Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluation of the Droid X since both smartphones share a number of features.
It's hard to believe that it hasn't even been a year since the original Motorola Droid came out, but as we all know, Android has exploded over the past few months and there are simply bigger and better smartphones out there. Enter the Motorola Droid 2. As the successor to the Droid, the handset offers a number of improvements, including a sleeker design, better keyboard, faster processor, and the latest version of Android OS. It lacks some of the higher-end features of the Droid X, but it's still an outstanding device on its own. There are enough improvements to make it worth the upgrade, and it will certainly satiate the need of those who want a physical keyboard. The Motorola Droid 2 is available now for $199.99 with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate. Verizon will also release a limited edition R2-D2 version of the Droid 2 in September. It will include exclusive "Star Wars" content and hardware designed to look like R2-D2.
Clunky and boxy, the original Droid wasn't much of a stunner in the looks department, but the Motorola Droid 2 reveals a more refined design. Sporting rounder, more-tapered edges, the Droid 2 doesn't have such an abrupt look, and the silver-and-blue color combo is not only attractive but also makes the smartphone stand out in a crowd. It's still a handful; the handset measures 4.58 inches tall by 2.38 inches wide by 0.54 inch thick, but compared with the Droid X and HTC Evo 4G, the Droid 2 actually feels small. It's slightly heavy at 5.96 ounces, but it's a solid handset and has a high-quality construction.
On front, you've got the same 3.7-inch, WVGA (480x854 pixels) capacitive touch screen. Though it might not be as large as the displays on some of the latest smartphones, it's still a good size, as well as sharp and vibrant, so reading text and viewing Web pages, pictures, and video is quite nice. If you do need to get a closer look at something or want more screen real estate, the display offers pinch-to-zoom support and a built-in accelerometer. Both functions work smoothly and quickly.
The screen will also automatically go into landscape mode when you slide the phone open. This is, of course, because the Droid 2 has a full QWERTY keyboard. As a number of Droid owners will tell you, using the keyboard on the Droid isn't exactly a pleasant experience. The buttons are flat, and there's the D-pad on the right side that makes it incredibly awkward to use the keyboard.
Fortunately, Moto fixed a lot of the errors this time around. First, it did away with the D-pad, so now you can hold the phone as you normally would and type more comfortably. Second, the buttons have a slight bump to them, so they're easier to press. Still, they're a bit stiff, so that slowed us down a bit. By comparison, we'd say the Samsung Epic 4G's keyboard is better because of the extra spacing between the keys, but this is definitely an improvement over the Droid. Plus, you've also got the option of using of Motorola's onscreen keyboard and Swype, which is perfect for firing off quick text messages.
The Droid 2 keeps the touch-sensitive Android shortcuts below the display: menu, home, back, and search. Though we prefer the physical buttons on the Droid X, they were still responsive and provide haptic feedback. On the right side, there's a volume rocker and a camera activation/capture button. The top of the device features a power/lock button and a 3.5mm headphone jack, and on the left, there's a Micro-USB port. The camera and dual-LED flash are located on the back.
Verizon packages the Droid 2 with an AC adapter, a USB cable, an 8GB microSD card, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Like the Droid X, the Motorola Droid 2 is running a toned-down version of Motoblur software. The latter looks nothing like what we've seen on the Motorola Cliq and Backflip. You still get widgets for your social-networking updates, weather, photo gallery, and favorite contacts, but they no longer take up huge chunks of space on your home screen, and you can even resize the widgets. It makes for a much cleaner experience, and you don't feel overwhelmed by all the information.
Aside from the Motorola widgets, you can also add Android widgets as well as shortcuts and folders to any one of the seven home screens. As you swipe through them, a small toolbar appears on the bottom to show you which panel you're on, and you can quickly jump to a page by pressing on the corresponding button. (After a couple seconds, the toolbar changes to a quick-launch bar for the phone, full menu, and contacts.) It certainly makes it easier than swiping through all the panels, but we definitely preferred the HTC Sense Leap screen feature, which gives you a quick thumbnail view of each screen.
Overall, the Motoblur experience is much improved; it's a more refined, sophisticated Motoblur, if you will. However, users coming from the Droid, which ran the stock Android UI, might need some time to acclimate, and even then it still might be too much for some. Just remember that, like all Android phones, it's completely customizable, so just keep tweaking the UI until you find a system that works for you.
The Motorola Droid 2 is the first smartphone to ship running Android 2.2 out of the box. This means in addition to the Android staples we've come to expect, you're now getting Flash Player 10.1, voice dialing over Bluetooth, camera improvements, and more. We won't detail every new thing in this review, but you can read more about Android 2.2 in this article, and check out this post on some of the hidden features of Froyo.
Like other Android phones, the Droid 2 allows you to sync multiple e-mail accounts to the phone, including Gmail, POP3, IMAP, and Exchange, as well as social-networking sites. When you first boot up the phone, you'll have the option to add all your various accounts (you can also add them later if you wish), which is usually a matter of entering your log-in ID and password. If you're syncing up your corporate e-mail, you'll need additional information like your server address. We had no problems hooking up our Gmail, Facebook, Outlook Web Access, and Twitter accounts to our review unit.
The Droid 2 offers both unified and separate in-boxes. There are also security protocols for remote password control and wipe, so corporate users can protect their phone's contents from snooping eyes. The smartphone also features a unified calendar, so you can see all your various appointments at once. This includes Facebook events and birthdays. All appointments are color coded by accounts, so you can easily tell them apart.
The contact management system is pretty good. The Droid 2 merges contact data from your e-mail and social networks and combines them on a single contact card for an individual. However, we ended up with a number of duplicates and had to go back and link them up. We do like that you can tap a contact's photo and get a quick list of the different ways you can get in touch with the person, whether it be by phone call, e-mail, text message, and you get the idea.
Voice features include a speakerphone, speed dial, voice commands, conference calling, Skype Mobile, and text and multimedia messaging with threaded chat view. Bluetooth 2.1, 3G, GPS, and integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) are also onboard, and the Droid 2 can be used a mobile hot spot for up to five devices. We were able to connect the Droid 2 to our MacBook Pro, and based on five tests, we got an average download speed of 1.11Mbps and upload speed of 0.29Mbps. To use this feature, you will need to sign up for Verizon's Mobile Hotspot service, which costs an additional $20 per month and has a 2GB data cap. If you go over, you will be charged 5 cents per megabyte in overage fees. By comparison, Sprint's mobile hot spot plan for the Evo 4G costs $29.99 per month, but there is no data cap.
Aside from the standard Android apps, there a number of extras preloaded on the Droid 2. This includes BlockBuster On Demand, Kindle for Android, a demo version of EA's Need for Speed Shift, as well as such Verizon services as NFL Mobile and V Cast Video. The Android Market currently offers more than 70,000 apps in its catalog, and you can now save apps to an SD card. The Droid 2 also has double the RAM (512MB) of the original Droid.
Web browsing and multimedia
The Android's WebKit browser is quite capable in functionality and performance but even moreso with Android 2.2. As we mentioned earlier, one of the new capabilities of Froyo is Flash 10.1 support, so you'll be able to view and interact with Flash content, including videos and games. Sure enough, we were able to play videos from sites like CNET and ESPN, and even animated ads and splash screens were displayed on the pages. Videos took a little while to load but once it got going, the playback was continuous and looked great on the Droid 2's screen. We also checked out some Flash games on Kongregate.com, such as Pitch Hitter, and it was fun and seamless. Performance could be better, to be sure, but overall, we were quite happy with the experience.
For other modes of entertainment, the built-in music and video player supports a variety of music and video codecs, including MP3, AAC, WMA9, OGG, WMV, MPEG-4, and H.264. The music player isn't quite as attractive as the HTC Sense's Cover Flow-like interface but it gets the job done and gives you basic features, like shuffle, repeat, and on-the-fly playlist creation.
Interestingly, Motorola didn't upgrade the camera on the Droid 2, so you're still getting a 5-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash. Camera options include different scene modes, effects, face detection, ISO and exposure settings, and more. Now, Android 2.2 brings new camera features, such as displaying some of these tools onscreen, so you can easily access them as you're taking photos, but unfortunately, Moto chose not to implement this functionality on the Droid 2. You still have to touch the right side of the screen to expand the tray of options, and the controls don't rotate when you turn the phone. It's not a deal-breaker, but it's certainly disappointing.
Picture quality was good. Colors came out bright and we could make out the subjects in our photos. We just wish the image was slightly sharper. Recorded video clips at the highest resolution (720x480 pixels) were watchable but looked very hazy.
The Droid 2 has 8GB of onboard memory and ships with an 8GB microSD card, but the expansion slot supports up to 32GB cards. You can share photos and videos through the usual avenues--e-mail, multimedia message, Bluetooth, Facebook, and so forth--but you can also stream media from your phone to a Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA)-compatible device. If you're not familiar with it, DLNA is a standard that makes it easier to move content, like movies, photos, and music, from device to device. Since the Droid 2 supports this technology, you can stream media from your phone to other DLNA-compliant tech, like the Xbox 360, without having to go through a whole setup process. You can find a list of DLNA-certified products here. Unlike the Droid X, the Droid 2 does not have an HDMI port.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO Rev. A) Droid 2 in New York using Verizon service and call quality was OK. On our end, calls sounded a bit flat. It didn't interfere with having a conversation, but we definitely wished for richer audio. Friends also said that our voices sounded a bit far away and sometimes tinny, so again, the quality wasn't horrible, but it wasn't great, either. Speakerphone calls was pretty much what we expected: slightly hollow but clear and loud enough to have conversations in various environments.
We had no problems pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones. We will test the voice dialing over Bluetooth capabilities once we get a compatible headset.
We didn't experience any dropped calls, and Verizon's 3G speeds were fairly swift. CNET's full site loaded in 24 seconds, whereas the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN both loaded in 9 seconds. YouTube clips loaded within several seconds and played back without needing to rebuffer and with synchronized audio and picture. Videos from our personal library also performed beautifully, and sound quality for music was balanced and rich.
One final improvement is a faster processor. The Droid 2 rocks a 1GHz TI OMAP processor, compared with the Droid's 550MHz processor, and the difference is noticeable. Apps launched without problem, and there was very little delay when working in and switching between multiple apps. We also played the demo version of Need for Speed Shift, and the smartphone was able to handle gameplay without problem.
The Droid 2 ships with a 1,400mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 9.6 hours and up to 13 days of standby time. We were able to get 6.6 hours of continuous talk time in our battery drain tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Droid 2 has a digital SAR rating of 1.49 watts per kilogram and a Hearing Aid Compatibility rating of M3/T3.