Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

Summary: Does the Motorola Droid X have what it takes to topple the iPhone? Is it worth your hard-earned cash? Will it please business users? Read our comprehensive review to find out.

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The Motorola Droid X is the fourth "Droid" branded phone on Verizon Wireless, and Motorola's eleventh (!) Google Android-based smartphone.

The device has big shoes to fill: with an esteemed lineage that includes the original Motorola Droid (then the "best Android smartphone to date") and the HTC Droid Incredible (again, then the "best Android smartphone to date"), the Droid X carries a moniker that has, in just two years' time, come to indicate the best and most powerful of smartphones.

There are three smartphone gunslingers in the mobile industry: Apple, HTC and Motorola. (Sorry, Palm.) With the Droid X, Motorola reasserts itself at the top of the mobile food chain. (More on this later.) Though the U.S.-only phone's carrier, Verizon Wireless, has done a lot of trash talking about the Apple iPhone and its exclusive carrier, AT&T, the Droid X is perhaps most notable for leapfrogging, once again, inter-conference rival HTC.

Is the Droid X extreme enough to pass an "Incredible" phone? Read on to find out.

External Hardware

The Droid X manages to retain in equal doses the original Droid's style cues, the Droid line's black-on-black essence and pave some new ground in a number of ways.

[Image Gallery: Motorola Droid X hands on]

From the first glance you'll notice that the phone is nearly all screen. The plastic bezel around the 4.3-inch WVGA (854 by 480 pixels) display has nearly disappeared, so recessed that it's just a hair short of edge-to-edge glass on each side. At top, a thin speaker anchors a small panel with a green status light behind it; at bottom, an even thinner -- perhaps three millimeters -- strip accounts for a standard Android set of hard buttons: menu, home, back and search. Beneath that, a heel that's just over a quarter of an inch wide, punctuated by a lone pinhole for the microphone. There's no "chin" to this device like with the original Droid, and everything is flush with very narrow gaps in between panels.

The top side of the device sports a 3.5 millimeter headphone jack to the side, another microphone pinhole (for ambient noise) and a centered power/lock button that, using the device with one hand, is a bit far to reach your finger to, owing to the device's five-inch length. (It's just over 2.5 inches wide.)

The left side of the device sports a mini USB slot and a miniature HDMI port along the bottom corner. There's a spot on the bottom left corner for a lanyard. The right side of the device has a narrow, silvery volume rocker (up and down are demarcated by a gap) and, on the bottom, a camera trigger button in anodized red. That's right -- the Armani gold of the original Droid is gone for good. The bottom edge is blank.

The back of the device retains the panel styling of the original Droid, but does away with the original's gold mesh grille for a clean, matte-on-matte look, punctuated only by a brushed metal Motorola logo and smaller screenprinted Verizon and Google logos. At the top is a window for the device's 8.0 megapixel dual-LED flash 720p HD video-enabled camera, which has a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second.

The biggest thing to note here: the device is exceedingly thin, and slips into a jeans pocket effortlessly. That's because there's no slide-out QWERTY keyboard like the original Droid. The only thing holding the device back from uniform 3/8-inch thinness is the camera, which requires more depth. As such, there's a hump at the top of the device that's a hair over a half-inch thick. The Verizon folks liked to say that the hump "helped it rest in your hand." I'll just say it's not thick enough to be obtrusive (or to prevent it from slipping further into my back jeans pocket.)

If you didn't like the original Droid because it felt too brick-like, you'll appreciate the svelte profile of the Droid X.

Internal Hardware

On to the meaty bits. The Droid X sports Texas Instruments' latest iteration of its OMAP processor, running at 1.0 GHz, as well as 512 megabytes of RAM.

It carries support for Bluetooth, DNLA (the first such Android phone to do so), Wi-Fi, accelerometer, light sensor, GPS and 3G mobile hotspot tethering (up to five devices), which will cost an extra $20 per month.

As mentioned before, the device has three microphones to ensure quality audio. It comes out of the box with 8 gigabytes of on-board memory and a 16GB microSD card; it supports up to 32GB.

Battery

Verizon officials were keen on highlighting the strength of the device's removable 1570mAh battery. (In comparison, the rival HTC Evo on Sprint has a 1500mAh battery.) In testing, I found the battery to hold up well, and in a real-time simulation of daily use -- a couple of calls here and there, some Google Maps searching, lots of e-mail, Facebook and Twitter checking and moderate web browsing -- I was at half battery.

In fact, the Droid X offers the power user lots of granular controls for battery life. It offers three profiles -- "Performance Mode," "Battery Saver Mode" and a middle-of-the-road "Smart Mode" -- as well as a Battery Use menu to dive into the details.

(For example, as I write this sentence nearing midnight on the East Coast, I was 5 hours, 8 minutes and 50 seconds since I was last unplugged -- which happened to be at full charge -- using Smart Mode.)

Further, it will tell you what's using your battery -- for me, 85 percent display, 9 percent cell standby, 6 percent voice calls and 2 percent phone idle -- as well as allow you to set more detailed controls, such as specifying start and end times for certain power modes, with the option of a "data timeout."

(Update, 2:00am ET: I've been unplugged for 7 hours, 15 minutes and 34 seconds and have an "orange" [but not red] battery meter after light, intermittent usage. Display energy usage is at 84 percent of device total, and has been on for 2 hours, 4 minutes and 22 seconds.)

Display

There are indeed a few things to say about the Droid X's enormous 4.3-inch display. For one, the screen space is a breath of fresh air. Browsing, menu shopping, reading text -- everything's easier with more real estate, and once you see a full-bleed website (like ZDNet.com!) on this thing, it's real hard to go back.

Moreover, the screen's not as big as it seems, because it's mostly bigger in length, not width. That said, it's a touch wide for my hands. (Perhaps I'm just used to using my skinnier phone.) In that regard, the display is clearly not for everybody -- but it's for more people than you'd think.

Naturally, colors were vivid, edges were crisp and it was bright enough to handle daylight pretty well. If you're wondering if the Droid X display is any better than the "retina display" on the Apple iPhone 4, your guess is as good as mine -- I haven't tried one yet. Either way, it looks pretty good, especially playing video.

About that video, by the way -- the Droid X can play back 720p high-def video. The folks at Verizon have struck up deals with Blockbuster (for movie rentals) and the NFL (for live game streaming) to leverage that capability, and from what I've seen thus far, it's a nice way to make that cross-country flight in coach a little easier.

Camera

The Droid X's dual-LED flash camera takes brilliant photos. (Above, an example.) Impossibly, it's even got a nice field of depth, and takes better low-light photos than some point-and-shoots I've used. And at 8.0 megapixels, you can blow your handiwork up to poster size, if that's your thing.

One neat distinguishing feature -- a panoramic mode that allows you to "stitch" together photos into one mega-wide photo. (Good luck figuring out how to frame it.)

At your disposal are picture modes (single shot, panorama, multi-shot and self-portrait, despite no front-facing camera like the iPhone 4), flash adjustment, effects, face detection, ISO equivalent sensitivity, exposure and quality controls.

The video, while high quality, had a more difficult time in low light situations (it has a "light" setting that keeps the flash on, but it's a bit harsh), and was a bit sluggish to adjust on-the-fly to changes in light (such as moving toward and away from a lamp, for example). Controls are similar to the camera.

Calls

From the Droid X end, callers sounded clear and loud, on both normal and speaker modes. From another caller's perspective, a Droid X user's voice was crisp using normal mode but a little choppy (beginnings and ends) when the Droid X user was using speaker.

Verizon Wireless' network was not an issue for me in Manhattan -- for voice or 3G, for that matter -- but it rarely is here.

DLNA

The Droid X is the first phone to feature this technology, which allows for the interoperability and connectivity with other devices. It's mostly used in home theater, and, combined with its HDMI port, allows for you to output video to your DNLA-ready TV or Blu-ray player. I wasn't able to give this feature a try, but I've used DLNA before, and it's a good thing to support when your device can handle high-definition video playback.

Software: Motoblur

The Droid X comes with Android 2.1, which will be upgraded automatically, over-the-air to version 2.2 Froyo in "late summer." That version will also come with Adobe Flash Player 10.1, allowing the use of Flash-enabled content on the device.

What is perhaps most interesting about the Droid X is that it comes with Motoblur, but you might not notice it. Unlike previous Motoblur-enabled phones -- the Cliq, the Backflip, the Devour -- the Droid X's version is recessed, fading into the background and much more tightly integrated with the stock Android install. So while users have the ability to use Motoblur as it was intended -- widgets, card-style social media menus, centralized accounts, Swype input, one-touch media sharing, specialized media interfaces, various security measures I've detailed in previous posts -- you don't have to, and upon first boot, you're not forced to. (In fact, it doesn't even prompt you to create a Motoblur account at all.)

That's both good and bad. The bad? With Motoblur comes an extended development cycle, since Motorola developers must update their software to support the latest build of the Google Android platform. The good? That turnaround window seems to be shortening, as Motorola has promised a Motoblurred (if I may) version 2.2 Froyo in one to two months' time.

Software: Google Android 2.1 (or 2.2!)

So how's Google Android looking these days? Pretty darn good -- it's beyond its childhood stage and pushing adolescence. Even with Android 2.1, the Droid X is a highly capable smartphone -- perhaps the most capable Android device to date -- that can handle your personal e-mail, corporate Microsoft Exchange e-mail, streaming music, FM radio, video, social updates, news, sports scores, financial market data, GPS turn-by-turn directions and damn near anything you can throw at it.

My fellow tech reviewers (and consumers!) love to pit the Droid models against the iPhone in a tit-for-tat specifications arms race. While that may have been fair at the onset, the new iPhone 4 has demonstrated that it's less about specs and more about solving problems.

The Droid X solves my problems, but it doesn't always do it smoothly. It's lightning quick between menus, but sometimes -- and it's hard to reproduce faithfully -- it's sluggish to my touch. Sometimes menus don't pop up right away. Sometimes apps take less-than-lightning-quick -- say, traffic light-quick -- to load and display. Sometimes the home screen widgets on the device's seven (seven!) screens load slowly, or incorrectly, or with artifacts, particularly when they're large objects. (Exhibit A: my work calendar, seen in the above photo, occasionally was late to arrive at the scene.)

It would be easy to blame Motoblur for this, as many have with previous devices. But this time, I think it's Android, or the processor, or both.

Compounding this is minor usability gaps with regard to the Android interface. For example, when you move between home screens, the "call/menu/contacts" virtual menu at the bottom of the screen turns into an indicator to tell you which of the phone's seven screens you're on. When you're finished moving around, it recedes -- but so delayed that I end up tapping the screen to force the switch.

Same goes for the unlock screen, which drags ever-so-slightly before it "wakes up." And other combinations of interface animation and brief processing.

Don't get me wrong: the Droid X is a delight to use. But at times, the hypothetical finish feels a little rougher than it should, and it's lacking a certain refinement -- in how it switches between screens, in how it responds to the touch -- that one sees in an iPhone or even iPod.

The bottom line

The Droid X is poised to convince another batch of Verizon Wireless customers to upgrade from their feature phones. It's also, finally, prepared to please many a business consumer who wanted to switch away from a BlackBerry but didn't because of a lack of tethering. (Security, well, it's still not BES.)

The Droid X represents another leap for the Android platform and for Verizon's Droid brand, but it's not a quantum one. The pressure for innovation in the mobile market has produced, quickly, astounding handsets that quickly surpass one another. The Droid X is no exception. It's the thinnest, fastest, most eye-popping Android phone I've ever used. If you're on the fence about buying a smartphone, this one won't fail to please.

But there's still room for polish. In many ways, the latest Android phones represent the best of the PC laptop market: they don't offer the curated premium experience of an Apple device, but they don't have to, matching it with powerful hardware, an increasing number of quality apps and an unbending will to continue innovating at every turn.

Android or Apple? At this point, it's merely a matter of preference, and if you're willing to place your hard-earned cash on the $199.99 (with $100 rebate and two-year service agreement) Droid X, I'm confident you won't be disappointed.

Wondering what Motorola, Google and Verizon executives had to say about the Droid X? Read our liveblog from the launch event.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Smartphones

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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91 comments
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  • Almost 80% bigger than iPhone 4, lower specs and battery life

    <b>I mean this is not real competition.</b> The device is too huge (you will not want to put this in your pocket); battery life is short; sceen is poor (though bigger; low resolution, no IPS); camera resolution is better, but it's sensor is tiny and there is no backslide illumination, so it the end its worse; low flash memory (against 32 GB iPhone 4); no Wi-Fi in "n" mode; no gyroscope.<br><br><b>Wait few months and you will get on Verizon real thing (CDMA iPhone 4), not another "Mee Too" phone.</b>
    DDERSSS
    • I think it sounds like it is better in some respects, and not quite as good

      in others. A great phone, and great competition for iPhone. And, iPhone NOT available on Verizon!!
      DonnieBoy
      • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

        @DonnieBoy Droid X self destructs if hacked - part of Verizon's new 'Open' OS policy!<br><br><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/external/venturebeat/2010/07/15/15venturebeat-motorolas-droid-x-protects-itself-from-hacke-28717.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.nytimes.com/external/venturebeat/2010/07/15/15venturebeat-motorolas-droid-x-protects-itself-from-hacke-28717.html/</a>
        rvassar
    • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

      @denisrs So, did you even read the article, or did you just click it to be an annoying apple fanboy?

      it's not real competition, but only because it is a far better phone than anything Apple is capable of.
      Asten77
      • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

        @Asten77
        Talk about a deluded fanboy. Please read the real unbiased articles from impartial reviewers. Then have a clue before you post. Some people will believe anything to justify their delusions.
        GAGYRO
    • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

      @denisrs So, did you even read the article, or did you just click it to be an annoying apple fanboy?

      it's not real competition, but only because it is a far better phone than anything Apple is capable of.
      Asten77
      • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

        @Asten77 This is not what the article says. A good phone, but some quirks here and there. You should stop cherry picking.
        atari_z
    • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

      @denisrs Some people like choice, and don't want a crappy ios. Some people want a reliable provider, and a phone that you can make actual phone calls on. Not everyone needs the same phone.
      masterantonio
      • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

        @masterantonio

        But then how could the fanboi's and girls be so stylishly, and magically, iDentical?!
        klahanas
      • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

        @ klahanas

        iDentical? Did you think of that all by yourself?
        Funny how this mantra is often played out by NBMers who fail to see the irony.
        SpiritusInMachina
      • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

        @DeusExMachina<br><br>Indeed I did. People that don't drink Kool Aid do that. Should I trademark it? <img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/wink.gif" alt="wink"><br><br>Anyway, unless MS makes the Nexus One, then I'm not an NBMer. I'm a reforming, divesiting, $10K in 18 months Apple customer.
        klahanas
    • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

      @denisrs
      Well, at least you can hold the phone anyway you want without losing signal or dropping calls... I call that a HUGE advantage over the iPhone 4.....
      Snarfiorix
    • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

      @denisrs I look forward to linking to this post when you praise the iPhone 5 for its huge 4.3" screen.
      fawlty70
    • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

      @denisrs Don't delude yourself. There never will be a CDMA iPhone 4.
      weedalin
    • Verizon CEO already clued everyone in! No iPhone Ever!

      @denisrs Verizon has joined a coalition of service providers (40 Global wireless providers) to make their own market, because they are tired of being left out on the real money maker. They are cutting a deal to provide the best tools and give the best income percentage to Developers in the largest potential market. Selling apps that can be installed via HTML5 tools as widgets! :D

      If you don't like Droid X and prefer AT&T, and you like the same gyro (different number), same Samsung Hummingbird A8 as Apple's A4, with even more features then just wait for Galaxy S version release later in July on AT&T. With Super AMOLED Screen that's got higher contrast, better colors, and best view of any screen technology out today. So good it's going on a F-1 exclusively sponsored race car in embedded Ad panels in it's carbon fiber body, as well as it's Dash and Wheel readout. Try that that with a Retina IPS? ;)
      i2fun@...
      • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

        @i2fun@...
        Funny, I hope they don't try to use the car thing in daylight. Oh and F1, yes only because the battery lasts as long as the cars gas. And just to set you straight. The screen is inferior, argue all you want. We discovered the Earth was round a long time ago also.
        GAGYRO
      • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

        @GAGYRO:

        We have basically always known the Earth was round. That's why Chris Columbus had such a hard time finding someone willing to listen to him.

        The screen is far from inferior. It has better color. That means that unless you're close enough for pixel count to matter (meaning, less than 6" from the screen), color is what matters. Why the heck do I care if I can put my phone up to my eye? Especially with the relatively poor battery the iPhone has. The iPhone has an absolutely gigantic battery with only 1460mAh of life. That's pitiful compared to the Droid Incredible's upgraded battery @1800mAh. Everything outperforms the new iPhone, the iPhone just has a cool factor others are lacking.
        evilkillerwhale@...
      • Humpty Dumpty (iPhone 4) Sat on a Wall... Humpty Dumpty Had a GREAT FALL!

        @iGAGYRO@HK_aussie etc et al... Apple's users are having so much fun with their new iPwns (even more than when their iPhone got Owned at PWN2OWN) that this time their Myth of Superiority will get cracked off the face of the earth! hahaha...

        My Apple loving buddy is sooo..... pissed after one day of owning his new iPhone 4. He's dropped more calls than he ever did w/ his 3G. But there is a solution he found by accident. If he sits in a lounge chair, falls over backwards on his head... upside down, then the calls never drop! :D

        Yes it seems for left handed users (like me) making a call can be perilous. It seems their NEW Improved External Handy Dandy Antenna is NOT such a great idea afterall. According to him, it seemed that making a call upside down for a left hander while cracking your head open seems to work best outdoors!

        Galaxy S is far.... superior to it's concrete kissing cousin iPhone. You idiots don't even realize what screen technology innovation is all about. You've got a Retina Screen without the Corning Gorilla Glass it has on the back. Consequently it can still crack if dropped or you fall over trying to stay connected. haha.....

        Here's a bit pf GPS Pwnage for you:
        http://samsungi9000galaxys.com/galaxy-s-gps-review-sygic-gps-signal-and-gps-lock-times/

        Here's the rest:
        http://samsungi9000galaxys.com/

        Here's the difference, even morons can understand between Super AMOLED and Retina (regurgitated) IPS screens:

        Manufacture process; while Samsung and LG are supplying Apple's screens, the original IPS screen's process die was simply shrunk to account for greater pixel density. Then some of the layers (5) were glued together. If the thin glass cracks, you have to replace the whole thin screen. Just because you glue the glass to the touch interface doesn't mean you are going to reduce glare or increase response. It doesn't raise the puny 800:1 contrast ratio either nor make it easier to see in sunlight (as my friend found out)!

        Super AMOLED screens are the very latest technology that wasn't thrown together in the minutes like Retina. AMOLED's DO NOT require the backlight layer. They generate their own light. In so doing you have contrast ratios up 1,000,000:1 and the in this technology the touch interface is manufactured into the OLED layer and topped with glass w/o the need for a liquid filled space to conduct visibility to the screen layer under the touch interface, the glass simply lays in complete flatness against the combo screen in just two layers

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58gZzqvqhRk&feature=player_embedded#!

        btw... Apple has FAILED completely this round. Their NEW Antenna drops calls more often than 3G or 3GS. I hear they're going to come out with a "How To Hold Your iPhone for Dummies" manual soooon..... ! lol :P
        i2fun@...
    • RE: Motorola Droid X review: bigger, badder, better

      @denisrs
      @denisrs
      You musat be both an iphone user and an Obama supporter as your blinders have made you unable to see the truth. Too Huge are you nuyts most people who buy phones as a work or play device would love to have this size screen. The evo 4G which is the best phone on the market and kills the limited iphone 4 hasan awesome screen and size. No onw wnats those little sdreens that web pages have to be scrolled jjust to see the basics.L resolution o r do you mean not the same pixel size as the iphone 4? 8 hours of battery on a workhouse cell phone media deivce with an easy to replace battery or 10 hours on a battery they want you to pay to change and have to spend $100 to do.I know Im not stupid enough to be tricked by apples dummy clauses...hmmm and where does the micro card go in an iphone? Oh yeah that cant have one so no card swaping your stuck or have to hook to a computer.So basically everything you said is not true but the opionion of a blinded apple fan who has to ask steve jobs if he can breath and how much will it cost for that apple logoed air.This is a strong phone better then the iphone 4 but not quite on the level of Evo 4 by HTC which is the best phone maker out there
      Fletchguy
      • The People Have Voted

        @Fletchguy As opposed to a Bush supporter? The people have voted. Just look at the lines at the Apple and ATT stores.

        And look who is occupying the Oval Office. I know it just kills you to accept reality so just keep on with your denials. They're amusing.
        godsfault