Until this year, Motorola was horribly lost. But after flirting with curious designer oddities (the Aura) and rugged phones (the Tundra), the company has rediscovered its mojo thanks to a little help from its new friend, Android.
First came the DEXT, complete with the excellent MotoBlur social networking features. And now we – or rather the US – have been treated to the Droid, the first phone to run Android 2.0.
It’ll be arriving in the UK on 7 December as the Motorola Milestone. We tested the Droid, but we’ll bring you a full review of its UK counterpart very soon.
Droid vs Milestone
The two phones are, in most respects, identical – both have rock-solid build quality, a 16GB removable microSD card, 3.5mm audio jack and a nippy 550MHz Arm Cortex processor.
There are just two key differences. Unlike its US counterpart, the Milestone’s web browser will come with full multi-touch support, including the ‘pinch-to-zoom’ gestures seen on the iPhone.
Less pleasing is that the Milestone doesn’t have Google Maps Navigation, preferring to go with Motorola’s own MotoNAV instead, which is only free for the first 60 days.
The Droid’s styling may not be very sci-fi, but it does have the coolest start-up sound ever – a Metal Mickey-style cry of ‘Droooooid’. We wait with anticipation to see what Motorola does with ‘Milestone’.
Sadly, we mostly preferred to use the Droid’s QWERTY as a ‘slide-in keyboard’, so fiddly are the cramped, pancake-flat keys. For occasions that don’t involve lengthy typing it’s easier to stick to finger-friendly virtual keyboards on the 3.7in capacitive LCD for mails and texts.
Or you could try the surprisingly attentive voice recognition for searches. Simple voice searches for ‘burgers’, ‘post offices’ or ‘contacts’ are easily understood, making it a good alternative to typing.
Wrap your tongue around street addresses or multiple syllables, though, and you’ll see the Droid’s ears have as much cloth as silicon in them.
Android 2.0 gets smart
The creamy freshness of Eclair (or Android 2.0) means new features like smart Facebook integration, a beefed-up browser and, for the US, free sat-nav guidance with Google Maps Navigation. It’s a shame the stale menu pages still look like refugees from Windows 3.1, though.
The Droid’s browser – don’t call it Chrome – might be speedy but it still feels like a work in progress. Rendering is mostly fast and reliable, but until it gets Adobe Flash Lite (promised for next year) and a pinch-to-zoom upgrade (which will feature on the Milestone), there’s little here to thrill.
That said, web pages do look superb on the Droid’s stunning 854x480-pixel screen. To put it into context, that's nearly three times the detail an iPhone or HTC Hero can provide – and with brightness to spare.
Google Maps goodness
Google Maps Navigation really is the star performer on the Droid, which makes it a big miss on the MotoNAV-packing Milestone.
Free turn-by-turn voice guidance includes smooth 3D maps and easy searches for businesses en route. It’s even easy to layer on info like Wikipedia sights, traffic and live bus times.
Route calculation – done in the cloud – is faster than a standalone sat nav and guidance is excellent, thanks to a digital compass keeping track of the tightest turns and loud, clear spoken instructions.
Calling up Google Street View pictures helps with confusing junctions, but isn’t foolproof – one turn suggested crossing oncoming traffic and hitting a motorway bridge.
Activate the Facebook app and, like the Palm Pre, the Droid will siphon FB pictures, contact details and status updates into your contacts list. Hover over a name and you get one-touch links to Gmail, chat, text or call.
The process isn’t perfect: if you have different contacts with the same name, it’ll squash them together; while slight spelling changes make it hard to match entries – and there’s no way to sort them manually.
A bit of a blur
Five megapixels may be almost twice as many as the iPhone camera offers, but don't be fooled – the Droid’s optics also serve up double the noise, blur and smeariness.
Sharp, colourful video shows what the Droid is capable of, so keep your fingers crossed for a firmware update that will fix the autofocus problems and bring the Milestone’s photos into focus.
King of the Androids
As this shows, the Droid is certainly flawed. It has these (hopefully fixable) camera issues, the keyboard is far from best-in-class and Android 2.0 is a little rough around the edges.