Critics' Choice: Smartphone Review Roundup of Droid 2


 

Stop the presses: There's a new Android smartphone out!

This is big news, because there hasn't been a new Android phone to debut since, oh, yesterday.

OK, so that was a wee bit sarcastic. Fact is, this has been the year of Android phones, starting with Google's Nexus One. The tide has crested in recent months, with the HTC Incredible, HTC Evo 4G, Motorola Droid X, and now, Motorola's Droid 2 ($200 on Verizon after a $100 mail-in rebate and new two year-contract). It all adds up to a horn of plenty for Android smartphone fans, making it difficult to choose between models, especially since many are offered on Verizon.

The Droid 2 is receiving respectable, if somewhat restrained, reviews. "It's a more powerful and better looking package than the Droid that started it all, but this follow-up is not without its flaws," says LAPTOP magazine.

The Droid 2 ships with Android 2.2, a significant upgrade to Google's smartphone OS. The upgrade rollout to other Android phones has been messy, however. And already, there are reports that some Droid 2 users are experiencing dropped calls and oddly fluctuating reception problems.

Still, the consensus is that the Droid 2 is a solid choice for those who want an Android smartphone with a physical keyboard. Here's what CNET, LAPTOP, PC Mag, and PC World reviewers have to say about the latest Android smartphone.

Overall Comments: An Improvement Over the Original Droid, But Not Quite as Hot as the Droid X

When compared to the Droid X, the Droid 2 is deemed to be a good choice, if a bit uninspired.

"The Droid X still narrowly holds the title as the best overall smartphone on Verizon, and it is our Editors' Choice for non-keyboard smartphones," writes PC Mag.

"While the Droid X and Droid 2 are quite similar, the Droid X has a few more positive attributes. The Droid X handles multimedia better, features a better 8-megapixel camera compared to the Droid 2's decent 5-megapixel one, has Bluetooth voice dialing, comes with a larger microSD card, and can record full HD video."

Similarly, PC World notes that the Droid X and Droid Incredible will give you more for your money than the Droid 2. "If your heart is set on a physical keyboard, however, you'll be perfectly happy with the Droid 2," the reviewer adds.

Droid 2 Design: Not So Abrupt

The Droid 2 measures 4.58 in. x 2.38 in. x 0.54 in. and weighs 6 ounces, the same as the original Droid. But the Droid 2 features "rounder, more-tapered edges" and "doesn't have such an abrupt look," notes CNET. The Droid 2's "silver-and-blue color combo is not only attractive but also makes the smartphone stand out in a crowd," and "compared with the Droid X and HTC Evo 4G, the Droid 2 actually feels small." CNET says the phone is "slightly heavy" but has a "high-quality construction."

LAPTOP was pleased with the Droid 2's "new color scheme, which includes a silver screen bezel, and a navy blue back and sides."

Droid 2 Keyboard: Much Improved

The Droid 2's slide-out keyboard is a big improvement over the original Droid, reviewers agree.

"Gone is the clunky four-way directional pad to the right of the keyboard that allowed room for wider keys," says PC World. "If you liked the d-pad on the original Droid, don't fret: There are still four arrow keys for extra navigation options. The keys are raised, which is a relief, as the original Droid's keys were too flat for my liking. Another improvement? No more dummy keys! The Droid had two completely useless key taking up precious keyboard real estate."

Droid 2 Screen: Slightly Small by Droid Standards

Droid 2's touch screen is 3.7 inches, a bit less than the Droid X's 4.3 inches but still larger than the iPhone 4's 3.5 inch screen.

"The capacitive touch-enabled panel was extremely responsive, both when we single tapped for icons/buttons and when we pinched to zoom in/out in the browser," notes LAPTOP. "However, we prefer the touch experience on the 4.3-inch Droid X, which seemed even more responsive and had larger icons and buttons that were easy to target."

Droid 2 Software Interface: A Cleaner Experience--Sometimes

As with the Droid X, the Droid 2 runs a version of Motoblur software, an Android OS 'skin' that adds widgets and other customized interface touches. Reactions among reviewers varied.

CNET was mostly positive: "You still get widgets for your social-networking updates, weather, photo gallery, and favorite contacts, but they no longer take up huge chunks of space on your home screen, and you can even resize the widgets. It makes for a much cleaner experience, and you don't feel overwhelmed by all the information."

But PC World's reviewer felt that, in some cases, the Motoblur interface isn't as refined as what Android 2.2 offers. Case in point: the Motoblur camera interface.

To access shooting options in Motoblur, PC World says, "you have to touch the right side of the screen. And when you tilt the phone/camera, the controls don't rotate. With Android 2.2, these controls are always exposed on your screen. It is a tiny detail, but why adopt a custom skin on certain apps only to make them worse?"

Call Quality on the Droid 2: Acceptable, Mostly

Most reviewers felt the Droid 2 is OK as a phone--not stellar, but not subpar, either.

"At maximum volume, voices on the Droid X are extremely sharp, but there can be a bit of gain buzz; on the Droid 2, they're a bit muddier, but without the buzz," says PC Mag's reviewer. "Transmission quality through the microphone isn't quite as good as the Droid X's--it's a little quieter and more computery--but it's still in the class of 'good voice phones.'"

Call quality was so-so, according to CNET. "On our end, calls sounded a bit flat. It didn't interfere with having a conversation, but we definitely wished for richer audio. Friends also said that our voices sounded a bit far away and sometimes tinny, so again, the quality wasn't horrible, but it wasn't great, either. Speakerphone calls was pretty much what we expected: slightly hollow but clear and loud enough to have conversations in various environments."

PC World's reviewer was more upbeat, however. "Call quality was also very good…I experienced no dropped calls, nor did I hear any static or hissing. Callers' voices sounded clean and natural."

Droid 2 Internet Access: Turn Your Phone into a Hotspot

Among its new features, Android 2.2 enables a device (such as the Droid 2) to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot, sharing its 3G mobile broadband connection with up to 5 devices at once. The feature costs an extra $20 per month on Verizon, though that's a lot less than the $60 monthly fee Verizon charges for its 5GB mobile broadband plan.

"Setting up a hotspot was as easy as launching the app and clicking on the advanced settings to assign an SSID and WPA password," LAPTOP says. "Once set up, we just had to check a button to enable the hotspot feature and we were able to connect to the Droid 2 from our notebook. We achieved a download speed of 1.05 Mbps and upload rate of .36 Mbps on the Speedtest.net broadband test. Those numbers compare favorably to the Sprint Mi-Fi device (0.85 Mbps download and 0.57 upload). Of course, the hotspot uses plenty of power to broadcast so we recommend turning it off when not in use."

Unfortunately, using the Droid 2's 802.11 b/g/n wireless connectivity was no such walk in the park, according to LAPTOP. The smartphone would appear to be connected but, after a few minutes, would stop downloading. The reviewer tried connecting over three different wireless routers; each time, the Droid 2 problem occurred.

"The solution to the problem, once you notice it, is to disconnect from the router then reconnect, but that is a huge hassle," LAPTOP adds.

Web Browsing on the Droid 2: Flash Sometimes Leads to Crash

Steve Jobs has famously bashed Adobe Flash for being unreliable--hence the lack of support for Flash on Apple mobile devices. Among the features of Android 2.2 is support for Flash 10.1, so you'll get a fuller web experience on the Droid 2--for better and worse.

"Rest assured that Flash works as expected--it puts all sorts of animated stuff on Web pages, some of which crashes your browser," according to PC Mag. "That's been my experience with both the Droid 2, Sprint's HTC Evo 4G, and for that matter my PC."

The Droid 2's WebKit-based browser is "speedy" over 3G, though not as fast at loading web sites as when the phone is connected via Wi-Fi, notes LAPTOP. "Over 3G, the New York Times website loaded in an average of 13 seconds, Laptopmag.com in 20 seconds, and ESPN mobile in 5 seconds. Over Wi-Fi, those sites loaded in an average of 7, 10, and 3 seconds. The Droid X provided nearly identical times for each of these sites."

Camera and Multimedia: Picture Most Reviewers Disappointed

The Droid 2, oddly enough, features the same 5-megapixel camera technology with dual-LED flash as the original Droid and doesn't offer 720p HD video recording, as the Droid X does. So this isn't the camera to get for those wanting top-notch imaging capabilities.

LAPTOP's reviewer says indoor images were sharp, though outdoor photos were "noisy." Meanwhile, PC Mag notes that videos shot on the Droid 2 were "smooth and sharp at 30 frames per second."

Performance and Battery: A Faster Processor, So-So Battery Life

The Droid 2 features a 1GHz TI OMAP processor with a dedicated graphics processor, a bump up from the original Droid's 550MHz chip. Reviewers say the difference is noticeable, though they also noted some curious results from their speed tests.

"Apps launched without problem, and there was very little delay when working in and switching between multiple apps," CNET notes.

As for those curious speed test results? The Droid 2 fared "dramatically better" in benchmarks than the Droid X, even though both phones use the same chipset, according to PC Mag. "The difference seems to be Android 2.2, which has juiced up the benchmark results in some way," the reviewer says.

Also, PC World's reviewers found that "the more I used the phone, the faster it got. It sounds strange, but other reviewers have experienced this with other Motorola Android phones, so I know I'm not alone."

Battery tests results differed. CNET says it got 6.6 hours of continuous talk time in its tests, while PC Mag got over 8 hours.

 

James A. Martin has written about mobile technology since the mid 1990s and is the author of the Traveler 2.0 blog.

TAGS:

open source, Android, smartphone, smartphone review, Droid 2

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