Review: The Motorola Droid 2 is the type of QWERTY slider smartphone the world was waiting for last fall when the phone maker launched the original Droid on Verizon Wireless.
That may seem a bit harsh for the Motorola Droid, which I genuinely liked when I tested it and the Droid Eris back in November.
The harsh reality is smartphone software and the applications built to run on them are progressing at such a frenetic clip that what looked great nine months ago seems pass??Â«.
Case in point: Last November, Android 2.0 on the Droid was the belle of the ball, with Google Maps Navigation luring users with free turn-by-turn GPS directions.
The Droid 2, which launched on Verizon Wireless Aug. 12 for $199 after a $100 mail-in rebate, sports the much faster Android 2.2 and two new tools that augment the user experience.
These include Google Voice Actions for Android and Google Chrome to Phone. More on those later.
The Droid 2 feels lighter to me than the Droid did, which is puzzling because both are listed at 169 grams, or about 6 ounces. Like the Droid, the Droid 2 is roughly 4.6 inches long, 2.4 inches wide and a half-inch thick.
Also, I like how the device sports a 3.7-inch screen, which in my opinion is the perfect size for a smartphone screen.
Bigger screens also hog battery power. I don’t know if the smaller screen was a factor or not, but the 1400 mAh Li Ion battery in the Droid 2 was the same type as the Droid.
However, while the original Droid offered 385 minutes of usage time (270 minutes standby), the Droid 2 sports 575 minutes of usage time (15 hours of standby).
I let the Droid 2 battery fend for itself for a day and a half, despite using it for several calls and running several Web applications and doing several Web searches before requiring a recharge.
So the battery is great, among the best I’ve tested in the Droid line. Also, while the original Droid used a 550 MHz, the Droid 2, like others of its ilk, uses a 1 GHz chip to support the faster Webkit browser.
First things first for functionality. Those of you who own the Droid or tested it know how flat and bland the keys were on the QWERTY keyboard.
The Droid 2 markedly improves this, raising the keys for a superior tactile feel and losing the unwieldy d-pad navigation key located on the right of the Droid’s keyboard.
The Droid 2 physical keyboard won’t be mistaken for that of a BlackBerry Bold, but it’s totally reliable enough for heavy corporate e-mail users who need to text a lot.
Speaking of which, Android 2.2 boasts Microsoft Exchange support with remote wipe, providing some enterprise management capability for IT administrators.
You know what isn’t any more reliable than it was on the Droid? The Droid 2’s virtual keyboard, which is too narrow to provide accurate typing for anyone but children or adults with petite fingers. That’s reason enough for me not to buy one.
Conversely, both the virtual keyboard worked like a dream on the Droid X when I tested it last month. The keyboard is my biggest pet peeve about the Droid 2.
Web surfing with Android 2.2 was a breeze, and videos on Websites such as ESPN.com’s mobile Website ran without a hitch because the Droid 2 comes strapped with Adobe Flash 10.1 support. Hallelujah.
Droid 2 Calls, Voice Search, Chrome to Phone
You may have read about dropped signals for the device. The device dropped no calls for me in Connecticut, where I’ve been testing it since Aug. 13.
However, unlike other Droid devices I’ve tested, the Droid 2’s signal seems a bit compromised, sometimes fading out of 3G.
That’s a problem Motorola and/or Verizon will have to rectify, assuming they can pinpoint the causality. Somehow I don’t see free bumper cases in Droid 2 users’ futures.
Call quality was clear and crisp as usual for Verizon in this state. Swype allowed me to handwrite my way to quick texting where and when I wanted to.
I love speech-to-text input when I’m feeling lazy. The Voice Commands widget on one of the seven Motorola home screens was a treat, allowing me to say words such as “call” or “text” to send messages by speaking into the phone.
However, the Google Voice Actions for Android is an excellent new addition. Launched for Android 2.2 devices Aug. 12 (yes, the same day as the Droid 2 appeared in Verizon stores), the utility has been baked into Google Voice Search.
Just tap the Voice Search widget, speak a command such as “text Jane” or “call Rob,” and the software immediately pinpoints those contacts in your phone and carries out those actions.
While fine in theory, voice recognition presents the same challenge. Requests to “call Marisa’s Restaurant” returned a variety of options, everything that sounded phonetically like my query, but weren’t close from a semantic standpoint.
Voice Search needs some polish, but when it works, man is it great. I also “voice searched” Google Maps for Central Park and that worked fine. So, hit and miss.
Chrome to Phone
More exciting, and more reliable was Chrome to Phone, the extension/application tandem for the Chrome Web browser and Android 2.2 smartphone, starting with the Droid 2.
Leveraging Google’s cloud-to-device messaging API, Chrome to Phone lets users send links or highlighted text from Chrome Web browser on a desktop or laptop to a smartphone for reading on the go.
This is useful for when you’ve come across something online at home on your computer and you have to run out.
Rather than bookmark it on the PC and read it later, users can click a button in their browser and send the content to the Droid 2 in a split second.
To use this, users must download the Chrome to Phone extension to Chrome on their desktop or laptop, then install the free Chrome to Phone app from the Android Market.
You’ll need to sign into your Google account to use this, but it’s worth it. I sent links, Google Maps and videos to the Droid 2 with single mouse clicks. Did I mention this functionality is fast? The future is bright for cloud-to-device messaging on Android.
Droid 2 Is a Fine Phone, but…
Odds and Ends
After the 8 megapixel monster cameras and video shoots on the HTC Evo 4G and the Droid X, the Droid 2’s 5-megapixel camera and video were serviceable if not pedestrian.
The video capability provides DVD-quality video capture with DLNA perks, but if video capture is your thing, buy the Droid X with 720p video capture and HDMI output.
The Droid 2 supports 3G Mobile Hotspot capability to let users connect up to five WiFi-enabled devices for $20 extra per month.
I just don’t have a use for this, but some people with multiple computers and tablets certainly might.
The device has 8GB of onboard memory (curiously, the Droid sported 16GB) and a preinstalled 8GB microSD, which like the Droid X can be upgraded to a 32GB card for 40GB of storage.
The full complement of Google Mobile Services, including Gmail, YouTube and Google Calendar, is already installed as you’d expect in a high-end smartphone.
The Droid 2 is a great phone is you do a lot of texting for work or play and if you want to go Android instead of BlackBerry.
The browser is much faster than the original Droid, which launched with 2.0. But remember the Droid also now has Android 2.2.
Is Android 2.2 faster than Android 2.1? Google says yes, but I can’t tell. It’s sort of moot, though, because all the Android 2.1-based phones (Nexus One, Evo 4G, Droid Incredible) are getting or have received the over-the-air upgrade.
The better battery, raised keyboard, Swype and preinstalled Flash support should help users pick Droid 2 over the Droid.
The Motorola Droid also doesn’t support WiFi hotspot capability due to hardware compatibility limitations.
However, for this smartphone user, the narrow nature of the virtual keyboard is a dealbreaker for the Droid 2. I just prefer good touchscreens to QWERTY keyboards.
For that reason alone, I’d be more inclined to go with the HTC Droid Incredible or even the buffer Droid X.
If the physical keyboard is your thing, then the Droid 2’s tricky virtual QWERTY keyboard may not matter.