Motorola Droid X Is Full of Promise, Problems

 
 
By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2010-06-29
 
 
 

Motorola Droid X Is Full of Promise, Problems


The latest Android phone, Motorola's Droid X for Verizon, delivers good multimedia playback and capture experience, network tethering capabilities, and solid connectivity and policy support for Exchange e-mail infrastructures.

While I encountered a few problems with the device, particularly with the WiFi implementation, those problems could be attributable to the prerelease version of the software on my test device.

I tested a Droid X running a prerelease version of Android 2.1. Although Verizon and Motorola both tout the device's support for Adobe Flash 10.1, customers will find that Flash support won't be present at the device's launch. Instead, that feature won't be added until an unspecified date late in the summer when Android 2.2, or "Froyo," will be delivered via on over-the-air update, even though Froyo is already rolling out to other devices such as the Nexus One.

eWEEK Labs looks at the Droid X; click here for more.

The Droid X will ship July 15 for the Verizon network. The list price is $580, but Verizon will offer the Droid X for $199 with a 2-year contract, after a $100 rebate. Verizon representatives have said the Droid X will have an unlimited data plan-with no hard or soft caps-for $30 per month (on top of the voice and messaging plans). Also, at launch, the Droid X will be available at that discounted price to all current Verizon customers who are eligible for an upgrade any time in 2010.

The giant 4.3-inch touch screen (854 by 480 WVGA) dominates the first glance at the Droid X, taking up the lion's share of space on what is an unusually large device. At 2.6 by 5.0 by 0.4 inches and 5.47 ounces, the Droid X is noticeably longer, wider and heavier than the iPhone 4 (2.31 by 4.5 by 0.37 inches and 4.8 ounces).

The lack of a physical keyboard lets Motorola keep the device slim, for the most part. But the listed thickness of the Droid X is a little deceiving, as that figure represents the unit at its thinnest point. Due to the camera and flash assembly, the Droid X thickens to nearly 0.6 inches near the top, making the device seem a little top-heavy and awkward to hold in portrait mode, compounded by the awkward placement of the MicroUSB port on the lower left side, which makes it more difficult to type in portrait mode with the device plugged into a power outlet or a PC. For some reason, I had particular difficulty triggering the space bar when typing in portrait mode on the multitouch keyboard, leaving many run-on words in my wake.

Unfortunately, I also found using the device in landscape mode a bit challenging due to the device length, as my natural hand position made for a long stretch when typing characters in the middle of the on-screen keyboard, although I found my typing slightly faster and more accurate than when holding in portrait mode.

Thankfully, Motorola also added the outstanding Swype on-screen keyboard to the Droid X, introducing drag typing to the smartphone. Not only does Swype allow me to change the position of my hands while typing-changing from a two-thumb pecking model to a single forefinger drag position-I found my typing speed improved 10 to 20 percent, with improved accuracy.

To complement the large screen on Droid X, Motorola added a high-resolution still and video camera to the device. The 8-megapixel still camera features auto-focus, zoom controls and a multiflash option-although the camera defaults to capturing 6 MP images. Shutter speed was a little slow, however, as I could only take two manual pictures in 5 seconds (as opposed to six in 5 seconds with an iPhone 3GS.) However, Android does offer a multishot capture mode that takes six pictures automatically in rapid succession.

The Droid X also features on-device editing capabilities, allowing me to tag the phone, change brightness, add effects,  and rotate or crop the image.

The video camera can record video up to 720p at 30 frames per second, but the real innovation lies in Motorola's assortment of microphones. The Droid X comes with three microphones that can each be used with video capture, allowing the user to change capture mode according to the audio source. With one microphone on the front of the device, a second microphone on the back and a third found along the top spine of the device, the Droid X is poised to best record audio from the video subject, from the filmmaker or from ambient sources.

To tap those microphones, the Droid X offers four capture modes: an Everyday mode that utilizes all microphones; an Outdoor mode relying on the noise cancelling features of the top microphone to reduce wind noise; a Narrative mode to focus on the device holder; and a Subject mode to focus on the subject. In my limited testing I found the Narrative mode a bit unnecessary, as it didn't seem to improve pickup of the narrator's voice over what was captured in Everyday or Outdoor mode. I also tried recording video in the white-noise-laden environment of eWEEK's test lab and found the Subject mode did a better job of picking up subject audio and reducing white noise than the Outdoor mode.  

For video playback, the Droid X features an HDMI-out port (cable sold separately for $30). The device also supports DLNA for media sharing.

Tethering, Networking, Sound


 

The Droid X offers plenty of processing power, storage and memory, delivering a TI OMAP 1GHz processor with 512MB memory, along with 8GB of on-board storage plus 16GB more storage via the included MicroSD card. The MicroSD slot supports cards of up to 32GB. Despite the powerful underpinnings, I occasionally found the device sluggish when opening new applications or accessing settings screens, with the device sometimes lagging several seconds before completing an action.

Available for Verizon's network, the Droid X supports the 800/1900 bands for EvDO (Evolution Data Optimized) Rev. A. The Droid X also features an 802.11n WiFi radio, albeit one that only supports the 2.4GHz band. As this was the first smartphone I've gotten my hands on that used 802.11n, I was excited to discover what benefits the faster connection could confer, but instead I quickly found the Droid X showed a propensity to fall off some WiFi networks altogether. When testing using Ruckus Wireless access points (either 802.11n or 802.11g models), the Droid X would occasionally stop transmitting within minutes (even though the device appeared to still be connected), thereby failing to migrate the connection to Verizon's network. I could not reproduce this behavior when using Aruba Network's access points.

Verizon supports WiFi tethering on the Droid X, allowing users to share the Verizon WAN connection with up to five additional devices via WiFi. Adding WiFi tethering to Verizon's plans costs an extra $20 a month, with a 2GB bandwidth cap. Tethering overages cost 5 cents per megabyte.  

Tethering mostly worked during testing, albeit again with inconsistent compatibility. I successfully tethered a Lenovo ThinkPad T400 running Windows XP SP3, a MacBook Pro running "Snow Leopard" and a handful of different smartphones. However, I was not able to tether either of two SIM (Subscriber Identity Module)-less iPhone 3GS units running iOS 4-getting an "Unable to Join" message on the iPhones. Meanwhile, I was able to tether iPhone 3G units running both versions 3.1.3 and 4.0. To attach either of the iPhone 3GS units, I needed to disable wireless security altogether on the Droid X.

Unlike the original Droid, the Droid X ships with Motorola's Motoblur social data and update aggregation service, albeit an iteration that is highly toned down from that which came with the Motorola Cliq or the Devour. With Droid X, Motorola consigned the Motoblur update widgets to secondary home screens to the left or right, with separate pages for updates for user-specified contacts, new calendar and e-mail entries, and social networking updates. On other home screens, I found preconfigured widgets that pull in weather or news as well as a screen for media playback.

The Droid X and Motoblur together support multiple Exchange mailboxes for e-mail, contact and calendar integration. The Exchange integration also supports a limited number of policies, allowing me to centrally require passwords and enforce password complexity on the Droid X via my Exchange 2007 (it also supports Exchange 2003) infrastructure. I also found that through Exchange I was able to successfully complete a remote wipe action on the device.

The sound quality on the Droid X was surprisingly good through the earpiece, not as muffled as has been the case with many competing devices over the last few years. On the other hand, the speakerphone sounds very tinny under normal conditions. Located on the back of the device near the bottom, the speakerphone could also be quite muffled when the device was lying flat on a soft surface like a stack of papers.

The Droid X supports Bluetooth 2.1, with EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) and A2DP, the latter adding stereo capability. I successfully paired the Droid X with a Plantronics Voyager Pro, finding that the headset's call control button successfully operates with the VAD (voice-activated dialing) on the Droid X. I also found the stereo capabilities worked as expected when paired with a Motorola Motorokr S9, although the call control button on that headset would only redial the last number called, not activate VAD.

The Droid X comes with a 1540 mAh battery, which Motorola rates for 8 hours of usage or 220 hours of standby time.

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