It seems that lately there’s been a rash of blog posts coming out of Richmond, Indiana about the not-so-new but still amazing Motorola Droid (or Droid by Motorola, if you want to follow their nomenclature.) As a new Droid owner myself I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring too.
Last Friday my wife and I received our new Droids, and after using it pretty intensely over the weekend, these are some of my overall impressions. I won’t even attempt at making this post exhaustive – instead I’ll try and post some follow-ups on things like what apps I’ve found useful (or not) and so on.
I must say that I wasn’t initially sold on getting a Droid – the Google Nexus One is supposed to be coming to Verizon sometime this Spring, and knowing that it has more memory, faster processor, a newer version of Android, etc. I was very tempted to just wait. However, just as decision-time was looming reports started to emerge that the Droid would soon be upgraded to the same, newer version of Android (2.1). Also, the Nexus One has definitely had its share of issues for early-adopters, so ultimately I decided to go with the slightly older but seemingly more reliable Droid.
Setup was relatively painless for me, already having had a Google account. I had sync’d all of my contacts from my old Blackberry to my Google account using Google Sync, and I had already “cleaned up” my address books in anticipation of importing them to the new phone. You may notice I referred to address books. That’s because I’m taking advantage of one of the key features of Android 2.0 or newer, the ability to connect with multiple Google accounts.
I use Gmail for both my personal and work email, calendar, etc. but with separate accounts. Initially, I was worried about how this would go – would I end up with many duplicate contacts because some people appear in both contacts lists? Would I be able to specify where new contacts are saved when I create them on the phone? How would calendars work?
All my fears were laid to rest as I set up the phone, first with my personal account, then adding my work one. Android does a great job of combining duplicate contacts while still allowing you to un-join them if it makes a mistake or if you want them to remain distinct. When you start to add a new contact, it immediately asks which account to create it under.
One slight disappointment is that the calendar only syncs with the primary account on the phone, my personal account in my case. However, since I had already set up calendar sharing between my work and personal accounts I am still able to view, edit, and add to my work calendars. Disaster averted.
I’m incredibly impressed with the inherent flexibility of the Android OS. The commercials for the MyTouch 3G (which also uses Android) that tout the system’s myriad personalization options are really spot-on. Within a couple days, I already have a setup that is very usable and customized to my taste. I’ll write more about this when I blog about apps.
The touch screen is great. This is the first touch device I’ve owned and I’ve always been a bit leery, especially of onscreen keyboards. However, the screen is so responsive and the virtual keyboard so good that I find myself rarely using the physical keyboard.
Google Maps and Google Voice integration are awesome. The navigation app is simply game-changing (no wonder Garmin’s stock dropped significantly once Google introduced it!)
Some other highlights:
- Threaded SMS messaging
- Push support for Gmail
- Great call quality
- Very good voice recognition
Of course, nothing is perfect, not even shiny new tech-toys. There is always room for improvement, and these are just a few of the things I’ve run into already that leave me wanting more:
Groups support – Gmail itself does a great job of supporting contact groups, allowing you to send messages to groups, arrange contacts, etc. Android’s support of groups is incredibly rudimentary. All you seem to be able to do is filter your contacts by choosing which groups sync from your Gmail accounts and which groups are hidden. Even then, it is a multi-step process that’s more work that it’s worth. I can’t set ringtones based on group membership, I can’t send emails or SMS texts to groups, and I can’t even modify what groups that contacts are members of. This is the biggest FAIL I’ve come across thus far …
Notifications – I’m surprised to say this, but my old Blackberry Curve did a much better job of managing notifications than the Droid. On the Blackberry there was a single menu section for specifying all the many notifications – phone calls, text messages, email accounts, etc. You could set up multiple notification profiles and easily enable them from the home screen. In comparison, the notifications subsystem in Android is much more rudimentary. Within each app, I can control its notifications, and there are some system-wide settings for ringtones and such but no support for multiple profiles. Once notifications are set, all you can do is adjust notification volume, turn off audible alerts (leaving only apps that would normally vibrate), and turn off both audible and vibrating alerts. I’m really disappointed that I can’t set up a more specialized vibration profile, but it seems I may have to find “an app for that” …
Physical Keyboard – One of the bragging rights of this phone is that it has a physical keyboard. However, it sucks. Seriously. I loved the keyboard on my Blackberry. Despite its tiny keys, I could quickly and accurately type what I needed. At first I thought it might just be a learning curve issue, but then I tried the onscreen keyboards (both in portrait and landscape mode) and found them much more usable and accurate. Including a physical keyboard on this device was a significant design decision by Motorola – you would think they would have made it worthwhile! It leaves me wishing they had left it out and saved a couple millimeters in thickness and reduced the mechanical complexity.
Bluetooth Voice Dialing – The last gripe I’ve got (for now) is that Android doesn’t support bluetooth voice dialing. Period. It’s just not there. I’ve done some research and this is simply a feature that isn’t implemented in Android (yet?). This is a huge disappointment for me, because I (did) usemy bluetooth headset for voice dialing all the time. The Droid does have a “Voice Dialing” app, which works very well. You just can’t use it with bluetooth. This seems like such an obvious oversight to me. Even my wife’s old LG enV2 had this feature. My old Motorola e815 that I had 3 years ago had it too. Bluetooth voice dialing pre-dates Android’s existence! Why is it not supported?!?!?! Argh.
Don’t take all my gripes to mean I don’t like the Droid – I still love it. It’s just that when a device has so much potential it’s hard not to notice the areas it falls flat on its face. I’m still finding it incredibly useful and overall a much more powerful device than my Blackberry. I still have some things I need to tweak (getting favorite mobile sites bookmarked, etc.) and more apps to play with, but I’m sure that will come with time.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts where I’ll talk more in depth about apps, Google Voice integration, and more!