First look: Motorola Droid, HTC Droid Eris are risky for business

Exchange mail policy support iffy, and security and configurability are subpar

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The Motorola Droid did immediately sync to my Exchange calendar, but not my Exchange contacts. (And note that the Droid's calendar does not let you accept invitations you receive, although you can send invitations.)

The HTC Droid Eris let me set up my Exchange account on the device, but it displayed a "cannot set up account at this time" error message when I tried to finish the setup and begin the sync with Exchange. On other devices, this is typically a sign of an ActiveSync policy support mismatch. The Droid Eris also could not sync my Exchange calendar or contacts.

Note that I had no trouble setting up POP e-mail accounts on both devices. And the manager at the local Verizon Store showed me his Droid, which was connected to Verizon's own Exchange server, so it's clear that the Droid can connect to Exchange servers in some circumstances -- it's just not clear which ones.

Android's Exchange ActiveSync policy support is unclear at best

I found a workaround that seemed to solve the issue: Using the $10 Exchange by TouchDown app from NitroDesk instead of the built-in Email app worked perfectly on both the Motorola Droid with the corporate access plan and the HTC Droid Eris with the consumer access plan. I got access to my e-mail, the ability to decide which folders would be automatically refreshed, access to my corproate address book, and all the features you'd expect from a good Exchange client. TouchDown is even better than the iPhone's built-in Mail app, as TouchDown lets you schedule away notices, while the iPhone's Mail app can't do that.

But it turns out that TouchDown inaccurately reports the Droid's ActiveSync policy support, according to NitroDesk's support staff. "You should not be using Exchange by TouchDown in its current version because it may indeed be reporting EAS [Exchange ActiveSync] policies incorrectly in the current version. The next version will report it correctly. ... We had been waiting for encryption support at the file level for Android databases, but it may never get implemented," the support staff e-mailed me.

NitroDesk is looking to add its own encryption at the field level and has beguin beta-testing that capability, although the invitation to join that beta program notes it could slow down the Droid. NitroDesk did not say whether other Exchange ActiveSync policies are being inaccurately reported.

This false reporting in TouchDown is a security hole similar to the one in Apple's iPhone OS 3.0, which falsely reported support for on-device encryption for a year, until the 3.1 update fixed that and as a result left many pre-3G S model iPhones unable to connect to Exchange servers that required on-device encryption.

My company's Exchange server does require on-device encryption, and I strongly suspect that is why neither the Motorola Droid nor Droid Eris could access my Exchange e-mail using the built-in Email app. Verizon's tech support staff (not even the internal support folks that the local Verizon Store manager called for me) could not say whether or which Exchange ActiveSync policies were supported, and neither could a Verizon corporate spokeswoman.

Google's, Verizon's, Motorola's, and HTC's Web sites are silent about ActiveSync policies. Verizon's support staff also did not know what the on-device encryption even was (the rep I spoke to thought it was the same as SSL encryption) and could not find any documentation about it; again, Google's, Verizon's, Motorola's, and HTC's Web sites were silent on the Droids' on-device encryption capabilities.

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