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Tech Report – Motorola Droid

By Michael Connolly

With much fanfare and an avalanche of TV advertising, Motorola is back! This week it unveiled the Droid from Verizon, the second of two smartphones that it hopes will compete with the all-conquering iPhone. This follows the unveiling of the CLIQ, courtesy of T-Mobile, which will go on sale November 11th and which has also been receiving rave reviews.

Since the iPhone exploded onto the scene just over two years ago, there have been numerous attempts to launch an "iPhone killer" – a smartphone that would compete with or even take over Apple's dominant position. None have succeeded. RIM has come closest with a stream of state-of-the-art BlackBerrys, culminating in the recent launch of the well-received Storm 2. Others, like the Palm Pre and the Nokia Surge, have arrived with a lot of hype, only to quickly fade into the background.

Once a dominant player in the global market for cell phones, Motorola has endured several years of sub-par products, employee layoffs, and upper management changes. Now, however, it has thrown its lot in with Google and the Android 2.0 operating system to produce two potential winners.

Most of the excitement has surrounded the Droid (thanks in no small measure to the huge marketing campaign by Verizon). While there are significant design differences between the Droid and the iPhone 3G, the Droid's features and functionality easily stand up to a rigorous comparison with the market leader and in many cases they have leapt ahead.

First, the two major differences: the Droid will operate exclusively on the Verizon network in the United States. This is not insignificant, given the problems that iPhone users have been having with AT&T. The Droid is likely to increase Apple's frustration with Verizon and may hasten the day when AT&T loses its controversial exclusivity.

Secondly, the Droid comes with a full slide-out QWERTY keyboard. One of the main features that keeps BlackBerry users faithful is the easy-to-use functional keyboard that is a staple on all their devices. Motorola clearly sees the keyboard as an essential differentiator if it's going to succeed in clawing its way back into the lucrative smartphone market. (Unfortunately, early reviews suggest that the Droid's keyboard takes a lot of getting used to!)

Even with the keyboard, the Droid is only slightly thicker than the iPhone. It's also slightly heavier than the iPhone but is about the same width and height with the keyboard closed. However, the 3.7-inch screen is bigger than the 3G and also has better graphics. 

The Droid comes pre-installed with all the programs and functions that are expected of a leading smartphone, including messaging, a web browser, contacts, a calendar, and a 5 megapixel camera. Interestingly, the phone functions are also activated off the touch screen, doing away with the usual Talk and End keys that you find on any other phone.

Another big advantage that the Droid has over the iPhone is the maps feature. Using Google's software advantage in this area, the Droid can effectively become a voice-activated GPS device – and at no extra cost. What this technology will do to the highly-profitable stand-alone GPS business is anybody's guess but it can't be good news for the Garmins and Magellans of the world!

All in all, the Droid looks like a winner and may actually give the iPhone a run for its money. At the very least, it is a big win for Google as it tries to establish Android as the leading alternative to Apple's iPhone OS when it comes to mobile operating systems.

The Droid goes on sale November 6th. It will cost $199 after a $100 rebate and requires a two-year service contract with Verizon.  

Comment by Jon Dough, posted 6/21/2010, 6:52 PM:

For parents concerned about cyberbullying and stuff like that, a very good parental control filter for the droid & other android phones is http://childprotectonline.com/
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