My First Week With DROID

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.

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

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

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84 comments
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  • The Droid

    I am curious-do you feel an application is coming along that will allow you to do to email what the Blackberry is already doing? Perhaps a software upgrade by Google? Having the ability to pull all your email accounts into one app is much better than what you have described. As for myself, I plan on purchasing the Droid either this month or next-just waiting for user's opinions on the operation/usability of the device.
    kro8037301@...
    • What about filters?

      Does the E-mail app support filters? Given the amount of spam that we all receive today (not to mention being on special-interest mailing lists that generate a lot of traffic), an E-mail app without filters is pretty insufferable.

      Server-side filters aren't a solution; there's no way to sync them across your accounts.
      dgurney
  • USB Drivers

    Thank you for the heads-up on the USB connection. Syncing data is important enough to be a deal breaker. Will be deferring any DROID purchase until this is resolved.
    That is a clear and well written report and I appreciate the comparisons.
    Flytdeck
    • Please note the updated text regarding USB

      Thanks.
      jperlow
    • USB Drivers

      I had no problem using my Droid with Win 7 Ult. Can't vouch for any of the other Win 7 versions.
      kbartels@...
  • missing

    Much is missing here. Just for examples... No mention of battery
    life. No credibility of this author on anything he says related to
    the iPhone. No credibility on camera quality--I claim with more
    credibility (because it currently doesn't work well) that the Droid's
    camera hardware is simply garbage that no amount of software
    will fix. No comparison of Verizon costs. No observations of
    memory use for apps.

    I realize this is just a quick little blog and not a review, but how
    much relevant new information is really provided here?
    dogbreath1
    • I thought it was called "My first week with Droid"?

      Where in that is the in depth review promised. Maybe one is coming soon. I think you were a tad harsh? :D

      TripleII
      TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
      • Indeed

        It's a first week's impressions -- far from a complete review, as I suspect the device and the software is quickly evolving -- and I thought it would be good to point out some of the issues I had with the device rather than duplicate many of the glowing write-ups on other sites. I really do enjoy the device but if we wear pink sunglasses as technology writers and do not address the issues the DROID and other Android devices have we aren't doing the consumers any favors.
        jperlow
    • Seriously?

      I doubt you even own a Droid. As a proud owner since 06November as well, the camera ISNT garbage and works just fine. Granted its not a replacement for a nice digital camera, but the two-stage flash and picture quality is far superior when comparing it to similiar devices. The battery life is variable and really depends on how many apps, how often you use the device, GPS, bluetooth, and having Wi-fi enabled options you have going on. I found personally that I can go about a day without charging it and doing light text/phone calling and some facebooking.

      Comparison of Verizon costs? Its $299 before $100 mail-in rebate ($199 on-line, $149 on-line for existing customers with a new every 2 credit) and requires a $29.99 email/data option or a combined data/voice package starting at $99.99.

      What are you referencing by "No observations of memory use for apps."? There is a 16GB card (upgradable to 32GB) that comes standard in the phone and i believe 512mb internal memory for apps themselves.

      So because its NOT an iDont dont knock it until you try it. You just might like it and find its better than the Apple competitor.
      JT82
  • RE: My First Week With DROID

    As I work closely with cell phones in a technical fashion, I was cautious about the Droid by Motorola, until I got my hands on one. After spending just a an hour with it I walked away very impressed (ok, so they had to drug me to get it out of my hands). Having been a Storm owner as well as multiple other smartphones, I was/am very impressed with the initial appearance of the device, from both a hardware and software point of view. Being able to learn more than the average customer, my appetite was further whetted as launch day came closer.

    On the morning of 11/6, I ordered my unit, which was received a few days later.

    Hardware: First class build feel, slider feels extremely solid. the touchscreen is simply amazing, the best I have experienced, bar none. The keyboard for me is very intuitive, also a winner!

    Software: This is my first Android experience; and while I am year behind a lot of other geeks, that will not last long. The apps available from the Market are for the most part very useful, chalk that up to developers who have had a year to work on their craft. The camera is sufficient, and I already have a camera for when I intend to take a picture. The email integration of Gmail is smooth as expected, and I have yet to find anything I do not like, save for the Android limitation on voice dialing from bluetooth. Definitely not a deal killer, just something else to look forward to in the next release.
    dwells401
  • Perlow lost, someone please find him help...

    Loading SDK's for common tasks? This sounds like a Linux green-screener's dream come true. For me and my mighty army of Microsoft engineers, we demand nothing but the latest and greatest Windows Phone. I personally love the ease with which I can draft a termination letter for an employee on Pocket Word. Or crunch the latest Windows 7 ROI/TCO numbers on Pocket Excel. The DROID will be just like the iPhone, a failed endeavor that makes no money and is only used by "wannabe" hipsters....
    Mike Cox
    • Say no more

      "I personally love the ease with which I can draft a termination letter for an employee on Pocket Word"

      That one sentence probably reveals more about you than you ever intended. Thanks, now we really know you.
      Economister
    • Right on Mike

      It is just the liberal elitist media which has created the mis-impression that the iPhone is great and popular product. It simply does not match up to the stellar quality of the Windows Mobile devices. Droid will be another failure just like the iPhone.
      Ballmer and Mike Cox have nailed the truth on that deal.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5oGaZIKYvo


      dfolk2
      • Dilusion is alive and well...

        on ZDNet... lol
        archa1c
    • Thanks for the laugh Mike, I needed one today.

      WinMo is a complete & utter failure.
      AdventTech67
    • You sure are catching a lot of suckers here Mike.

      ROTFLMFAO!
      AdventTech67
    • LOL - I give that a 7...

      So what did your MS rep have to say about all this? :D
      JT82
      • Don't you mean "I give that a Windows 7..." :)

        Just had to ;)
        John Zern
    • You and Loverock Smoke The Same Crack Pipe

      IPhone making no money?

      You're both meant for each other.
      itanalyst2@...
      • Superior crack

        I think Mike smokes a far superior (certainly more humorous) grade of crack than Loverock. Try reading a few of Mikes other famously pithy comments.
        dfolk2