Motorola Droid 2 Review: Good, But Not Exceptional
The Droid 2 stands out from its Droid brethren as the first to include a sliding keyboard. It also has a 3.7-inch touch screen with Swype, so you can "swipe" your index finger across the keypad for faster typing. It has a bit of the Droid X in its storage capacity, which can expand to a massive 40-gigabytes. It also has a bit of the original Droid, but in a bad way -- it still has a 5-megapixel camera, something a few newer Droids have improved.
Still the Droid 2 has room for a lot of features, and comes with some nifty tricks up its sleeves. But you'll have to decide if it's worth taking on the bulky design and mediocre camera, or to take the plunge and go with the Droid X or Incredible.
Ever wish you could type faster? The Droid 2 is the phone for you. Its slide-out keyboard is roomier than the Palm Pre or BlackBerry Torch. But the buttons are flat, and the top row of keys is close to the side, which means your thumbs will bump up against the phone when typing.
Fortunately, there's a touch screen option, with a virtual keypad and Swype predictive-text technology. You can also tap, zoom in or out, and flip between seven screen panels. A thin bar of menu, home, back and search keys is located below the 3.7-inch screen, which is trimmed with black and framed in silver. The back houses the 5-megapixel camera and flash, and a 3.5-millimeter headset jack and power button are located on the top. Meanwhile, the left has a micro-USB port and the right has volume keys and a camera button.
Overall, the Droid 2 is just as bulky as the Droid X without the advantage of the X's larger 4.3-inch screen. It's also thicker and heavier than the X, as well as the iPhone 4, due to the extra keyboard. But, excuses aside, it's a big phone -- there's no way around it -- and it's going to take up a lot of room in your pocket. There are lighter and thinner phones with bigger screens, but if you need a physical keyboard, it looks like this is as slim as it gets.
When Verizon released the original Droid, its 5-megapixel camera blew away most smartphones, which had 3-megapixel lenses. Since then, rivals have beefed up their photography features, and the Droid line continued to keep pace by releasing the X and Incredible, each with an 8-megapixel cameras. So it's odd that it doesn't have 8-megapixels. Now, the photos aren't bad -- they're sharp and higher quality than pictures taken on most phones -- but it's a step down from the X and Incredible, and can be slightly grainy.
Before taking a photo, you'll have a list of settings to pick from, including resolution choices of widescreen, large, medium, small and very small. Rotate, crop and tag options are available after an image is taken, and advanced editing options include resizing, adjusting color and saturation, changing brightness, adding effects -- like black and white, blue, green, red, lomo, oil painting, solarize, negative and sepia -- adding text, flipping the image, and adding a stamp or frame to the image. These are all pretty standard options for a smartphone -- there's nothing unusual or groundbreaking here.
The camcorder has resolution choices available in 720-by-480, 640-by-480, 352-by-288, 320-by-240 and 176-by-144 pixels. You can tag the video and, once it is shot, cut it into a shorter clip, remove audio, or add a title to the clip. These options are rare and always appreciated on a smartphone, especially when some phones don't have any video editing options and very few allow someone to extract part of a clip or shorten a video.
It has a good, but not exceptional, camera. The lens is weaker on this model than on other recent Droids, and its power is comparable to many other smartphones these days. The real strength is in the camcorder, which takes quality footage and has editing options not available on most phones.
The Droid 2, like the X before it, runs on Android 2.2 software. That means the phone can integrate with Gmail, along with other email accounts, as well as Google and Exchange calendars, and Google Maps for turn-by-turn directions. Android also pulls social network information so contacts are complete and up-to-date automatically. Rounding out the features, a 1-gigahertz chip, one of the fastest out there, ensures a speedy experience, while a few pre-installed apps, like a Kindle book reader and Skype Mobile, may appeal to buyers.
The HTC HD2 and Droid X are screen-driven phones. They justify their size -- 4.3-inches -- by offering some of the biggest screens on the market and saying they'll offer a better typing and video-streaming experience. Meanwhile, the Droid 2 is just about as big as these two, but its screen is smaller, measuring just 3.7-inches. While it's still bigger than most screens, the Droid 2's mediocre display, with its bulky design, make it a tough pill to swallow.
The screen isn't monstrous, but it is high quality. It offers 480-by-854 pixel resolution and supports up to 16.7 million colors, which is simply brilliant, since 262,000 colors was considered mid-range not too long ago. Seven main panels help organize all the services available on the phone, and navigating through them is pretty simple. The touch system is simple to figure out, but it's not very responsive, and sometimes it takes a few tries to get the intended task.
The X had a flaw in its volume control -- it wasn't loud. But the Droid 2 gets too loud -- which is good, I think. Several volume options range from quiet to very loud and sound is distributed evenly thanks to a speaker arranged in a horizontal strip across the back. Given the placement, it's hard to cover it up when held vertically, but if you're using the keyboard, or placing the phone on its back, you may experience some muffling. The Droid 2 is loud, but can also get very quiet through a 3.5-millimeter headset jack. To use headphones, you'll have to buy them separately.
It doesn't pick up audio well when recording video, unless the sound is made close to the phone, so tell people to speak closely to the microphone. That's a common flaw in camcorders, but it's still annoying.
The Droid 2 has plenty of messaging features. E-mails can be delivered instantly to the phone from Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, and other POP and IMAP accounts. It also has QuickOffice, so you can use Microsoft Office services with ease. Social networking is integrated into the phone, with the power to have Twitter, Facebook and MySpace updates delivered on a panel on the screen. The panel can get a bit crowded, so check it often. You can also update statuses from same panel.
It also integrates corporate and Google calendar items. It doesn't have instant messaging, which is, more or less, passe, so you'll have to use apps or resort to text and multimedia messaging.
None of these features are rare for smartphones. That's where Skype Mobile, which allows users to video chat with other Skype users, comes in. It's a handier system than the Apple's FaceTime video chat on the iPhone 4, since Skype users can just hop on using a computer. Plus, if you have a Skype account you won't have to learn a new system and register a new account.
The Droid 2 has all the common features plus a bonus -- Skype. It helps give the phone an edge over the iPhone 4, although video-shy BlackBerry Messenger fans may not want to switch to a Droid if they're attached to instant messaging.
As with most phones, the Droid 2 is what you make of it when it comes to entertainment. Android Market offers thousands of apps for sale, and the sizable memory allow you to install plenty of entertaining diversions. The Market is getting better, but isn't as good as Apple's store, since the approval process for iPhone apps are stricter. Thus, Android apps are somewhat unchecked in quality.
The Droid 2 comes with a demo version of Need for Speed Shift, a racing game, and apps for news and weather Amazon's MP3 store, and Blockbuster On Demand and the Kindle reader. The Kindle feature is an interesting touch because it allows you to read books on the phone without investing in a Kindle device. The Blockbuster app is less impressive, but it brings movies to the phone -- you just have to wait for them to download. Netflix provides a similar service for the iPhone, allowing you to stream videos and watch them sooner.
The Droid 2, like the X, can act as a 3G hotspot for up to five other Wi-Fi enabled devices, including laptops. It connects to the Web through a Wi-Fi or a 3G connection, and the 1-gigahertz processor makes for a speedy Web-surfing experience every time.
Since Google integrates its online services, like calendar, e-mail, contacts and maps, it doesn't take a far leap to deduce there's also a Google browser. This makes for a familiar browsing experience, and each webpage appears as it would on a computer, thanks to HTML and Flash 10.1 support. There have been few complaints about the Internet experience, and it's easy to see why -- the phone has a speedy chip that sits atop a Google browser that's easy to understand.
The Droid 2 has 8-gigabytes of internal storage and 8-gigabytes available through the built-in microSD memory card. That's a decent chunk of space, but the card -- built into the phone -- has half the capacity of the one added to the X. Meanwhile, the iPhone comes in 16- to 32-gigabytes flavors. To be fair, the Droid 2 can expand to 40-gigabytes of memory with a 32-gigabyte memory card, but that requires you to shell out some cash. Like most heavy-duty smartphones with lots of storage space, it doesn't have the best battery life. Expect to charge this phone on a daily basis, depending on use.
It connects to computers via a micro-USB cable or Bluetooth. It can pair wirelessly to push emails, control audio and video, push calendar items, access messages and a phone book, connect to Internet and use devices like joysticks and keyboards remotely.
IPhone 4 owners made a stink when signal problems cropped up. And that issue may have spread to the Droid 2. Some owners claim to have found reception flaws. Unlike the iPhone, which had issues when people held the phone a certain way, the Droid 2 drops signals without being touched.
The Droid 2 has a number of strengths. It's unique in the Droid line for its physical keypad and the Kindle digital book-reader feature. It's in a small group of smartphones that has Skype Mobile, the ability to act as a 3G hotspot, Swype predictive text technology, room for up to 40-gigabytes of storage, and the power and speed of a 1-gigahertz processor.
It's not as rare, but the Droid 2 can also be commended for integrating a variety of email accounts, social networking sites and corporate and Google calendars, plus Google services and navigation help from Google Maps Navigation and VZ Navigator.
Where the Droid 2 could improve is its camera. Its siblings the X and Incredible moved forward to an 8-megapixel camera, so why didn't the Droid 2? It takes quality videos, but doesn't pick up audio very well -- and the images are sharp, but could look better.
Skype Mobile is more accessible than Apple's FaceTime, but the iPhone has the Droid beat when it comes to delivering movies. Netflix's streaming system is better than Blockbuster, so you don't have to sit and wait for downloads. But be ready to charge the phone often.
If you're looking for a great camera, the most apps and streaming video -- look at another Droid model or the iPhone 4. But if you want a powerful device with speedy Internet, a lot of storage and a keypad to complement the touch screen, the Droid 2 may be for you. ♦
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