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Motorola Droid A855 (Verizon)

December 6th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

4 Stars- techdad

Is the Droid a phone? Computer? Personal media player? PDA? Navigation? It is all of the aforementioned. THE killer Verizon smart phone has landed with a resounding kaboom!

PROS

  • Gorgeous 3.7-inch (480×854) screen
  • Tight Google application integration
  • Amazing HTML browser
  • Microsoft Exchange support
  • Good 5MP digicam
  • Surprisingly good camcorder
  • 802.11b/g Wi-Fi
  • Google Maps Navigation makes standalone GPS units obsolete
  • Large selection of free and paid apps available
  • Slide-out full QWERTY keyboard

CONS

  • Power hungry device gulps battery life
  • Touch screen is extremely sensitive
  • Bluetooth/headset voice dialing unavailable
  • Heavy (5.9 ounces)
  • Lacks physical direct dial/end buttons
  • Physical keyboard could use improvements
  • Short USB charging cable
  • Included microSD card is Class 2

My two previous phones were the LG Dare and the Blackberry Curve. Without much research, I walked into a Verizon store on the Droid’s launch day and bought the Motorola Droid. Initial uneasiness turned into sheer joy. The Droid amazes me at every moment. Here’s why:

SCREEN
The 3.7-inch, 480×854 resolution touch screen is stellar! Everything is crystal clear. I transferred Finding Nemo to it and wow! When I moved to the Blackberry from the Dare, the large screen real estate is what I missed most. I compared the screen with a friend’s iPhone and we both concluded that the Droid’s screen is better. My only gripe about the screen is that it is extremely sensitive. I put a snap-on cover on it as well as a screen protector and it has helped immensely. The snap-on cover surrounds the screen with a little extra space so your fingers don’t accidentally touch the screen. I originally used the Verizon screen protector, but recommend the ZAGG. The ZAGG feels more “tacky” so when I’m using the screen, I feel I can be more precise when typing or swiping. As far as I’m aware, there’s no setting to modify the screen’s sensitivity.

KEYBOARD
I have a hard time with touch screen keyboards, which is why the slide-out keyboard on the Droid was so important to me initially. The screen slides up about half way up to reveal the physical keyboard. The keys are flat, right next to each other, with limited key travel and backlit. It takes a little while to get used to but I’ve gotten good at it with practice. Still, I can type at least twice as fast on my Blackberry Curve. The touch screen keyboard is actually better than I expected. After a couple of months of use, I’ve essentially ignored the physical keyboard in favor of the touchscreen keyboard. A really nice feature when typing on the touch screen is autocomplete. For example, if I type “hel”, it will list “Hel, he’ll, help, held, hello…” then you can just touch the word you want.

CALLING
The Droid has very good signal strength and the call quality is also excellent on both ends. Speakerphone is adequate as well. My first annoyance with making calls is that there are no dedicated dial/end buttons. In order to make a call, you must touch the “Phone” icon and dial the number or sort through contacts. I did find that you can create direct dial shortcuts on your screen. This allows you to dial a contact number with one touch of the icon. I have one of my 3 screens dedicated solely for direct dial shortcuts. The second annoyance is that you cannot initiate voice dialing via a Bluetooth headset! If you want to initiate a call, you have to use the phone interface. This is a major drawback as I always use headset voice dialing to place calls when I’m driving. You can still answer and end calls with a headset though.

GOOGLE INTEGRATION
If you’re already a heavy Google user, Android OS smart phones are almost a necessity. If you’re not yet a heavy Google user, the Droid will assimilate you. Gmail is such a joy to use I haven’t checked my e-mail on my computers since the Droid. Google Maps is easy and fun to use and includes Latitude. Google Talk couldn’t be simpler and heavy messaging sessions are fatigue-free with the slide-out physical keyboard. Swiping the chat screen left or right allows you to change chat sessions which lets you to carry on multiple chats with ease! Google Calendar is almost better on the Droid than on an actual browser.

HTML BROWSER
The Droid’s web browser puts Blackbery’s browser to shame, but that’s not hard to do. For kicks, I also installed Opera mini on the Droid and almost immediately uninstalled it. The Android browser is a superior browser to all others except for possibly Mobile Safari.

CAMERA
The Droid has a nice 5MP auto-focus digital camera with flash as well as a 720×480 @ 24fps camcorder. Both of them perform well. The still camera’s autofocus is buggy however. When I activate the camera, the area near the lens makes a peculiar noise and the autofocus doesn’t always work. Verizon is preparing an OTA update on 12/10/09 to address this and other bugs/enhancements. The camcorder is good enough that I’d have no problem leaving my Flip camcorder at home most of the time. Of course, both the still and video camera falter in low light so keep your real camera and camcorder for those really special events.

MUSIC
I plugged in my Sennheiser HD280Pro headphones and enjoyed listening to my MP3’s. The built-in speaker also sounds pretty good for a phone. The Droid comes with a 16GB microSD card for storage and supports up to 32GB but is a slow Class 2. It would have been nice to get at least a Class 4 for faster read/write performance. To get music onto the Droid, you just drag and drop or you can use a Motorola application called Media Link. You can also use your MP3’s as ringtones. I would recommend using Audacity to clip a song you like down to 30 seconds or less at 128kbps to save space.

802.11b/g Wi-Fi
The Droid’s Wi-Fi connection is pretty good and I can take it all over my 2-story home and stay connected. It’s also picked up many of my neighbor’s wireless networks. When the phone goes to sleep, it will shut off the Wi-Fi service to save battery power. Interestingly, the Wi-Fi connection is only nominally faster than using the high speed 3G Verizon network. Next to the screen, I’ve found Wi-Fi to be the biggest battery drain.

GOOGLE MAPS NAVIGATION
Here’s something I did not expect. The Droid comes with a beta version of Google’s turn-by-turn voice navigation application that ties in directly with Google Maps. Search for a location then have the navi direct you there by voice. I tried it twice so far and it has been spot on! What am I going to do with my Garmin now?? For me, this app was the clincher. Just be sure to connect it to a power source for long trips because the navi will drain the battery mighty quick.

MISC
You can quickly browse thousands of Android apps and search for them by name. Must have apps include Advanced Task Killer, Movies (by Flixster), Pandora, WeatherBug, and Google Voice. On the down-side, the Droid is quite heavy. Having come from the Curve, it was very noticeable. Also, with heavy usage, the battery may not last an entire work day, so carry a charger with you.

ACCESSORIES
Accessories are still pretty thin for the Droid. A screen protector and case were a must for me. I got both from Verizon directly. I eventually tossed the silicone case from Verizon and picked up the perfect case by Seidio. Next, I needed a car mount but the Droid windshield mount would not work for me because I use a case and in California, I cannot mount it anywhere but the lower left corner. I prefer to mount it in the middle so I purchased a generic vent/adhesive mount from Verizon. I used the adhesive to stick it directly to my dash. It works fairly well except that when going over anything but smooth terrain, it wobbles a bit. I may decide to use the Bracketron Dash Pad in combination with Kensington Dash Car Mount for iPhone and iPod. This will allow me to mount the Droid in the center of my dash and swivel it from portrait to landscape as well as leave space to plug in a car charger. To complete the auto installation, I bought the Kensington Mini Car Charger for Mobile Devices with USB Port and plugged in the short USB cable that came with Droid. Voila! A Droid car kit for about $45.

SUMMARY
I could go on and on about the Droid but Amazon limits my reviews to 1000 or so words. Even with the minor drawbacks, the Droid is easily the best hand held device I have ever owned. It replaces so many of my other devices that I can overlook those minor drawbacks and enjoy using it every second of the day. It is probably the single best technology purchase I have ever made.

UPDATE 12/04/09
I had to exchange my Droid for another one because the case I was using snagged on one of the keys and ripped it right off. The new replacement Droid has been ROCK SOLID and uptime has been over 2 weeks! No reboots, no forced app closures. Maybe it’s my imagination, but the battery life seems to be better as I have gone at least 24 hours between chargings, except when I have used the GPS navigation. I’m still hoping Google provides an update in Android 2.0.1 for Bluetooth voice commands, though I didn’t see anything in the changelogs about it. I believe the OTA update is still due in a week or so. Also interesting to note is that a version of the Droid WITHOUT the slide out keyboard and a built-in FM tuner is rumored to be coming out, but no word if it’ll be available in the US or through Verizon.

UPDATE 12/10/09
I looked at my phone earlier and low and behold, I got a message that a software update was available. It downloaded and installed in less than 2 minutes and required a reboot. The first thing I noticed was that the unlock screen was different. The half circle swipe to unlock has been changed to just a left to right swipe while a right to left swipe will turn the sound on and off. Also, the font for the clock changed. Also, I swear there didn’t used to be a Verizon Wireless banner on the unlock screen before, but there is now.

The big fix for version 2.0.1 was the camera’s autofocus. And what do you know. It’s fixed! I also noticed that the Power Control widget has gone through a face lift. I have not noticed any other changes really as I’ve yet to make a call on it since I only updated it 20 minutes ago. Call quality was supposed to have been improved as well. I am bummed they did not add Bluetooth voice dialing, but I didn’t expect it anyways. Maybe another update down the road, please!!

UPDATE 03/30/2010
Official Verizon info on the 2.1 update has finally been released. Pinch-to-zoom is available in the gallery, browser, and Google maps. New weather & news widgets. New voice-to-text entry. New 3D gallery layout. Live wallpapers! Official support for Yahoo! Mail, finally. Night-mode screen in navigation for easier viewing. And a few other minor improvements. Not a bad update. After a couple of false starts over a couple of months, the latest rollout date is 3/30/10, today. 1000 users will receive the update notice at noon today with another 9000 around midnight. If all goes well, apparently the remaining users will get it on 4/1/10.

UPDATE 4/10/2010
It was taking forever to get the update on my Droid so I performed a manual update to 2.1. While I do like it, it wasn’t as cool an update as I expected. My favorite part of the update was the new gallery. Now, I can view my photos full screen and swipe them to get to the next photo. Previously, I had to touch a directional arrow in order to navigate and swiping is just so much easier. The Live wallpapers were uninspiring and also slowed my phone down so I stopped using it. The weather and news widgets are just ok and I can get the same functionality in other apps so it’s not earth shattering by any means.

Available from Amazon.com.

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