Android 2.0 Makes The Phone

The first phone to use Version 2.0 of Google's Android mobile operating system hit the shelves over the weekend in the form of the Motorola Droid, being peddled by Verizon Wireless. Android, as usual, wowed customers with a wide variety of new and exciting features — the handset housing it, however, did not.

If one wanted a clue as to what was to come, a quick look at the results of Verizon's early openings on Friday would have provided it. Stores opened as early as 7:00 AM in some locations, while the company's flagship outlet in New York held a two-hour early offering in the early morning hours. According to reports, the early opening found some 100 customers in line — a shadow of the numbers drawn by Apple's iPhone — while stores in Manhattan, San Francisco, and Boston said to have drawn between 15 and 20. "Long lines forming outside are flashy. But it's not really the goal" was the company's best effort at covering its embarrassment. Apparently the iPhone killer forgot to eat its Wheaties.

The lack of lines was hardly the only disappointment, however. According to multiple sources, customers and reviewers alike were turned off by the phone's size and weight, which were said to be noticeably greater than other smartphones. Keyboards are always a key feature of any smartphone, and though the Droid offers the oft-overlooked physical keyboard, it's design leaves more than a little to be desired. The keys are flat, and don't span the full width of the phone, making them difficult to use, regardless of the size of the user's fingers — one reviewer described it as more difficult to use than his Blackberry's smaller keyboard.

The handset's other hardware left more than one user under-awed. Though the touch screen is said to be responsive and easy to use, other components — including the accelerometer — are not, with the built in 5.0 megapixel camera a particular disappointment. While it offers high-quality video, both recording and playback, it's ability to take photos is said to be severely compromised, despite advanced photo controls. Indoor photos have been described as grainy, while the built in flash "tended to blow out details and wash out color." Positives in the device's hardware include 270 hours of standby and 385 minutes of talk, Bluetooth 2.1 and Wifi, and 256MB of in-house memory with an Arm Cortex 550mHz A8 processor along with an included 16GM microSD.

The vast majority of what was liked about the Droid had little to do with Motorola or Verizon. The star of the show was the Open Source component, Google's Android 2.0. The feature getting the most ink is Google Maps Navigation, a turn-by-turn GPS-style app that offers spoken directions and Google's Street View to provide a visual link to one's surroundings. The built-in browser is described as "snappy" and is said to provide excellent playback of high-def video — tested on YouTube, of course. It also allows for multiple-email management and provides Quck Contact, a contact manager that combines email, SMS, IM, and other contacts into a central listing, allowing for easier communication with anyone on your list.

Unfortunately, Google's genius in Android is tempered by a grand dose of — less-than-genius. Along with their Droid — which Verizon is hawking at $199 after a $100 rebate — users will also find themselves on the buying end of a voice plan, the smallest of which is $39.99 per month for a meager 450 minutes. A data plan, unlimited at $29.99 a month, is also on the required list. All totaled, the privilege of using the $200 device will run to a minimum of $70 a month.

That doesn't even begin to touch on the fees for ditching the disappointing device. As of November 15, Verizon is rocketing it's early termination fee to $350 for smartphones, from the previous $175 — the fee decreases monthly by $10, reducing it to a pocket-change sized $110 for disappearing the month before contract expiration. All this just over a year after the company settled a class-action lawsuit by Californians over outrageous early termination fees — Verizon admitted no wrongdoing, but did cough up $21 million to keep its fees in place.

A Verizon spokesperson — predictably — defended the exorbitant penalty as fair and reasonable, citing the cost of phone components like chipsets, WiFi, and cameras, along with "premium HTML browsers...videoplayers; music players...operating systems such as BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm, Android..." We won't deny that proprietary operating systems come with a price tag — that's the cost of going proprietary — but Android? Exactly where in those standard features for the free Android operating system is Verizon out so much as a single penny? It would be like blaming the cost of running Debian for an increase in web host fees — bull.

Of course, what is a good press release if it doesn't add insult to injury, contributed by the final note:

The most important point is that Verizon Wireless customers do not have to have an ETF at all if they do not want to. ETFs allow customers to have it either way: They can have no ETF and pay full retail for their device. OR, they can get a greatly discounted device by having an ETF.

Somewhere in the distance there's a voice saying "Can you screw me now? Good!"

Speaking of insult, injury, and advertising, Verizon is finally in hot water over its attacks on AT&T and the iPhone. The ads in question, which compare its 3G coverage to that of AT&T, include maps showing both company's coverage. The map of AT&T — which admits it provides 3G in fewer areas than Verizon — shows areas without 3G coverage as white/blank. According to AT&T, this combined with the rest of the ad, conveys that the company has no service in the indicated areas at all — or, at least, lacks coverage sufficient for using a smartphone — despite most areas being covered by its 2.5G Edge network. The company filed suit in federal court last week, asking for an order requiring Verizon to stop running the ads until the court could determine whether the message conveyed by the ads is deceptive. AT&T reportedly is not seeking to permanently discontinue the ads, but rather to force Verizon to discontinue the misleading portions.

Verizon, meanwhile, released three new ads — not currently covered by the suit, but no doubt will be before long — with a Christmas theme, depicting the iPhone as a "misfit toy" due to AT&T's comparatively reduced 3G coverage. This will no doubt raise Apple's hackles — attacking AT&T's network is one thing, but characterizing one of the flagship products of a company, particularly one that takes its product image as seriously as Apple does, as a misfit toy is entirely another. Running roughshod over the orchard is a bad move in general — Apple is more sue-happy than SCO, albeit with infinitely better judgment — but is particularly so when rumor has it that a "world mode" iPhone is currently in the works for Verizon.


Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.


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Justin Don't quite your day

alpha's picture


Don't quite your day job.

Obviously A FanBoy iDiot... NEXT!

DaHarder's picture


Seriously now, this 'so-called' review is little more than the immature/Fan(atical) ranting of another iDiot.

In the future, spare us the frustration, and just state that you are BIASED in the first sentence so that we can just move on to more credible reading.

Fanboy much?

WhattaJoke's picture

The writer's intent is exposed with the adjectives he uses to describe Verizon's selling of Droids. "Peddling" "Hawking".

AT&T and Apple are upset that the Iphone is being described as a "misfit toy"? Isn't that the "Hello, I'm a Mac." commercials have been doing the last couple of years? Classic case of one being able to dish it out but not take it.


bpsull's picture

What was left out of the discussion of the Droid's flaws there is no mention of the fact that most of these issues are down to software, not hardware issues. As it is Verizon has planned updates for mid-December and late January to address a number of these problems.

Scratching my head here

MR's picture

I'm not inclined to throw accusations around, but I do find myself wondering what point Justin was trying to make. He starts out as if he is going to write about problems with the phone but spends most of the article talking about the carrier.

From the device standpoint, I do wonder whether Justin actually held and used a Droid. The keyboard is actually rather nice -- it is similar in feel and touch response to my Nokia N810 tablet, but smaller. Compared to the smart phones I've had in the past (the Droid is my fourth) it's quite comfortable. My biggest beef with it is learning the layout because the symbols are in odd places and the layout is different from that of the soft keyboard. Not a great design choice by Motorola but hardly a fatal flaw. The size of the Droid is comparable to any number of other smart phones and the slightly heavier weight is a direct result of the steel frame in the Droid. I think that's worth it -- the keyboard makes a nice, solid-feeling click when you slide it out and back -- but then, I carry mine on my belt rather than in a pocket where a heavier phone might feel clunky. The camera is definitely substandard, as is every other cell phone camera I've used; no big news there.

I'm really confused about the tone of the rest of the piece. What carrier *doesn't* require smart phone customers to sign up for a voice plan and a data plan? What carrier doesn't charge a 3-digit fee for early termination of a contract? (Though Verizon's new fee does sound egregious even by comparison.) What carrier doesn't advertise aggressively against competitors? I've seen the "map for that" ads and it seemed pretty clear to me that they were only talking about 3G coverage. If AT&T doesn't like it they should either (A) improve their network, which would shut Verizon up AND help out their suffering iPhone customers or (B) run counter ads highlighting Verizon's weaknesses. All their current strategy will do is make the lawyers rich.

The Accuser is Himself the Guilty One

MattJ's picture

Guilty of bias, that is. 'Anonymous' is obviously far more biased than Ryan is. We can tell by his mindless exaltation of the quality of Verizon's service.

Read Ryan's article more carefully. There is NOTHING in it that contradicts the superiority of Verizon's 3G coverage. As for 2.5G and earlier, it is by no means as 'Anonymous' says. Rather, for "first generation" coverage, Verizon and AT&T are neck and neck: both offer good coverage. It is Sprint who lets users down, encouraging them to go over to Verizon or AT&T.

So I see little or no bias in Ryan's article, and a lot of bias in 'Anonymous'.

This article is biased

Anonymous's picture

This article is biased garbage. The author has never even touched the phone as it's obvious from the "FLAT" keyboard? What flat keyboard? I guess I got the retail version, the one with the raised keys that you can feel -- making it easy to use regardless of finger size.

And it's obvious the author is an AT&T proprietary-phone fanboy that cannot understand that Verizon offers superior service (at least in California, where this resident has NEVER met anyone who has left Verizon for any other service unless they were retarded enough to buy that proprietary garbage phone that fanboy lusts after). If AT&T doesn't like the truth, all they'd have to do is upgrade their infrastructure, but I doubt that'll happen anytime soon. That'd be like apple giving you high quality products; it's not gonna happen. Instead you'll get sub-par 3G coverage and a cheap plastic proprietary device with outdated technology at 3x the price it's worth. Have fun :)

As for fees, I've looked at all of the cariers (including AT&T's garbage) and found that there is about a $10/month difference between all of them when you actually look at a usable plan for a smart phone. I'd rather have quality service. You could always check out their www sites and try to price it out yourself.

By the time your world mode garbage comes out, there will be 10x better Android devices that are already around the corner. The Motorola Droid is a great phone, but it's just the beginning...

And personally, I'm surprised such a proprietary fanatic would be affiliated with LJ. It's disappointing and sad to see a Linux mag actively biased towards proprietary products and attempting to put down Linux based devices.

So how much does Verizon pay your per word?

quixote's picture

Or do you just enjoy shoveling money to large telcos for free software?