Thumbs up on the Verizon/Google Droid

My first impression of the Verizon/Google Droid cell phone which starts shipping today is very positive. Based on Google's Android operating system, the Droid signals a whole new era in handheld devices and computing.
Written by John Dodge, Contributor

At last, the Apple iPhone has some real competition.

The Verizon/Google Droid which I have been using for the past 36 hours ships today. Droid is the first mainstream device of what will be many based on Google's Android operating system. You likely know about Droid given Verizon/Google's ad blitz extolling the features it has that the iPhone doesn't such as a swap-out battery and the ability to run multiple apps. Without identifying the iPhone directly, there's no doubt what's being identified in the Verizon/Google ads: "These arrogant little devices are barely worth more than the pocket link they rest upon." Try telling that to legions of happy iPhone users!

As a rule, I am usually skeptical about new technology, but the Verizon/Google Droid (made by Motorola) impresses me. It's not perfect or polished, but many of its features are terrific (CNet liked it, too).

The browsing features are hard to beat given the tight integration with Google search. For instance if I type in "e-t" up comes Ethan Allen or E*Trade. The only problem when you click on them is that you are taken to a Google results page and not directly to the site where you want to go. But Droid's search is powerful, nonetheless.

And why type it in? The Droid has a very accurate voice recognition system which I've only been able to fool once out of about 20 tries some with considerable background noise (see photo).

Speak and you shall be understood

When I said ActionVideoGroup.com, Droid came up with ActualVideoGroup.com, but got it right the second time. The voice feature is slick. The GPS feature integrated with GoogleMaps is very rich and constitutes a major threat to standlaone handled GPS vendors. Point Droid loaded with Google Sky Map to the heavens and it'll tell you exactly what stars and planets you are looking it. Yes, I am impressed.

Supposedly there are 10,000 Android apps already to upward of ten times that for the iPhone, but some reportedly do not work. So far, I've downloaded Pandora Internet Radio and the Weather Channel which both work fine.

I am still finding my way around this rich new cell phone, but was comfortable after 24 hours with zero instructions that came with this preview unit.

Yes, Verizon/Google still call it a cell phone, but it's much more than that. Hey, groovy, the phones works, but the Google integration, search/browsing, crisp display and the applications are what stand out.  But understand, I do not have an iPhone for the basis of comparison. My Blackberry Curve is a Stone Age relic compared to the Droid.

Droid is far from perfect, though. The keyboard is klunky and I am surprised Motorola could not do better. I found the touchscreen a bit jumpy and imprecise, too . And my 20-year-old daughter's first question was: "Does it look cool?" Frankly it's a non-descript black mini-brick with a slide-out keyboard and feels a touch heavy.

I was planning to upgrade to a Blackberry Tour when I can get my next contract renewal discount in March. Forget it. I would go for the Droid without hesitation. I have to believe Apple's engineers are impressed, too.

So the stars are lined up: the  Apple AT&T team versus Verizon Google team. Hmm, somebody is missing from this heavyweight bout, Micro.. who?

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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