Hands-on: Motorola Droid X smartphone is a win for Android

Verizon's new top-of-the-line Android phone will go up against Apple's iPhone.

It was surely only the purest coincidence that Verizon, Motorola and Google introduced the Droid X smartphone the day before Apple's iPhone 4 shipped. And certainly, the companies' ability to get actual shipping units into reviewers' hands before most of them could see Apple's latest had not a whiff of calculation. Perish the thought.

Droid X
Droid X

That aside, the Droid X is one nice phone. It comes with a 1-GHz processor and 512MB of memory. It's (comparatively) big: 5 in. long, 2.6 in. wide and 0.4 in. thick, roughly a quarter-inch wider and half-an-inch longer than an iPhone. If you're used to iPhones, you will notice the larger size -- especially the width.

Of the phone's 5-in. length, 4.25 in. is glass, and the glass covers the entire width, most of which is display, except for about a quarter inch of casing on either side. The display is a WVGA 480-by-854-pixel screen -- I found it to be very clear and sharp.

The speaker is above the glass (of course) and the small Menu, Home, Back and Search buttons are below it, above the mic pinhole.

Nonglass surfaces are rubberized, with a very comfortable and distinctive feel. Volume controls are on the right edge at the top, with the camera shutter below. The left edge has a mini USB jack and a mini HDMI jack. The power switch is at the top; the bottom is clean. There's 8GB of storage onboard, and the phone comes with a 16GB microSD card.

To accommodate the dual LED flash and camera -- 8 megapixels with 720p video capture -- there's a sculpted quarter-inch bulge behind the earpiece. That sounds worse than it is, and it actually makes the phone easier to find in a crowded pocket or purse.

If you like physical keypads, you'll mourn the Droid X's move to a soft keyboard only. But softkey fans will enjoy the inclusion of the Swype input software, which lets you type quite quickly without having to lift your finger from the keyboard.

The phone ships with Android 2.1; an over-the-air update to 2.2 and Adobe Flash Player 10.1 is promised for "late summer" (which probably means Labor Day). And if you're into social networking, you'll welcome the inclusion of the Motoblur suite of social networking tools, which make it trivial to tweet or Facebook or whatever.

Good stuff

Setup is simple, especially if you stash your life with Google. The quality of the photos produced by the 8-megapixel camera is OK, although not up to that of a dedicated camera with a better sensor -- remember that there's more to life than megapixels, and you won't be disappointed. Video quality was pretty good as well.

Motorola execs say that the 1540mAh battery affords an eight-hour talk time and 220-hour standby time, and that in real life the battery will easily last all day. My experience was somewhat less than that -- in six hours, I ran through about 70% of the charge -- but I was running the screen more than a normal, noncompulsive user would.

And finally -- what about the phone itself? It's a good phone. Nice sound, solid network (at least here in New York City). It gets warm to the touch. Nothing alarming, but you'll notice it.

There was a glitch with some of the phones given out for review, including mine: Android Marketplace apps wouldn't download. At the time of this writing, Verizon said that Motorola and Google were tracking down the problem, but since these were prerelease units, this bug will no doubt be fixed by the time the device ships on July 15.

When the Droid X ships, Verizon will sell it for $199.99 after a $100 rebate with a two-year new-customer contract. However, Verizon execs said anyone with a contract expiring in 2010 would be able to immediately upgrade. Unlimited data is $29.99 per month; the mobile hot-spot tethering service (yes, it has that, too) is $20 a month for 2GB; it's five cents per megabyte after that.

The bottom line

The inevitable question: Buy the iPhone 4, HTC Evo 4G or Motorola's Droid X?

I personally like the iPhone ecosystem, but there's no denying the appeal of Android. The choice between Sprint's Evo 4G or Verizon's Droid may well come down to the networks behind them. If you live in one of the 4G WiMax-capable cities, it's hard to vote against that kind of speed. But speed isn't everything, and Verizon's excellent customer service reputation would count a lot toward making me part of the Droid army.

Dan Rosenbaum, by day a search strategist and content maven, has been reviewing mobile technology since the 1990s. His MicroTAC and StarTAC phones are still in a box somewhere.

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