Customers line up early to buy the Droid X

Some Verizon stores sell out of the X, which is viewed as a challenger to the iPhone

The Droid X smartphone, which may be the iPhone's toughest challenger yet, went on sale at 12:01 a.m. today, and people lined up outside Verizon Wireless stores for a chance to be among the first to buy it.

The early buyers said Droid X's large 4.3-in. screen was a big draw. They also said that they liked the touchscreen's responsiveness and the fast 1-GHz processor.

"It has a larger screen than the iPhone, and the touchscreen is very responsive," said one early buyer, Danny Choy, who purchased his Droid X at a store near Miami and was interviewed by phone. The iPhone has a 3.5-in. screen.

Choy said he tried a cousin's iPhone and found its touchscreen keyboard hard to use. After only a few minutes with a Droid X, he found the Swipe typing application helpful for quick and accurate message-writing.

An undergraduate student in biology at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Choy said he plans to use the Droid X mainly to access medical applications and for social networking. The iPhone was never on his shopping list, he added, because his cousin has had reception problems over AT&T's network, while Choy has had no connection problems over Verizon's network on an older Samsung phone.

A shopper at the Columbia, Md., Verizon Wireless store, Tanya Schools, said the ability to use Droid X as a Wi-Fi hot spot for other devices was part of the new smartphone's allure. "With work and everything, I need Wi-Fi and I need the hot spot," she said in a video recorded by Verizon and posted on its Web site. "I need things to be fast. The EnV3 didn't hold up to that standard, but I've come in twice and played with the Droid X demo and I'm blown away, absolutely blown away."

Verizon officials said they were excited about the early turnout. They said Droid X had sold out in some stores, but customers could order units to have them delivered to their homes.

Droid X, which is manufactured by Motorola, sells for $200 after rebate with the purchase of a two-year Verizon service agreement. It currently runs Google's Android 2.1 operating system but will be upgraded over the air to Version 2.2, probably by late August. At that time, users will also be able to download Adobe's Flash 10.1 media player to the device.

Verizon, Motorola and Google heavily promoted Droid X before it went on sale, even airing an unusual 60-second teaser ad on nationwide TV broadcasts the night before. The ad features pressure-suit clad actors entering a vault in an open strip mine in a desert locale, and it follows them as they walk through a corridor before they confront a floating crystal object. It concludes with a blackout to the words, "tomorrow" and "Droid X."

Another edgy Droid X TV ad that began airing a few days ago features a close-up of a human eye that turns into a robotic steel lens.

Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Brenda Raney said the latest commercial was just one installment in an ongoing campaign to promote the phone. She said future ads will "look different but stay with the same theme of how customers are transformed by the Droid X."

Analysts have predicted that the entire Android community, especially Google, will go to great lengths to sell Droid X. "Droid X is their answer to the iPhone," said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates LLC. "I would expect them to spend megabucks promoting the thing."

Gold said he'll be watching how Droid X sells compared with the iPhone 4, which had 1.7 million sales in the first three days it was available. While that figure will be hard to beat with only one Android model, "I think the X will do very well," Gold said.

Droid X smartphone customer
Danny Choy was one of the first customers in line at 8 a.m. to buy a Droid X smartphone at a Verizon Wireless store in Hiahleah, Fla. (Photo courtesy of Verizon Wireless)

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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