Android 2.0 also brings some improvements to the Web browser, which now supports HTML5. You can add visual bookmarks and toggle between multiple windows through a simple list view. What's more, thanks to the aforementioned multitap support, you can now double-tap on the screen to zoom in and out of Web pages. It's certainly easier than tapping the magnifying glass numerous times, but we still like the simplicity and ease of use of the pinching gesture used on the iPhone or the Palm Pre.
Most importantly, though, the browser feels faster. With a cortex A8 processor and support for Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A network, CNET's full site loaded in 14 seconds while CNN's and ESPN's mobile sites came up in 8 seconds and 5 seconds, respectively. For comparison, we checked out the same sites on the Samsung Moment for Sprint and the Moment's browser results were 40 seconds, 9 seconds, and 8 seconds in the order listed above.
Finally, while the Droid's browser doesn't have Flash Lite support, it does have a plug-in that will support Adobe's Flash 10 player when it's available. We also like the refurbished browser interface that includes bookmark thumbnails.
With all this information stored on the Droid and the World Wide Web in the palm of your hand, search is key and the Droid certainly delivers on that front. From the home screen, you can easily enter terms into the Google search box either by typing or using Google Voice search and the Droid will search the Web, your text and multimedia messages, your contacts, and your multimedia library for any relevant results. It can search through messages, but you must be in your in-box to do so.
Google Maps Navigation
The Motorola Droid is equipped with GPS/A-GPS, but what's different is the new Google Maps Navigation app. While still in beta, you can now get voice-guided, text-to-speech directions, instead of just text-based instructions, on Google Maps. And the best part? It's free. You don't have to sign up for a monthly subscription or pay a day-use fee for a location-based service, such as VZ Navigator, and in fact, VZ Navigator isn't even offered as an option.
Google Maps also offers layered maps with traffic data, satellite view, and Google Latitude. You can perform searches simply by typing a term, or you can use Google Voice search and speak a business name or general category right into the phone. Once done, Google Maps displays your search results; you can tap on a result, which will bring up numerous options, including navigation, call, or street view. While all of this is wonderful, there are some limitations. For example, you can't plan multidestination trips.
Even with its restrictions, we were very impressed with Google Maps Navigation. We used the Droid for several trips, including one from the Marina District of San Francisco to Oakland International Airport. The phone's GPS found our position in less than a minute and created a route just as quickly, and results were similar in subsequent tests. The maps were bright and clear on the Droid's gorgeous screen, and as you drive along the route, upcoming turns are displayed on top of the display while your current street is located on the bottom right. There's also an option to switch to satellite map view, which is very cool.
The voice-guided directions are loud and clear, but the voice sounds a bit more robotic than most and the text-to-speech pronunciation wasn't quite as good. That said, these minor issues didn't hinder us from understanding the instructions or getting to our destination. En route to the airport, we did briefly lose our GPS fix when we first got on the Bay Bridge, but the Droid was able to quickly get its lock back. It was just as fast with route recalculations. One note about the Google Maps Navigation: it requires a data connection to work so if you happen to wander out of a coverage zone, the maps won't update even though the GPS will continue to track your position. Also, should you happen to get a phone call while driving, the Droid will display a call screen as usual, and you can choose to accept or ignore the call. If you choose to take it, Google Maps Navigation will continue to run in the background but won't give you turn-by-turn instructions until you're off the phone.
Our biggest complaints with Google Maps Navigation right now is that it doesn't always come up with the most efficient routes. For example, after exiting the freeway for the Oakland airport, it told us to take a small side street to get to the main entrance. While this route certainly takes you to the airport, we could have just stayed on the road we were on for a more direct path to the airport. Also, on our way back from the airport to San Francisco, it randomly told us to make a U-turn while on the Bay Bridge. The capability to create multidestination trips would also be nice to see in a future update.
That said, Google Maps Navigation is an awesome application, especially since it's free. The voice search capabilities are especially cool and useful for finding points of interest and yielded fairly accurate results in our tests. We also like that the app shows a street view of your final destination, so you get a better visual of the building. With a few added features and enhancements to the interface, Google could certainly change the business of location-based services and navigation in general.
We should note that a separate car mount will be available for $30. Once docked to the car cradle, the Droid will automatically display a navigation menu from where you can plan a trip, view maps and directions, and search businesses. Undocked, there's an app called Car Home that shows the same options.
One area that remains relatively untouched by Android 2.0 is the built-in media player. There aren't any major enhancements to the player in terms of interface or functionality, which is too bad. You still get support for MP3, AAC, AMR-NB, WAV, MIDI (to name a few), and Windows Media Audio 9 formats and the player includes shuffle, repeat, and playlist creation. You can advance and revisit previous tracks by tapping the forward and back buttons or you can swipe the album covers using the touch screen. Unfortunately, there is no syncing software to help you manage and transfer your music. As it is right now, you have to use the old drag-and-drop method using the USB cable or sideload them using a microSD card.
Of course, you can also download songs via the Amazon MP3 store. The store allows you to browse by album, song, artist, or genre. You can download the DRM-free songs over Wi-Fi as well as Verizon's 3G network, though the Droid advises you switch to Wi-Fi when possible since it's faster. We downloaded several tracks from Amazon using the carrier's 3G network and it took an average of around 1 minute and 15 seconds from purchase to download.
Music quality was quite good. Thanks to the 3.5 millimeter headphone jack, we plugged in our Bose On-ear Headphones and enjoyed rich-sounding songs. We listened to a variety of music, from punk rock to pop to classical, and found a nice balance between treble and bass. Songs even sounded decent coming from the phone's speakers. There was plenty of volume and while slightly harsh, the audio wasn't as tinny as it is on some other smartphones we've tested.
Motorola offers a multimedia dock accessory, which also is sold separately for $30. When you slip in the Droid you get a nifty digital clock interface with instant access to local weather, the media player, the photo gallery, and the alarm clock. You can even change the backlighting color for a softer look. The dock is very handy as a stand for watching videos and you can connect the charger to power the phone while it's inserted. Unfortunately, a wired headset is not included in the Droid's box.
As with other Android devices, there's a dedicated YouTube app. You can comment on clips, favorite them, or share videos via e-mail and Facebook, as well as view them in high quality if available. Obviously, load times and quality depend on the video, but in general, we found that video playback was smoother and didn't require much rebuffering. One of the features that Motorola and Verizon highlighted when giving us a demo of the Droid was its multimedia capabilities, but we think that Google really has to step it up and make more moves, like expanding the video capabilities (for example, the capability to purchase videos from other services), in the near future to make the statement really ring true.
The 5-megapixel camera takes pictures in three resolutions and boasts a slick user interface. For example, it's now easier to switch to video mode. With previous Android phones, we've complained about the lack of camera editing options. Fortunately, Android fixes that problem by adding four white balance settings, several "scene" modes (night, landscape, sunset, and so on), three image quality choices, an autofocus, a macro setting, and seven color effects. The Droid also has a dual-LED flash.
Camcorder settings are fewer, but you can edit the video quality and the length allowed for each clip. You can film for 30 seconds if you're adding the video to a multimedia message, but you can go for up to 30 minutes in normal mode. When finished with your clips and shots, you can store them on the phone or transfer them off using e-mail, a multimedia message, Bluetooth, the memory card, or a USB cable. You even can upload shots directly to Facebook and Picasa with geotags.
Photo quality was decent, but not spectacular. Though colors were bright, our images were a tad fuzzy and had a pinkish tone. The flash adds a decent amount of light, but still is a bit dim in completely dark situations. Video quality is actually fairly good--it could handle action better than its Android counterparts and there was little pixelation. Indeed, a closer look at the specs told us why. Not only do videos record at a 720x480 resolution, the Droid films at 24 frames per second (fps) (video playback can go up to 30fps). You can access the media gallery directly from the camera interface. Once there, the normal Android slideshow interface lets you view your work.
You can download free and paid apps and games from the Android Market. The Market's interface received a much-needed upgrade with 1.6--we like the white background and the more intuitive search. Android 2.0 doesn't appear to offer any additional changes, which is fine in the short term. On the other hand, the quantity and quality of apps continues to grow every day. For updates and reviews of available Android apps, visit our Android Atlas blog. Of course, you must store apps on the handset's integrated memory, which is limited to 512MB ROM and 256MB RAM. The Droid's memory card slot is only for saving photos, music, and other attachment files. You get a 16GB card in the box, but the slot is compatible with cards up to 32GB.
Essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, and an alarm clock. And though we've said it before, we want Android to offer additional organizer options like a world clock, a notepad, a file manager, and a to-do list. Beyond the basics, you'll have 802.11b Wi-Fi, USB mass storage, Google voice search, Google Talk, instant messaging, visual voice mail, PC syncing, and speaker-independent voice dialing. Stereo Bluetooth is also onboard, but Android 2.0 adds object push and phone book access profiles.
The Droid makes a big leap in internal performance. Compared with its rather sluggish Android predecessors, the Droid is lighting fast when opening applications and menus, scrolling through lists and switching display screens. The integrated 600Mhz processor no doubt helps, but we came away impressed and almost amazed with the Droid's internal performance and its capability to run multiple applications at once.
Call quality and performance
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO Rev. A) Motorola Droid in San Francisco using Verizon service and call quality was excellent. We enjoyed crisp-sounding audio on our end, with little-to-no background noise, so we had no problems hearing our callers or using an airline's voice-automated response system. The signal was strong and consistent in most locations.
Our friends also had good things to say about call quality, though they could hear a slight echo at the end of sentences when we activated the speakerphone. On our side, we had no problems with the speakerphone; volume was plenty loud, with no disruptions. The Droid has a Hearing Aid Compatibility rating of M3 and T3.
We didn't have any dropped calls during our testing period and had no problems pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Active Bluetooth Headphones. Bluetooth headset call quality was satisfactory
Unfortunately, the Droid does not support Bluetooth voice dialing or commands. In order to use the Voice Dialer feature, you first must select the icon from the main menu (you can move on a shortcut to the home screen). After speaking your command, you then must confirm it via a prompt on the touch screen. Though we found the voice dialing feature to be quite accurate--it successfully picked up a command when we were a few feet away--it is not an ideal scenario for people who need to be completely hands-free. We hope this omission is corrected in a future software update.
We admit we're disappointed the Droid doesn't have dual-mode capability for domestic CDMA networks and GSM networks abroad. The Droid is a nice device and we would hate to leave it at home when we left the country. Such capability would also be of great benefit to business users, who are among the Droid's main target market.
The Droid has a rated battery life of 6.4 hours talk time and 11.25 days standby time. We beat the promised talk time in our tests for a total of 7 hours and 35 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Motorola Droid has a digital SAR rating of 1.49 watts per kilogram.