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Review: Taking the Droid on the road

Is Motorola's new Droid good enough to vanquish iPhone envy? To find out, we took it on a 3-day trip.

By David Haskin
November 13, 2009 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - I've lusted for an iPhone ever since it first went on sale -- but the nearest AT&T tower to my home is about 10 miles away. So I use Verizon Wireless and an ancient (four years old!) Motorola Q smartphone.

That's why I was excited to receive a Motorola Droid review unit. Could Droid be the iPhone substitute that I -- and undoubtedly many other Verizon subscribers -- have been longing for?

The Droid's arrival was well-timed: It was delivered just hours before I was to leave on a three-day, 1,000-mile road trip with my wife to see a family member in Ohio. This journey enabled me to put Droid through its paces.

My conclusion: My iPhone lust has been sated. The Droid, which costs about $200 after rebates and a two-year contract with Verizon, is superlative. On the whole, it is as carefully designed, useful and fun to use as an iPhone. At last.

Motorola's Droid

Some quick observations

First, a note about the Droid's general usability. In a word, it's excellent. Google's Android 2.0 platform, on which the Droid is based, feels fully formed and tightly designed.

With one notable exception -- getting media onto the device -- I never spent more than a few seconds figuring how to do something, which is the hallmark of a well-developed interface. For instance, when the device arrived, I immediately wanted to turn on Wi-Fi because of bad cellular reception in my house. At the Droid's home screen, I pressed the menu key, then Settings -- and there were all the wireless and networking options, just where I expected them.

The Droid's basic interface consists of four buttons below the screen for backing up to the previous screen, displaying the menu, returning to the home screen and searching the device's contents. Its home screen resembles the iPhone's, with icons for all included apps. At the top of the home screen is a Google search box.

A major advantage compared to the iPhone is that the Droid multitasks. For instance, I was able to listen to Pandora while checking e-mail. To switch among running tasks, you press and hold the home button and a dialog appears with icons for the six most recently opened and still-running applications. You just tap on one of those application icons to switch to it.

Like the iPhone, the Droid switches seamlessly between portrait and landscape mode when you turn the device 90 degrees. You scroll horizontally and vertically with finger-flicks across the touch screen. The most noticeable missing interface element compared to the iPhone is pinch zooming -- the ability to zoom in and out with a pinching motion. Instead, you double-tap a screen to zoom in; when you do that, icons appear for zooming in further or zooming out.

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