In part 3 of my review of the Motorola Droid, I would like to take an in depth look at the software featured on the device. The Droid is the first phone available in the US with Google’s Android 2.0 operating system. I have never worked with Android 1.x so I wont be able to make any comparisons between version 1.x and 2.0. On top of the Android 2.0 OS, I will also explore some of the fabulious 1st-party-applications that come preinstalled on the device.
Google’s Android 2.0 is a very impressive operating system, it offers a lot of the same features you can find on other touch screen phones, but it also features some new and original functionality. To start out, I would like to visit the security of the phone. Now days, everyone has a smart phone, and on these smart phones, people are putting a lot of personal data and content. This content ranges from tons of personal family photos, banking information, credit card information, personal and business emails, and website login credentials. With all this data on a device that can be easily stolen and/or lost, it is very important for the phone to feature high levels of security and password protection. Most phones now days have a 4 to 6 digit lock code that keeps people out, but is this really enough? One thing Android 2.0 features that I really like is the addition of a pattern lock which allows you to secure your data beyond the 4 digit lock code. What this entails, is sliding your finger around on the touch screen in a certain pattern in order to unlock the device. I tested this and found it to be a very welcomed security feature.
Being, that Android is a product of Google, you can expect to see heavy integration with Google Accounts, and you defiantly do see this. When you first boot up the phone, it walks you through a very easy Google Account setup. Once you have linked your Google Account to the Droid, all of your contacts, calendar data, Gmail emails, and YouTube subscriptions information is downloaded and automatically pumped into their respective 1st-party-applications. I found the overall setup from booting up the phone to downloading all your data to be a very easy 5 minutes and your phone is ready to go.
One of the problems I had with Google’s Android, was the on screen keyboard. It is a great keyboard and is designed very well, but when you press a key, the pop up of what key you are pressing is very awkwardly placed. I am very use to the iPhones keyboard and how the key your are pressing is displayed on screen. Android does this, but I found the placement of the pop up key to be some what scattered. Which I found affected my typing accuracy and speed slightly. One of the other problems I had with the Droid was that they have disabled the multi touch gestures in the US version of the phone. I am sure if this is a legal thing, or if the US version of the Droid just had to leave that out. I do know that the international/GSM version of the Droid, the Motorola MileStone, does support multi touch gestures.
Connecting the Droid with the computer is super easy, but I found the process to be a little awkward. When you plug the Droid into your computer, you will see nothing happen except it begins charging. To get it to mount to the computer, you have to slide down the notification bar, then click the mounting icon, then click the button to mount. This just seemed like an overly tedious process. If I am plugging the Droid into my computer, I would like for it to either auto mount to the computer or to just pop up a box that says mount or not. The current method has some extra clicks and steps that I found to be annoying. Once mounted, the Droid appears purely as a mass storage device allowing you to drag and drop content onto the device. If you would rather integrate it into iTunes for playlists and music, there are third party applications like, Salling Media Sync, that will help you do this.
Overall, Android is a very nice operating system. I found it easy to navigate, the settings are layed out in a very organized and accessable manor. The built-in security features were better than I have seen in any other phone and the integration with Google Accounts and Google search are very handy and make for an excellent user experience. I found myself using the Google search and voice search very often to not only search the web, but also load content on the phone. For example, you can say “ATLChris” and get search results in Google, but you can also say “Call ATLChris,” or “Navigate to ATLChris” and it will load the information from your contacts and either make the call or bring up Google Navigator.
The First-Party Apps
One of the best things about the Motorola Droid, is how Android 2.0 allows tons of integration between its 1st-party apps. By 1st-party, I mean applications that come preinstalled on the device. Some of these apps include Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, and Google Navigator.
Lets start with Facebook. In the past year, Facebook has grown at an alarming rate. How alarming? Well, my mom is on it, my dad is on it, my uncles are on it, oh and my feaking grandmother is on it. With all these new people coming to Facebook, it is very important they are available across all platforms. The Facebook App that comes on the Droid, is very similar to the other mobile Facebook apps found on other devices, but what I really liked about this version verse the others is that it integrates into your phone. If I have John Doe in my Droid contacts list and my Facebook friends list, when I login to the facebook app for the first time, it will ask me if I would like to integrate my Facebook friends with my Contacts. If I say yes, it will bring in John Doe’s contact information that I don’t already have and will display it right in my contacts list. It will also offer a Facebook profile shortcut from the individuals contact list entry. This is awesome, because now if I want to check out a friends Facebook profile, I just search on the phone for the person using voice or type, click the Facebook Profile icon, and up pops their profile. No more logging into Facebook, browsing over to my friends list, having to choose J then find John Doe and finally click to load his profile. The integration is defiantly a welcomes addition
Next is Gmail. Being a Google device, you would expect deep integration with Google’s most popular application, Gmail. Well, just as you expect, they offer it. Gmail is integrated wonderfully with the Motorola Droid and Android 2.0. Gmail on Android 2.0 is the first time I have ever seen full integration with Gmail specifics like labels. I was very pleased to see that labels and colors all synced with my Gmail web account. It makes emailing on a mobile device a lot nicer. I hope the iPhone will take note on this because their mobile mail app is horrible.
The final first-party app I want to touch on is Google Navigator. Google Navigator made its debut on the Motorola Droid, and I made sure to test this application throughly. The Google Navigator application is an amazing first attempt from Google at a turn-by-turn GPS application. It incorporates most of the common features like 3D view, voice guidance, and traffic, what it didn’t feature was any routing options. By routing options, I mean no customization of the route they choose for you, like no toll roads, no dirt roads, fastest, shortest, … You are kind of stuck with the route they choose for you. I was also surprised to find that there was no night view on the maps. While it is missing some features, I found it to be the best as far as routing and correctly identifying locations. I have a series of test destinations I run though all the GPS applications I test, and Google Navigator is the first applications to find all 5 of my test locations. One thing that I really loved about the Google Navigator application, is that when you reach your destination, you get a Google Street View picture of your destination. If you would like to read more about Google Navigator, check out this great review from Gizmodo.
Google Android 2.0 is a solid mobile OS, I could see it really develop into a iPhone OS killer. The combination of openness and and integration with the OS and its apps, really makes for a great user experience. Anyone who gets this phone will not be disappointed. I have not reviewed to many mobile phones, but from what I can tell the Motorola Droid will blow any other phone on the market out of the water with the exception of the iPhone that is. Google is really working hard to develop a stellar OS. The software on the Motorola Droid, is what makes this devices, great. There are some minor problems, but overall, I was very pleased with Android 2.0.
This article is Part 3 of my full series of reviews of the Motorola Droid. Below are links to the other parts of the Motorola Droid Review: