I wanted to love the Droid X. I really did. The specs are awesome, and it got rave reviews from friends and colleagues, who overwhelmingly recommended it as the best of the Android phones. Even Paul Thurrott enthused about his Droid X, calling it “hands-down superior to anything designed in Cupertino.” So I picked one up from Verizon, secure in the knowledge that I had 30 days to decide whether to keep it or send it back.
Initially, I found a lot to like about this device. But two full weeks of carrying it around the Western U.S. on an assortment of business and pleasure trips was enough for me to decide, with no hesitation, that for me, Droid doesn’t cut it.
What went wrong?
Initially, at least, I was seduced by the device—or, more accurately, by Verizon’s network, which actually works in my office. That’s a pleasant and striking contrast to AT&T, whose signal doesn’t penetrate to my home office at all and only reaches about half a bar on the other side of the house. My wife, who loves her iPhone 3GS, has learned that the best way to make it through an entire conversation on the iPhone is to sit in one spot on the couch and try not to move around too much. If I could use it in my office, the iPhone might be an option, but I can't, so it isn't.
Update: A commenter asks why I don't just get an AT&T MicroCell, which connects to the local WiFi network to send and receive phone calls. I tried it earlier this year, but unfortunately, the layout of our home doesn't allow the signal to reach both the office and the living areas at the same time. In addition, it adds $20 a month to the already high phone bill. So it's a nonstarter.
Eventually, though, the novelty of being able to use a mobile phone to actually make phone calls wore off, and I had a chance to evaluate this device and the rest of the Android platform on its merits. And that’s where things began to fall apart.
For starters, I realized the device was just too big for my taste. That big, bright, high-resolution screen is part of its appeal, but it also makes it awkward to stash in a side pocket and a little too big to fit comfortably in a shirt pocket.
And although the Droid X is impressively fast at most tasks, it pays a familiar price for that performance, generating a level of heat that I found literally uncomfortable. It wasn’t hot enough to fry an egg, but on more than one occasion I flinched when I touched the back of the device.
Whatever it was doing with the CPU was having an impact on battery life as well, because I had a hard time getting through a working day (much less from sunup to sundown on a long midsummer day) before the battery died. Generally, I found that it would quit before the nine-hour mark, which simply isn’t acceptable for business travel. Using the turn-by-turn GPS seemed to be a particularly big power gobbler. This was particularly inconvenient on one extended driving trip, where the Droid battery conked out about a half-hour before we reached our destination, and we had to use a backup phone to call for directions.
I’m sure I could have figured out how to squeeze more battery life out of the Droid by tweaking its settings, but just finding those settings was what finally sent me over the edge. The Android OS, at least as customized by Verizon on this device, had dozens of icons spread out over seven screens. Some were part of the OS, some were third-party apps, and the whole thing looked like it had been designed by a committee of mad scientists.
The first app I downloaded was a Task Killer, which I used to shut down all of the running apps (more than 20) that were starting by default on this phone, including Skype, which I don't use. But within a minute or two, all of those apps restarted themselves. Gee, thanks, Verizon.
Ultimately, what unsold me on the Droid X in particular and on the Android platform in general was its complexity. I understand why geeks love this OS. Like Linux, it’s a tweaker’s playground. I’m sure I could have solved all my problems by rooting the device, downloading a new kernel, and starting from scratch.
But the last thing I want is a device that requires constant babysitting.
So, after spending a few hours trying to figure out how to make everything make sense, I surrendered, packed the whole thing up, and shipped it back.
And the search continues.