My day with Droid

Today I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a loaner Verizon Droid.

Bottom line: I love the thing and I plan to get one as soon as I possibly can. It’s not perfect, but what is?

A few other bloggers here in Cincinnati got loaners as well, but I’ve not read their stuff on purpose because I feel like I owe it to the folks who let me use the phone to give my opinion and not let it be colored by what anyone else had to say. (Part of the reason I’m knocking this out now is because I’m dying to read what everyone else thought).

I spend my days immersed in technology, but I don’t talk about it all that much here. I guess part of the reason is that I spend so much of my day immersed in technology, the last thing I want to do is think about it some more when I get home. Somehow it’s easier talking about beer or stupid stuff I see on the interwebtubes. Go figure.

I only found out over the weekend that I was going to get this thing, but it was still like Christmas coming early when the FedEx guy dropped it off this morning. I suppose if I’d been a good geek I would have done the whole unboxing photo set, but you know what? You’ve seen a box before. I guess it’s worth noting that the packaging wasn’t excessive, and not a lot comes in the box. There was the phone itself, the battery, a quickstart guide (that I didn’t bother to look at for a couple of hours), and a USB cable with a small wall-power-to-USB adapter. There were a couple of other leaflets that appeared to be warranty and FCC certificate things, and a warning about not using the phone while driving. Nothing over-the-top packaging-wise.

One thing I’m not going to do here is hit you with a bunch of statistics about screen size and stuff like that. Go here to read that stuff. If I talk about something that you don’t understand, that site will probably help.

The other thing I’m not going to do is talk about the Apple iPhone or iPod Touch unless it’s absolutely necessary for comparison. I’m an Apple user myself (this is being written on a MacBook Pro and I prefer Mac OS X to Windows whenever possible), but I don’t own an iPhone, only an iPod Touch. I like Apple products, I appreciate the artistry that goes into them, they’ve set the standard for elegant design in computing, and blah, blah, blah. But I’ve been on Verizon since shortly after the Earth cooled and I wasn’t going to give that up for anybody, especially with the places here in the US Carla and I travel. I’ve been using a Blackberry 8830 (Curve) for a couple of years and have been pretty happy with it. It’s getting long-in-the-tooth, but when I came up for my new phone I held off because I figured something good was coming. And I’m glad I did. All of this has been to explain that I don’t have an iPhone, and I seriously doubt I’ll ever own one at this point. I’ve had the envy, sure, but it never seemed worth the trouble. I like my phone to connect when I need it, and I expect my computers to have cut-and-paste in version 1.0. I have to multitask, and I don’t think it’s asking to much of a computer in my pocket to do the same.

Here’s what I’m hoping will be my only snarky Droid/iPhone/iPod Touch comment: With the Droid you get a computer in your pocket. With the iPhone you get Steve Job’s worldview. If that works for you, great, but I don’t look good in turtlenecks.

(And forget all this “iPhone killer” crap. You can’t kill the iPhone. Why would you even want to? Spend your time worrying about killing AIDS or world hunger or poverty. Don’t let consumer electronics be such a big deal to you, mkay?)

Hey, nice ranting at you, but if you’ve hung in this long I’m betting you want to hear about how I spent my day with Droid. That being the title of this and all…

Setup was dirt simple, but then again I already have an existing Google account and already had all my contacts. I did the setup without referring to the quickstart guide, only the on-screen prompts. I had the phone configured with my Google info in about 10 minutes. I did catch myself trying to use some of the multitouch gestures you use with the iPod Touch. Pinching doesn’t work, but there is a zoom-in/out mechanism in the browser that’s easy to use. You can train the browser how far you’d like to zoom in on a page, then toggle zooming in and out with a double-tap on the screen. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work if the site is formatted as a mobile site (a single column that adapts to available screen real estate). That can be a bit rough if your fingers are big and the text links are small.

Scrolling up and down by swiping a finger is smooth, though in some applications the frame rate seems to be low, while in others (Google Maps), for example it’s as smooth as silk. The user interface makes sense, though it’s easy to imagine it as what you’d get if you crossed the iPhone software with a Blackberry. You have fixed (but virtual) function keys at the bottom of the screen (Back, Menu, Home, and Search) that don’t seem to be programmable. There’s a volume rocker on the right side as well as a shutter trigger for the still camera. There’s a 3.5″ mini-jack on the top edge (in portrait orientation) along with a power down/lockout button. On the edge opposite the shutter and volume control there’s the mini-USB jack.

One of the things I was worried about was Verizon disabling the GPS to sell their navigation package, but I’d seen reports that it was unlocked. Those reports were accurate: fire up the GPS and Google Maps was giving me 9 ft. accuracy. Unlike the iPhone, this phone ships with Google turn-by-turn voice navigation enabled out of the box. You don’t have to pay anyone extra for anything. I was blown away about how good it looked and sounded. The external speaker is more than up to the task of operating in a car environment. The driving instructions are identical to what you get on Google Maps because that’s what it’s using. That can be both good and bad. In my case, Google has always insisted that I get off the Interstate one exit before the one I really exit at because it thinks that it’s possible to make a left turn at one intersection where it’s physically impossible. It’s not that different from my Tom-Tom that has, for years, insisted that I make a left onto a road that dead-ends about 50 yards up a hillside and doesn’t even connect to the road. That’s the nature of GPS. When you ignore it and do what you ought to do, it reroutes very, very quickly.

I’m torn about what the longterm future of my Tom-Tom is. The Droid is an excellent GPS. Until you lose network. When you lose network, you lose your maps. Which isn’t likely to happen unless you’re out in the boonies, far from civilization. You know, the sort of place you’d feel better having a (working) GPS. In an urban area, though, I’d use it exclusively in a heartbeat.

Given that a good part of my professional career has involved images and sound, it’s not surprising that I gave the camera a workout. Here’s a video I shot with it.

What was weird is that I couldn’t get that video to upload from the phone. It clocked in at 109 MB, so it’s possible that there’s a limit beyond which the phone just won’t go, but it sure wasn’t giving me any indication of that. it would fail, then tell me it wold attempt in either 1 or 5 minutes, then eventually give up. Hard to say at this point since the phone isn’t even on sale yet. There may be some infrastructure issues still being worked out. I was able to upload videos shorter than 3 minutes with no issues. I loaded Qik to try streaming live, but it didn’t work at all. Again, Android 2.0 is brand new and the Qik application was written for an earlier build. It installed easily, it uninstalled equally easily.

I’ve also attached some stills to this post that should give you some sense of the image quality of the still camera. The video camera has a fixed focal length, but the still camera has a decent zoom. You can see that in the photos.

This thing has gone on long enough, so I’m going to end it here. I really, really love this phone (though I didn’t actually make a call to anything but voicemail all day long, but THAT sounded fine). I’m going to be getting one of my very own just as soon as I can. If you have any questions (and how could you, after this comprehensive analysis?), leave it in the comments and I’ll address it as best I can. I don’t know when I have to give this back (I fear it’s tomorrow night), and that will be sad indeed.

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