Verizon's Droid X: differences without distinction
Verizon Wireless has yet another "Droid" smartphone going on sale today, Motorola's Droid X.
Don't draw too many conclusions from the X's robotic moniker. The Droid X, $199.99 for new or renewing customers who sign a two-year contract, departs from the features and functions of Verizon's earlier HTC Droid Incredible and Motorola Droid in some significant ways.
And not all of these changes count as upgrades from Verizon's other Droids, or from other smartphones running Google's Android operating system.
The X's roomy, 4.3-inch screen could lead its selling points, with its 480-by-854-pixel resolution. But that display also makes this phone -- like Sprint's equally slab-like HTC Evo 4G -- a little large for some pockets.
Like on the Evo, the Droid X's large display makes it easier to type on its touchscreen keyboard. (If you dig into its settings menus, you'll find a brilliant extra option: Swype's gesture-based keyboard, which lets you "type" by sliding a finger from letter to letter.) But like the Evo, the X leaves out the trackball or touchpad most other Android phones provide for finer navigation. The X also doesn't match the helpful pop-up menu HTC added to the Incredible and the Evo for selecting, copying and cutting text.
Motorola's latest does, however, avoid the Evo's weak battery life -- mainly by not including the power-draining 4G wireless mode of Sprint's phone. (Verizon won't launch 4G service until later this year.) After 36 hours of standby, with the phone checking two e-mail accounts and one Twitter login in the background, the X still showed 60 percent of its battery intact. Later, it played a Web-radio stream with its screen on for about five hours.
The fastest way to drain the X's battery should be using its 3G Mobile Hotspot application to share its mobile-broadband connection with nearby computers.
That feature, however, costs an extra $20 a month. A minimum bundle of data and 450 minutes of anything voice calling costs $69.98; add $5 for Verizon's cheapest text-messaging add-on, plus $2.99 for visual voicemail (or use the clever voicemail service Google provides with a Google Voice account for free).
Verizon's software bundle includes links to multiple social networks, including Twitter and Facebook but not LinkedIn. The carrier also throws in a player for Blockbuster's video-streaming service (one for Netflix or Hulu would have been more appreciated) and a Backup Assistant utility that only copies contacts to and from Verizon's servers. To safeguard more of your data, you'll need third-party tools -- until Google's "Froyo" Android 2.2 system update arrives for this model.
Unlike the Incredible, the X doesn't come with software to sync calendars and contacts with Microsoft's Outlook.
The X includes an 8-megapixel camera with flash, but without a second camera on its front it can't match the Evo's buggy video-conferencing support, much less the iPhone 4's far superior FaceTime. That camera can take great photos in natural light, although some illumination leaves pictures looking a little misty, and records high-definition video clips that may look more like standard definition in practice. (Read after the jump to see examples of each).
More quirks surface when you share media from the device. The dialog it presents when you connect it to a computer with a standard micro-USB cable should have been edited to remove some of these apparently overlapping choices: "PC Mode," "Windows Media Sync," "USB Mass Storage." (Choose the third in most cases, or all the time if you use a Mac.)
If you put the X on the same wireless network as computers or gadgets that speak the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) standard, you can share photos, videos and music wirelessly. After puzzling through a dialog or two, I was browsing the photo's media on a Sony HDTV.
The X also includes a micro-HDMI port for a direct cable connection to HDTVs, but Verizon doesn't include this cable with the phone.
If you buy a smartphone by its specifications, the Droid X can seem impressive. But after a couple of weeks of testing one loaned by Verizon's PR department, I prefer its older sibling, the Droid Incredible. That may explain why Verizon still can't meet demand for the Incredible, months after it shipped.
Here are a few sample shots taken with the Droid X around D.C., plus an embedded YouTube clip showing its video recording capability (make sure you select "HD" from the clip's pop-up menu or use this direct link instead).
July 15, 2010; 1:08 PM ET
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