Initial Thoughts on the Droid X

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As part of a two month sponsorhip with Verizon and dooce.com, I get to use a Droid X for the business. I was very excited for this opportunity and hopeful that I’d be able to put the phone through some paces in order to evaluate it compared to our phones that we use normally. Verizon did not ask me to write this, but several of you have asked and I thought it would be a good exercise to pull down the writing cobwebs that have clouded me for so long.

The first thing that struck me as I began to use the phone is that I can see the hand of the manufacturer and wireless provider in a lot of the decisions around features and how the phone operates. The Android operating system has a lot of promise and it reminds me of Ubuntu in that it’s very usable for most things one would want to do and has some features that are new to me. Most of what I’ll say in this post will be from the perspective of somebody discovering new ways to do some of the things I’ve done with my other phones over the years.

Fit and Finish

The best analogy I can think of is that the Droid X reminds me a lot of a ThinkPad laptop; sturdy, solid and chunky. None of those are meant to be negatives. It is larger in the hand than other phones and reminds me a little of a Palm III from a decade ago. The large size accommodates a good size screen; one that is larger than an iPhone screen. As with other Android phones, there are four hardware buttons across the bottom of the screen; a menu button, a Home button, a back button and a search button. While these are handy, getting used to the menu and back buttons took the most time. Depending on how you use your smartphone, the search button can be extremely useful (settling arguments) and annoyingly useless (“I haven’t searched for something in days!”). Your mileage may vary.

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There is a lock/sleep/wake button on the top and volume buttons and a camera button down the right side:

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A mini USB port and a mini HDMI port are at the bottom on the left side.

The phone uses SD RAM cards for its storage. On the phone I was sent, the phone has 6 GB free space and the SD card has another 15 GB free space. I’m mostly going to use the storage space for photos, but if I can get some time, I’ll try to move some music over to the phone.

User Experience

The first thing I noticed is that the scrolling is not as smooth as I’d hoped. The bar is pretty high with other phones out there, but a software upgrade is in order to fix some of the jumpiness and scrolling issues. For example, the Twitter app for Android is a great app, but clicking a link from an individual tweet and than clicking the back button doesn’t take you back to the same tweet you just came from. Nit picky? Sure.

The camera is closer to a slow point and shoot and can shoot up to 8 megapixels. As with most cameras at this level, it’s less about the megapixels and more about the camera software. It’s not bad software and having a dedicated shutter release/camera button makes self-portraits and overhead shots much easier than with an iPhone. There are some cool photography apps for Android (i’ve posted a few on flickr).

Calls are ok. We live and work in our home and certain parts of the house are dead zones for cellular phones, regardless of network. All of the major networks available have dropped calls either from us or our guests. The Droid X was no exception, dropping a support call after 10 minutes. From our office, I have not dropped any calls.

Downloading and installing apps is fairly straightforward, but the phone shows it’s geeky heritage when it’s time to manage the apps. Definitely feels like the LInux is showing. That’s not a bad thing if you are a hacker/tweaker/nerd, but if you just want to install apps, it is not as straightforward as it could be. For example, I found a great flickr uploader app called “Flickroid”. It doesn’t work as an App per se, but as a service. Once you install it, you don’t see an app icon anywhere. It’s only when you touch the “Share” button inside a camera app that you see Flickroid. From there, you have to authorize it for flickr. Once you do, it’s very awesome, as it will auto-update any blogs (you can choose which ones with each upload) you’ve attached to you flickr account. In my case, that’s twitter and blurbomat. Sweet! Not so good for people following feeds or my tumblr, but still sweet.

Most of the apps I’ve needed to find, I have. Twitter, flickr, facebook, news, games, etc. However, there is one app that bears special mention and that is “3G Mobile Hotspot” that turns the Droid X into its own WiFi hotspot, using the phone’s 3G radio for internet access. Works pretty well for iPad tethering and for the odd lapotp tethering. You’ll want to make sure your data plan will accommodate whatever tethering you want to do, but this is a killer app and one of the best things I’ve used and liked on this phone. Hearty thumbs up.

Epilogue

This is not meant to be a comprehensive review. Depending on the response, I may post one after I’ve had a few weeks with the Droid X. I intend to check out Salling Software’s Media Sync to move files to and from my Mac. What are some of your favorite apps and services? I want to play!

  • sabbasaun

    Fair Android review! (this coming from an iPhone user lol)

    Now the greatest thing I like about these new large 4″+ screen smart phones is that they are forcing the fashion industry to bring back the fanny pack. It’s about the only way to carry these things without weighing your pants down or wearing suspenders. ;)

    Joking aside, check out an app called Dropbox. It’s an app that I use on my Iphone ALL the time and available for the ‘driods. Free 2gb online storage (get more by referring people) and it will automatically sync files between your computers, phone, laptops etc. Also keeps older revisions of your files. Kiss your flash drive goodbye.

    http://www.dropbox.com

  • http://eviljulie.com julz91

    I have the original Droid that was released last November, not a Droid X, but it has really been a game-changer for me. This is the first smartphone I’ve ever owned, and after a bit of a learning curve to get adjusted to it, I can’t live without it. It has replaced my check register, my day runner, my to do list, and on occasion even my printed knitting patterns (hurrah for PDFs!).

    Apps that I love: Astro File Manager, which allows me to see exactly what I’ve got on the Droid relatively simply.

    Note Everything, because I like lists

    Astrid, a To-Do system. I’m a part-time grad student, and it was excellent for keeping me organized.

    Easy Money, which I use in place of my check register…or what my check register was supposed to do, since I never actually used it because I didn’t carry it around with me.

    Kindle for Droid, for days that I forget my Kindle at home.

    Twidroyd, a Twitter app.

    Shazam, which remembers songs I hear on the radio that I want to buy from iTunes far longer than I do.

    That’s the short list for now, although I’m always finding new apps that I can’t live without. That’s something I really love about the Android market, new apps almost daily!

  • Liz

    I just wanted to offer my recommendation for Twidroyd as well. It holds you place in the feed not only when you look at an image or follow a link, but also when you leave the application all together and then come back in.

    Glad you’re enjoying your Droid X so far :-) In my opinion, any smart phone takes some getting used to!

  • mightymarce

    I’m curious, how is the battery life on the X? My husband just got an android phone (the HTC Incredible) and the battery runs down in about a day, even with all the gadgets/notifications/apps/wifi/etc turned off and very little use. This is the first smartphone either of us has had, so don’t know if this is just what one should expect from a smartphone with a big screen, or if the Incredible just sucks in this regard. He’s considering taking it back to try something else… which is why I’m asking if the Droid X seems better in your opinion.

  • http://www.souphead.me souphead

    Glad you’re enjoying the Droid X. I have the Droid (I guess it’s now the Droid 1 since the Droid 2 released today) and I love it.

    For Twitter I’ve been using Seesmic and loving it. Easy to RT, RT as a quote to add txt, hit links and go back to where you were in the timeline, etc.

    Love the Kindle for Android (not sure if whispersync works since my iPad is rarely online).

    The Tricorder app is a fun bit of geekery. Some super geeks even find it useful…I just like the beeps :)

    Astro file manager is very useful too. Other than those, just a bunch of free games and dumb stuff like Steamy Window.

    Have fun!

  • TriptikGirl

    I’m so glad that you’re enjoying the Droid. I was thinking that you may be too biased towards Apple to properly appreciate Android.

    I have an older model Droid (HTC Eris), but still love it enough that I don’t feel like upgrading yet.

    I haven’t found any super-cool apps that aren’t already available for the iPhone, but I like FXCamera (4 different effects for pictures, and little kids seem to love the funny pics that come out of SymmetriCam), and Intrix Traffic is a lifesaver when I’m stuck in a backup on the freeway (though, that app may not be of much use to people who work from home).

    I’m not an Apple or iPhone hater, I just prefer to have good cellular service, i.e. Verizon.

  • kari_marie

    I’ve got the original Droid and I can’t imagine how I lived without it.

  • kari_marie

    Ok, now that I know that posting finally works and won’t 404 me out… :-)

    Apps I love:
    - Local. You HAVE to check this out if for no other reason than it’d never be allowed on an iPhone. (I’m not an iPhone hater at all–just stating a fact.) Locale can make your phone do an almost infinite number of things based on factors such as time of day, your physical location, if your phone is docked or not, the phone’s orientation, etc. So if you want all of your calls to go to your bluetooth headset when you get in the car, it can do that automatically. If you use Google Voice and want those calls to transfer automatically to your landline when you walk in the house (if you have one) it can do that too.

    - PicSayPro. I do a fair amount of photography, both with a DSLR and with my cameraphone, and some of my favorite pictures have come off of my phone, since I always have it with me. I’ve tried a bunch of different photo apps, and this is the one I keep coming back to. (Cameraphone photoblog here: http://www.howiseelife.com/category/cameraphone/)

  • kari_marie

    - Google Latitude (built into Google Maps.) You and Dooce can always tell where the other one is. That may or may not be a good thing. :-)

    - NewsRob – RSS feed reader.

    - BeyondPod. You can create a “smartplay” list of podcasts, and it will download them all at intervals you specify, and put together a smartplay list so that you just have to hit play and everything plays in the order you specify.

    - Scan2PDF Mobile. Turns your phone into a PDF creator. Good stuff, especially for receipts and the like.

    - Tweetcaster. Best Twitter app I’ve found (and I’ve tried Twitter’s app as well as Twitdroyd.)

    - Another vote for Astrid.

    - Missed Call for Android. Changes the color of the LED notification light depending on whose call I’ve missed/who’s texted me.

    - If you’re not using Google Voice, you should be. Hands-down the BEST visual voicemail out there.

    I love my Droid. :-)

  • http://schussman.com ats

    I’ll be interested to read further thoughts as you spend more time with the phone. I’m really getting a lot of good use out of mine. My experience with the twitter app is contrary to yours, though: When clicking back from a link, it does return me to the same original tweet. I started toying with the beta of Tweetdeck yesterday, and it also seems nice.

    Apps I’m using:

    - Vignette: Replaced the default camera app for me (is that what you’re using in the photos on flickr? Not sure) and has a bundle of nice effects.
    - K-9 email: Much more full-featured email client than the stock one, which never synced reliably for me.
    - Google Voice
    - 1password: now that it syncs via dropbox, it’s a winner
    - My Tracks: GPS route tracker, great for bike rides in the woods
    - Doubletwist, along with its companion OS X app for syncing music.

  • http://www.paulgutman.net gutman

    I have loved my Droid X, but I think I’m switching to the Droid 2. I’m not a power user by any means, but I think I need the physical keyboard, and frankly, the battery life on my X has been suboptimal–It has conked out after less than a full day’s use (with GPS, Bluetooth and WIFi off and far-less than constant email checking and web surfing). I think I may have gotten a dud–this thing couldn’t do 225 hours of standby if it was powered on but not checking anything–but cur3ious about everyone else’s experience on that front.

  • http://www.digitalcatharis.com themightyjimbo

    just curious, how is the network compared to ATT? my experience in almost every city is that att is over taxed. sure, it’s anecdotal based solely on my experience between sprint and att, but in general, i get dropped a lot more with att than i ever did before. the reputation of the verizon network has been solid, but i won’t switch off the apple goodies. would you ditch att for verizon if and when they get a contract for the iphone?