11 Nov 2009

Motorola Droid!

I’ve had a lot of phones over the years. Since 2005 they’ve all been smartphones.

My first smartphone was an HTC Titan (Sprint Mogul). I know, I know, It runs Windows Mobile, but back then, that was really all you could get. The device wasn’t that good. Browsing the web was pretty awful, the screen was very low resolution (320x240), and it also only had 64MB of RAM. Thy only viable option for web browsing was to use Opera Mini, which was actually intended for non-smartphones.

A year later, I decided I had to upgrade. I had the fabled Sprint SERO plan, which meant 500 minutes, unlimited nights and weekends starting at 7pm, unlimited text and data all for $30 bucks. That’s a better plan than the $70 iPhone plan on AT+T. Obviously, I’m not stupid enough to pay an extra $40 a month just to have an iPhone. That works out to an extra $960 for each 2 year contract in extra money just to have an iPhone. No thanks!

So, as I wanted to stick with my Sprint plan, my best option was the HTC Touch Pro. It was a great little phone. It had a pretty quick CPU (Qualcomm 528Mhz), a massive 288MB of RAM, and an extremely high resolution screen (640x480). It also had a usable slide-out keyboard. There were only 2 bad things about the device. It only had a 2.8" resistive screen, and it ran Windows Mobile. The HTC G1 had come out at around the same time, and I’ll admit to wanting it, but I wasn’t about to switch to T-Mobile’s horrible (and non-existant 3G) network for Android. I’m shocked at how so many people blindly go to whatever network the phone of their choice is on. The primary purpose of a phone is (big shocker!) to be a phone. My brother has an iPhone, and he gets a dropped call almost every time we talk! Sure, he has thousands of apps, a cool interface and a big capacitive screen, but he can’t even make a call!

So, despite not wanting to switch to T-Mobile, I got a job at a company that required I carry a company phone (on T-Mobile). I didn’t want to give up my Sprint plan (as it’s a now unavailable plan, and if you cancel it, you’ll never get it back), so I gave the phone to my wife, and had her cancel her plan. I then took the G1 as my phone. (better than carrying 2 phones!)

Overall it’s a decent device. It has a bigger (though lower resolution) 3.2" capacitive screen, but as it was the first Android phone, it was clearly rushed to market. It came out in October 2008 and came with a pathetic 256MB of ROM, and a below average 192MB of RAM. It didn’t have a very big battery and had the same Qualcomm 528Mhz cpu as HTC always has. I really like the Android Operating System, but I don’t know how many times I wished that HTC would have just used better hardware. I’ve always wondered why HTC uses such different hardware for their Android devices vs Windows Mobile devices. Surely they could make the exact same device and sell it with either Android or Windows Mobile. Unfortunately, HTC’s Windows Mobile devices tend to have much better hardware 🙁.

Android’s main problem is lack of devices with good hardware. All android devices released so far have (with the exception of the device pictured below) arrived with almost the exact same Qualcomm CPU. Now, that was reasonable a year ago, but for devices like the Motorola Cliq to be released THIS MONTH with it is ridiculous. It’s already slow and out of date. Just imagine if you have a 2 year contract with that thing. 2 years from now it’s going to be really lame. The main problem is that Android is such a new Operating System. Rather than concentrating on drivers for different hardware, Google wanted to release as many devices as soon as possible. This meant that all Android devices had to be extremely similar. They’re all running an ARM11 CPU, with a 480x320 screen. They all have between 192 and 288MB of RAM, they all have screens that are 3.1-ish inches;, they all (with one exception) had 256MB-512MB of ROM. The list goes on. What needed to happen was for one KILLER device to be released. No matter how good an operating system is, with crummy hardware things are severely crippled and slow.

Now for the answer!

It seems that someone at Google finally realized that they had to force someone to release a faster, more expensive, high end Android phone. Google is rumoured to have basically bossed around Motorola into designing a phone to their exact specifications. And the phone is brilliant. It starts off with a TI Omap 3 CPU (basically same as the iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre), though this one is clocked down to 550Mhz for better battery life. It sticks with 256MB of RAM, and adds a huge 3.7" 16x9 854x480 screen. It continues with a real 3.5mm headphone jack. It also adds a respectable 1400mAh battery. The biggest surprise though, is the thickness, or better put, thinness. It’s just 13.7mm thick. Considering that it has a slide out keyboard, that’s amazing.

If I had designed the device, I would have changed 2 things. A little more RAM. Sure it’s enough now, but what about month 20 of your 24 month contract. Increased the ROM to at least 1GB. Luckily Verizon gives you a 16MB microSD card, but as apps can only be installed to the ROM (without rooting) it’s a limitation. But, overall, there’s very little to complain about. The screen, CPU and battery life are all amazing. It’s so much better than the G1. It makes the G1 seem like a toy, with its small, low resolution screen and weak CPU.

But aren’t I missing something? Yes, I’ve only talked about the hardware! The Motorola Droid actually comes with Android 2.0 (codename: eclair). In an annoying turn of events, Google has released Android 2.0 ONLY for the Motorola Droid, leaving all other Android phones with the now out of date 1.5/1.6 system software.

Google clearly did this for one of three reasons (likely all three)

It was such an effort to prepare Android 2.0 that Google had to build and test for one device. Trying to simultaneously release Android 2.0 for all devices would have been impossible and/or taken months.

Android 2.0 has only been optimized for the newer OMAP cpus.

Google wanted to have an impressive launch with the Droid, and didn’t want to have any attention go toward any other Android device.

The biggest change in Android 2.0 is of course the free turn by turn navigation. It’s almost as good as a Garmin Nüvi, but is included for free. It also has great voice recognition, so you can speak navigate to Provo Public Library and it will work. There are also nice improvements in the browser and the Gmail app, but in reality, I’d have to say the killer deal with the Droid is not Android 2.0, but the amazing hardware.

So, if you’re a gadget lover, Google user, Apple worshipper, or a Verizon user, you should definitely look into getting this phone. Fortunately for me, my company switched from T-Mobile to Verizon last week, which meant I got the Droid! My brother has had an iPhone since day one (he now has the 32GB 3Gs), and he’s always ridiculed me for my inferior smartphone. Well no longer! Finally it was he who looked at my phone with envy! Yes. Every anti-apple-fanboys dream, to see a jealous Apple user!