The Motorola Droid X is excellent. It’s also a little excessive. This Hummer humdinger of a phone delivers the absolute maximum in state-of-the-art Android power, at the cost of stretching the joint between your thumb and your other four fingers. The Droid X will be one of the first phones to run Adobe Flash when a software upgrade arrives later this summer, and its features and quality set a standard for how other Android phones should perform. It gets our Editors’ Choice for Verizon smartphones, although there are now a bunch of strong Android-powered choices on Verizon’s network.
As Apple pursues the dream of the One Perfect Phone, it’s fascinating to see Google Android evolve into the operating system of the Many Perfectly Good Enough Phones. On my desk right now, in descending order of size, are the Droid X, HTC EVO 4G, HTC Droid Incredible, and HTC Aria ($129.99, ). Each one is basically usable—and at least somewhat similar—but they each have something to recommend them. Together, they make the world of smartphones more exciting, and more enticing than it has ever been.
Physical Features and Call Quality
The Droid X is big iron. In terms of surface area, it’s the largest phone available in the US today. At 5 by 2.6 by 0.4 inches (HWD), it’s 0.2 inch longer than the HTC EVO 4G ($299.99, ), which is already pretty large. The Droid X’s size is only played up by the camera hump on the back. The HTC Droid Incredible ($299.99, ) looks like a child next to the X. Small hands will not hold this phone comfortably. But it’s relatively thin and light, considering its size.
The 4.3-inch, 854 by 480 screen is beautiful to look at, and it’s slightly higher resolution than the 800-by-480 panels on other Android super-phones. It’s not quite an iPhone 4 ($199.99-699, N/R) “retina screen,” but it’s as high resolution as anyone will need. Below the vast screen are four hardware buttons.
I’m no fan of touch keyboards, but if you’re going to have a touch keyboard, you might as well make it large. The Droid X’s keyboard is perfectly adequate, enhanced by the cultish Swype text-entry method, which lets you quickly write words without picking up your finger. Swype is great unless most of your text entry is typing URLs, passwords, or proper names.
Motorola has always made phone call quality a priority, and they try a new trick on the Droid X: three microphones, two used for noise cancellation. The trick works: I didn’t get any background noise on the other end of calls made with the X, even when I made the calls standing next to a roaring city bus. RF reception was also spectacular. Thanks to the huge antennas, the Droid X was able to eke out a call where the Incredible failed.
Call quality wasn’t perfect, though. At top volumes the Droid X’s earpiece exhibits some gain issues, whereas the Incredible remains clear. Transmissions also sounded a bit quiet, and even a little thready on the other end. The Droid X’s speakerphone was quite good, though—loud enough to use outdoors, with clear transmissions.
The Droid X paired easily with my Aliph Jawbone Icon ($99, ) Bluetooth headset and—wonder of wonders!—triggered voice dialing over Bluetooth, a rare feature on an Android phone. Voice recognition was pretty accurate.
For data, the Droid X uses Verizon’s EV-DO Rev A network, and I got excellent download speeds. The phone works as a WPA2-protected, 802.11g Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five devices, and I fetched up to 2 Mbps down on a PC, although uploads seemed capped around 350 Kbps. Hotspot use costs $20 per month over your standard service plan, and you only get 2GB of hotspot usage before you start being charged $50 per GB extra. Motorola said the phone has a USB tethering mode, but I didn’t find it in the USB options.
The large 1570 mAh battery delivered more than eight hours of talk time in our preliminary tests, and battery tests are still ongoing. I anticipate that this phone will have much better battery life overall than the HTC Evo; the large screen means it will probably still need to be recharged every day, but I’m confident in saying the battery won’t be a deal-breaker. An even larger, 1930 mAh extended battery which is 1mm thicker will be available at launch as an add-on accessory.
Operating System and Software
The Droid X runs Android 2.1 with the latest version of Motorola’s MotoBlur extensions, designed to be less intrusive than the software on phones like the Motorola CLIQ ($199.99, ). The Droid X offers a single interface to sign into a bunch of different kinds of accounts: Google, Yahoo! Mail, various other mail services, Microsoft Exchange, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and photo sharing services. An Android 2.2 update that supports Adobe Flash 10.1 is coming later this summer, Motorola says.
Google and Exchange calendars get integrated, and your address book also mixes in Facebook, Twitter and MySpace friends. When you click to a contact card, you can see all of a friend’s updates; you can also select just one of your phone books if the whole mixed list is too overwhelming.
Blur’s universal inbox treats Facebook and MySpace e-mails and Twitter DMs as e-mails, mixing them in with your other messages. I think that’s great.
Where Blur falls short, though, is in up-to-the-minute updates of Twitter and rich support for Facebook walls. It’s just no substitute for dedicated clients. Built-in home screen widgets show slightly stale Twitter updates and stripped-down Facebook posts, but they leave you behind in fast-moving conversations.
And no, there’s no way to turn off Blur. If you don’t sign into various accounts, however, it won’t aggregate that information.
Blur may also be a drag on performance; I had occasional freezes and slowdowns using this phone, and I didn’t see faster Web browsing speeds on the Droid X compared to the Incredible.
That’s a pity, because the Droid X’s 1-GHz TI OMAP 3630 processor is the fastest I’ve benchmarked—faster than Qualcomm’s Snapdragon. I use four freeware benchmarks on Android phones: BenchmarkPi, CaffeineMark, LinPack, Softweg and Neocore. (Why those four? Because they were the only ones available when I started benchmarking Android devices last year.) The first three focus on CPU performance, the fourth mixes in memory and file-system performance, and the last simulates a 3D game. The Droid X beat all other Android devices on every raw benchmark, including 3D gaming performance. (Synthetic benchmarks like these can’t be used to compare different OS platforms.)
You’ll find the usual Android services on here, including the latest version of Google Maps Navigation. The Droid X’s GPS locked onto my location quickly and easily and delivered spoken directions. I downloaded a range of apps from Android Market without a problem.
AT&T, take notice: The Droid X has zero bloatware. Rather than littering the phone with extra-cost services, Verizon nicely tucks them under a “Verizon” channel in the Android market.
Multimedia and Conclusions
The Droid X is a fine music phone, but it’s really big if you’re looking for a device to primarily play music on. With 8GB of built-in memory and one 16GB microSD card included, there’s plenty of room for your media. The phone plays AAC, MP3, WMA and WAV music, and syncs with doubleTwist (Free, ) on the desktop, as well as with Verizon’s own free V CAST Media Manager. (doubleTwist is better.) Music sounded rich and clear through wired or stereo Bluetooth headphones. If you don’t feel like loading your own music, there’s an FM radio with 15 presets.
The Droid X’s 8-megapixel camera is one of the best I’ve seen on a phone. I like its still photos more than the EVO’s or Incredible’s; it deals better with wide dynamic range in daylight shots, and takes sharp photos in good light with more subtle delineation of textures. Low-light photos are softer than the Incredible’s, though, possibly because the Droid X’s flash is a bit weaker.
The phone lacks a front-facing camera, but I don’t see that as a huge problem right now; Android video-calling software is buggy and hard to use. That said, I streamed Qik video one way without a problem.
As promised, the Droid X captures 720p video at 24 frames per second, which played smoothly on my Mac and PC, although I couldn’t play it on the very phone I captured it with.
The Droid X is an excellent phone for watching video, as long as you’re watching it on the phone. It supports an unusually deep range of codecs—I played 480p-format files in simple MP4, H.264, WMV, and even DIVX and XVID format. YouTube videos in HQ (480p) mode streamed over Wi-Fi looked sharp, and Verizon’s $10-per-month V CAST service has assembled a decent list of content partners. The phone will also stream full NFL games with an upcoming app.
The X’s Blockbuster app turns out to be less enticing in practice than in theory. There’s no subscription option, and rentals are overpriced at $4 per day. (It costs $15-20 to purchase most films.) Forget about impulse viewing: it took me two hours to download Shutter Island over Wi-Fi. “Legal movies on your phone” sounds great on paper, but the user experience just isn’t here.
The Droid X’s supposed HD support also felt like a tease and a cheat. The Droid X has an HDMI output that works with standard Micro HDMI cables, same as the Sprint EVO 4G. But the HD out only works with the X’s built-in photo and video gallery app—not with YouTube, nor V CAST, nor Blockbuster. And I couldn’t get the phone to play any 720p videos, not even ones I recorded with the phone itself. Motorola said it was supposed to, and suggested that I had a buggy phone.
The Droid X gets our nod over the HTC Droid Incredible because of its better camera, Bluetooth voice dialing, Wi-Fi hotspot mode and various other built-in apps. But the Droid X isn’t for everyone: This phone is huge. Its performance is close enough to the Incredible’s that I’m still very comfortable recommending that the smaller-pawed go for the HTC smartphone, unless you need a specific Droid X feature. Folks looking for a great Verizon smartphone with a hardware keyboard should probably wait for the Motorola Droid 2, which Motorola’s CEO Sanjay Jha promised us months ago.
The Droid X is a much better value then the Apple iPhone 4. (Flame away)