The Motorola DROID
Because this is an Android phone, you would expect integration with Google's various services to be tight, and it is for some services. For others, it's nonexistent or inconsistent. A single sign-on the first day I had the DROID gave me Gmail, Google Calendar and Gtalk at my fingertips without a second thought. Because of this seamless integration, I was expecting similar ease when visiting Google Docs and Google Reader via the native browser, but I was disappointed. I concluded that this was a security measure related to the fact that the first three are standalone apps, while the last two run in-browser. Yes, this explanation made sense until the first time I visited Google.com and discovered that I was signed in by default. The bigger question is, of course, why native apps for Docs and Reader aren't available.
Like anything from Google, the search functionality is quite good. The interface is consistent across all apps (even third-party) and uses predictive text, as well as your search history, to begin presenting results as soon as you start typing. Voice search performs well, provided you speak clearly and limit background noise.
The ability to run multiple applications at the same time is another feature that sets DROID apart from most of the other smartphones on the market. The classic example of opening a Web page, leaving to check e-mail and returning to find the page fully loaded works as advertised. As a more challenging test, I started Google Navigation and had it provide me turn-by-turn directions for my route. I then started playback of the Linux Journal Insider podcast. I wasn't sure how DROID would manage the conflicting audio streams, but it did the sensible thing by allowing the navigation prompts to interrupt Shawn and Kyle at the required times.
The DROID comes pre-installed with a fairly well-rounded collection of productivity, entertainment and social-media applications. More notable than the applications that were included, however, were those that weren't. The three most glaring omissions being a weather application (or widget), a Twitter application and a file browser. Fortunately, good third-party solutions exist for all three.
Regarding third-party applications, the Android apps store has convinced me that more isn't always better. After many hours browsing the store, it appears as though there is enough variety to cover just about everything you'd want to do with your phone (and probably a few things you wouldn't). For me, I've had no trouble finding applications for most of the things I've wanted to do. The one shortcoming is the availability of applications for certain popular Web services. This is beginning to change, however, even in the short time that DROID has been on the market.
In searching the app store, I've come across a couple applications developed by Google that aren't on the phone by default, but probably should be included. The first is Listen, a podcast aggregator that includes the very nice feature of allowing downloads right to the DROID over 3G or Wi-Fi (although the app warns of the potential for data-overage charges if you use 3G) and even allows you to begin playback before the download is completed. The second is a client for Voice, Google's telephony power tool, that is available by invitation only. Google Voice users know it's a nice way of managing your voice calling and SMS through one common interface. Once available to the public, Google Voice definitely should be a standard part of the Android operating system.
The DROID also comes supplied with a small collection of useful widgets. The search widget, of course, is included, and it provides fast access to search. The widget I've found useful is the one for power management. It includes status indicators and toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, sync and screen brightness.
The all-around conclusion is that the DROID is a solid phone. Unlike some of its Android-based predecessors, the hardware finally has the muscle to implement the platform the way the developers intended. Only time will tell if the DROID is a serious contender for the smartphone crown, but if you're a devoted user of Google's cloud services (Gmail, Calendar and so on), you'd be hard-pressed to find a phone that does a better job of integrating these services into your daily routine.
Brian Conner, an Internet junkie working for a small nonprofit in western Maryland, blows off the steam of helping to manage a proprietary OS environment by poking and prodding at his favorite distro: Slackware. When not in front of a monitor, Brian can be found photographing his two beautiful daughters (and his beautiful wife), enjoying college football and reading.
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