I remember when I got my hands on Motorola’s introductory Droid. I had been considering a new smartphone and was naturally fawning over the iPhone. A friend took note and whipped out his brand new Droid, handed it to me and said reverently, “Here. Try this.” I played with it and was extremely impressed with the functionality of the touch screen, the QWERTY keyboard, and the Android OS which, while less dependent on proprietary software than Apple products, still functioned like it was designed for anyone to use. But I noticed some issues, and the question naturally arises: has Motorola made the necessary improvements with the Droid 2 to launch the Droid line into the category of truly over-the-top phones? The answer is a resounding “sort of.”
Design and features
The Droid 2 comes on the heels of its predecessor with many of the same features. It touts the impressive 3.7” screen, 480×854 pixel resolution, and 5 megapixel camera of the original Droid. Overall it is 60.5mm x 116.3mm x 13.7mm, making it large but manageable. It does, however, weigh in at almost 6 ounces and sits heavy in the hand. The Droid 2 ships with the phone, user manual, battery and AC adapter that doubles as a USB cable—a nifty and welcome feature.
The right side of the Droid 2 sports the volume buttons near the top and a dedicated camera button near the bottom. The miniUSB port is on the left, while the 3.5mm headphone jack sits on top along with the power button. Aesthetically speaking, the Droid 2 has been cleaned up and comes in white and something called sapphire which most people will default to. The phone ships with 8 GB of onboard memory and an 8 GB micro SD card that can be expanded up to 32 GB. As with many phones that run on the Android OS these days, the Droid 2 comes with the Android 2.2 Froyo updated OS, a long-awaited improvement from 2.1.
Usability and performance
The biggest improvement to the Droid 2, perhaps the one causing the most buzz and the one for which I was the most thankful, is the precisely-centered keyboard that forgoes the clumsy block-style navigation button in favor of arrows reminiscent of an actual keyboard. Of course, these keys feel somewhat redundant with a touchscreen, but I got some use out of them. The tactile slide-out keyboard itself is, as always, a welcome feature despite adding several ounces to the Droid 2’s overall heft. This is definitely a phone that will fit well in your hands but feel clunky in your pocket, especially if you add a case.
Of course, as a smartphone, the most important thing is the performance—and it performs well. The folks at Motorola have upped the processing power of the Droid 2 to 1 Ghz, doubling the power of its predecessor. The change is somewhat noticeable, and the phone runs quickly if still lagging a bit during web browsing. And speaking of browsing, the Droid 2 features dual touch capabilities onboard making pinch-to-zoom a reality. I never realized how useful this feature was until I finally had it on a phone. The Android 2.2 software performs like a dream and makes going back to 2.1 feel clunky and awkward. A lot has been streamlined in the Froyo update that shows in every phone shipping with the Android OS, not just the Droid 2.
Cameras have become more and more important on the market, and the Droid 2’s 5 megapixel camera does not disappoint. Until phone camera optics improve, pictures will always have that certain “phone” look, but the Droid 2’s photos are relatively clear and the flash is powerful. Image editing tools include cropping, rotating, and Geotagging. The Droid 2 will automatically mark the exact location at which you took the picture and include the place name if you happen to be in a restaurant or at a particular landmark.
Motorola has said that the Droid 2’s battery will power the phone for up to 9 ½ hours of talk time with 13 days of standby. Of course, other features of the phone, particularly its Google Maps-oriented GPS functionality, will drain the battery quite a bit faster than that. Expect to charge up your phone every day, especially if you are one to leave apps running or forget to turn off your GPS and wireless functions. The Droid 2 can act as a wireless hotspot, and with Verizon’s superior coverage you’ll rarely be in want of the internet whether you’re just browsing on your phone or working on your laptop.
As a phone, the Droid 2 operates well. I have both sent and received calls on the Droid 2 as well as received calls from it on other phones. Voices are typically clear and it’s nice to see that smartphones are starting to function like phones again. The speakerphone functionality is nice, if a bit crackly and hard to understand when someone on the other end is using the device’s speakerphone.
Being an Android phone, the Droid 2 has full access to the expanding Android market. The nicest thing about the Android developing community is that if you have a problem with your phone, you can often find a free app developed by a power user who had a similar issue. For example, there are about a dozen free flashlight applications available on the market that take advantage of the Droid 2’s ridiculously bright camera flash. Overall, you will never be wanting for functionality.
So often I find myself describing smartphones as “like an iPhone but…” and the Droid 2 is no different. In this case, the Droid 2 is like an iPhone but with a full tactile keyboard and the Android OS, though in reality it compares more directly to its generational cousin, the Droid X. In fact, I tend to prefer Android over iOS these days. I am glad to see that the phone I fell in love with two years ago has only improved with time, though I would like to see the size issue addressed in the next version of this particular Droid line. If you’re looking for a fast, powerful, easy-to-use Android smartphone with a tactile keyboard, the Droid 2 is an easy choice.
The Motorola Droid 2 is available for $199 with a two year Verizon contract.