The Motorola DROID
I've seen some very nice photos taken with cell phones, and I've seen an equal number, if not more, of really bad ones. Because of this, I really had no way to gauge my expectations for the DROID camera. Now that I've had some time with it, I think the best way to describe it is that the camera can, in certain situations, take really nice photos.
The hardware is certainly there: 5 megapixel camera, dual function flash and a physical shutter button that is located on the top-right side—just like a point-and-shoot camera when holding the phone in landscape mode.
It is the software and interface where things aren't as positive. Upon first launch, I was very disappointed to see that the camera interface was inconsistent with every other application. A push of the Menu button while in camera mode doesn't launch the settings/options menu. Instead, it launches another menu from which you can access the settings. When opened, the settings panel slides out from the left of the screen, instead of from the bottom like in all other apps. Those were my initial thoughts, but after using this for a while, I am starting to think that the arrangement of the menus and controls was a deliberate attempt to make them easier to use when holding the phone as a camera (landscape). If that's the case, kudos to the Android development team for considering how it will be used and not just blindly making all the apps the same. My praise for them is diminished, however, by the fact that it still doesn't work in a manner consistent with what you would expect. As an example, say you've opened the settings panel, then selected the flash settings submenu and changed your flash-mode preference. At this point, tapping the back button closes out all menus and takes you back to the main camera mode. In contrast, my expectation (and the behavior for every other app on the phone) is that tapping the back button while within a menu tree simply takes you up one menu level. This may not sound like a big deal, but the extra steps are a drag if you're trying to change more than one setting in a hurry.
Although the menu navigation can be tedious, the most unfortunate and disappointing drawback with this camera is the lag between button push and shutter fire when in autofocus mode. The lag actually seems more pronounced when using the physical shutter button than when using the soft (on-screen) button. This lag can be avoided by switching the focus from auto to infinity. The trade-off is, of course, that you lose the benefits of the autofocus. I don't know if the lag is something that can be fixed in software, but if it is, let's hope the developers are paying attention.
Regarding shooting mode, the camera has all the usual ones you'd expect on a typical point-and-shoot camera: auto, portrait, action, snow, beach, indoor and so on. It also has the usual palette of color effects: black and white, sepia, negative, red, blue or green tint and so on.
This certainly isn't meant to be a harsh indictment of the DROID camera. As I said, in the right circumstances, this camera definitely is capable of taking a nice photograph. But, let's keep in mind that this is a camera that's been added on to a phone and not the other way around. At the end of the day, you aren't going to replace your DSLR with the DROID (or any other phone for that matter).
The battery and memory card are housed in a compartment accessible through a removable panel on the back of the phone, and both are user-replaceable. The memory type is microSD.
The headphone jack takes a standard 3.5mm plug and is mounted in such a way as to require no special adapters or extenders.
Data transfer and battery charging are done via USB. The port on the phone accepts a standard micro USB 5-pin male connector.
These may seem like minor details; however, they bear mentioning because they are features that aren't always found on other smartphones. These choices, I believe, are a nod to consumers who are tired of over-paying for accessories and tired of guessing which USB cable in the drawer has the right connector for the device at hand.
The DROID has three panels (think desktops) to hold the most commonly used applications and widgets. Switching between them is as simple as a flick of the finger. When started, the center panel is populated mostly with communications apps (Phone, Contacts, Gmail, Text, Gtalk, Calendar and so on) and, of course, the search widget. Access to the full menu of applications is available via a shade window, which slides in from the bottom of the screen (Figure 4). A long press on an open area of the panel brings up a menu from which additional application shortcuts or widgets can be added. A long press, hold and drag is all that is needed to move icons around on a panel, or from panel to panel. A long press and hold also temporarily turns the application menu button into a trash can, should you decide to remove an app or widget from the panel.
One thing that makes the Android interface really stand out is the Notifications shade. The unsuspecting gray bar along the top of the screen that displays time, battery status, signal strength and network status also displays application notification icons (new voicemail, missed call, unread e-mail and so on). With a flick, however, the shade unrolls to fill the screen and provides additional information about your notifications (Figure 5). At a glance, you can see the first sentence of unread e-mail messages, texts or tweets. You also get details on downloads that have completed, application updates that are available or Wi-Fi networks in the area. A simple tap on a notification will take you right to the application. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the notification system works equally well with third-party apps as it does with Google applications.