Deathmatch: Motorola Droid versus iPhone

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I like the Droid's implementation of Google Maps better when it comes to following directions. The iPhone pages from one junction to the next, so I lose the context of where I am in relation to my whole trip. The Droid -- like the Palm Pre -- moves the map along the path, so you have a better handle of the next junction point.

The winner: The Droid. The built-in navigation app sets it apart in a big way.

Deathmatch: User interface Many users hate the touch keyboard pioneered in the iPhone, which is one reason the BlackBerry remains more popular. The Droid tries to let you have it both ways, with a slideout physical keyboard and an iPhone-like touch keyboard.

The Droid's touch keyboard is very much like the iPhone's. It lacks the multilingual support of the iPhone, but it lets you choose from suggested words as you type (the iPhone only lets you decide whether to accept its sole suggestion). Both are clear and easy to tap on, once you get the hang of touch-tapping. Call it a draw.

But the Droid's keyboard is awful. The keys hardly move, and they're flat and hard to distinguish from each other, so it's difficult to carry off the two-thumb touch-typing that a BlackBerry Bold or Palm Pre user would expect. It's hard to type accurately on it; I wish the Droid's sugegsted-spelling feature worked when I as typing on the physical keyboard, not just when tapping on the touch keyboard. I can type quickly on the BlackBerry Bold's keyboard, but I barely inched along on the Droid's physical keyboard. And the rocker-style trackball that works with the physical keyboard is equally awkward. Basically, the Droid's keyboard is a waste of hardware, and as you'll likely not use it, it simply drags down the phone, adding unnecessary thickness and weight.

The iPhone's screen is smaller than the Droid's, but it's sharper and consistently holds its brightness level. I like the idea of the Droid's larger screen, but it tends to flicker if you leave its autobrightness setting on. Also, the Droid's lack of gesture support, due to the absence of a multitouch screen, limits your ability to maneuver through apps and information.

Overall, the iPhone's UI is cleaner and more intuitive, as examples throughout this review have noted.

The voice quality of the Droid's phone is better than the iPhone's -- and in my home town of San Francisco, the reach of Verizon's 3G network is much more extensive than that of notoriously stingy AT&T, so I expect speedy data access to be more available to Droid users. The two devices rapidly eat through battery life, each lasting less than a workday on a single charge if used for regular data access and a few phone calls. You can carry a spare battery for the Droid but not the iPhone, though most people will instead keep a USB cable handy to charge the devices from their computers (both use proprietary cables).

The winner: The iPhone. The Droid's poor keyboard and lack of multitouch screen are inexcusable, and the fact that Motorola could think those were acceptable design choices reminds me why Motorola has been a nonentity in smartphones for the last decade. The fault is not just Motorola's, though; Google's OS also delivers an uneven UI. The Droid's Android OS suffers from an ailment common to most OSes: lack of user-oriented elegance. The Android UI is not terrible, but it clearly has not received the care and attention it deserves. It doesn't have to be this way; the HTC Droid Eris' Sense UI extensions show that an Android device can compete with the iPhone in terms of UI quality.

Deathmatch: Security and management I was excited when I heard that the Droid would finally support Exchange servers. But as noted, it doesn't support Exchange ActiveSync security policies, so the Droid removes itself as a smartphone option for many organizations. By contrast, the iPhone supports a decent set of ActiveSync policies and thus can meet the compliance requirements of many companies.

The Droid's lack of concern over security extends beyond Exchange. It does not support on-device encryption, unlike the iPhone 3G S, and its palette of security features is quite limited: You can require a touch pattern as a sort of visual password to use the Droid upon startup or after a timeout (a nice feature), but there are no capabilities for, say, requiring complex passwords, disabling the device after several failed access attempts, or wiping the device remotely. The iPhone supports several such security methods, though you need to use the iPhone Configuration Utility to set up most of them, and you need either an Exchange connection or a MobileMe account to enable remote wiping.

The Droid supports two additional security features worth noting. One, you can set it so applications use security credentials, such as those supplied on an SD card. Two, you can set up VPN access using several VPN protocols. The iPhone also supports security credentials and VPNs, but because the iPhone does not support removable media, credentials must be installed via e-mail, URLs, or the iPhone Configuration Utility.

The Droid also falls short of the iPhone when it comes to manageability. The iPhone has limited management capabilities via the iPhone Configuration Utility -- which doesn't work over the air and can't enforce deployment of policies -- but that's better than the utter lack of management capabilities of the Droid. (Note that an increasing number of mobile management providers are promising iPhone and Android support, but that means getting an additional server product.)

The winner: The iPhone. Although it doesn't match the BlackBerry's security and manageability, it is far ahead of the Droid. Small and medium-size business can consider the iPhone seriously; the Droid is essentially an option only for businesses that don't have security or management practices in place.

Where the Droid wins The Droid beats the iPhone in only two areas: location support, thanks to its built-in turn-by-turn navigation app, and phone voice quality. It does have some small innovations that Apple and others might consider adopting. For example, its gesture pattern "password" is an interesting approach that could thwart some device thieves, and its large screen is a welcome bucking of the trend toward smaller displays that are harder for us middle-agers to read.

The Droid also supports multiple simultaneous apps, but it provides no real way to take advantage of that fact, other than the ability to switch among them. The Pre is a better model for taking advantage of multitasking than the Droid.

Where the iPhone wins There's no question that the iPhone is a better device for both business and consumer users. Its business capabilities are stronger, and it's a better fit for corporate security needs. Its wealth of apps is unmatched, its ability to take full advantage of the Web is much stronger, and it simply is much easier to use than the Droid.

The overall winner is ... There's no surprise here. The iPhone significantly outclasses the Droid. After all the hype about "the Droid does" and how it could match or even beat the iPhone, the Droid has turned out to be much more like the BlackBerry Storm, a device with interesting ideas hobbled by stupid design choices. There are too many competitors for a Storm wannabe to survive.

The Droid isn't a serious contender. If you want an Android device, consider the HTC Droid Eris instead. Although not business-capable (it has the same limitations there as the Droid), it has a much more iPhone-like UI.

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