Droid X's Wi-Fi hot spot: Boon and bane

Motorola and Verizon, along with Texas Instruments, have achieved a remarkable level of feature integration with their built-in Wi-Fi hot spot. But there's a trade-off.

Motorola's Droid X Wi-Fi hot spot feature is a remarkable new level of integration in a smartphone. But packing more and more high-function stuff into a small device has its trade-offs.

The Droid X appears to be a hit, with reports that it was sold out at many Verizon stores (indeed, my local Verizon store in suburban Los Angeles was sold out on the first day of sales). To recap quickly, Motorola's new high-end smartphone allows a user to create a hot spot, similar to the access point that patrons connect to when in a Starbucks. Except, of course, that it's private and it's not as fast as a typical hot spot since it's 3G--not a DSL, cable, or T1 connection.

This raises the bar for feature integration in a smartphone--not unlike when cell phone makers began to include built-in cameras. Texas Instruments (TI), which supplies the Droid X's 1GHz OMAP processor, also supplies the silicon that enables the built-in Wi-Fi hot spot, and its silicon is a big reason Motorola was able to squeeze this feature into the Droid X.

Some of the early reviews, however, suggest that putting what is, in essence, a fully-functional Wi-Fi access point inside a smartphone can draw down the battery pretty quickly.

The problem of course is that any feature-packed phone is a computational Swiss army knife (camera, GPS device, game machine, Wi-Fi hotspot), and all of these functions can potentially take a big toll on battery life. That's the trade-off. Going forward, it will be incumbent upon silicon providers and phone suppliers to make this trade-off less painful.

The challenge for Verizon (the company closest to the end user) is that the hot-spot feature is not just an extra, like a video camera, that smartphone owners get for "free." It costs an additional $20 a month for 2GB of data and will probably be used heavily by professionals on the road. And so expectations for a good user experience will be higher than they would be in regard to a standard feature. (The HTC EVO 4G from Sprint also offers this feature for $29 a month with no data restriction).

And, indeed, there is a lot of potential. Having a smartphone that can provide a mobile broadband connection for your laptop anytime, anywhere (anywhere, that is, there's a Verizon 3G signal), is invaluable. And this feature will be even more attractive when more networks go 4G and provide the kind of speeds users are used to in their home or business.

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