Droid X


Droid X clicks with its virtual keyboard

Android smart phone's other features could keep users glued to the screen

There are so many Droids in the world now, it’s almost like being in a “Star Wars” movie. But unlike the homogeneous Apple iPhones, there are many different flavors of Droid. You might have a Droid Incredible, Droid 2, Droid Eris or any of the other Android operating system phones that look and sound like a Droid.

We recently looked at the Droid X, a slightly larger version of the standard Droid phone — if there is such a thing as a standard Droid phone — measuring 4.6 inches by 2.3 inches. The emphasis with most phones is to make them as small as possible. But in this case, the extra real estate for the X is for a very good reason. Instead of a physical keyboard, you can do everything you want with a virtual one.

Droid X (model MB810)

Pros: Large screen; takes great video and photos; bigger virtual keyboard keys.
Cons: Not as responsive as it should be; some lockups during testing.
Performance: B-
Ease of use: A
Features: B
Value: B
Government price: $199

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Now, we realize that there is a bit of a disconnect between some users and a virtual keyboard. You just don’t get the tactile sensation of banging on a key with a virtual device. It’s more like tapping on a window than typing out words. But the Droid X has one of the best virtual keyboards we have used. Besides the fact that the 3-inch-by-4.5-inch screen provides more surface area than most devices and thus bigger keys, you can set up the device to provide some feedback, from audible clicks to vibrations when you tap the keys.

In fact, the entire interface of the Droid X is designed to be used practically without any keyboard, virtual or otherwise. Although you can cheat by using the Home and Back buttons on the unit, almost everything can be done with a brush of your fingertips.

We like this feature quite a lot, but we also found that it’s not as responsive as it should be. Web pages sometimes would fly forward at the slightest touch of our fingers, while other times it completely missed recognizing our touch. That didn't happen often, but if you’ve used an Apple iPhone, you’ve experienced nearly perfect touch recognition. Sadly, the Droid X is a bit behind that benchmark. It’s not horrible by any means. But for a device that’s designed to be nearly button- and keyboard-free, it needs to be more responsive or users will quickly start to miss their keyboard security blanket.

Swype is built in, which is a nice touch and helps to overcome some of the accuracy issues, so you can glide across the keys, and the Droid will guess what words you are trying to form. It’s pretty smart in that respect, too.

Another problem we experienced with the Droid X was an occasional lockup. We would push the power button to turn the unit on, but nothing would happen other than the big M for Motorola symbol popping up on the screen. When that happened, we could not get the Droid X to finish booting or turn back off. We had to pop open the back and pull out the battery. Thankfully, that only happened twice during our testing, but even once is too much. The more smart phones become like PCs, the more they will begin to experience those weird computer problems we’ve all come to know and (not) love.

For feds, it would be nice if Verizon and Motorola would create a high-end Droid without a camera because some offices forbid cameras. That said, the Droid X has one of the best cameras we’ve ever tested on a portable phone. Its 8 megapixels gives it one of the highest resolutions ever put onto a mobile device. Given that most phones and even some laptops have 1.3-megapixel camera models as standard, the Droid X will make photos and video taken with those devices look a bit sickly.

The inclusion of a flash — actually an LED light — is icing on the cake and works great for shooting stills or videos. So if a camera is not illegal in your office, the Droid X is sure to please. If not, at least the security guard at the front desk will have a nice toy to play with while you’re busy working.

Our test unit came with 8G of memory and a 16G memory card. That’s more than enough space to install a ton of applications. There were quite a few on our unit, and thousands more waiting online.

One of the most useful apps we found was Skype Mobile, which let us make unlimited Skype-to-Skype calls without using our minutes. Another application standard with the Droid X is Visual Voice Mail, which lets you read voice-mail messages as text. You can read them and delete them if necessary without actually making a call. And it was surprisingly accurate, making it another way to save your minutes or check your mail at times when making calls would be inappropriate, such as during a boring staff meeting — not that we did that.

The most innovative feature is the ability to make the Droid X into a mobile hot spot. Say you are traveling with your laptop but can’t find a Starbucks or McDonald's with wireless. It’s not a problem if you have a Droid X. You simply set up your Droid to become your own hot spot. Then your laptop can connect through your Droid X and surf the Web, answer e-mail messages or log in to your work network. The Verizon network is still 3G, not having moved to 4G yet, so the connection might be a little slower than you would typically expect. But it works well and is reliable, so your Droid X could become a primary backup for connecting on the road.

The Droid X is on the Verizon network and costs $199 for government buyers. Consumers can get the phone for $299 with a $100 mail-in rebate as of the writing of this review, so it’s nice that Verizon is not forcing government folks to jump through rebate hoops.

At $199, the Droid X is a good deal for anyone who has learned to live without a physical keyboard, or who might want to give it a try. It’s a solid phone that doesn’t really add a huge amount of bells and whistles into the mix but certainly enhances what’s there to create a much better overall smart-phone experience.

Verizon Wireless, www.verizonwireless.com 


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