GMail messages. You can certainly search through unsynced older email just fine with the Android GMail client, but it's not as fast as what I had with the BlackBerry, which communicated with GMail in real time and allowed you to scroll through email searches a lot faster.

Additionally, while Android 2.0's FaceBook client is far more advanced than what the BlackBerry has, the BlackBerry does have one advantage in that any internal messages you receive in FaceBook are updated in your unified mailbox. The Android 2.0 client for FaceBook doesn't seem to have the ability to do this. You'll want to turn on your FaceBook email message notifications if you want to see them in GMail.

Android's native applications are indeed quite impressive (see Gallery) and I particularly liked the location-aware applications and the ones which use dynamic data updates with information coming from Google's cloud and other related services. You have to get used to the fact that you are not going to be "Syncing" the DROID with your PC or Mac, all your data essentially lives in Google-land.  This is both a huge advantage to Android-based devices in that you are leveraging all of Google's power in the palm of your hand, and at the same time entirely dependent on it.

UPDATED: One minor technical annoyance is the need to manually "Mount" your Micro-SD card onto your PC after connecting your DROID via USB when you want to transfer data to and from the device. Several readers contacted me with a correction after I published the first draft of this article to notify me that I had reported that the USB drivers with Windows 7 64-bit exhibited problems with my desktop machine at home and I was unable to mount the data simply by plugging the device in, which is the behavior that you would typically expect with a camera, USB peripheral or a PDA/Smartphone.

When you connect your DROID via USB, you will notice a "USB Connected" notification. Once you see this notification you have to PULL DOWN the notification bar on the top of the screen UI and click on the notification message and are then prompted with a  "Mount/Don't Mount" dialog. If you click on "Mount" your PC will then mount the DROID as a block storage device like any other USB drive. This is definitely an annoyance that Google and Motorola needs to address, because this type of USB device behavior is completely counter-intuitive when compared with virtually all the other USB storage capable smartphones sold on the market, particularly when the Linux kernel has had auto-mount USB host capability for a long time.

I was able to test the "mounting" procedure this morning on my work RedHat Enterpise Linux 5.4 laptop and it does work, and I was able to see the drive as a USB block device and could copy files in and out just fine. I'll let you know how things go with Win 7 again when I get home from my trip to Baltimore towards the end of the week.

[Author note: While there are some users definitely reporting issues with Windows 7 and USB on various fora I will state that I personally could not get the Android SDK that I had installed on Windows 7 to even report the DROID device ID with "adb devices" with USB debugging mode enabled on the DROID when I could do this quite easily using the Linux version. This would indicate to me that something is definitely wrong with the DROID Linux USB stack and how it behaves when connected to some Windows 7 machines. Additionally Motorola's own developer site notes that it does not currently support Windows 7 with its proprietary USB drivers in conjunction with the Android SDK. ]

Other annoyances I encountered include erratic Bluetooth connections (I kept disconnecting from my Jawbone 2 for no apparent reason until I rebooted the device) and a limitation in the current Android 2.0 software which prevents you from using your Bluetooth headset with the Voice Dial and Voice Search.

The DROID's camera, while high-resolution (5MP) and capable of recording video, is somewhat quirky and has serious focusing issues, particularly in low-light conditions such as inside a restaurant. Closeup photos are also a bit of a challenge. If you were thinking of using the DROID as your primary camera, don't bother. I suspect the issue is entirely software related to the "Camera" application or the camera's embedded Linux servomotor driver/firmware, which will hopefully be resolved soon, but I intend on keeping my trusty Canon G7 in my travel bag until it gets fixed. [UPDATE: It did in fact turn out to be a firmware bug, which Verizon is fixing on December 11.]

Even with these quirks, I am really enjoying my DROID purchase and look forward to updates and new Android Market software as it becomes available.

Have you joined the DROID army? What are your likes and dislikes? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Mobility, BlackBerry, Browser, Collaboration, Google, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Smartphones, Social Enterprise, Software, Windows

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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