I got the Google/Verizon Droid yesterday on launch day and here’s my review. It’s clearly not adding anything to the dozens of other review posted, but I hope it helps my friends decide if it’s worth a bunch of money and a 2-year commitment. Also, I haven’t heard anyone make the very obvious Star Wars nod, so there you go.

Background: I’ve been a Blackberry user for 5 years through three models (two through work), the last was the Curve. I’m a big fan of the devices and focus most of my time reading emails and rarely responding. The web experience was frustrating and generally used only to settle bar bets. My last Curve had 2 years on the clock and was much worse for the wear – missing side panels, failing to answer calls or unlock – it was ready to be put down like Old Yeller.

Further background: In addition to the dying phone, I was in need of some Gadget Therapy (an adaptation of my wife’s “Retail Therapy”, although I suppose gadgets are a subset of retail… look – buying stuff is fun). I’m a big user of all Google products since they’re free and work really well for me. It seemed to make sense to get an Android phone rather than just keep installing Google software built for other devices. Also, I’m a big nerd – I’m sure that factors in this decision somewhere.

Initial impressions

I picked this up at Best Buy for one two reasons. 1) It’s across the street from my apartment and 2) They process the rebate instantly rather than charging you $300+tax, having you apply for a rebate from VZW, getting a debit card, then trying fruitlessly to spend the last few dollars on that stupid piece of plastic. This was the right decision, in spite of the 1.5 hours it took to get set up – I’m chalking that up to launch-day nonsense.

I keep all of my numbers and contacts current on Gmail, so getting my numbers ported just meant logging in with my Google account and waiting about 10 minutes. It picked up my mail immediately and started telling me about new messages from the alert bar at the top. Most of my time is spent opening my phone, checking the messages, sometimes responding, and deleting emails – so this alert bar is doing great things for me so far.

This sound dumb, but it looks really good. The screen resolution is amazing, the design graphics are not flashy but look good, and the animations are simple and fun. I’ve never had an iPhone, but the wife has one and the design was the thing I enjoyed the most about it. A bunch of user-generated themes are available which are fun although I’m going to stick with the default for a while. Also, the touchscreen gives a little buzz when you hit buttons, so while there’s no physical give, you get the vibrate to tell you that the buttons’ been hit. Small but helpful and cool.

The big downer is the keyboard. Right away, you’ll notice that slider keyboards that are East-West like the Droids are less comfortable than North-South keyboards (like Blackberry or the Palm Pre). It’s hard to reach the keys with your thumbs from further out than a narrower lengthwise approach. Also, the keys are flat and don’t give you much give like a Blackberry does. The experience makes typing less than awesome, although when doing so, I still prefer to have a physical keyboard rather than the virtual one on the screen, maybe just because I’m not use to it. If you’re huge typer (I’m not) this would be the thing I believe should give you the most pause.

The camera is better than my portable at this point, and the video is supposedly HD quality, which is cool, although I cant see myself using it.

Android

I’m a big fan of the OS for a few reasons. First, I like that there isn’t too much control over the apps available by Google – I think it’ll lead to more (and better) free apps. Second, the open-source nature of the OS makes me believe more eyes will help spot bugs, fix user interface issues, and add new features on a more rapid development cycle. I generally feel better when my device software is updated more frequently. I realize that’s not rational, but it makes me feel like there are good things on the way. Finally, it’s pretty robust – the apps are responsive, there’s no discernible hangs or delays, and no app failures yet. I’ve seen iPhones look like useless bricks after they have some mileage on them so I’ll be curious to see how this wears over time.

As I mentioned, I use Google stuff pretty heavily (mail, calendar, IM, especially) and I have a good feeling about how Google Voice + Android will evolve over time. I think at some point, it’ll remove VZW from having to sell me minutes and charge me absurd fees (See below) and I’m working to see if I can use the phone with just a data plan (~$40) vs. with a voice+txt plan (another $40+). I like having to read my Gmail in one place rather than on the Blackberry where I had to mark emails as read twice (on the bberry messaging app and the gmail app). I also enjoy having all of my contacts in sync.

EDIT: I failed to mention this initially, but the turn-by-turn directions from Google Nav which comes installed is as good if not better than standalone GPS systems. A huge benefit that largely gets overlooked.

Without going on for too long about it, you can tell in the mobile world that devices are taking second stage to Operating Systems, in the same way your laptop OS became more critical than the manufacturer, I suspect it’ll go the same way with mobile phones.

Verizon

Here’s a big bummer for me. I switched from T-Mobile with a year on the contract, so I paid the penalty for early withdrawal. But I figured last time I was a Verizon customer, I loved the coverage and (comparably) fewer dropped calls, although that was 2003. So far, in my apartment (which I believe has a cell tower on the roof) I get 0-1 bars of service in the apartment. No big deal, since I usually connect through the WiFi at home to make sure I have a solid signal. However…

Calls made WiFi connections on T-Mobile are not charged against your minutes (This privilege cost me $5/month). This makes perfect sense since it costs them next to nothing to route calls over the internets. Verizon allows me to call with WiFi connections, but charges them against my minutes? Really? Irritating

Also I’m a medium-heavy texter, so the SMS plans seem outrageous to me ($5 for 250, $10 for 500, $20 for unlimited) especially since they cost carriers literally next-to-nothing. Seriously? This is an inane amount of money. This alone may push me to change my main number to the Google Voice to avoid the SMS charges. I’m pretty cheap and I’m looking to get my monthly bill down as far as I can. Maybe I’m just mad because I committed to almost $100/month for 2 years. That could be it.

EDIT: My other gripe with Verizon is that free night calling goes from 9pm-6am. This coupled with the expensive per-minute plans means I’ll have to keep an eye on my voice usage which will drive me crazy, especially since most calls are made from home.

Conclusions

Good times – I think at the least it heralds an upcoming era of more interesting and useful phones. I’m not sure it’s an iPhone-killer since this is built a little more for dorks who like to constantly customize stuff, while the iPhone is more for the normal public who has better things to do with their time. I’m glad for my purchase but I can’t say it’s for everyone.

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