Review: Motorola Droid 2 keeps the form factor but juices the hardware

Summary:The Motorola Droid 2 is more of a good thing for Droid fans. Learn where it's been updated, where it excels, and the caveats that could lead you toward a different Android device instead.

The Motorola Droid 2 is more of a good thing -- if you're a fan of the original Droid, which has been the best selling Android device of the growing fleet. Learn where Motorola updated the device, the areas where it excels, and the caveats that may cause you to consider a different Android device instead.

Photo gallery

Motorola Droid 2 photos: Improving the No. 1 Android phone

Specifications

  • Carrier: Verizon Wireless
  • OS: Android 2.2 (Froyo)
  • Processor: TI OMAP 1.0 GHz with dedicated GPU
  • RAM: 512 MB
  • Storage: 8 GB internal + 8 GB microSD (expandable to 32 GB)
  • Display: 3.7-inch 480x854 FWVGA
  • Battery: 1400 mAH lithium ion
  • Ports: Micro USB, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Weight: 5.96 ounces
  • Dimensions: 4.58(h) x 2.38(w) x 0.54(d) inches
  • Camera: 5.0 MP, digital zoon, dual LED flash, auto-focus, image stabilization
  • Sensors: acceloromter, proximity, ambient light, and ecompass
  • Keyboard: 45-key slide-down hardware QWERTY; vertical and horizontal on-screen keyboards
  • Networks: CDMA 1X 800/1900, EVDO rev. A
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR; DLNA
  • Tethering: 3G Mobile Hotspot (connect up to 5 devices via Wi-Fi)
  • Price: $199 (with 2-year contract)

Who is it for?

Some still prefer a hardware keyboard on their smartphone, especially many business professionals who've grown accustomed to BlackBerry, Palm, and Windows Mobile devices over the past decade. For keyboard lovers who also want a device that is as compact as possible, the Motorola Droid 2 is a top candidate. The LG Ally is another Verizon device with an excellent hardware keyboard and it's even more compact than the Droid 2, but it's not nearly as powerful. The Samsung Epic 4G is a Sprint device with a great hardware keyboard and it's even more feature-rich than the Droid 2, but it's also much bulkier.

What problems does it solve?

The original Droid, released just 10 months ago, was the first Android 2.0 smartphone, the first Android product to become a mass market hit, and the best-selling Android device on the market. However, the Android ecosystem has exploded in 2010, with devices from HTC, Motorola, and Samsung pushing the envelope month-after-month with new product launches. As a result, the original Droid started feeling old and crusty before it even reached its first birthday. Sure, Motorola and Verizon teamed up to deliver the Droid X this summer, but not everyone wants that huge touchscreen-only monstrosity. For those who want the power of the Droid X but still prefer the form factor of the the original Droid, there's now the Droid 2. The other big problem that this product solves is the keyboard. Motorola got rid of the thumbpad and made the keys bigger and more tactile.

Standout features

  • Compact form factor - One of the things that impressed me the most with the original Droid was how much technology Motorola fit into a such small package, especially when you consider that it has a full physical keyboard. They've done it again with the Droid 2, but have also managed to round off some of the edges (literally) and make the design feel more polished. This device slides in and out of pockets quite nicely.
  • Top notch build quality - For the size of this phone, it is heavier than you'd expect. That supports my feeling that Motorola has packed a lot into this device. In fact, it is actually half an ounce heavier than the wider and taller Droid X. Some people won't like the heavy feeling of the Droid 2, but I think it gives the phone a substantial feeling that's appealing. Similar to the Droid X, there's a lot of metal in the Droid 2 and its design reminds me of the industrial strength walkie talkies that Motorola makes. IT departments will appreciate the sturdiness.
  • Updated smartphone hardware - The additional processing power, memory, and storage will be welcome upgrades for those who liked the design and form factor of the Droid but have been holding off from buying it because of the lagging hardware specs. The Droid 2 catches up to the top Android smartphones in performance and features, in most cases, although it notably lacks a front-facing camera and the regular camera did not get an upgrade but remains at 5.0 megapixels.

What's wrong?

  • Smaller screen - After using devices like the HTC EVO, the Droid X, and the Samsung Captivate, the Droid 2 screen now feels a bit small and cramped. Part of that is the price you pay for a more compact device, but the screen size is definitely a trade-off with the Droid 2.
  • Keyboard is still inferior - The keyboard in the original Droid was awful -- one of the worst smartphone keyboards I've used. Most people I know who got the Droid liked the idea of the keyboard (knowing it was there was a bit of a safety blanket), but when I asked them how much they used it, almost all of them would say they rarely pull it out. The Droid 2 keyboard is definitely an improvement, as I mentioned above. I'd actually use this one more than the original. However, if you really want a smartphone keyboard for lots of data entry, I'd recommend the Samsung Epic 4G (Sprint) or the LG Ally (Verizon) or the BlackBerry Torch (AT&T).
  • Mediocre as a phone -- The call quality of the original Droid was not a great, which was surprising because Motorola has been in the phone, voice, and audio business for a long time. Plus, Verizon uses CDMA, which typically has good voice quality. However, my experience with the Droid as a phone was very mediocre and TechRepublic got a lot of reports from users saying the same thing. Unfortunately, Motorola and Verizon do not appear to have fixed this in the Droid 2.

Bottom line for business

If you want a compact, top-the-line Android smartphone with a hardware keyboard and Verizon service, the Droid 2 is the answer. Following on the heals of the success of the original Droid, I expect the second edition to continue to be one of the most popular Android phones and those who were drawn to the original Droid but had been holding off because it was lagging behind can now pull the trigger. However, if you really interested in the hardware keyboard then a better Android device is the Epic 4G, and if you make a lot of phone calls then you need to make a lot of voice calls then you may want to consider a different phone.

Competitive products

Where to get more info

This article was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Smartphones, Hardware, Mobility, Verizon

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

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