I found some time away from producing this year's holiday gift guide to try out one of the hottest smartphones of the season.
The scoop: Motorola Droid smartphone (Verizon Wireless service), about $200 (with two-year agreement, plus $70 monthly voice/data service).
What it is: With apologies to Terrell Owens, "Get your popcorn ready!" The Motorola Droid smartphone is ready to take on the iPhone for the hearts and minds of consumers (and, gasp, enterprises). Running on Google's Android operating system, the Droid features a slide-out QWERTY keyboard as a way to combat the lack of a physical keyboard on the iPhone -- but like the iPhone it has a touchscreen (3.7 inches with 480 x 584 resolution) with an iPhone-like UI. In addition to the cell phone, the Droid lets you access e-mail, send text messages and download additional applications from the Android Market.
Why it's cool: The Droid's 5 megapixel digital camera is a step up from the iPhone's camera (the iPhone 3GS has a 3 megapixel camera), and the addition of Wi-Fi on a Verizon Wireless smartphone is a much appreciated feature (unlike last year's BlackBerry Storm, which was Wi-Fi-less). Accessing applications from the Android Market was as easy as an iPhone, although some of the applications available were not completely formatted for the Droid (I tried the apps out before the phone's official launch, so hopefully they will conform more to the Droid's screen size). Connecting to Verizon's 3G wireless network was especially appreciated in New England. The built-in GPS and navigation application was very cool (and free), especially when it gives you a street view photo of your location when you arrive at the destination (it's possible Street View can be active while you're driving, but I had other things to worry about -- driving -- when I was trying that application.
Some caveats: I'm not completely sold on the slide-out keyboard. The physical placement of the keyboard (it slides out from the side, or the bottom if you rotate the phone 90 degrees) becomes an issue on the right side -- extra space is used, making it harder for people with smaller hands to do the thumb-typing method. Since I have smaller hands, typing on the keyboard was more difficult. I gave the phone to a colleague with larger hands, and he was not bothered by this feature.
Bottom line: I've seen a lot of iPhone clones and alleged "iPhone killers" come and go by the wayside. It's possible that the Droid will join them as well, but I don't think so. I think this device has legs, and it seems to have the support of Verizon Wireless behind it, based on some of their latest ads challenging AT&T's 3G coverage (somehow I think it means hopes for a Verizon iPhone has dimmed). The final decision on whether to go with a Droid vs. an iPhone could ultimately end up being a choice of whether you prefer AT&T's network or Verizon's.
Grade: 5 stars (out of five).
This story, "Motorola Droid vs. iPhone: It's on!" was originally published by Network World.