Motorola Droid, HTC Droid Eris Could Be the Droids You're Looking for

NEWS ANALYSIS: The Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Eris present a lot for the typical smartphone user to like, including crisp call quality and excellent battery life. A few kinks aside, the Google Android operating system seems versatile and able to handle most minute-to-minute needs in the productivity, communication and entertainment qualities. Despite a few form-factor issues that could make the smartphones off-putting to some users, both Droids come closest to being the long-predicted "iPhone killer."

There's an interesting bit of legalese on the side of the box containing the Motorola Droid from Verizon Wireless: "DROID is a trademark of Lucasfilm Ltd. and its related companies."

In the "Star Wars" movies, droids were bumbling robots such as R2D2, inserted into the narrative largely as comic relief. But there's nothing particularly cute about the form factor of the Motorola Droid: From its weighty, blocky form factor to the way it rumbles "DROID" when you first turn the device on, it seems as if Motorola's engineers were determined from the drawing board to create the smartphone equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The other high-profile Google Android phone, the HTC Droid Eris, takes a different approach. Unlike the Motorola Droid, which slides apart to reveal a physical QWERTY keyboard, the Droid Eris is a single-piece touch-screen device reminiscent of the iPhone. At 4.23 ounces (and no physical keyboard), it is substantially lighter and sleeker than the Motorola Droid, which feels like a miniature brick in your pocket.

Click here for more on the HTC Droid Eris.

However, the HTC Droid Eris comes with a trackball for navigation, which I feel was a substantial mistake; Research In Motion has been eliminating trackballs in favor of trackpads for a reason. Besides clogging with grime after weeks or months of use, the trackball made certain functions of the HTC Droid Eris-such as snapping photos-into mildly annoying chores.

Call and Data Quality

Many a reader has complained to me that they love everything about the iPhone, except for the fact that it's tethered to AT&T. (For its own part, AT&T has reacted strongly against claims that it has a substandard network, threatening to sue Verizon for the latter's "There's a Map for That" advertisements and even enlisting "Old School" actor Luke Wilson to tick through AT&T's supposed benefits in a 30-second spot.)

Neither Droid, running on Verizon's network, suffered dropped calls. To the contrary, call quality on both the Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Eris was absolutely crystal clear for both local and long-distance calls. The Motorola Droid feels a little bulky when held against the ear, and the HTC Droid Eris emits a somewhat tinny ring tone; but on the list of potential complaints that one could have with their smartphone, each of those barely rank a mention.

During the past few days, Droid-related message boards have filled with people complaining that the Motorola Droid offers no support for voice dialing with their Bluetooth. This is particularly an issue for road warriors who need hands-free dialing while driving; for others, it may not necessarily be a deal killer. Some community members have been told that Motorola is working on a fix, but I'm wondering whether some enterprising third-party developer may come up with a patch mobile application for the Android Marketplace.

Voice dialing without Bluetooth, however, is surprisingly easy through the one-touch "Voice Dial" widget. Both Droids seemed well-attuned to people's voices, making calls with no errors.

Click here for more information on the Motorola Droid.

Both the Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Eris cruised the Web at high speeds. Voice-activated search seemed very accurate for a single search term ("Beatles") but had more trouble with other terms ("eWEEK" repeatedly delivered back a search-results page for "a week," for example).