Motorola Droid: hands on

Keep your eyes open for a full test of the Droid in Stuff magazine soon but we couldn't help whetting your appetite with our first opinions of what we

Keep your eyes open for a full test of the Droid in Stuff magazine soon but we couldn't help whetting your appetite with our first opinions of what we think is the best Android handset to date.


Over here in the US, Verizon is pushing the Droid under the taglines 'Deactivating Compromise' and 'iDoesnt', confident that its blistering 500MHz processor, efficient multi-tasking, hugely sharp screen and free sat-nav are enough to eclipse Apple's mighty iPhone.

The screen is jaw-droppingly impressive, not just for fine detail and eye-watering brightness, but also thanks to fluid scrolling and finger-friendly capacitive touch sensors. Hard-wired touch keys (back, menu, home and search) mean that all apps work in a similar way - and you're never more than a single button push away from a Google search.

The Droid's voice recognition is (we think) a shade better than the iPhone's, but it's a shame it only works with Google searches, Maps and your contact list. To be honest, if the Droid's flat, unresponsive Qwerty keyboard is the best Motorola can do, we'd be more than happy to wave goodbye to physical keyboards for good.

Android 2.0 isn't a massive change from 1.6. Microsoft Exchange is apparently difficult to get up and running, while the Droid (or possibly Verizon) refused to let us make Google Voice calls at all. The contacts list can now grab photos and status updates from Facebook, and gives one-touch links to email, phone, texts or social networks.

The browser is fantastically smooth and detailed, but still a touch slower than the iPhone. With pinch-and-zoom disabled, you're stuck with a less intuitive double-tap-to-zoom. By the time the Droid reaches the UK, however, it should have pinch-to-zoom reactivated - and may even be enjoying Flash Lite for mobiles, in which case all bets are off. It'll be a small consolation, at least, for not getting the excellent Google Maps Navigation sat-nav software.

Not only does this give free turn-by-turn voice guidance, it smoothes your way through life with live bus arrival times, Wikipedia icons for points of interest, searches en route and Google Street View photos of every turn along the way. It remains to be seen whether Motorola's MotoNav software (for Europe) will keep any of the cooler features.

The 5MP camera works well with Android's much-hyped (but rarely used?) barcode scanning apps, but anything more complicated than vertical black-and-white lines baffles its autofocus. Standard def (720x480-pixel) video clips fare better. Sound quality is fine through the external speakers or the 3.5mm jack, and it's great to be able to stream music while using other apps.

But if apps are the new gadgets, then Android is very much the 8-track player to Apple's audiophile 7.1 home cinema. Browse the Market and the few, thin apps on offer fail to mask the the empty shelves echoing behind them.

That won't matter to anyone who partners with the Droid for its class-leading sat-nav, screen and multi-tasking grunt. But if you're pining for the marriage of a seamless interface, speedy browsing and the sheer variety of the App Store, Apple remains the top choice for saying 'iDo'.