The Android 2.1-based Verizon Droid Incredible, set to be released on April 29, at first glance looks to be the closest thing yet to Apple’s iPhone. It’s about the same size, uses a similar capacitance-based touch screen and has a menu screen that’s a lot like the iPhone’s. And yet, the Droid Incredible is quite a different device indeed.
For enterprise users, the device’s most important feature is its integration with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. This feature enables Exchange Server administrators to set policies requiring the device to have added security, such as passwords. The improved integration also lets users perform a remote wipe on their Droid Incredible if the device is lost or stolen. Unfortunately, some policy settings-such as turning off the camera and Bluetooth-did not work, but I could turn off access to removable storage.
The link to ActiveSync supports e-mail, calendar and contacts. However, Android 2.1 does not support synchronization of tasks. Does this partial support for Exchange policies mean the Incredible is enterprise-ready? That depends on your security requirements. Despite some holes in setting security requirements, the most critical items are covered.
A weak area of the Droid Incredible is poor performance by some of the radios contained in its slim case. WiFi reception is poor-the range when using a Cisco/Linksys 802.11n MIMO router was about a third of that with a BlackBerry or an iPhone. At times, the WiFi signal would vanish for the Incredible, while remaining strong in other devices, including a BlackBerry Bold 9700 and an iPhone 2G. Signal reception for CDMA was also poor: In an area where another Verizon phone had between one and three signal bars showing, the Incredible had no bars. 3G reception, however, seems on par with other devices.
Despite the superficial similarity to the iPhone, the Droid Incredible, made by HTC, shares some characteristics with the Verizon Droid made by Motorola. But the two Android 2.1-based devices also have their differences. The Incredible is thinner, featuring what Verizon calls a “topographic” design-it has a rubberized rear case similar to that of the BlackBerry Bold, but without the texture.
The Droid Incredible also supports Skype Mobile; has built-in support for Flickr, Facebook and Twitter; and boasts something called HTC Sense. HTC Sense is an attempt to do Apple one better by making five home screens available for scrolling using a flick of your finger. In addition, you can show all five of these screens at once by performing a pinching motion on the multitouch screen. When all five of the home screens are being displayed, you can select one by touching it.
Because the Droid Incredible is a touch-screen-only device, it does need a pointing device, and it delivers one in the form of an “optical joystick.” This is a spot below the screen that senses directional motion by your finger and can perform some activities much in the way you’d move a mouse pointer. In the case of the Droid Incredible, you can control the cursor position in a document, such as an e-mail, to make changes or insert text.
The Droid Incredible’s touch screen is improved over the original Motorola Droid. But it does share a problem common to these devices-including the iPhone-in that’s a lack of tactile feedback and precision. The result is that it’s easy to press the wrong thing, and in some cases it’s nearly impossible to select what you want, such as a highlighted Web link in an HTML document. The best solution to this problem turned out to be an iPhone Stylus that I picked up from ThinkGeek.com.
There most notable difference between the smartphone and other Android devices is the opening screen. When you first power up the device, you see only the time, date and some status icons. You have to flick down on the date area-or press the “Home” button-to reveal the menu. If you have passwords turned on, as I did to confirm Exchange ActiveSync functionality, you’ll then need to type that in before you see the home screen.
Unfortunately, with the Incredible comes another less welcome feature of Android 2.1, which is the inability to rotate its home screen to the landscape position when rotating the device.
Verizon makes a big deal out of some of the hardware changes in the Droid Incredible. For example, there’s an 8-megapixel digital camera built in. However, without the sophisticated lens system needed to support this resolution, the images aren’t any better than you’ll find in other smartphones with cameras. You will find, though, that the images take up more space in memory. The dual LED flash is also one of those nice features, but its usefulness is open to question.
The built-in FM radio is a good idea, but it’s not well-executed, as sensitivity is very poor. Your headphones are your antenna, and I tried a variety of them, all with similar disappointing results.
Overall, the Droid Incredible is a nice effort by HTC and Verizon. In terms of operation and user interface, it’s a step up from the Droid. In addition, there are some much needed enterprise features, it supports a higher level of security and it’s easier to use than many previous Android devices. The other new features are nice, but it would be nicer if HTC had focused on the basics, such as the quality of wireless communications.
HTC Droid Incredible is priced at $199.99 with a two-year contract (along with a $100 gift card rebate).