I got a change to really dig into my friend Felix’s Droid this Thanksgiving. I wanted to write down my impressions here, not only to share with everyone but also to keep myself in check whenever I yearn to own this multitasking big screen monster of a phone.
First of all, let’s get the biggest pro the Droid has going for it, the screen. It’s a Backlit TFT 3.7-inch WVGA (480×854) 16:9 widescreen display (267 PPI) and it is amazingly beautiful. Holding the screen up to the iPhone and viewing the same content it is no contest as to which device is more pleasing to the eye. Under the casing the iPhone and Droid both use the same processor, and it wasn’t surprising to see that both OSes booted up within seconds of each other in our side by side contest.
Android has really come a long way, and it is refreshing as an iPhone user to have more granular control over how applications are used on your device. I was able to rip open six or more applications (Google Talk, Browser, Gmail, Android Market, Music, ConnectBot) and it was quick and easy to jump between the different applications using the home button hold method. I was really impressed with how easy it was to navigate between running apps this way, and the phone didn’t seem to have any issues with lag even though we were doing so much at once. That being said, it was extremely disappointing to see such heavy lag just swiping between the three default home screen panels and when pulling down the windowshade notification bar. I have read that you can replace these apps with third party applications that perform better, but honestly you shouldn’t have to do that just to get a good experience from basic functionality of OS navigation.
Another problem I ran into was that after connecting the Droid in USB mode, and unmounting the drive once we were done transferring some media, the SD card got in some kind of funky state that caused the entire phone to become unresponsive. After taking the battery out and putting it back in we got some white-text-on-black-background about a bootloader and instructions to connect the SD card to USB, but nothing undid the problem until we actually removed the SD card and put it back in.
I have been using an iPhone in various forms (original edge-only iPhone, iPhone 3G, and now iPhone 3GS) for over two years, and the responsiveness of the screen is hands down better than the Droid, I’m sad to say. The Droid screen seems to require either a little bit more pressure or a little bit more time to register where you are pressing. If it was my first touchscreen phone it probably wouldn’t even be something I would notice, but the iPhone sets a high bar with the effortless responsiveness of their screen. In line with that the software keyboard was pretty terrible at recognizing what keys I was pressing, especially in portrait mode. I am certain that I am partially to blame as it does take some time to adjust to how a particular phone reacts to your thumbpads tapping the screen, but it was really abominable at registering my intended key even when I was typing slowly and deliberately. The portrait keyboard actually takes up a much smaller amount of space than the iPhone portrait keyboard, making it more difficult to press the tiny targets.
The media features aren’t quite as robust as on the iPhone either, but it is definitely serviceable and of course with the Android Market you can replace the default media player with one of several available. It is a little disappointing that the SD card included is only a class 2 card so the speed is not exactly optimal for playing back large video files on that beautiful monster of a screen.
Not to get nitpicky, but the feel of the device also was not as organic and natural to me as holding the soft, rounded curves of the iPhone. It wasn’t uncomfortable by any means, but just didn’t match the same fit and finish. I would like to point out however that the slider has absolutely NO play whatsoever, which was something that really disappointed me about the Pre when I first put hands to it.
Of course, there are complaints I have about the iPhone as well. Android’s notification system is in my opinion the single best way to deal with incoming alerts from an unlimited number of applications. Icons populate the status bar indicating the number of alerts for a particular application, and when you drag down the windowshade you can select actions to be taken on the alerts which usually involves opening the application that generated the alert. On the iPhone, you are typically presented with a modal pop up dialog that REQUIRES your input prior to allowing you to move on. More than once I have received a push notification or text message during a call which required me to acknowledge the alert prior to having the ability to press the end call button beneath it. That is just piss poor design, and from Apple it is just not acceptable, knowing what they can accomplish.
The iPhone does not allow multitasking of any third party applications. However, many third party developers have begun to code their applications in such a way that the exact state of the application is stored when you press the home button, so when you relaunch the application again it is as though you never left in the first place. A perfect example of this in action is the newish Tweetie 2. Prior to the latest release if you exited the app and opened it again later you had to scroll back from the very top until you could find the tweet you were reading. Now, the list is exactly in the same place it was when you exited the app. Although this doesn’t help with apps that would require running in the background (ie a media streaming app like pandora) it does make the experience of using most data heavy apps much more enjoyable, and simulates multitasking as best as possible while still meeting Apple’s restrictions by sandboxing any third party applications.
I have jailbroken my iPhone so I can selectively chose which applications run in the background anyway, but I don’t take advantage of the feature that often, because it typically starts to negatively impact the performance of the foreground application I am currently using. The only essential thing I use the jailbreak software for is to add tiny notification icons to the statusbar with StatusNotifier, which is something every phone under the sun includes. I am hoping a future update will see Apple including something like that by default, so if you have a new email, you can tell without having to unlock your phone and look at the little red badge over the Mail icon.
Felix and I also took a quick drive so he could show off the Google Maps with navigation application. It was fucking awesome. Once we mounted the phone it switched into Map/GPS mode automatically. I pressed one button to begin the audio listener, and spoke the address of my proposed destination. The phone pulled up a route, locked in GPS, and started speaking directions. The GPS was pinpoint accurate as to our current location, and the directions we received were flawless. This is extremely well executed and I am hoping the rumors that this software will make its way over to the iPhone are true, because that was a truly badass experience.
All in all, the Droid is a very impressive phone, but the OS still felt a little too rough around the edges and unpolished for me to be tempted to switch devices. The iPhone has a consistency about it that is very hard to beat, plus the performance of native applications cannot be beat by java apps that Android runs. At this pace though, unless Apple really steps up their game (keep in mind all iPhones share the same exact screen size, this is going back over two years now) I could see the slew of Android devices coming out in 2010 to be a real threat. I am certainly going to keep a keen eye out for new Android headsets, but right now my iPhone still makes me the happiest. I use it more than I use my computer, which is saying a lot for me.
Side note: Last month we exceeded the number of minutes on our AT&T FamilyTalk plan. It came to the tune of an extra $100!! I called AT&T and explained that I wanted to increase the amount of minutes on our plan since we exceeded it last month and we were on track to exceed it again this month. The AT&T rep not only took care of this right away, backdated it so that we wouldn’t incur extra charges this month, but he also removed the extra charges from our overage last month!! He did this all without any prompting by me that this was something I was interested in. I thought this type of service was extremely excellent, and it makes me feel much better towards the company as a whole. I still hate having dropped calls, but that seems to have improved a tiny bit in the last week or so.