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Motorola Droid Review

Here’s my assessment after 3 months of intensive use

Consumer Electronics on Ulitzer

Note from Bob Gourley: The following article was written by enterprise technology and mission IT expert Danny Proko and was originally seen on Facebook (you can find Danny there or on LinkedIn).

A number of my friends asked me about my new gadget…the Droid…of which I’m the proud owner.  Here’s my assessment after 3 months of intensive use. I’ll break it down by:
- Why I bought it…
- GUI design and layout….usability…design intuitiveness
- Phone interface
- Search and discovery
- Email/messaging/contact integration
- Calendar integration
- Integral navigational aid
- 3rd-party apps
- Stability, reliability
- Would I buy it again, knowing all of this?

Why I bought it…I wanted a more powerful handheld comms/computing device on a reliable 3G network. I’ve had all the networks, between the personal and professional comms devices I‘ve used, and Verizon can’t be beat for the places I travel. Even around town, I don’t lose the signal during calls as I have on other left-unnamed networks. The difference between the “blue” and “red” maps IS real, and all my iPhone friends have commented negatively on the connectivity issues. I guess the iPhone NEEDS the built-in wireless to offset.  Don’t get me wrong…I would have bought an iPhone if they offered reliable communications; however, I carry my son and Dad on my plan, so I want my money’s worth and the comfort of knowing we can communicate in emergencies when I’m paying that much for broadband wireless service. BTW, I don’t have a home landline phone…I use my Droid for all communications so it MUST provide reliable service.

Additionally, I wanted an expandable, extensible device, and I figured if Google and Verizon couldn’t team to offer that, nobody could. The idea of an open architecture for 3rd-party apps also attracted me. Some of the “iDon’t’s” from the advertisement raised my awareness enough to assess the hype about removable batteries, longer-life batteries, multi-tasking, etc, etc.  Additionally, I have two of the multimedia cradles, and the car navigation holder, which suctions to the windscreen. They are great and immediately give the Droid “context” to that holder/cradle. Well worth the add on. I have the Seidio Innocase, screen protectors, and holster, which I swear by for protection for all my handhelds, but it’s a hassle to remove to put in the cradle. I’m torn about it…really torn.

Further, it had all of the productivity apps I used on my Blackberry Storm and a real QWERTY keyboard, in addition to either a landscape or portrait QWERTY keyboard. I don’t use my phone for entertainment, other than music, so I’m not a big gamer. I do like the 802.11 wireless option, which wasn’t available on my Storm (which is now offered on the Storm 2).  802.11 gives you options around the house to receive faster service for streaming music, etc.

GUI design and layout…It offers 3 programmable touch screens, meaning you can have basically a 3-screen Windows-like desktop layout. Access to the three screens is merely by running your finger left or right in the direction of the next screen. Every application has either a landscape or portrait mode, depending on which way you tilt the device. A tab at the bottom of the screen brings up an additional scrollable window that contains all of the applications loaded on your Droid. It’s pretty intuitive. With a touch screen, expect different additional options to pop up if you hold your finger to the screen…in just about any of the applications. I was cursing my investment until I found this handy feature…the “menu” function, as a rule, doesn’t provide you access to all the available options, which is a non-intuitive drawback.

You can install various “widgets” on the 3 programmable screens…weather, music, market trackers, messaging, and news etc, and these widgets are live and interactive with the content they serve. Some work well, some don’t…primarily in the live update department. I use widgets primarily to update me with timely information, such as weather, market, and news. You can also use the programmable screens to park shortcuts to commonly used apps, including shortcuts to directly call or text family/friends.

I really like and use the alert function across the top of any of the 3 screens that allows you to see the various applications requiring your attention. Tap on the alert bar, and it drops a window that contains each of the alerts, which when you tap each, takes you to the app and message requiring attention. This includes email, texts, weather, download updates, etc, etc. All alerts clear when you view them, or you can clear them manually.

Bluetooth is easier to use on the Droid than the Blackberry devices. However, the support for customizable sound and display profiles is lacking, and the 3rd-party apps to do this leave a lot to be desired in reliability and usability. Most of the “menu-ing” is visual touch screen customization, when compared to the Bberry; however, it needs more of it. I have multiple different types of handsfree devices in each car, and it works well with all of them.

The 3 keyboards are easy to use, and the touch screen versions are “more accurate” than the algorithms on the Bberry Storm. There are multi-tap keyboards you can download, but they are not as stable as the stock keyboard, which I use exclusively now. The real keyboard is expansive, when you compare it to the chiclets on the Palm and Bberry….you cannot use it with one finger/thumb while walking, for example; however, the portrait touch-screen keyboard and spell checker work nicely with one thumb, useful in certain “non-walking” situations.

The web browser is quick, and with the zoom function, entirely readable. I’ve not had the issues I have had with the Storm’s browser, which is slower. Navigation is easy, and it has many built in features that allow you to make calls to numbers within the browser’s view, etc. Good user experience.

Phone Interface…This grew on me, and while buggy before the update, it seems to be intuitive and much more stable. I like it better than the Storm, and it’s easy to use.

Search and discovery…I don’t know why I didn’t think this would be a key feature of the Droid, being supported by Google, however, the built-in, context-sensitive search capabilities were one of the huge surprises of the device. This is especially true of the voice search capability, which is available for WWW searches and navigation, but not every application, such as contacts. Voice recognition is very accurate for the English language, including place names, and I use it at least 1-2 times a day. Returns come back in the form of traditional WWW Google returns, and the criteria are clearly displayed. Very handy, and it’s faster than typing in the Google WWW page. Not much else to say, but if you use Google as I use Google, you know this is a time saver.

Email/messaging/contact integration…They did a pretty decent job on this part of it, but it’s the place they need to mature the most. It allows you to upgrade from your old contacts list, which isn’t perfect, and you will lose some information…and I’ve still not broken the code as to why I lost certain contacts. It will integrate your Gmail, Facebook, and regular contacts, and align them; however, duplicate contact resolution didn’t allow me to correct conflicts, and this seems to be one of the places I lost data. The best/fullest/most complete contact record didn’t always win the deconfliction process, either.

Google Mail, Contacts, and Calendaring are well supported and totally integrated within the device to the WWW, of course; however, other email accounts are not. For example, you can’t move mail among your IMAP folders on a personal, non-Gmail account, and you can’t process incoming calendar invites in non-Gmail accounts to your calendar. I have not used the Exchange connector since I don’t use my personal phone for work purposes; however, I’ve heard Exchange’s fully integrated from one of my buds.

Text messaging is ok, but could be a lot better. Deleting conversations is cumbersome, and requires you to delete either all at once or one at a time, confirming each as you do it. You can’t select and delete specific conversations without going into each. This is one of the apps that had more options available by holding your finger down on a message, than available on the menu. I’ve received a single automated software update for the phone already, and while the SMS/MMS app was the buggiest initially, it’s much more stable now.

Calendar integration…seems to be limited to Google calendar (maybe Exchange), and as I said before, I’m disappointed that ICS files or email invites into non-Gmail accounts are not recognized by the device and stored for future reminder.

Integral navigational aid…I knew about this when I bought the Droid, but I was still surprised at how well integrated and functional this capability was/is. Totally integrated with the voice search, I’ve tried numerous destination, such as “navigate to pizza LeesburgVirginia”, and the pizza options come up. I simply touch the one I want, and the navigation fun begins. The interface is very intuitive, and the voice commands are also helpful, including the announcement of street names. When you get closer to the final destination, the navaid shows you pictures of your final destination, including the surroundings. All of this is done automatically. Very nice…and the car cradle is a must have.

3rd-party apps…I’ve downloaded some free and pay applications, and they make it very easy. Installs and upgrades are painfree, complete with notifications about new versions, on the alert bar. The freebie apps are the buggiest, so you get what you pay for. I’ve found some great apps in the market, most dealing with news and finances, and music. I have downloaded some photography applications, mainly because the built-in 5MP camera software is barely functional (and camera had very good quality), but nothing to write home about. This is another app they could work on. As I said previously, I’m using the phone more for productivity than gaming, but there seems to be an endless line of games and other entertainment options, including apps to find local attractions, movie tickets, etc, etc. My favorite apps are Amazon, Amazon MP3, Personal Assistant from Pageonce, Thomson/Reuters News Pro, Pandora, Weatherbug Elite, Camera More, Bloo (better FB app than FB), Sound Manager (decent at managing sound profiles), Open Table, and WiFinder. The Amazon app allows you to barcode scan anything and automatically searches the item, and if the price is right, buy it directly (and I’m a fan of the super saver shipping on Amazon and staying out of stores!).  One of my favorites, of course, is an app to find the closest Starbucks! Gotta love it.

Stability, reliability…the phone does reboot on occasion, for no apparent reason…I’d say maybe two to three times a week. This beats it rebooting once a day when I first bought it. The upgrade seems to have made it more stable, and I would report what I‘m observing now, if I could figure out a pattern.  The only thing I’m using over my buddies, who don’t see the reboots, is IMAP for my home email.  I’m looking forward to more operating system and core application updates/upgrades, to increase functionality AND stability. I would hope they build in a feature that feeds them information after a premature abort of the OS, one where the user doesn’t power it down. Maybe they can collect some information to enhance stability.

Would I buy it again, knowing all of this? Yes…overall, I really like the phone. It is the first handheld that gave me the feeling that it is a computing device.  Any comments above are to help users/developers realize the areas that need improvement, which might frustrate some users. I’m an early adopter of most technologies, and I ride out the little pain points; however, it makes me appreciate the updates and upgrades all the more. I have done this with the RIM WorldPhone and the Storm, and feedback helps the designers improve the system.

I hope this helps interested gadget freaks and users alike.  And I have not taken subsidies for the opinions I’ve expressed in this article.

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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.