Here’s a little window into the mind and world of a tech geek. It’s pre-dawn on Thursday, July 15th, and an alarm was completely unnecessary. In case you didn’t know, or weren’t aware, July 15th was launch day for the Motorola Droid X on Verizon Wireless. In fact, it was a little difficult resisting the urge to go online at midnight to see the device for sale and check the Android forums to see who had put in their orders. Further, all this excitement about the Droid X comes about just a few months after I scored the HTC Droid Incredible (also on launch day, April 29). Perhaps it goes without saying that I was one of the first in line at the Verizon Wireless store in Rockville, MD — #11 to be exact. It was cool to stand around to talk to other soon-to-be Droid X owners. Most of the people (about 70/30 men to women) were switching from Blackberry or Windows Mobile devices. I was the only person in line currently using an Android device.
Though a few friends have stated that they believe I am a phonaholic, I remind them that I read, comment, and post a lot about mobile phone, but the Droid Incredible was my first personal smartphone. Additionally, the Incredible was the fist new phone for me in over two years. Now, I understand that the relatively quick transition from the Incredible to the X could lead one to the impression that I am a full-blown gadget nut. The gadget nut is probably appropriate, but a gadget consumer is not. As much as I love gadgets, I am usually not the first person to have gadgets and devices. The purchase of the Incredible and the X marks the first time I actually splurged.
Ok…I know most of you are thinking, “Come on already! Enough context” So, as the title states, here are my first impressions of the Motorola Droid X.
I’ll spare you an unboxing video, primarily because it would have been a recreation. Since I bought the Droid X in the store, the representative took the phone out of the box to activate it and have me set up my email account. It’s worth noting a couple of things about the packaging. The Droid X box is surprisingly small, given the size of the device. It’s cool that a lot of manufacturers are becoming more responsible about the amount of unnecessary packaging used with mobile devices. I do wish Motorola used the same type of biodegradable corn starch packaging for the cables and printed materials.
The Droid X comes boxed with a quick start guide, USB charging cable and wall adapter. Like a lot devices these, the manuals are not included in the box, but are, instead, available online.
The Droid X — Hardware
The reaction most people have to the Droid X is Wow! The reaction is not because the Droid X is the most attractive mobile phone you’ve ever seen. The expression has more to do with the size. The Droid X is B I G.
It has a 4.3” screen that is bright and clear. Though, on paper, the 4.3” screen is only a slight bump up from the 3.7” screens found on the Droid Incredible and the original Motorola Droid, as well as the 3.5” screen on the iPhone (3GS or 4), the increase is appreciable when you see or hold the device. To be fair, I think devices with a 4.3” is pushing the limit on what is functional, in terms of a comfortable size for most hands. The Dell Streak is set to release any day now with a 5” screen (disappointingly with Android 1.6), but it’s being labeled as something other than/more than a phone.
This may sound odd, but although I’ve said the Droid X is big, it doesn’t seem quite like the behemoth when you hold it in your hand. The Droid X is light, and quite thing. A lot has been made about the camera hump on the back. While I will not suggest that the camera hump is the most jaw—dropping design element, it serves a purpose and it is not as big as you’d think. The location of the hump on the back of the phone falls right where you would push your finger against the back when talking on the phone. When reading things on the big screen, the hump allows the phone to rest comfortably against your index finger. As for the size of the Droid X it is, at the camera hump, no thicker as the body of a Blackberry Tour or Sprint EVO-4G.
Moving beyond the hump, the Droid X is quite easy to hold. It is slightly narrower, but a bit taller than the EVO-4G. The width is a benefit, but the height can be challenging to some with smaller hands or shorter fingers. The primary issue with the height is that it can be tough to easily flick the notifications bar down with your thumb or press the “clear” button in the notifications pane. I generally use my other hand and finger to flick the notifications bar up and down, but have found the height to be a bit of a challenge. (I have wide hands, but not particularly long fingers.)
It’s worth adding a little side
bar here about the buttons. The arrangement of buttons on Droid X, and original Droid, is “menu” “home” “back” and “search.” The arrangement on HTC devices is “home” “menu” “back” and “search.” While this may seem insignificant, it can actually cause a little confusion and misfires. I know Android and Google are all about openness, but demanding all manufacturers arrange the buttons in the same order would help the platform. The user experience moving from one device to another may vary with different user interfaces, but at least your mind doesn’t have to be retrained to the location of just four buttons. Come on Google!
Ok. Sorry about that rant. I was concerned that the four physical buttons might be a little flimsy, but I’ve been impressed with how solid the buttons feel. My one concern, however, is that there is a little space around the buttons that could present a problem with dust. We’ll see.
Other than the standard/non-standard row of buttons, the Droid X also has a dedicated (red) camera button. I’ll discuss the function of this button in a moment, but it is nice to have a button dedicated to initiating the camera and snapping the shutter. The external elements of the Droid X are pretty standard – volume rocker, power/screen sleep button, 3.5mm headphone jack, and a micro USB port. The Droid X also features in micro HDMI port so you can connect the device to a receiver or an HD television.
The screen on the Droid X is fantastic. It’s bright and clear. Though not AMOLED like the Droid Incredible, the resolution and color clarity is impressive. The responsiveness of the screen to touch is smooth and accurate.
Unlike the AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emittind Diode) screen on the Droid Incredible, the Droid X’s TFT LCD (Thin Film Transitor Liquid Crystal Display) performs fairly well in direct sunlight.
I am putting the camera under both hardware and software. As for the hardware part, the Droid X features an 8MP camera and HD (720p) video recorder. The performance of the camera’s hardware has been flawless.
The Droid X features three microphones. The microphone on the back of the phone provides noise cancellation so you, and the person you’re speaking to, get really clear sound.
The speaker on the Droid X is really good. Whether I’m using the speakerphone or listening to music, the sound is clear and there’s little or no distortion as the volume increases.
The Droid X is a solid device. Though it’s not particularly heavy, it feels substantial in your hand. The body has high grade plastic and metal elements. Nothing about the phone feels cheap or delicate.
The battery life, so far, has been pretty impressive. I can easily get a full day of use with the Droid X before needing a charge. Even with heavy use, I can go from early AM until early evening before my battery indicator shows yellow (nearing 20% battery life remaining). This has been a noticeable improvement over my experience with the Droid Incredible, which would show red (less than 15% battery life remaining) by 6pm.
WiFi & Hotspot
There have been reports about problems with WiFi reception, but I’ve had no issues. I have, however, had an odd experience when I have both WiFi and 3G reception. It appears that WiFi and 3G interfere with each other, and I’ve had to turn off WiFi to download apps or downloading other material. I’ve been monitoring the Android forums, but most of the discussion seems to be focused on general WiFi reception.
The Droid X also has a 3G Hotspot feature that, if you add the $20 option, allows you to broadcast a WiFi signal and connect up to five devices to the Droid X. My wife has the feature on her Droid X, and it works well.
The Droid X — Software
As mentioned, I moved to the Motorola Droid X from the HTC Droid Incredible. HTC devices run a modified user interface (UI), called HTC S
ense, on top of the Android operating system. There are mixed opinions about the Sense UI in the Android community, but as a first-time user I loved it. Apples operating system for mobile devices is, admittedly, easier to use out of the box. Android has a lot of power to add lots of features, but there is a learning curve. HTC Sense makes that lesson a little easier. Motorola, on the other hand…
Motorola added something called MotoBlur UI to most of it’s Android devices—other than the Droid. MotoBlur has been panned by most critiques as a clumsy, clunky skin on top of the operating system. In particular, the social media widgets were in-your-face and invasive. With the release of the Droid X, Motorola has seemingly removed from and/or improved MotoBlur. However, in my opinion the cons of the social media integration outweigh the positive.
Some elements of Motorola’s UI are very nice. I like that I can move an app icon or widget from one page to another easily. You simply long press on an icon or widget. Once highlighted you drag it to the edge of the screen and it will carry over to the next page. If there’s room on the next page, you can release the icon or widget, or continue on to another page. You can also move quickly from one screen to another (seven total) with a little slider to pops up at the bottom of the screen. HTC’s “leap” feature was better, but the slider is pretty good. (FYI: You can get the screen thumbnail feature by installing launcher apps like LauncherPro or ADW.)
The Droid X comes with a 1Ghz processor, like the EVO-4G and Droid Incredible. Overall the device is quick and responsive, but there are times when it feels “laggy.” This lag most often shows up when scrolling through the app menu (launcher) and occasionally in screen transitions.
If you add Facebook or Twitter to your device, it can pull in all your contact information from those sites. Additionally, any time one of your contacts has activity (status updates) it shows up in that person’s contact information area. Cool right? well…the drawback of adding a Facebook or Twitter account to your Droid X are:
- Contact Names — If you have a contact in your phone’s contact book, and that same contact is a friend on Facebook or Twitter, the contact information gets merged. Sounds great in theory, but the problem is that Facebook or Twitter is set up to take over the contact file. The person’s name on Facebook or Twitter will override your desired contact name. For example, if your sister is in your Google contact as “Sis” and you add Facebook contacts and your sister’s name on Facebook is Jane Doe, your phone’s contact will now show Jane Doe for your sister and you can’t change it.
- Contact photos — For whatever reason, Motorola has set up it’s social media contact integration to let Facebook or Twitter trump your existing contact photos. When you add these services, you’re asked which you would like to be the photo source for your contacts. Strangely, on an Google operating system you are not given the option to use your phone’s contact book or Google Contacts as the photo source.
This may seem minor, but it’s raised quite an uproar with Droid X users. I’ve decided to skip adding my Facebook and Twitter accounts due to these heavy-handed control of my contacts.
Motorola didn’t screw up every part of contact management. There is a pretty nice quick contact widget that allows you to put a small tile on a page with a contact’s picture (if you have one). You can set the default action for that contact (call, text, e-mail, instant message), so when you press the picture it takes that action.. If you frequently call, text, and e-mail a particular person, you can add additional actions to the contact tile.
The reason you can add additional options to the contact tile is because Motorola added a really cool feature to it’s widgets. You can expand or contract Motorola widgets. There are number of Motorola-produced widgets that you can add to a page on your Droid X. Simply press and hold the widget and “Xs” show up in all four corners. Pull or push a corner of the widget and it expands or contracts. You will see the box turn green or red, letting you know if you can make the widget the selected size. Another nice feature of some of the Motorola widgets is that they have multiple actions. Often when you press a widget, it just takes you to the underlying program (Facebook, Twitter, etc). However, tap a number of Motorola widgets, and you get a secondary window. For instance. I have the news widget installed. Stories scroll across the widget. If I click on a story, a larger panel drops down, and then I can scroll through the most recent stories. There’s a link in each story in the drop down panel if I want to read the full story. If I press the “back” button, the panel reduces and I’m back to the screen with the widget.
Messaging on the Droid X is pretty fluid. As with all Android devices, Gmail is baked into the device. There’s a Gmail app that works seamlessly with your Gmail, and your email is pushed to your device—meaning you get near real-time delivery of your email. Additionally, actions taken on email will sync almost immediately between your Droid X and your inbox on your computer. There is also a Motorola email client. You can easily set up any POP/IMAP email account (Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, EarthLink, .Mac, etc.) as well as Microsoft Exchange email. The Motorola email client also allows you to have email activity pushed to the device, or you can choose a delivery interval. Additionally, the Motorola email client allows you to change the style, size, and color of the font in your email. You can also add color to the background. Both the Gmail app and the Motorola email client have a lot of options in the menu. There is an icon to setup a Yahoo account (there’s also a Yahoo email app), but I only use Yahoo for Flickr, so I didn’t set it up. I expect that the Yahoo account integration would work just like Google, bringing in your email, contacts and calendar information.
One disappointment about the email experience on the Droid X is that cut-and-paste is not available. If composing a message, you can cut-and-paste what you’ve typed. Unfortunately, you
cannot copy and paste text from emails you’ve received. The only things you can copy from email you’ve received are phone numbers and addresses. That’s nice, but true copy-and-paste is needed.
It took me a little time to transition to on-screen typing with the Droid Incredible. Typing on the Droid X is very comfortable, because of the big screen and the spacious keyboard—at least in the landscape orientation. The keyboard in portrait is roomier on the Droid X, but still a little cramped for my taste. I kind of miss the HTC keyboard that had alternate characters on each letter. You long press on a letter and alternate characters would show up. With the Droid X, you have to press the bottom left key to pull up numbers and symbols.
If you long press in any area where you can enter text, you’re given the option to change the input method. The Droid X also has the Swype keyboard built in. The Swype keyboard lets you drag your finger around from letter-to-letter to “type” words. The Swype system is pretty intuitive, but takes some adjustment. Basically, you need to teach your brain to move one finger around to most of the letters in a word. I guess this wouldn’t be a problem for a hunt-and-peck typist, but I’m not used to typing with one finger. After a few weeks, though, I find using Swype much easier, and I go back-and-forth between the keyboard, depending on what I’m typing.
One thing that could have been handled better on the Droid X is editing text. The Droid Incredible has an optical trackpad for precise movement of the cursor. The EVO-4G has directional arrows on the keyboard for fine tune editing. The Droid X has a bull’s eye feature. You touch the screen in an area and a red bull’s eye shows up. You can move your finger around an area you’re trying to edit, but it’s not always precise. Since there is not a trackpad/Dpad or directional arrows, the Droid X gives you a pop-up window that shows you the cursor in line. The problem I have with this system is that it’s not really precise. I have not been able to figure out just how much pressure to apply to get this editing window to pop up. Very often, I get the cut-and-paste menu. Frustrating.
The software component of the camera is nearly flawless. I saw nearly because one of the annoying things about the camera is the two-stage dedicated camera button. To use the camera, you press and hold the dedicated camera button on the body of the Droid X. You will feel a slight vibration and then the camera will launch after a couple of seconds. To take a picture, you first press the camera button down to focus. You will hear a quick beeps when the camera has focused. That’s when you press the button harder and it snaps the picture. The problem I’ve experience with this two-stage system is that you move the camera after focusing and sometimes get a blurry image. I’ll post same images and video in a separate post.
The camera and video recorder are loaded with a surprising amount of features for use and fine tuning. There are a number of scene and mode options that you normally find on a point-and-shoot camera, not a mobile device. I have been pretty impressed with the test shots with the camera and video recorder.
I can’t leave this area without stating that, for the life of me, I cannot understand why Motorola decided to leave out sharing on Flickr. For all intents and purposes, Flickr is the Facebook of photography. Most people I know that share pictures on a regular basis use Facebook and Flickr. I’m at a loss at the decision to build in photo sharing on Photobucket and not have a Flickr option. I’ve send multiple messages to Motorola’s Facebook and Twitter teams about this, but have yet to receive a response.
Sharing is not unique to the Android operating system, let alone the Droid X, but I do like the way it is handled on Android. If you’re in the web browser and want to share a website, you simply long press on the address bar and the option to copy or share the link pops up. If you long press on an image in your photo gallery, you can share that image in a variety of ways, including via Bluetooth, email, text, social media, etc.
There are a lot of products on the market for screen protection. I opted for the Verizon Wireless screen protector pack (3 sheets for $13). Some complain that the protector only covers the active part of the Droid X’s screen, not the surface from edge-to-edge. I don’t find that to be a problem. Further, I like the non-tacky feel of the Verizon screen protectors. The feel is something like running your finger across a piece of paper versus a pane of glass, which might grab your finger. The screen protector doesn’t eliminate fingerprints, but they do seem to be less visible and easier to clean on the Verizon screen protectors than some other third-party products I’ve purchased for other devices.
I guess Verizon saw me coming when I came in to get the Droid X, because they effectively sold me a bunch of house brand products. In addition to the screen protector, I picked up a black translucent silicon gel case. I’m really not big on cases for devices, but I picked up the same type of case for the Incredible, and it fit well and doesn’t make phone to bulky. One problem I’ve had with the case on the Droid X is that it interferes, dulls, the action of the dedicated camera button and volume rocker buttons, which double as the camera’s zoom buttons. The case interferes enough with the camera buttons that I often take the case off when I am taking a fair number of pictures.
One other accessory that I pick
ed up for the Droid X is the multimedia dock. As mentioned previously, the Droid X has a micro HDMI port, which allows you to connect the device to an HD television. The dock can be set up near your television or stereo to play media on the Droid X. I actually have the dock on my night stand, and use the Droid X like a alarm clock and bedside radio. When you place the Droid X in the dock, the screen switches to a landscape orientation, and the clock becomes the prominent part of the display. A weather widget moves to the lower left of the screen, and there are controls for screen brightness and a small handful of apps. The screen dims for night use, but I find that it’s still too bright and have to turn it off entirely. Surprisingly, the volume doesn’t mute on the Droid X when placed in the dock, and you have to adjust it manually.