Motorola's first-generation Droid phone proved immensely popular when it was launched late last year, becoming one of the first phones to truly bring Google's Android operating system to the masses. But I didn't love the Droid. I found it too boxy and industrial-looking, its keyboard too flat and stiff, and its performance too often sluggish.
Now, Motorola and Verizon Wireless have taken the wraps off of the Droid's successor, the Droid X, a smartphone they are calling "a pocket-sized home theater." And while I still find the Droid X a bit sluggish, overall I like it -- a lot.
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The Droid X features a different look than the original Motorola Droid. While the Droid X is still sort of flat, it is slightly more rounded in shape. The overall effect is much more sophisticated than the design of the original, boxy Droid. I also like that the Droid X sports physical buttons below the screen (Menu, Home, Back, and Search) rather than the touch-sensitive buttons found on the Droid; the physical buttons are much more responsive.
The Droid X is lighter and thinner than the original Droid, in large part because this all-touch-screen phone lacks the slide-out keyboard found on the Droid. If you rely on a hardware keyboard, this news may disappoint you. But I found the original Droid's keyboard too flat and slick to make typing easy. And because the screen on the Droid X is so large -- it measures 4.3 inches diagonally -- I found the on-screen keyboard incredibly roomy. Typing was a snap.
The large display sports the same resolution found on the 3.7-inch screen of the original Droid (854 by 480 pixels). Images and text looked very good, but not as sharp or crisp as they do on the iPhone 4's "Retina" display. That screen boasts a resolution of 960 by 640 pixels, which gives images and text an almost lifelike look. Still, the iPhone 4's screen is only 3.5-inches diagonally, which looks downright puny next to the Droid X's monster screen, so the lower resolution might be a welcome trade-off if you value size.
Verizon's cellular network is well regarded, and it proved its mettle during my tests of the Droid X. I never dropped a call. Call quality was very good, with voices on both sides coming through loud and clear.
Despite the phone's large size, I found the Droid X very comfortable to hold during calls. It's lighter than both the original Droid and HTC's EVO 4G (both of those phones weigh 6 ounces, while the Droid X weighs just under 5.5 ounces), and the difference was noticeable.
The Droid X ships with Android 2.1, which is no longer the latest version of the OS. Android has since been updated to version 2.2, which is already available on Google's Nexus One. The X should be updated to Android 2.2 later this summer.
Android has come a long way from its earliest versions, and even version 2.1 offers a refinement that previous versions were lacking. Navigating through the OS's many options has gotten easier, though I found the phone a bit sluggish at times, when switching screens or launching apps. And Android is still a bit geeky enough to overwhelm some newbies. For more details on Android, read my complete review of the mobile OS.
In addition to the Android OS, the Droid X features Motorola's Motoblur user interface, which syncs information across your e-mail accounts, social networks, and more.
I have mixed feelings about Motoblur. While it offers an easy way to see a lot of information from different sources, it can offer too much information. When I tested Motoblur on the Motorola Cliq, for example, I found that the Motoblur widgets overwhelmed the phone's home page.
Luckily, the experience has been toned down on the Droid X. Motoblur widgets don't take over your home screen; in fact, you have to scroll through a couple of screens to find them at all. And when you do, the widgets fit nicely on the Droid X's large screen, displaying just enough information without going overboard.
The Droid X supports Verizon's high-speed 3G network, as well as Wi-Fi wireless networks, so you have plenty of options for speedy Web browsing. And, in even better news, the browser on the Droid X is one of the best I've seen on an Android phone so far. Too often, Android's browser requires you to dig through menus to access simple functions (like the address bar or the back button). Not so on the Droid X: the address bar is just where you'd expect to find it, and you can use the handy back button below the display to move back through Web pages. The 4.3-inch screen also offers plenty of real estate for Web browsing, and you can pinch and spread the screen to zoom in and out as needed.
What you won't find on the Droid X at launch is support for Adobe's Flash technology. You'll get this support, which will allow you to view multimedia Web pages as you would on a desktop computer, when the Droid X is updated to the next version of Android.
The Droid X also can be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot itself, to which you can connect as many as five devices for Internet access. This feature requires an extra $20-per-month service plan, however.
The Droid X features an 8-megapixel camera with a dual flash, but lacks a front-facing camera for video calls.
Overall, I was slightly disappointed with the camera's performance. While the big screen makes it easy to frame photos, I found the dedicated shutter button (on the right side of the phone) a bit hard to press. When I jammed my finger down on it to capture a photo, the result was often a blurred image.
The Droid X can capture HD videos, and the results here were a bit better, with Droid X producing clips that looked sharp and clear.
Verizon and Motorola are touting the Droid X as a multimedia powerhouse, and the phone's multimedia offerings are impressive. The 4.3-inch high-resolution screen offers a big, bright canvas for watching movies. And using Verizon's V CAST service, you can now access movies from BlockBuster On Demand right on your phone.
The Droid X also comes with an HDMI port, so you can connect it to your HDTV for viewing video content on your big screen, though you'll have to supply the cord yourself. In addition the phone is DLNA-compatible, so you can use it to stream video content to set-top boxes and other devices that share that certification.
The original Droid was touted as an iPhone killer, but the Droid X is the first phone that has made me consider dumping Apple's smartphone. It tops the iPhone 4 with its big, beautiful screen and excellent call quality. Its Android OS lacks the slickness and ease-of-use that Apple's iOS offers, but once you get used to Android's quirks, you may never notice the difference.