Monday, 2 November 2009

Verizon Droid Hands-On Review


The Verizon / Motorola / Google Droid, released later this week, is a solid, tactilely satisfying handset. I suspect it’ll be Motorola’s most well-received handset since the RAZR.

Verizon’s marketing is correct – the Droid is the first real peer to the iPhone. More importantly – the Droid is the first significant competitor to the Blackberry in the corporate environment – since the iPhone.

The 4 buttons (‘Back’, ‘Menu’, ‘Home’, ‘Search’) below the Droid’s touch screen remind me of the 4 similar buttons on my long obsolete and much loved Palm Treo 650 and Handspring Visor. The level of UI customization and promise of easy app development of the Droid also recall my love of the PalmOS. These things make me happy and want to see the Droid succeed.

In an earlier post – I criticized Verizon’s Droid TV ad for being the anti-1984 – for bringing the sense of an oppressive, non-descript, technical figure. Unfortunately, this notion is also in the device itself….the Droid starts up with a HAL 9000-esque glowing red eye.

Ominous. Foreboding. Completely out of place.

Nothing else in the Android v2.0 interface is red, threating, or sci-fi-y Everything is clear, polished, crisp, and at no point did I feel the device wanted me dead.

Slightly annoyed in parts, sure, but not dead.

For example:

  • There’s no affordance on which direction the screen slides to expose the keyboard. Once I figured it out (left-to-right), both the smooth slide and the quietly, confident click-into-place confirmed a very high build quality.
  • To type numbers or punctuation – the ‘ALT’ key needs to be pressed simultaneously as the desired key – just like on a regular 2-hand desktop or laptop keyboard. But, this is mobile phone, so I expected ‘ALT’ to be sticky.
  • The continuously blinking green (not red) light is very distracting. There’s no need for it. And it doesn’t look like it can be turned off.
  • The multiple search buttons in a single view confused me a couple times. For example, if you’re searching the Droid Marketplace – with the soft keyboard display – there are 3 search buttons presented; on next to the search form, one in the soft keyboard, the one below the touch screen. In my tests – they’re not all contextually smart.

I made a few calls with the device and found the telephony app enjoyable and again reminiscent of the Treo (again making me happy). Though, as the iPhone showed us, telephony in these devices isn’t really that interesting.

Smart phones are about pocket-sized mobile messaging, mobile maps, and mobile internet access in general. To that end, the Droid is very small, very fast computer with a telephony app and a persistent data connection.

With the keyboard slid out, the Droid looks like a mico-laptop and I started wondering about the differences between this device and a netbook with a VOIP client & mobile broadband service. Depending how much the camera is used – and how cramped the keyboard feels…they could competing with each other. Mobile phones (handheld computers) and netbooks (lap-sized phones) at the same price point? Such an interesting world we live in.

This mobile computing angle is where Droid Marketplace comes in. Finding and installing apps in the Marketplace was on par with Apple’s App Store. Installing an app is clear and effortless – with the added benefit of clearly stating which Droid functionality is used (data call, location, etc) prior to download.

Though, I had the same problem I have with Apple’s App Store has – I don’t know why I’m there or what’s worth using. Usefulness is difficult to gauge from ratings or reviews.

I grabbed a few of the usual suspects; Pandora, Skype, Twitter, Facebook (Facebook conveniently imported all my friends into the Contacts app). Though, even then, after installing them, I didn’t use all of them. Primarily because I didn’t feel like going to my desktop, opening up and re-entering my name/passwords for each 3rd party app.

While my laziness is partly due to knowing I only had the Droid for a few days, it’s also a larger usability problem I have with the iPhone. The Droid’s integration with Google’s apps (and the underlying Google Authentication APIs) has the potential to minimize the multiple-credential problem (as would Apple putting on the iPhone).

Like my Samsung flip phone – the Droid has little interest in talking to my MacBook Pro. It refused to receive files via Bluetooth. When plugged into a USB cable, OS X didn’t mount Droid’s SD card or its internal storage by default. Turns out, it’s a 4 step process:

  1. Touch the status bar at the top of the Droid screen
  2. Drag it down (again, there’s no affordance indicating this is a possible action)
  3. Click “USB connected”
  4. Click “Mount”

Once mounted, iPhoto automatically launched and was “Ready for Import” and images imported as expected.

The photos were in a directory marked ‘DCIM’ and both the Droid’s file structure and Motorola’s Droid customer service page were less clear about where I put audio and video files. For example, the support topic for to ‘downloading music files:

“Click Amazon MP3, Find a song, Click ‘Buy'”

Not exactly the answer I was expecting. So, I just dumped some MP3s in the root directory of the SD card.

Worked perfectly. The Music app automatically found them and played them. has a nice tutorial on copying music from Mac to Android

For contacts and calendars syncing with the Mac there are 3 options:

  1. Have everything in Google (it’ll be on the phone after you sign in)
  2. Review Todd Ogasawara’s tutorial on syncing Macs & T-Mobile G1s
  3. MarkSpace’s Missing Sync for Droid. Since Missing Sync was responsible for all my unhappy Treo memories- that’s not my preferred option.

The Droid handset and Android 2.0 UI is a significant improvement over the initial version. If Windows was my primary OS, if the bulk of my stuff in Google, or if I was a Verizon customer – I’ve have one on pre-order already. Easy.

Thanks to Albert Maruggi at Provident Partners for providing the review unit.

Graeme Thickin’s review of the Verizon Droid
“Again the feeling I got from this was ominous and forbidding.” – from David Newberger’s Droid review.
Justin Grammen’s covers the marketing confusion I’m seeing in his Droid Review

“And my main conclusion after three days of Droid use, it’s still lovable, but it needs a solid human factors going-over. ” – Dave Winer

(reminds me of what I wrote earlier, “Yes, the iPhone does have weaknesses – humanity isn’t one of them“).

“Something that Motorola got right here was that they actually made a phone, not just an internet communication device.” – Christopher Smith

Sunday, 18 October 2009

DroidDoes is the Anti-1984 Ad

25 years ago, Apple announced their new, friendlier, easier-to-use personal computer with the iconic 1984 ad where a heroine throws a hammer – taking down a non-descript technical figure.

Tonight, I watched Verizon’s new ad. Verizon is declaring Apple’s iPhone is too friendly, too simplified, too limiting – what you need is a non-descript technical figure to remedy that.

This ad is more than a direct attack on the iPhone – it’s a direct attack on more humane technology offerings. A return to 1983.

This is not a position I encourage other Android providers to take.

Yes, the iPhone does have weaknesses – humanity isn’t one of them.