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Motorola DROID: First Impressions

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The Motorola DROID is the most anticipated phone since, well, the G1. Set to debut on November 6 exclusively on Verizon Wireless, this $199.99 smartphone is without a doubt Motorola's best smartphone to date.

Before jumping into our initial impressions, let's look at the DROID's main specs:

  • Android 2.0 (Eclair)
  • 3.7" 854x480 touchscreen LCD
  • EVDO Rev. A
  • Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR
  • 802.11g
  • 5-megapixel camera with dual LED flash/autofocus and DVD-quality video capture
  • 16GB microSD card
  • Google Maps Navigation Beta app
  • Slide-out QWERTY keyboard (and virtual keyboard)
  • GPS

The DROID's most dominant feature is its crisp 3.7" 854x480 LCD. (For comparison, the iPhone 3GS has a 3.5" 480x320 display.) Although this relatively large screen makes for a monolithic phone, all that screen real estate is a welcome change as it makes the DROID one of the few touchscreen phones that doesn't require abnormally small hands to use. Weight-wise, the DROID lives up to its Eclair name at 6 oz., but again it doesn't feel clunky. It's a solid 6 oz. and it's slim enough to ease into any pants pocket.

Below the screen are four haptic feedback buttons used for navigation. (They provide a quick vibration when pressed.) Other buttons include a volume rocker, power on/off buttons, and a dedicated camera button. The slide-out QWERTY keyboard makes a nice, solid click when extended and feels sturdy enough that you won't accidentally slide it closed. Unfortunately, the keyboard itself is a little awkward to use. Although the DROID doesn't have the same chin that the HTC G1 does, it has a good amount of dead space on the far right of the keyboard, which forces your right thumb to over-extend itself when typing on the phone's tiny chiclet keys. Luckily, you can bypass the keyboard and use the DROID's virtual keyboard (in landscape or portrait mode), which is responsive and wide enough that even geeks with giant man paws will be able to comfortably type on it.

Android 2.0 brings a ton of new features to the table, certainly enough to make Apple, RIM, Nokia, Microsoft, and Palm collectively nervous. For starters, Android 2.0 now supports Microsoft Exchange, multiple e-mail accounts into a single inbox, HTML 5 with Flash support (the latter coming early next year), and Google Maps Navigation Beta - one of the coolest features we've ever seen on a smartphone. It provides spoken turn-by-turn directions (with traffic updates pulled from the Internet) and basically makes every existing GPS unit obsolete, since Google offers this for free. Yes, free. (Unlike Navigon and TomTom, which charge you an arm and a leg for their respective iPhone apps.) The OS itself is fast and smooth, showing no signs of lag. Alternating from landscape to portrait mode is snappy. Dare we say, faster than it is on the iPhone.

Browsing on a smartphone can be a pain if the browser sucks, so we immediately checked out dealnews.com, nytimes.com, and cnn.com to see how Android's browser performed. Thanks to Verizon's strong 3G network, pages loaded quickly (in roughly under five seconds at each site) and navigating through the sites was equally flawless. You can't pinch and zoom, but rather you tap the screen twice to zoom in, and twice to zoom back out.

We didn't get a chance to load any MP3s onto the phone (yet), but we loaded some YouTube videos so we could test out the speakers. Verdict? They're loud, but tinny-sounding. Motorola also placed them in a weird spot on the back of the phone where they can easily be covered by your hand. It's by no means a deal breaker, you'll just have to be careful how you hold the phone when watching videos.

Lastly, and perhaps one of the most overlooked features of a smartphone, the DROID is great as an actual phone. Our test call home was loud and clear on both ends.

Final Verdict
This is by no means a full review, but more like a first date with the DROID. And the DROID's first impression floored us. This is hands down Verizon's best smartphone. Like every smartphone, it has its imperfections, but unless the phone self destructs in the next few days, the positives outweigh the few negatives we encountered (the awkward keyboard, tinny speakers).

We also give a huge salute to Verizon, who for once didn't cripple its phone with proprietary software or strip it of its Wi-Fi capabilities.

So, who should look into the DROID? First-time smartphone users, BlackBerry fans before jumping on the new Tour, iPhone users looking to ditch AT&T, even those burned by Motorola in the past should take note of the DROID. It's a unique phone that deserves everyone's attention.

Louis Ramirez is dealnews' Features editor. Check out his blog to see further updates on his review of the Motorola DROID.

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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