The Droid we're looking for

Just in: The Motorola Droid. I'm just at the first impression stage but I like what I see (this may be the droid we've been looking for).

The obvious comparison is with, of course, the T-Mobile G1 manufactured by HTC. Motorola's late entry into the Android, AKA "Googlephone", market has allowed it to produce a more powerful and sophisticated product.

A quick aside: T-Mobile? Are you paying attention? On the "Learn" page for the G1 you're still asking users to "Vote for the 2008 Engadget Awards!" You might want to fix that.

The Droid hardware is very good. The whole package is sleek, has a pleasant heft and a slide-out keyboard so there are no annoying creaky hinges like there were with the HTC G1 I reviewed some time ago. The keyboard also has a joystick-like pad that works far better as a navigation device than the trackball on the G1, but the size of the keys is a little tight for my large, banana-like fingers (I insert capitals with wild abandon).

Other Droid specifications: up to 450 hours standby and a 420 minute talk time, a 854×480 pixel 3.7-inch touch-sensitive display and 16 million color depth, 512MB ROM and 256MB RAM, and a microSD and microSDHC expansion slot.

The operating system on the Droid is Google's Android 2, otherwise called the "Éclair" release (why do developers use such un-sexy names for products? Consider the Ubuntu releases which include "Hardy Heron", "Intrepid Ibex", "Jaunty Jackalope" and "Karmic Koala" … just downright lame. And "Éclair"? Pah!).

Connections include a USB2.0 jack, a 3.5mm audio jack, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR and Wi-Fi. The Droid also includes accelerometers and GPS as well as proximity and ambient light sensors.

The 5 megapixel camera gets somewhat better results than that of the G1's 3.2 megapixel camera (the Droid also has a flash), but even so, the picture quality and camera response are nothing to write home about. Or even post pictures about. Oh, and it also shoots video.

The overall performance of the Droid seems much better than the G1, some of which appears to be improvements in Android 2 (the G1 is on version 1.5). The Droid has a 550 MHz Arm Cortex A8 processor while the G1 uses a 528 MHz Qualcomm MSM7201A -- not a lot of cycles between them, so there may be some architectural benefits to the Cortex that improves performance (any processor nerds care to comment?).

An odd design decision with the Android 2 implementation on the Droid is that for some modes, such as when you are viewing the home screen, the display doesn't automatically rotate; you have to open the keyboard for this to happen. This has caused a certain amount of irritation amongst the early adopters.

There are also some system bugs: At one point I found the display stuck in landscape mode. I had to restart it to get it to toggle between landscape and portrait again. It also appears that the ambient light sensing doesn't work quite right; I can take the Droid from a dark room into daylight and the screen brightness won't change.

The worst bug, and one that I have now seen twice, is the Droid ignoring me when there was an incoming call. This is disastrous as no matter what I did the phone would do nothing but ring until it went to voice mail; then normal service was resumed.

These bugs are surprising in such an otherwise polished device. I suspect they will be quickly fixed, but it does make you wonder whether Motorola's QA guys are doing their jobs well.

Another early annoyance was that every hour or so the Droid would say "Droid" in a robotic voice. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to make that stop, but I either unwittingly hit some setting or it just got bored and ran out of small talk. Whichever, the "Droiding" has ceased.

So, do we have an enterprise device here? Not really. There are no remote management features and no enterprise security features. I have also read that connecting a Droid to a Microsoft Exchange server is problematic (I couldn't test this as I, thankfully, don't run Exchange).

But does the Verizon Motorola Droid live up to the hype? I think so. The Droid is powerful, slick and, given its features and $199 price, it will be a compelling package that really does rival the Apple iPhone.

There is one thing that may well put users off: Verizon's recent decision to double its Early Termination Fee (ETF) for all smartphones to $350 (prorated at $10 per elapsed month). Yep, you read that right: Double!

This is crazy given the state of the economy and could really take the gloss off the release of the Droid unless, of course, Verizon believes that enthusiasm for the device will make the ETF unimportant. I think not. Moreover, I think it makes Verizon look even more Big Brother-ish and rapacious than it is considered to be.

Even so, the Motorola Droid is a solid product (providing Motorola fixes those bugs) and will do a lot to reinforce Android as a mobile computing platform. I give the Verizon Motorola Droid a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

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