Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our review of the HTC Hero. The two devices share similar features.
The HTC Droid Eris is the second Verizon Wireless' Google Android phone after the Motorola Droid. Where the Droid was flashy and high-end, the Droid Eris offers a simpler, slimmer design that lacks a physical keyboard. You get the same Android features, but it all comes at bargain price. At $99 with service, the Droid Eris is the cheapest Android phone at the time of this writing.
Though the HTC Droid Eris is essentially a rebranded version of the HTC Hero, the smartphone's design deserves its own mention because it's a beautiful device. The style may be familiar to anyone who knows HTC's Touch devices, as it's a little reminiscent of the HTC Touch with its smooth, rounded corners and black soft-touch finish. Admittedly, the black casing isn't all that exciting, but it's still a classic and it's accented by chrome edges.
In the hand, the Droid Eris feels like a solidly constructed phone. It measures 4.45 inches tall by 2.19 inches wide by 0.51 inch thick and weighs 4.23 ounces, so it's slim enough to slip into a pants pocket and feels comfortable to hold during phone calls. In addition, HTC added a proximity sensor, a feature that was missing on the Sprint HTC Hero, so now the screen will turn off when you're on a phone call to prevent any accidental misdials from a brush of your cheek.
Speaking of the screen, the Droid Eris's 3.2-inch HVGA capacitive touch screen is hard to ignore. With a 320x480-pixel resolution, the display is amazingly sharp and vibrant. Text is easy to read and the colors of images are vibrant and rich. The Android interface, with its icon-based main menu, is familiar, but we're disappointed that the Droid Eris comes only with Android OS 1.5. That means you'll have to wait for OS 1.6 and 2.0.
In addition to a light sensor, the screen has a built-in accelerometer so the screen orientation automatically changes from portrait to landscape mode when you rotate the phone. Be aware that the feature only works in certain applications, such as photos, the Web browser, and e-mail.
The onscreen keyboard also will change depending on the phone's position. Just like the Hero, the Droid Eris uses HTC's own virtual keyboard rather than the stock Android one. We find it to be a little easier to use with its bigger buttons, white background, and more spacing between the keys, particularly in landscape mode. Even with those refinements, it's slightly behind the iPhone's in terms of precision, but it's responsive and provides haptic feedback.
The capacitive touch screen generally is responsive, whether you're tapping an icon to open an app, scrolling through long lists, or swiping through the various home screens. We love that the Droid Eris offers full multitouch support in the Web browser and photo gallery. That means that you can zoom by pinching your fingers and by double-tapping the screen. It's a big improvement over the first-gen Android phones and it removes one of the last remaining advantages of the iPhone's browser. On the bottom of the display are three touch controls for the main menu, a home screen customization menu, and the calling menu. The latter opens the phone dialer and offers access to your recent calls and your contacts list.
There are other ways to interact with your device. Below the display you get four navigation buttons: Home, Menu, Back, and Zoom. However, unlike the Sprint and GSM Hero, these four navigation controls are touch sensitive rather than physical buttons. Like the keyboard, they provide haptic feedback and we preferred them over the Sprint Hero's since they have a more spacious layout and are more responsive. We occasionally had to press the Menu button a couple of times for it to register, but it wasn't a big problem. You also get some physical controls, including a Talk and End/power keys and a trackball navigator.
Of course, what sets the Droid Eris apart from other Google Android phones is the HTC Sense user experience. Instead of three home screens, you now get seven, all of which you can customize with various shortcuts and widgets. HTC makes the phone even more customizable by adding a feature called Scenes. This lets you change the theme of the phone depending on whether you're at work, at play, or traveling. Each scene also provides seven customizable panels so there are plenty of ways to make the phone personal to your lifestyle. For more about the HTC Sense user interface, please read our review of the Sprint HTC Hero.
Rounding out the device is 3.5mm headphone jack on top, a volume rocker on the left side, and a Mini-USB port/power connector on the bottom. As usual, the camera is located on the back, and the microSD expansion slot sits behind the battery door on the right side.
Verizon packages the HTC Droid Eris with an AC adapter, a USB cable, an 8GB microSD card, and reference material. For more additions, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The Droid Eris offers a loaded feature set that rivals other Android phones. You'll find Bluetooth, voice dialing, Verizon visual voice mail, a calculator, a calendar, a speakerphone an alarm clock, Wi-Fi, PC syncing, USB mass storage, and a voice recorder. And of course, you get access to the full set of Google applications like Google Maps, YouTube, Google Calendar, Google search (with voice), and Google Talk.
Messaging and e-mail options are similarly plentiful. Besides the standard Gmail syncing, the Droid Eris will sync with popular POP3 accounts like Yahoo and Hotmail, and corporate mail, calendar, and contacts with Microsoft Exchange Active Sync. We successfully set up a Yahoo account and our CNET account using Outlook with Access (OWA). With QuickOffice and a PDF viewer, the Droid Eris' attachment support is robust as well. Both came in handy for viewing a variety of file types.
You can delve into your in-box folders, but as on the MyTouch 3G it can take time to find the folder you need since they're arranged haphazardly. Also, you'll need to manually refresh each subfolder once you open it. On the upside, we like the options for viewing only flagged messages, and e-mails with attachments. The Droid Eris doesn't have a unified in-box, but multiple account in-boxes are grouped under the same main menu icon.
The Hero's phone book size is limited by the available memory (see below). Each contact holds multiple phone number and e-mail types, a birthday and anniversary, an instant-message handle, a postal address, an organization/company name, and notes. You can organize contacts into groups and pair them with a photo and one of 32 ringtones. You even can send calls from your frenemies directly to voice mail.