Motorola Droid vs. Apple iPhone 3GS: Finally, a contender?

Android 2.0, slimmest QWERTY slider, 3.7-in. display, and Verizon's network... is the iPhone in trouble?

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2. Screens and keyboards

Both the Droid and the iPhone are offering big multi-touch screens. Motorola says the Droid's 3.7-inch diagonal display, with 480x854 pixels, or over 400,000 total pixels, boasts "twice that of the leading competitor." The iPhone 3GS offers 640X480 on a 3.5-inch diagonal screen.

The debate over virtual vs. physical keyboards boils down to one of personal preference. The Droid is offering both. The key is in the execution. One early review by BusinessWeek's Stephen Wildstrom, who handled the Droid for a few hours, expressed some qualms. The touchscreen is "fast and responsive", though the position-sensing accelerometer sometimes slows. The software keyboard is "decent, but falls well short of either the iPhone or…the [BlackBerry] Storm2." The hardware keyboard (and not only the Droid's) strikes Wildstrom as "unbalanced and awkward." The almost perfectly flat keys made it hard to do touch typing, he says, and the largish five-way navigation pad positioned to the right of the keyboard seemed awkwardly placed.

Edge: On paper, the Droid gives you more options. But as Wildstrom's initial assessment makes clear, it's all in the details.

3. Operating systems

J.D. Power's surveys of smartphone users have consistently given the iPhone operating system the highest scores for reliability and ease of use. The Android operating system, on the other hand, is still a relative unknown even though devices that employ it have been on the market for more than a year.

But the just-released 2.0 version of Android offers an array of key improvements: multi-touch; synchronization with multiple e-mail systems; and a new framework that lets software developers more easily exploit the core synchronization engine for their own apps. Overall, the user interface is more polished and intuitive.

Despite the undoubted improvements, one Android developer, Justin Shapcott, founder and lead developer at nEx.software, says there are a range of bugs and fixes that Google still has not addressed in Android. And with the SDK's release this week, with the Droid itself due in two weeks, that creates a brutal schedule for Android developers to become familiar with the SDK, test compatibility and fix any problems they encounter, "let alone create great new apps that take advantage of these new features for a Day-1 release."

Both Verizon and Motorola are stressing the fact that Android has multi-tasking (as does the Palm Pre and for that matter Windows Mobile) – the ability to run several applications at once – switched on, something that Apple severely restricts on the iPhone. But so far, that fact hasn't sparked a stampede of users. Multi-tasking's significance may lie in how developers can exploit it to inter-relate user functions, as long as those active applications don't step on each other, or drain the battery.

Edge: The iPhone operating system has an edge in maturity, now in its third year of release. But Android 2.0 would seem to demonstrate that the open source OS has moved into the big leagues.

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