In many ways I love my iPhone. Apple really lit a fire under the rest of the industry with the release of the iPhone and it’s elegantly slim design and meticulously crafted interface. But it’s not perfect, and with the recent release of the Motorola Droid I decided to finally dump my iPhone, and start using the Droid.
Initially I had suggested to Russ that he should consider the Droid when it came time for his line to be upgrade eligible w/AT&T this December. (See AT&T, if you had let him upgrade in the summer too, none of this would have happened!) This last Friday we were at the new Best Buy that just opened up in Burlington MA, and he took a look at the Droid. While it didn’t quite impress him enough to not go with a 3GS come December, he thought I might like it and showed it to me. (We’ve been together going on 13 years, so he knows me well.)
Sure enough, I quickly got that gadget-glint in my eye as I played with it, and was surprised to find myself thinking that *I* would like to upgrade to it. After reading up on it a little more and liking what I was reading, Russ and I talked and we decided that we could ditch his older iPhone 3G because the cancellation penalty will be much less, and he’ll inherit my 3GS. We’ll drop one line from our AT&T contract and sell the older iPhone 3G to help offset the cost of the Droid.
So, why exactly did I decide to do this?
Several things have consistently frustrated me with the iPhone, the main culprits being: poor call quality (weak areas/dropped calls are too common), spotty 3G coverage, an inflexible interface with limited customization (unless you jailbreak your phone and constantly fight Apple’s updates ever after), and very limited multitasking.
In addition to addressing these areas that I consider negatives of the iPhone, the Droid had some surprising strengths, chief amongst them being the large, beautifully crisp display.
It reminded me of the switch from Comcast to Verizon FiOS. While on Comcast we were blown away by the quality of the HD channels, and thought they were wonderful. Then, we switched to Verizon FiOS (which compresses their HD signals less than Comcast on most channels) and were surprised at how noticeably better their HD was. Suddenly, what looked great before only looked very good.
Similarly, while I had some complaints about the iPhone I was perfectly fine with its screen. It blew most other phones out of the water, and of course its capacitive touch capabilities are second to none. But, when looking at the Droid’s screen in Best Buy I immediately noticed how much sharper it was due to its much higher resolution, and thought the colors popped a bit more too. It’s touch capabilities, while perhaps just a tad less silky-smooth than the iPhone’s, were nevertheless excellent as well.
I also initially thought the lack of ‘pinch/spread’ for zooming would be bothersome, but found that the Droid’s ‘double-tap’ to zoom in/out worked very well too. Thinking back over the past few months I couldn’t think of any occasion when I used more precise zooming than just ‘zoom in then back out’, and that sort of thing is just as easy to do with the Droid’s double-tap.
The Droid’s edgier, more solid feel didn’t annoy me like I thought it would either. In fact, I really liked the ‘hand feel’ of the Droid. It’s night and day compared to the iPhone, but has its own different appeal for me. It also has a dark sci-fi appeal, with an ominous red HAL-like eye that you see on first start up. It defaults to a Cylon-like voice that says “Droid” in a robotic monotone whenever you get a notification. (Of course it can be changed or even silenced if you’d prefer.)
The notification bar at the top of the Droid’s screen is a great idea, and was one of the first ways I noticed what can happen when the UI is less straight-jacketed than on the iPhone. The thin notification bar not only has signal and battery strength and a new mail indicator that you’d expect, but allows apps to give you a quick status update regardless of what screen they’re on. Swiping down on the notification bar will show you further details.
As with the iPhone the Droid has multiple screens to hold your various icons, and you can move between them by using left/right swiping. I was initially dismayed to see the Droid only had 3 of these screens, but soon saw how it more than offset that by some clever options.
First of all there is an ‘app tray’ represented by a small triangle at the bottom of the screen that you can easily access by swiping UP on its symbol. All applications can be found there listed in alphabetic order. It’s an easy way to find any app quickly when you start getting into app overload. In addition, the Droid has the option of using folders to group icons together, so those 3 screens can hold lots more than you may think at first glance.
I’m sure the Apple engineers deliberately decided not to use them, but I think they’re a great way to fight app icon overload, and minimize the times I would be furiously going left/right trying to find which screen I’d put that stupid app on, like I have occasionally with my iPhone.
Most reviewers seem to still say the iPhone browser is the best, but I’m not so sure about that after using the Droid’s. We simultaneously navigated to several sites with our 3GS and the Droid side-by-side, and the Droid consistently rendered noticeably faster than the 3GS, and the pages scrolled a touch more smoothly as well. The gorgeous Droid screen also made browsing that much more enjoyable too.
I also read middling reviews of the Droid’s keyboard, and at first I wasn’t too impressed. But after just a brief time using it I found myself growing to like it quite a bit. After a year and a half with iPhones I tended to downplay the thought of physical keyboards, but as I used the Droid’s I realized that this is a keyboard I could actually enjoy using.
The Droid’s virtual keyboard was also very capable, and I like how it starts showing several potential word matches as you’re typing. If the right one pops up, which it frequently does, you can tap it and move on quickly. Once again much to my surprise I found myself quickly adapting to the Droid’s virtual keyboard and thinking I may actually prefer it to the iPhone’s.
The Droid also let’s you run widgets that can take up a varying amount of screen space and provide ‘always on’ displays, e.g. for Facebook statuses, the latest Tweets, weather, etc. Because they can be space intensive I may not use many, but what with having folders and the app tray I probably will have a few running.
Other small benefits exist for the Droid as well: Having a user-replaceable battery isn’t too critical for me, but definitely nice to have. Even more nice to have is the option to easily upgrade the memory of the phone as prices drop in the future. I was also pleased to see it charged via micro-USB like my Kindle.
Verizon’s monthly plans are pretty comparable to AT&T’s in cost, but since we already have TV, internet, and land-line through Verizon I’ll be getting $15 knocked off my wireless bill each month, so that was the final straw in getting me to decide to pull the trigger and make the switch.
The iPhone is a great phone in many ways, but it’s far from perfect. The Droid’s not perfect either, but I think in balance it’s strengths and weaknesses are a closer match for me in terms of what I’m personally looking for in a phone.
I’ll follow up shortly with a post of first impressions after using the Droid this weekend.