Hands on: Motorola's Droid 3 is almost an awesome phone

The Droid 3 is a solid phone with an outstanding keyboard, but it's lacking a few key qualities that would make it a truly fantastic device.

Motorola's new Droid 3 certainly has some big shoes to fill.

Motorola's Droid 3
Motorola's Droid 3

The Droid 3, available now from Verizon Wireless, is the third phone to follow in the footsteps of Motorola's original Droid device. That first Droid set the standard for today's army of Android phones, and -- with the aid of its memorable marketing campaign -- helped turned "Android" into a household word.

So can the Droid 3 live up to the hype? I spent some time getting to know the device up close and personal to find out.

Body and display

Make no mistake about it: The Droid 3 bears an unmistakable family resemblance. Basic looks aside, though, the phone has some considerable differences from its siblings; while last year's Droid 2 and Droid 2 Global felt like incremental upgrades to the series, the Droid 3 provides a significant step forward.

The Droid 3 has a 4-inch, 960 x 540 LCD screen -- noticeably larger than the 3.7-inch, 854 x 480 displays on the previous Droid devices. The display is crisp and brilliant, with rich colors and true-to-life representation. While I might give a slight edge to Samsung's Super AMOLED Plus technology, I have no qualms about the quality of the Droid 3's screen, and I suspect most users won't, either.

The face of the Droid 3 slides sideways to reveal a newly designed five-row QWERTY keyboard. The keyboard, which features a top row dedicated exclusively to numbers, is a pleasure to type on: The keys are nicely spaced out and have a soft, rubber-like feel, and the sliding keyboard mechanism has a satisfying snap that sturdily holds the panel in position. If you like using a physical keyboard on your phone, you won't be disappointed.

Motorola's Droid 3 has a more rounded and less angular look than the Droid and Droid 2 before it. A power button is centered along the phone's top edge, with a headphone jack at the right; a charging port and HDMI port sit along the phone's left side, and a volume rocker lives on the right-hand side of the device. There's also an LED indicator on the phone's face that flashes to alert you of missed calls or new messages -- a nice touch absent in many other current devices.

Despite its larger size, the Droid 3 is not significantly heavier than its predecessors: The phone weighs in at 6.49 oz., compared to the Droid 2 Global's 6-oz. figure. The HTC ThunderBolt, for comparison, weighs 6.23 ounces, and the Samsung Galaxy S II weighs 4.1 ounces.

[Compare: Motorola's Droid 3 vs. Droid 2 and Droid 2 Global]

What's inside

Though it has only 512MB of RAM -- less than the 768MB in the ThunderBolt or the 1GB in the Galaxy S II -- the Droid 3 didn't feel the least bit laggy in my experience. Much of this can likely be attributed to the phone's dual-core 1GHz processor (a TI OMAP4430-1000, to be precise).

Even when multitasking and toggling among multiple applications, the Droid 3 handily kept up; apps loaded nearly instantly, and the home screen almost always populated itself immediately when I pressed the phone's capacitive "Home" button. Would I take more RAM, given the choice? Sure. But while the Droid 3's 512MB serving is far from a cutting-edge amount, for most users I don't think it's a deal-breaker.

The Droid 3 has 16GB of on-board storage and supports up to 32GB of external storage. An SD card, however, is not included with the phone at purchase.

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