First, I wanted a phone based on the Google Android operating system. Second, I wanted it on the Verizon network. The Droid offered both, so I was keen to check it out in stores and put it on my Christmas list.
But then I heard the HTC Droid Eris was also coming down the pike and my attention shifted to that device. It costs $100 less, which I’m sure a lot of folks will find attractive in these cost-constrained times. It also offers a touch screen, but no physical keyboard.
Still, I thought it was better to try both before putting them on my wish list, so I asked Verizon for review copies. Instead of the Droid versus iPhone grudge match retold (Robert Scoble does an admirable job here), I’m putting the Droid and Eris in the steel cage.
Full disclosure: I tend to be on the frugal side, so I was biased toward the Eris from the start. The Droid is $199.99 after rebate, while the Eris is $99 after rebate. That $99 sounds a lot better.
My ground rule for testing and comparing the phones was that I wanted to turn them on and begin using them without looking at the tip guides. Call it an intuitiveness test.
The Eris runs Android 1.5, the Droid runs Android 2.0. After using both phones extensively for three days, I’d be lying if I could say I could tell a difference in performance between Android 2.0 and Android 1.5.
One thing to note: Eris lets you pinch and zoom-the Droid does not currently offer this multitouch capability. However, Phandroid notes, “While the Android Browser doesn’t have multitouch capabilities by default, the operating system itself supports multitouch.” That doesn’t help in the short term when people want to use this feature.
Still, navigating the phones was light and breezy, as I was able to flit from one application or phone feature to the next with virtually none of what I call “get-up-to-speed time” learning how to use the devices.
Call quality and messaging were great on both devices. I can’t complain about any dropped calls either.
Searching Using the Droid, Eris
Eris’ customization beats the Droid, which offers the standard single screen to scroll through. The HTC Sense user interface propels the home screen on the Eris, providing you with six screens on which to open up applications at once. Just scroll left to right to access them. You can customize your widgets for music, people or Twitter and add special social, work and play “scenes.”
The Search by Voice capabilities of both devices are a dream for simple requests. Clicking on the voice search option on the Droid and Eris, I said, “Weezer.” Both phones executed the search in 10 seconds and brought me right to the official Website for the band. “Pizza in Connecticut” on the Droid and Eris also rendered search results relevant to my location.
But then I said, “I want to know how the Droid works,” and the app fell flat. That query on both devices brought me to a site for a “Star Wars” game called “DroidWorks.” Search by Voice keys in on certain keywords and ignores others.
I modified my search on both with the more direct query, “How does the Droid work?” and the first result was a link to the Droid on Verizon Wireless. That’s about what I expected. The voice recognition in Search by Voice is an ongoing project, but when it works it’s liberating and empowering. I did several other one-word searches and found what I needed.
Visual Voicemail was another fun app that I downloaded onto both devices from the Android Market. This app lets you access your voice mail messages without dialing into your voice mail box. You can scroll through text messages, play back calls and immediately call or text your contacts back.
I also accessed Facebook from both gadgets. This came preintegrated on the Droid, but I had to download the Facebook app from Android Market for the Eris.
All I can say after using Facebook on both is, “Eh.” Unlike the Google Apps, these experiences were rough. I’m so used to accessing the social network from a large screen, where I can see everything.
On the Droid and Eris, I kept having to scroll up, down, left or right to read text. Facebook is farmore manageable from a larger palette, or the iPhone. Scoble was coarse but correct when he said Facebook on Droid “sucks.”
The Droid does have the Google Maps Navigation turn-by-turn GPS app for Google Maps. The Eris doesn’t, which could be the deal-breaker that pushes people to the Droid. This GPS app was a blast.
I tested it on a trip from Trumbull, Conn., to Stamford, Conn., about 27 miles, from a major expressway to a residential area. The GPS was a dream, calling out directions periodically and then finally in the last 10 seconds before I was supposed to turn.
Reviewer Chooses Droid
The physical keyboard of the Droid ended up being a bigger deal than I expected, and it actually helped put the Droid over the top. And there is nothing wrong with this keyboard, at all, whereas the touch-screen keypads on the Droid and Eris originally gave me fits, with my not-so-nimble fingers mistyping.
When I got tired of slow, edit-ridden typing on the Droid, I was able to abandon the touch screen for its keyboard. No such luck on the Eris. I’m also no fan of the Eris’ track ball.
Droid also has physical advantages: For example, I quickly found the camera button on the side of the Droid and began snapping photos and taking video footage. A small slider on the touch screen lets users effortlessly toggle back and forth between camera or video mode. The Eris has these virtual slider feature but relies solely on its touch screen. The Droid wins here.
Both the Droid and Eris are equipped with 5 megapixel cameras and take clear shots and video footage. However, the Droid has a 3.7-inch screen, while the Eris is 3.2 inches-this may matter for media-intensive apps. Watching YouTube clips on the Droid was more enjoyable.
As others lamented before me, the Droid is a heavy phone. It’s the type of device that, if you have a small hole in the pocket of your chino pants, will only make it larger over time. But after carrying it around in my coat pocket for a couple of hours and using it repeatedly, I got used to it. I suspect people who carry it awhile will feel the same way.
At the end of the day, my heart lies with the Droid. Why? It just feels more comfortable in my hand. I don’t always have to use a touch screen or a little lousy track ball to navigate. I can fall back on the keyboard, though I’ll admit the touch screen on both devices got easier to manage after three days of consistent use.
My guess is the $100 cost differential is due to the presence of the keyboard, which always makes design challenging, and the inclusion of Google Maps Navigation.
But the Eris is a fine device, too. If you want a touch-screen-only Android phone that satisfies all of your communication and socializing needs, the Eris fits the bill. It’s also got push utilities for Microsoft Exchange and Gmail, so it will play well for knowledge workers. For $99 after the rebate, it’s a steal.
With Android software powering these two quality smartphones, it really comes down to physical preferences. You need to ask yourself what yours is before you put either the Droid or the Eris on your wish list.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to add information about the Droid’s potential for multitouch capabilities.