Sunday, September 12, 2010

Droid 2 Review for the Droid 1 Power User

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While the Motorola Droid 2 has been on the market for one month, with the way the mobile phone market is trending (specifically in regards to Android), it’s by no means the latest and greatest. The tech blogs and publications have already had their take, and the reviews have been out for well over a month. As the Droid 2 is a direct sequel to Verizon’s first Android phone the Motorola Droid (And feels quite literally exactly the same in hand... more on that in a bit), I’d like to write this to be aimed specifically at those familiar with the original Droid. Bonus points for those who have obtained root and are well versed in custom rom-fu!
What comes in the box
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  • Motorola Droid 2 handset
  • 1390 mAh battery
  • 8GB Micro SD card (pre-installed)
  • 850mA AC to USB adapter
  • USB to micro USB cable
  • Various documentation
    Hardware Overview
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    The Design of the Droid 2 is quite fitting of it’s name, it is absolutely a direct sequel to the original Droid. Upon a quick glance you might not even notice any differences between the two. The Droid 2 sheds the bronze colored speaker grill and camera button of past for a safe and sexy silver grill and black button. The microphone has been moved from the bottom front of the device to the bottom as the entire face of the phone slides now to reveal the extremely bland and shallow keyboard. The area surrounding the screen bezel is now a dark chrome color. Motorola took it upon themselves to move the front capactive buttons (back, home, menu, and search) around and switch up the order compare to the droid, this took a solid two days to get used to.
    The Droid 2 has a few nifty upgrades over the original Droid under the hood, 1GHZ TI OMAP processor, 8GB of internal memory, 512MB RAM, 802.11n equipped wifi chipset, and even a hidden FM radio receiver (only accessible via hacks as of this writing, links in the all things root and roms section towards the end).
    Antenna performance has been equal to that of the original Droid for myself, while I do live in an area with pretty good Verizon coverage, I can get the signal to drop about 3dBm or so when performing the “Death grip”.
    The display seems to be the exact same display in the original Motorola Droid, it’s good, but nothing to call home about.
    Keyboard
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    The absolute number one complaint of the original Droid was the hardware keyboard. The keyboard was flat, the keys had little to no “bubble”, they were small, jammed together, off center, and there were even two stationary squares that looked like keys that did nothing but waste space. The keyboard was such an utter fail that posts have and continue to pop up on web forums around the internet searching for a phone case to cover the keyboard and keep it from ever seeing the light of day. If you’re one of those individuals looking for much improved tactile goodness with the Droid 2, prepare to be disappointed.
    The Droid 2 keyboard slider mechanism is the same as the Droid 1, no sprint loaded action here, and while I won’t deny that the keyboard on the Droid 2 has been updated, the changes are so subtle that when first typing on the keyboard I felt as comfortable as I ever did with the original Droid, except for the fact I had the annoying problem of always typing one key to the left. Motorola decided to do away with the big gold D-PAD of 2009 and replaced it with four directional keys and an “OK” key. This left enough room to widen each key slightly, add an ALT lock key, add a voice search button *rant*There is a dedicated hardware key, which is only available in landscape with the keyboard open for voice search. This is directly to the left of the normal search key, which if held down will bring up *wait for it* ... Voice search!.*end rant* Okay great, with all of this extra room you wouldn’t think anything would be removed, right? Wrong. Motorola decided to move the question mark to a secondary key, as well as remove the right ALT key. This means that you must type two key-presses to compose an often used question mark, and if you want to access any secondary keys on the left side of the keyboard you must first press the ALT or ALT lock key and then the key itself, there goes multitouch typing unless you want to juggle the phone and get a cramp at the same time. Otherwise, the keyboard is now centered, so those with small hands rejoice, as you will no longer be stretching that right thumb for anything east of G.
    So, while the hardware keyboard is about as useful or useless depending on the individuals preference as the original Droid ever was, the two software keyboards included out of the box are both improvements over the standard Android 2.2 stock software keyboard. The phone ships with both Swype (for information on swype visit their website at Swypeinc.com ), and Motorola’s own multitouch keyboard. There isn’t much to say about the multitouch keyboard, other then that it feels like a strange hybrid of both the stock Android 2.2 soft keyboard, and the iPhone stock keyboard... and is better then both. And if neither of these two options do it for you, in the spirit of Android you can always install a separate 3rd party keyboard via the Android market.
    Software
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    The most significant change between Droid 1 and Droid 2 is all in the software. While the Droid ships with stock Android 2.2 with very little Verizon bloat, the Droid 2 runs Motorola’s own custom launcher, widgets, and comes pre-installed with more applications then I’d care to shake a large wooden object at. Pre-installed applications vary from useful (3G mobile hotspot, for an additional monthly fee of course), to not so useful (Need for Speed demo, Citi ID, Amazon Kindle, Amazon MP3 Store, and so on). None of the pre-installed software can be removed without some hacking, and even then you risk being unable to update your device in the future if you do so. Following the trend of the amazing multitouch keyboard, not all of the tweaks to Android are bad, selecting text is much much more elegant then of Droids past, as well as a few other minor improvements, but we will get into that a couple of paragraphs down.
    [Disclaimer: One of the features of Android 2.2 is the ability to restore applications automatically when activating a new device with the same google login, this automatically installed LauncherPro within 10 minutes of activating my device, and with the way that the Droid 2 default home launcher is installed, there’s no way to access it without uninstalling LauncherPro, that said, i’ve used the default home very little, and only to write some impressions.]
    Blur, NotBlur, PhilBlur, call it what you will, Motorola has done quite a bit of tweaking with their build of Android 2.2, this isn’t your grandma’s froyo. The thing you will notice when unlocking the device for the first time is the home screen has a large phone icon on the bottom left and contacts icon on the bottom right. These icons can not be changed, they also disappear momentarily when swiping between home screens annoyingly leaving you waiting if you would like to make a phone call or bring up the application launcher. The main feature that Motorola’s launcher brings to the table are the resizable widgets, all of Motorola’s own widgets are resizable and some of them aren’t half bad either. Motorola has included various social networking widgets which I will skip past in this review (sorry), a nifty quick contact widget, weather, news, picture frame, wifi/bluetooth/gps/airplane mode toggles, etc. I’m really going to gloss past these as I don’t use any, and find most of not all have much better alternatives in the market.
    In short, install LauncherPro and you will be a much happier and more at home Droid 2 user.
    Camera:
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    The 5 megapixel Droid 2 camera is the same as the original Droid more or less hardware and quality wise, the dual LED flash does put off a much different hue however, but the white balance in camera takes care of that spot on. The big change here once again, is in the software. Motorola took it upon themselves to include their own camera and camcorder applications, and while there is at least one drawback, it’s quite the improvement. Photos snap faster, it gives quicker access to share photos via any applicable application, and even allows you to move the focus point around the screen (no, it’s not touch to focus, only moving the point in which the camera will focus on). My annoyance is that the toggle for the LED flash doesn’t indicate which setting it’s on at a glance. As the camera and produces the exact same quality photo and video as the original droid, i’m going to skip uploading sample photos.
    Gallery:
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    The camera application isn’t the only application to get swapped out for the Motorola version, if I remember my days as an iPhone 3G user correctly, the interface for the Motorola gallery application is a close cousin to the iOS “camera roll”. I welcome the change as on the Droid 1 when browsing through photos in the gallery any individual photo would come up pixelated and take a few seconds to load and come into focus. The built in gallery application has no such issue, scrolling is quick and photos load even quicker. I’ll give you five points here Moto.
    Bonus Applications:
    Beyond what has been pointed out thus far, there are two pre-installed applications that add to the overall experience, add value, and aren’t available in the Android market. The first being DLNA, which allows you to stream media directly from your Droid 2 to any DLNA compatible device (television, playstation 3, etc), as well as the new Alarm & Timer application. Alarm & Timer replaces the stock Android clock application and allows you to setup a countdown timer, including a persistent notification in the notification shade that tells you how long is left at any given time. Those of us who cook and use coin laundry thank you motorola, this has been a stock feature that I’ve been missing the day I purchased my first Android phone.
    All things root and roms
    Root, the unix equivalent of administrator or superuser. In the world of Android obtaining root allows you to do things such as backup protected applications, uninstall carrier “bloatware” applications, tether for free, and in many cases install custom roms (custom versions of the Android operating system) onto your handset.
    Motorola has made it very clear that if you want a hacker friendly phone, to purchase a phone from another manufacture. Motorola has locked up the bootloader of many of their handsets that have come out after the original Droid (which was quite open and not locked down). The Motorola Milestone, Droid X, and Droid 2 are all examples of Motorola handsets that are locked down. All of this is an attempt to keep the end user from installing custom roms, regardless of the reason I will state that if custom roms such as Cyanogenmod are important to you, you might want to look into purchasing a more hacker friendly phone from a company such as HTC.
    With all of that said, root access can be had by anyone with Windows/Linux/Mac OSX, the Android SDK installed, and the ability to follow directions. The original guide can be found on the XDA Developer forums, but at the time of this writing the forums are down and I can’t obtain a link... However there is a good guide located HERE via tipsneeded.com
    Remember all of that hoopla you read a moment ago about Motorola blocking custom roms on their newer high end Android phones? Well Android hacker Koush has developed a workaround! While it’s not quite the same, and the actual kernel can not be replaced, it does allow a way to boot a custom recovery, and flash various roms onto the device (two roms are currently floating around at the time of this writing). Information on this as well as downloads and instructions can be found HERE.
    While this hack leaves much to be desired, there are rumors abound that a more in depth solution is around the corner, and only time will tell.
    As mentioned previously, there is also a hack for root users to unlock FM radio tuner functionality. While I haven’t tested this myself, various forum posts indicate that it does work. Remember that when testing, this only works with headphones plugged in, as they act as the antenna. Have a look at this post on droidforums.net for info and download!
    Wrap Up
    The original Motorola Droid brought a lot to the table when it was first released, it was the first Verizon Android phone, the first Android phone running Eclair (Android 2.0), the first with Google Navigation, and when released it was the fastest Android smartphone on the market. The Droid 2 however doesn’t bring very much “new” to the table. While it is the first Android handset to be released with Android 2.2, everything about the device screams evolutionary.
    For the Droid 1 owner running Android 2.2, the Droid 2 absolutely is noticeably faster thanks to the 1GHZ OMAP cpu and 512MB ram, even coming from a Droid 1 overclocked to 1.2GHZ. I no longer wait on LauncherPro to constantly re-draw all of my home screen widgets when leaving the browser, applications launch much faster, and generally multitasking is a much more enjoyable experience. And while there is a lot of Motorola and Verizon bloat shipping on the Droid 2, installing a home screen replacement such as LauncherPro or ADW.Launcher will hide most of it and leave you feeling a lot more comfortable if coming from stock android.
    The real question is, is the Droid 2 worth extending your Verizon contract 2 years if you already own an original Droid? Other then a bump in speed and responsiveness, a slightly changed keyboard, more system storage space, and a whole lot of bloat... there just isn’t any one thing that stands out enough to upgrade. Now, if you’re offered a Droid 2 as a warranty replacement for a Droid 1, I say take it!
    Screenshots of benchmarks from both Linpack and Quadrant (both available for free from the Market) are included below.
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