Thursday, July 1, 2010

Product Review: Droid X

USA Today

A hot, richly anticipated smartphone is on the horizon, but it's not the iPhone. Amidst the pomp and circumstance of Apple's launch comes the comparatively quiet unveiling of Droid X.

The new handset from Motorola and Verizon Wireless is an impressive, feature-packed Android handset that will give the iPhone 4 a run for its money. It has expandable memory, can serve as a mobile Internet hot spot and will soon make nice with Adobe Flash video. The phone hits stores on July 15, for $200 after a $100 rebate and with a two-year contract. Data plans start at $30 a month; 450 voice minutes adds $40, with unlimited texting an additional $20.

Droid X has 8 gigabytes of internal memory and a preinstalled 16-GB memory card that can be upgraded to 32 GB. The entry-level iPhone 4 has 16 GB of memory that can't be upgraded.

I like Android phones. They're highly customizable. You get to choose among multiple carriers and handsets. I recently tested the Sprint HTC Evo, a 4G, or fourth-generation, phone that I would like a whole lot more if it had a longer-lasting battery like the Droid X. Evo has been a smash hit for Sprint.

Droid X belongs at or near the top of the Android list. Verizon has a sterling reputation. Call quality was good. In a week's worth of testing, I never had a dropped call. Find an iPhone user who can say the same. I hear all the time from folks wondering if and when the iPhone will land on Verizon's network. I wouldn't bet on that happening soon.

Meanwhile, Droid X is a standout in its own right. A closer look:

Basics. The nearly 5.5-ounce, 5-inch tall Droid X device dwarfs the iPhone. While surely a turnoff for some, the payback is a mammoth 4.3-inch high-resolution display. Droid has an excellent Web browser (with pinch and zoom), accelerometer and the ability to run third-party apps.

Initially, Droid X will run version 2.1 of Google's Android mobile operating system software. In the summer, you'll receive an "over-the-air" update to Android 2.2, a version code-named Froyo. (Google's own Nexus One is just now getting Froyo.) Froyo promises to make Droid X more business-friendly and let you store apps on a memory card. Moreover, Droid X will get a summer update to support Adobe Flash video, a major advantage over the iPhone.

The first Droid had a slide-out (and so-so) physical keyboard. Droid X is touch-screen only. You can use a standard multitouch keyboard or try an alternate method called Swype as I did. Rather than lift your finger as you normally would after pecking each letter or key in a word, with Swype you don't lift your finger until you've finished with a word. So you're in effect tracing a path along an onscreen keyboard. It's supposed to be a faster and a simpler way to enter text. There's a learning curve, but I got the hang of it.

Apps. The Android Market is approaching 70,000 free and fee-based programs, well short of the 225,000 or so in Apple's camp. Still, you'll likely find most of the kinds of apps you'd want from Android, from games to grocery lists.

Motorola and Verizon have partnered with Blockbuster on Demand (buying/renting movies) and NFL Mobile (streaming live football) on Droid X. The Blockbuster app was still being tweaked. I did watch video via Verizon's subscription V Cast service with mixed results. On a bus from New Jersey into Manhattan, videos hiccupped badly or dropped out completely as I slipped in and out of 3G coverage. On Wi-Fi, I watched live World Cup soccer via V Cast, but the video was jerky.

Multimedia. Droid X has an 8-megapixel camera with flash and zoom. It produced decent pictures. You can apply special effects on the fly — turning video into black and white, for instance. You can shoot high-definition video (up to 720p). Droid X also has a mini-HDMI connector that, with an optional $25 cable, lets you display what you shot on a big-screen TV. You can't use HDMI to watch Blockbuster, the NFL network or other commercial content that originates on the phone.

Droid X has no built-in video chat or front camera as on the new iPhone. If you have gear that supports a standard called DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance), you can wirelessly share music, pictures and videos from your phone with those machines.

Droid X also comes with an FM radio.

Navigation and more. Droid X employs several Google services, from voice search to Gmail. You can use Google Maps to get free audible turn-by-turn directions. You can overlay traffic on the map or get a satellite view.

You can also use Droid X as a 3G hot spot for up to five Wi-Fi-capable devices. It worked fine with Dell used laptops and an iPad. Cost: $20 a month for 2 GB of data. It's also a battery drain.

Overall, the cell phone battery performed well. I didn't receive low-battery warnings until evening. The battery is rated at about eight hours of talk time.

The iPhone may hog most of the attention, but Droid X is a terrific smartphone that deserves a place in the spotlight.


Droid X from Motorola and Verizon

$200 (after $100 mail-in rebate) and with two-year Verizon Wireless contract

3 and a half stars out of four

Pros: Android phone has large and lovely display, can function as 3G hot spot, expandable memory, 8-megapixel camera can shoot high-definition video, mini-HDMI connector, will support Adobe Flash. Free Google navigation. Good battery life. Good call quality.

Cons: Phone is on large side. Mini-HDMI connector can't be used for commercial content. Hot spot feature is expensive if you go over 2-gigabyte allotment. Must wait for Android 2.2 update and Adobe Flash update.