I Waited, I Really Did

Anyone who regularly reads my rants knows that I have been quite critical of the exclusivity deal that Apple signed with AT&T to have the iPhone. While it appears that Ma Bell might actually move into South Dakota some time next year as a result of the Verizon/Alltel merger, there has been no word on them bringing the iPhone with them (Alltel’s network is incompatible with the current iPhone). Regular readers here would probably also know that I am a tech nerd that tries to keep up with all the latest and greatest gadgets.

So what is a South Dakota techie supposed to do when the so-called greatest thing since sliced bread in the cell phone business is unavailable?

In my case I waited, and waited, and waited hoping Apple would move on from AT&T. In the mean time I ignored the hype over all the latest and greatest Blackberry’s. I even held back on switching from Verizon to Sprint so that I could get the Palm Pre (come on Sprint, any chance that you can get more than 5 towers in South Dakota?). A couple of months ago I even resorted to buying a cheap replacement dumb phone on eBay when mine died with the hopes of the iPhone coming here in the not too distant future.

Well I finally decided to stop waiting and gave in to the hype over the latest and greatest toy and I upgraded to the next “iPhone killer” with the huge marketing budget also known as the Motorola Droid. I’ve only had it since last Friday so this review is based on only the weekend that I have had to really play around with it but I thought I would post my initial thoughts.
I assume the Droid gets its name from the fact that it runs on Google’s Android open source mobile phone operating system and from what I am reading, this phone might be Motorola’s last chance at survival in the mobile handset market.

As of this writing, the Droid is the only handset that I am aware of with the latest version of Android installed (ver. 2.0) and coming from being forced to use Windows Mobile on my work phone, currently an HTC Touch Pro 2, the difference is like night and day. Not more than a minute after the salesperson handed me the phone after activating it, it rang and I had to quickly figure out how to unlock it. A quick swipe with the finger later on the absolutely gorgeous touchscreen, I was on my way.

Being built on Google’s OS, the first thing you will notice is that it plays nice with Google’s other services including 2 that I use quite often, Gmail and Google Voice. The Droid enables push email from your Gmail accounts so you’ll never have to manually check them again, enter your log in information and you are set.

Google Voice also works quite nicely and from what I understand Android equipped phones are currently the only phones that you can utilize your Google Voice number right from the phones dialpad. In other words, making a phone call from your cell phone will show your Google Voice number on the caller ID display of the person you are calling. All you need to do is download the free Google Voice App from the Android Market Place (and have a Google Voice account of course).

Speaking of the Android Market Place, just about any functionality or feature that you could ever want on your Android phone has a application available on the Market Place. It’s not near the 100,000 or so apps available for the iPhone but the open source community is quite good at identifying a need and writing software to address it and in this case, big brother Apple has no control over what you can put on your phone.

Another great feature is Google Maps with turn by turn navigation. Using your phone’s built in GPS, you can use Google Maps for free turn by turn navigation that supports voice directions even being able to switch to Google Street view once you get close to your destination. Oh did I say it was free?

That’s some of the good, now for some of the bad.

Android 2.0 is a new OS version loaded on a brand new handset and there is bound to be bugs/usability concerns. A few that I have encountered or have heard of include a few biggies.

– Voice dialing over Bluetooth does not work so true handsfree calling is not currently possible.
– Another Bluetooth issue I have encountered is problems using the Bluetooth audio. After having a tough time getting the Droid paired with the Sync system in my Ford Fusion (you need to type the security code in really fast or it will time out), music played from the phone over Sync would drop out from time to time and from what I’ve read, it is a common problem not associated with Sync.
– Push email with Gmail works well but syncing with MS Exchange is buggy, especially with highly secure Exchange setups so getting corporate email setup can be a challenge.
– Auto focus on the camera is iffy to the point where I have just turned it off completely and once a photo is taken, the images take a while to load and some have had problems with noise showing up in the pictures.
– No “send” or “end” buttons on the phone. To make a call you must press the phone icon.
– The included music player doesn’t have a stop button so to stop a song you either have to pause the player or use task manager to close the application completely.

I am sure there are more but most of the other problems I have heard of come from those using a smart phone for the first time like battery life issues etc. but what is nice is that it seems that Verizon/Motorola/Google are listening. They have already planned an OTA (over the air) operating system update that could happen as soon as December 11th and will supposedly address some of the above concerns.

Like I said, this post is based on only a weekend of use but so far I am thoroughly impressed and will write updates as needed in the future. But as of now the Droid on Verizon’s excellent network is a great option even if AT&T ever decides to bring their crappy network and the iPhone to South Dakota.

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