Wired-In: Motorola Droid X Review
Greg Norman, FNCU Editor
[Wired-In is an FNCU subsection dealing with technology and the digital world.]
Over the past few months, the cell phone industry has seen new smartphones that are bold and more powerful than ever before.
And on July 15, Verizon Wireless will continue the trend by rolling out their most ambitious handset yet—the Motorola Droid X, which is the latest entry in the cell provider's popular Android-powered smartphone series.
With a 4.3-inch screen, 8-megapixel camera, and 720p HD camcorder, the Droid X will be available for $199.99 on a two-year contract after a mail-in rebate.
But under close scrutiny, how did the phone fare when using its features?
At first glance, the size and design of the Droid X is a clear indication of where the mobile industry is heading: devices with screens large enough to enjoy portable multimedia, but too big to comfortably fit in your pocket.
Although the Droid X measures 5 inches in length and 2.6 inches in width, the device is surprisingly thin and lightweight when holding it, partly due to the lack of a physical keyboard.
The phone does have physical features in the form of a hold button, volume rocker, and a dedicated camera button. There is also a row of keys for the Android OS functions of search, back, menu, and home.
On the back of the Droid X are the phone's 8-megapixel camera and 720p HD video camcorder, both enclosed in a “hump” that prevents the back of the phone from being completely flat.
Overall, the device has an expensive feel and colors are vibrant on its 4.3-inch screen, but the design suffers when using the phone for an extended period of time. As the battery becomes warm during use, heat is transferred to a metal HDMI port and camera button on each side of the bottom of the phone, making the Droid X “hot” to hold.
Unlike the iPhone and Blackberry mobile operating systems, Android allows users to customize their phone with a variety of widgets, and the Droid X comes pre-installed with 22 offerings from Google and Motorola.
The widgets, which include an RSS news reader, weather report, sticky notes, and a media player, can be resized to fit on any of the device's seven home screens.
Not many of the widgets are particularly eye-pleasing, but they make up for it by providing simple and reliable functionality.
The Droid X is also running version 2.1 of Android out of the box, a suspicious choice considering a faster and improved 2.2 version of the operating system is already available.
But as for performance, the whole package runs quickly and efficiently with a 1 Ghz processor, and only shows signs of slowing down when over a half dozen widgets are running.
Web Browsing and Apps
With its 4.3-inch screen, the Droid X should offer one of the richest mobile browsing experiences yet. Web pages are rendered beautifully on the device, and its internet capabilities will only get better when the phone receives full Adobe flash support near the end of this summer.
However, the most important part of viewing any web site is easily being able to read text, and Motorola's browser falls short in that regard.
Unlike the browser on HTC's Droid Incredible, the predecessor to the Droid X, the text on a web page doesn't adjust to fit the screen when zooming in on Motorola's phone.
So unless a user wants to read miniscule-sized text when a web page first loads on the Droid X, they are forced to zoom in and repeatedly thumb the screen left and right to read content with a larger font.
Thankfully, Android's ever-growing application Market could provide a future answer to the phone's web-browsing woes.
The Market, which currently offers about 80,000 apps, is growing at a rate of 10,000 applications per month, according to Androlib.com. And it has an app for nearly any function a user can think of.
The Market has less casual games than Apple's App Store, but has a suite of apps developed by Google. The most creative? Google Sky Map— an app that uses GPS satellites to let users easily locate stars and constellations by holding their phone up to the night sky.
One of Motorola's longtime strengths has been offering phones with superb call quality, and the Droid X is no different.
Calls on the phone sound crystal clear on both ends through three microphones and speakers placed in the device.
From a contact's information card, users can quickly text or email friends using a virtual QWERTY keyboard or Swype, a new way of writing words by drawing lines across a virtual keyboard.
While Swype composed words faster than a standard keyboard, it struggled to easily recognize words that were not basic terms in an English dictionary, such as the names of web sites or musical artists.
As for email, the Droid X can sync multiple accounts into a unified inbox.
On the spec sheet, the Droid X boasts an 8-megapixel camera and 720p HD video camcorder. Combined with a 4.3”-screen, this would seem like an ideal match for any mobile photographer or videographer, but only one group benefits.
Half the time, pictures came out slightly grainy from the Droid X's camera lens, even when shooting a subject in ideal photography conditions. The phone's dedicated camera button is also in an awkward position and requires a firm push to register, sometimes disrupting photos by moving the phone before shooting a picture.
However, even though the Droid X's 720p HD camcorder can't zoom in, the device captures impressive quality video that can be shown on HDTVs with the purchase of a HDMI cable.
Mobile video also looked great on the device through services such as YouTube and NFL Mobile.
For music, the Droid X can store thousands of songs on an included 8GB SD card, but the media player's user interface isn't as clean or intuitive as the iPhone's.
While the Droid X delivers one of Verizon's most well-rounded mobile experiences yet, shortcomings with the camera and web browsing place this smartphone just below other leading competitors like the iPhone 4 and HTC Droid Incredible.
But that doesn't mean the Droid X isn't a solid buy—the software update later this summer and constant additions to the Android Market will keep the phone's user experience fresh for years to come.
Verizon customers whose contracts expire this year can upgrade to the Droid X without early termination fees.