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On Call: All about the Droid

CNET's cell phone editor answers your questions and concerns about the Motorola Droid.

On Call runs every two weeks, alternating between answering reader questions and discussing hot topics in the cell phone world.

It's been a long time since I've devoted an On Call to reader questions, but e-mails about the Motorola Droid have poured in following the device's debut last month. Some have offered nothing but effusive praise for the handset, while others have raised concerns. I've included a sampling of e-mails from the latter camp below. And be sure to catch my follow-up to a previous Android post at the end of the question-and-answer session.

Q: I think you described switching to Google Android quite well. I like the Droid, but I'm thinking of waiting for a GSM version. Will there be a GSM version and do you think that Verizon Wireless will carry it?
- Tandon55

A: A GSM version of the Droid already exists. The Milestone, as it's called, is almost identical to the Droid except that it has pinch-and-zoom multitouch. We're not sure why it has the extra feature--believe us when we say we're not happy about the disparity--and neither Verizon Wireless, Google, nor Motorola is offering an answer. The Milestone will land first in Europe and Germany, but it won't come to Verizon Wireless. Verizon uses CDMA, which is an incompatible technology to GSM, and Verizon already carries its own version of the phone.

Motorola Droid Josh Miller/CNET

Q: Love your work. Though Apple has the most applications, I'm a Verizon customer so I'm sticking with the carrier for now. I'm choosing between the Droid, the RIM BlackBerry Storm 2 and the Samsung Omnia 2, and my decision will depend on which platform is supported by the most meaningful applications. Do you have any thoughts?
- Wendell

A: Thanks for the kudos, Wendell. Apple has the lead in applications for the moment, but Android is growing at a nice rate. And as more Android phones hit carriers, the number of supported apps will increase even faster. Yet Android does have one hurdle, that being the fragmentation of the platform. Since Google is taking a hands-off approach to rolling out OS updates, developers have to introduce, test, and design their apps multiple ways. Scott Webster, our Android Atlas blogger, has reported on this issue already. Developers are getting frustrated and it could endanger robust app development for the platform unless carriers and manufactures make an effort to standardize OS upgrades.

For the Storm 2 and Omnia 2 it's a different story. While BlackBerry and Samsung are developing app stores, they won't grow as fast as Android. And while quantity doesn't guarantee quality, I'd bet Android holds a lead there as well. Of course, you have to consider the devices too. RIM did a better job with the Storm 2, but I still like the Droid better. We haven't reviewed the Omnia 2 yet, but Bonnie Cha will get to it later this week. Then I'll be able to offer a good comparison between it and the Droid.

Q: Your reviews are great and I always look to CNET before purchasing new electronics. I want to get a Droid, but I read that it can't sync correctly to Outlook, which is what I need for business. Is that true? Also, would an Omnia 2 be a better choice?
- Joe

A: The Droid offers two-way syncing to Outlook for e-mail, contacts, and calendar, but not notes. Rest assured, I was able to sync with my CNET Outlook account without any issues, and the e-mail push delivery was pretty seamless. You can set up the sync on your own if your employer uses Outlook Web Access (OWA), which lets you avoid the $15 fee that Verizon is charging corporate users. As for the calendar, you can send messages to meeting attendees, see who has RSVP'd to an event, and/or create your own invites and have it all synced back to your PC.

On the other hand, the Omnia 2 uses Windows Mobile Professional (WM). Though I'd argue that WM is far from being user-friendly, it was built from the ground up with Outlook syncing in mind. You get real-time e-mail delivery and automatic synchronization with your Outlook calendar, tasks, and contacts via an Exchange Server, and in our experience the syncing process is cleaner and quicker than on Android.

Also, WM offers more security options and better enterprise support and it can be easier to organize folders. So if Outlook syncing is your only concern, then I'd go for the Omnia 2--as I said above, we'll review it later this week--but if you want an easy-to-use, customizable OS that's better with multimedia and third-party applications, then I'd recommend the Droid.

Q: I've scoured the Web to read of any problems with the Droid and the Android 2.0 OS. As one of the many semi-geek older users of the Droid I've found two major drawbacks that will force me to return my Droid within the 30-day trial period. And its worth noting that Verizon hits you up for a $35 restocking fee.

The Droid can't auto-answer via my car's Bluetooth connection. This is a non-starter for driving and answering in locations where cell use is prohibited. Also, I can't see the font or icons like young eyes can and there is no way to increase the font size in the e-mail application. Do you know when those issues will be addressed?
- Mike

A: Unfortunately, the Droid's incomplete Bluetooth support is one of its biggest flaws. You must use the touch screen to initiate voice dialing. You're also correct that you can't adjust the display font size. Hopefully, Google will address both these issues in a future OS update. As of now, I don't know if that will happen.

Q: There is quite a thread developing (26 pages and counting) on Motorola's support forums regarding serious problems with Wi-Fi on the Droid. Have you heard anything about this? If there is a major Wi-Fi flaw in the Droid (and I suspect there is because I too am a victim), it could be pretty big news.
- Keith

A: I've been following this issue in the past few days. We haven't had the same issue with our Droid review model, but I'm checking with Verizon and Motorola to see if they have any comment. I'll let you know what they say.

And finally...
Three weeks ago I wrote a blog on what users should anticipate when they switch to Android. Before posting, I thought it was a fairly straightforward piece that laid out the strengths and weaknesses of the Android OS and advised new users on what to expect. I should have known, however, that one phrase would illicit passionate responses from readers.

Many readers were not happy that I said, "Compared with the iPhone, Android generally isn't as slick, its menu structure isn't quite as simple, and it generally has a more technical feel." Some went on to claim that I was a rabid Apple fanboy, that the article was clearly biased, and that I used an Apple as my personal device. It struck me that someone could draw such a snap conclusion from an observation that many share; perhaps they didn't read this blog that I posed the same day.

As I said, Android is not inferior, but it is different. And while some readers have questioned how I could compare Android devices with the iPhone, I think it's a very fair and relevant comparison. The devices have a lot in common, and CNET readers are always asking me about the differences. You may disagree with my opinions, but pointing out the differences, and Android's flaws, is part of my job. After all, I've done the same with the iPhone, but that doesn't make me an Apple slamboy.