Verizon's new high-powered smart phone, the Motorola Droid, is a fun little device and a worthy opponent to Apple Inc.'s hit iPhone.
The Droid, which went on sale Friday for $199, is the first smart phone to incorporate the latest version of the Google Android operating system. Motorola did a fine job of integrating the operating system with the phone's hardware, making phone calls, e-mail, surfing the Web and playing media all fairly intuitive.
The stakes are high for Verizon, as AT&T has a growing subscriber base, thanks to the new iPhone 3GS, which also sells for $199. Verizon is widely considered to have a very good network, while Motorola has had strong-selling phones in the past. But both companies have struggled in recent years to come up with a response to the popular iPhone - that is, until the Droid.
Sure, the Droid is boxy and slightly thicker and heavier than the sleek, svelte iPhone. But the Droid is a solid device with an easy-on-the-thumbs touchscreen and user interface.
The Droid has a five megapixel camera, with a flash and zoom function and also shoots video. The iPhone's camera, by comparison, is three megapixels and has autofocus, but it doesn't zoom. Still, the Droid's camera moves too slowly in taking a picture after you press the touch-screen button.
Moving through the screens and opening applications, the Droid feels about as fast as the iPhone 3GS, Apple's latest model. In a side-by-side comparison of the Droid and the iPhone 3GS, the YouTube app opened a few seconds quicker on the Droid and streamed a high-definition video in crystal clarity.
The Droid connects to Amazon.com's digital music offering. The iPhone, however, tightly integrates with iTunes and has the edge in user interface for media playback.
The same with Web browsing: Apple's Safari browser on the iPhone is a little snappier than the Droid's browser. Expect Web browsing on the Droid to get better as Google updates the platform.
Perhaps the killer app that defines the Droid right now is Google Maps and its new navigation offering. This free function turns the phone into a GPS unit, giving the user turn-by-turn voice navigation. No longer do you have to take your eyes off the road to look at a small screen; all you have to do is listen to the guiding voice.
An optional accessory allows you to mount the Droid in the horizontal position on your dashboard for easy use while driving.
It remains to be seen whether Google will make the navigation app available free for the iPhone. If so, it would undercut pricey paid applications that offer similar GPS functionality through Apple's App Store. Similar navigation apps range in price in the iPhone App Store from $2.99 to $89.99.
Here are some other features that help the Droid stand apart from the iPhone: The Droid offers a replaceable battery and a slot for removable memory card. The phone comes with a 16 gigabyte SD memory card, but you can expand it to 32 gigabytes with a new card. The iPhone 3GS comes in two models - a 16 gigabyte and a 32 gigabyte - and the memory is not removable.
The Droid has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, while the iPhone relies on touch-screen technology for typing. The Droid's keys however, are a little small and flat. For those of you with chubby, stubby thumbs and fingers: beware. It can get cramped when you're typing.
The big difference is their respective application offerings. Apple offers about 100,000 applications through its App Store. Google's Android Market, by comparison, has around 10,000. But you can expect more and more developers to fill in the Android Market with their offerings.
For many consumers, 10,000 apps may be more than enough to persuade them to buy a Droid.