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.
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.
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).
Camera and Battery Life
The Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Eris both include 5-megapixel cameras with auto-focus capabilities. That in itself is impressive, but each of the cameras had its own particular Achilles heel.
Indoor images or movies shot with the Motorola Droid were not particularly crisp, and the lens gave lighting sources-such as lamps or computer screens-a distracting halolike glow. However, the camera interface for the Droid is the easier to use of the two, with features such as zoom that were easy to control (if a little difficult to initially figure out without a manual).
By contrast, the HTC Droid Eris shot amazingly clear images both indoors and out, in virtually all lighting conditions (I took some night shots on the Williamsburg Bridge that came out better than those taken with my regular 4-megapixel digital camera). After snapping each image, a number of easily interpretable icons would pop up, letting me instantly trash or e-mail what I’d shot. My major issue with the camera, however, is that you need to press down on the tracker-ball to actually snap the image; frequently, my thumb would roll a little bit instead of pressing down, zooming the lens instead of taking the shot. It was frustrating enough to dissuade me from becoming more of a Droid shutterbug.
Every time I’ve ever tested a BlackBerry, the device could run for days before needing a recharge. Other smartphones, notably the iPhone, need to be charged more frequently. Powerwise, both Droid models seem to exist somewhere in the middle range: After around a day and a half of use, the HTC Droid Eris was in desperate need of plugging in, while the Motorola Droid went for nearly two days before it was battery-recharging time.
Unlike with other smartphones, though, I never actively worried about whether a charge would get me through the day, even with multiple applications being run and calls made.
The HTC Droid Eris runs Google Android 1.5, while the Motorola Droid runs Android 2.0. Functionality between the two in terms of the Android Marketplace, Amazon MP3 Store and Maps seemed roughly the same. The HTC Droid Eris is pinch-and-zoom enabled, while it seems the best way to zoom into a Web page on the Motorola Droid is to tap the screen twice-a major complaint for some, it seems, but both navigation methods felt intuitive to me.
As my colleague Clint Boulton mentions in his own review of both devices, the Droid’s Google Maps Navigation application for Google Maps is an excellent tool for navigating between points A and B. The HTC Droid Eris might lack this tool as a default, but its integrated GPS definitely comes in useful.
Business users will appreciate the integration with Microsoft Exchange; the ability to view and perform some lightweight edits on documents was useful, as well. These functions worked seamlessly, with little lag time.
Thanks to Apple products, I am fairly used to virtual keyboards; the one on both Droids felt “narrower” than Apple’s version, however, and it took the equivalent of maybe 20 minutes’ typing e-mails and URLs on both devices before I stopped making stupid errors.
Both phones exhibited just the right sensitivity to finger taps, although with the Droid I had to sometimes press hard on widgets to activate them. Finger-scrolling on both devices also seemed set at an appropriate speed.
The HTC Droid Eris also comes with Teeter, which lets the user roll a silver ball through an obstacle course via tipping the phone in various directions. It’s a fun little time-waster. The Motorola Droid, because it wants to be taken with macho seriousness and nobody’s figured out a way to port “Modern Warfare 2” onto a smartphone, lacks games initially. The Android Marketplace, though, will fill with procrastination tools over the coming weeks and months.
At the risk of instigating a flame war, I feel that the Motorola Droid is the closest that an Apple rival has come to creating a true iPhone killer. Subsequent versions of Google Android will iron out the few kinks, and the Android Marketplace will expand its apps offerings-maybe not enough to challenge Apple’s App Store, but certainly enough to make it a more robust challenger.
The one drawback to the Motorola Droid is its form factor. I did appreciate the physical keyboard, but I felt it also came at the cost of a weightier-than-necessary device and blocky form factor (the Palm Pre had a sliding physical keyboard, too, and yet its designers managed to keep it fairly light). This may be a benefit to people who prefer to carry a physically substantial phone. I am not one of them.
The HTC Droid Eris shares many of the same benefits of the Motorola Droid. It is also lighter, and I didn’t mind relying only on a virtual keyboard-although that could be an insurmountable problem for some users. The one major drawback to the Droid Eris was that trackball, which was annoying and made some functions decidedly un-user-friendly; but future editions of the device may take a page from RIM and adopt a trackpad. At $99 after rebate, as opposed to $199.99 for the Droid, the Droid Eris may present a better price proposition for some users, depending on their data plan.
In my own opinion, I declare a three-way draw between the Motorola Droid, HTC Droid Eris and the iPhone-but the next generation of the latter two devices could very well overrun Apple, unless Steve Jobs has something particularly innovative up his turtleneck’s sleeve.