Droid Preview: iPhone's first real competition has arrived

Droid Preview: iPhone's first real competition has arrived

Summary: Verizon Wireless' highly-anticipated Droid provides the first real honest-to-goodness competition to the iPhone. But should you buy one? Well, that depends.

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I've been testing the new Droid mobile phone from Motorola running on Verizon Wireless for a couple of days and have to admit to being impressed by way the new handset has filled many of the gaps left by the iPhone.

I've been a fan of Android since the G1 came out on T-Mobile on and wrote the Google Phone Pocket Guide for PeachPit Press.

Verizon is marketing Droid squarely at potential iPhone customers by promoting its features that aren't available on the venerable Apple device.

Droid's biggest advantages come courtesy of Google's Android operating system, which graduated to version 2.0 (code named Eclair). Android is maturing quickly and its open platform, background apps,  widgets and customization expose many of the chinks in the iPhone's armor. When you combine Android 2 with the hardware features included in the Droid handset – including its physical keyboard, removable battery, 5MP camera and expansion slot – you have a potent one-two punch against the iPhone.

As expected, the Verizon network is its best feature. Calls are clear and I haven't had a single dropped call in my testing. My iPhone displays the "Call Failed" error at least once per day. VZW is also attempting to lure customers away from the iPhone (and AT&T) by promoting the company's superior 3G data network with its There's a map for that campaign.

While themes and widgets may seem trivial, they're a welcome upgrade over the iPhone which provides no customization options without jailbreaking the device. Mac users may be concerned about the lack of native sync software for the Mac, but luckily Google Contacts sync natively with Address Book and Google Calendar syncs with iCal.

Droid's optional haptic feedback, which provides a slight vibrating feedback as keys are pressed, is another welcome addition. Another major upgrade in Android 2.0 is the addition of Google Maps with driving directions which provides voice-assisted turn-by-turn directions based on GPS. On the iPhone GPS with directions costs extra – including a hefty monthly fee.

While a physical keyboard may seem like a good idea, I find Droid's mushy with not enough key travel. To make matters worse, it doesn't auto-correct as you type. The good news is that Android 2.0's virtual keyboard has an improved layout which improves accuracy and includes a smart dictionary that includes contact names.

The Droid is available tomorrow for $200 (after a $100 mail-in rebate) and requires a minimum $70 monthly service plan for two years – text messaging costs extra. Droid comes with a 16GB MicroSD card, expandable up to a 32GB.

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Google, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility

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73 comments
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  • The MicroSD card is not only expandable

    It is hot-swappable. So basically your storage is only limited to how many cards you can afford.
    Michael Kelly
    • You will be told that this is a disadvantage

      Apple cultists will tell you that if the cards [b]can[/b] be swapped that this hurts the mobility of the device because, according to their Jobsian logic, [b]you must carry around multiple cards[/b].
      NonZealot
      • Well my simple solution to that

        My phone holster has wallet-like pockets in it. I put them in there.

        Plus I rarely even swap them. Music and pictures fit handily on the primary 32 GB card. I use the other cards for video, which I do not use on a daily basis.
        Michael Kelly
        • I absolutely refuse to use a holster

          It is one thing I really, really like about my Diamond. It really fits very comfotably in my pocket.

          I personally don't view removable storage cards as a particularly desirable feature for me but I'm not stupid enough to claim that the feature makes the device less portable.
          NonZealot
          • What happened to your logic?

            NZ,
            There was a time when you posed valid arguments against everything
            Apple from time to time. I enjoyed debating the points with you. Now
            your argument is that iPhone users, like me, <i>will undoubtedly
            argue</i> that a particular feature makes a product less portable.
            You then attempt reinforce this claim by bringing it up as a
            justification for calling people like me, who happen to like our
            iPhones, <i>"stupid enough to claim that the feature makes the
            device less portable"</i>.

            The problem is that you, sir or ma'am, are the only one who has
            mentioned this supposed argument. You have elected to insult
            hundreds of thousands of iPhone users with a baseless accusation
            from a statement <i>you yourself</i> have created from whole cloth.
            Give me a break already!!! If you have something factual to add,
            please do so. I really do miss some of our debates. Until then, please
            spare me the pain of seeing you devolve into such mindless drivel!

            BTW: I have a holster for my iPhone, but it also fits very nicely in my
            pocket and is often found there.

            (Yes, I know, I fed the troll)
            use_what_works_4_U
          • I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried

            We've been told that removable batteries, bluetooth keyboard drivers, and removable storage cards all make other smartphones less portable because using Jobsian logic, if the device supports a peripheral, you must carry that peripheral with you. I seriously couldn't make this stuff up, I simply haven't consumed near enough Kupertino Koolaid.

            And I would suggest that if your iPhone DID fit comfortably in your pocket, you wouldn't have a holster. The [b]fact[/b] that you have a holster [b]proves[/b] that the iPhone is too big. The Diamond, being 70% the size of the iPhone, never has trouble fitting in my pocket. It even fits in my Speedos. ;)
            NonZealot
          • I hope the smiley means you were kidding...

            because otherwise we're wandering into contradiction city.

            My G1 fits in my shirt pocket too, but I choose to use the holster anyway. Partly because I keep my pens in my shirt pocket and don't want them damaging the screen, but mainly because I just prefer using the holster.
            Michael Kelly
          • ???

            I have not seen those statements but I will trust that you have. Apple
            has certainly never made these claims though. I have seen fanboys
            argue that carrying around peripherals is more effort, but not that the
            mere ability to do so is more effort.

            Not that my personal choices are relevant to an entire marketplace but
            let me address the holster. I use the holster during the work week
            because it is more convenient access to the phone than standing up to
            reach into my pants pocket. I sit at a desk or in a car all work week,
            but it is not always the same desk so I don't put my phone on the
            table top. On the weekends I tend to be on my feet most of the time.
            At those times I carry the iPhone quite comfortably in my pocket. I
            grant your privilege to assume what you want based on limited facts of
            my personal choices. However, to extrapolate such assumptions into
            proof of facts not in evidence smacks of the ridiculous. It's an
            opinion, and it's one on which we disagree. Size is a constant but "too
            big" or even "too small" is a matter of personal opinion. You feel the
            iPhone is too big. I disagree.
            use_what_works_4_U
          • just dumb

            very dumb, very dumb. Iphone is superior without a doubt; just listen to your logic. How hopeless a discussion......
            masterurmind
          • Right Macadam

            No he isn't the only one saying that. Ill second the comment about the card swapping. Most (and I stress most meaning not 'all') mac people will complain about something as trivial as having to swap cards. Big deal! At least on this phone you can swap batteries...plus you have a much better network.
            Stop getting so defensive about something so trivial as this and go do something actually productive.
            webstalkers@...
          • Tell you what

            You spend 25 years supporting Macs and Mac users. You spend 2+
            years in an Apple store providing no-cost support to that
            demographic and then you can tell me what "most Mac users" will say.

            When I discuss the Mac community I am discussing it based on
            thousands and thousands of direct user support/inquiry/sales
            interactions. I suspect that when you do you are discussing it based
            on the Internet loud mouths. Mac users who have a need to carry
            multiple data cards do so. When they have a question about it the
            question is along the lines of "will my Mac read this as it is formatted
            by default?" The answer is yes, BTW.

            I think that swappable cards are a good thing. I have never in the last
            10 years ever felt the need to carry a spare battery for my phone, but I
            think that for those who do, that ability is a good thing. My opinion is
            that for the majority of users these are not highly utilized features.

            The iPhone is NOT for everyone. I have, while working in the Apple
            Store, advised people to buy something else if they felt the need for a
            swappable battery. If I were in NYC, I would undoubtedly advise
            people to get a phone that is <i>not</i> on AT&Ts service.
            use_what_works_4_U
      • Who needs Apple Cultists ...

        to "tell you" anything?

        Especially when they have a paid MS Shill (like "Bitty") to speak *for* them?

        ;)
        brian ansorge
      • We will? How do you know that?

        You work for Apple now?

        I think the iPhone team and AT&T are ready for the Droid.

        The extra capacity will be tied to Cloud computing.

        Maybe not this year but probably next.

        And the App store and ease of purchase of music will outshine the
        camera and the smart card.
        mlindl
        • Disagree

          I think the Droid is going to surprise Apple and AT&T. I don't think
          they saw it coming and I don't think they are truly ready for it.
          Historically Apple has not been very reactive in these scenarios either.

          My hope is that Apple will continue to improve the iPhone and that
          they will partner with more US carriers. If they don't then my days
          with the iPhone are probably limited due to the way AT&T has recently
          treated me as a customer - not the coverage which is fine where I live
          but the attitude.

          As for the ease of the store? Have you ever shopped Amazon's MP3
          store? It is every bit as easy to use as the iTunes store. Anyone smart
          enough to develop and market the Droid this well will no doubt come
          up with a great app distribution model in due course.

          I think the Droid is a good thing. Not because the iPhone is bad, but
          because the growth of the product space brings benefit to us all.
          use_what_works_4_U
          • Exactly

            No matter what you think of either phone, health competition never hurt anyone. Unless said company allows their product to stagnate then that's their own fault.
            smarkie
          • healthy competition

            Unless your living in today's America. Where the government thinks
            healthy competition is a bad thing and prefers to take over health care,
            banking, automotive, and insurance. So I wonder when they will take
            over the phones, they are already working on the Internet.
            margolies@...
          • idiots statements about competion

            the stifulling of competition has been since reagan gutted the anti trust laws. It's not the government that hate competition, it is business.
            cradulich
      • IF you are trying to quote

        what I said was a great feature of the iPhone - i.e. a large internal hard drive which makes carrying multiple cards a thing of the past - then you have it wrong when you say carrying multiple cards makes the device less portable. Carrying multiple microSD cards does not make a smartphone less portable - it's if you keep having to swap out cards to find something that makes it more of a hassle as opposed to having everything on a large internal hard drive.
        athynz
  • Competition is GREAT!

    I am glad Android is taking off, the future is
    Linux driven devices/appliances.

    To the naysayers that Linux distro devices/appliances
    are a 'niche' I guess Google is a 'niche' as well...

    ;)
    use_linux
    • Yes it is!

      I like my iPhone a lot, but I am glad that the Droid phone has arrived and
      has done so as a, reportedly, very capable competitor. I am hoping that
      this will inspire further growth/development of the iPhone while also
      providing me a real hardware choice in the future.
      use_what_works_4_U