My First Week on a Droid

So I finally got rid of my old Blackberry last week.  I had been planning on doing so for a while, but kept putting off the change – primarily for financial reasons. Smartphones aren’t cheap. But after spending a week with my new Motorola Droid, I am not sure why I waited so long.

Now I know what you’re thinking – “Mr. Early Adopter” just got a Droid?  It’s true, I’m a little behind the curve on this one.  Yes, I know the Droid X is coming out in a matter of weeks, and that newer and better phones like the Droid Incredible and HTC Evo 4G are already on the market. But, in these challenging financial times, I couldn’t justify the outlay of $400 for both my wife and I to get the “latest and greatest” in Android smartphone technology – especially when Verizon gave me two droids for $100.

Let’s face it – with the rapid development of cell phone technology, your phone is outdated the second you pay for it.  The fact that the phone I got is scheduled to receive the OS upgrade to Android 2.2 (or FroYo as it is affectionately known) was enough for me to pull the trigger on this deal. Other than a smaller screen, a lower-res camera and a lack of video chat, there’s not a ton of things this phone can’t do that the newest models do. Besides, the capabilities leap from my Blackberry 8830 to the Droid is so astonishing that I am perfectly content.

I picked the Android platform for my new phone because I am already seriously immersed in the world of Google. From gmail and Google docs to Google analytics, G-chat and even Google voice, I am a Google fan-boy through and through (Except for Wave. I still can’t figure out what the hell to do with that.). The android platform only serves to deepen this affinity.

The phone’s integration with my Google account was nearly seamless.  With what amounted to nothing more than a login to Google at setup, I had instant access to my gmail, contacts and calendar.  After installing a few applications and widgets I also had full access to my Google analytics account and my YouTube account.  With some minor tweaking,  I switched my phone off of the Verizon voicemail service and integrated my Google Voice account, which allows me to have transcripts of voicemails delivered to my phone and also lets me send free text messages.

The only Google application not yet fully integrated into the Android platform is Google Docs.  This is the one and only major disappointment to me at this point.  Pointing the web browser to the Google docs page gives me read access to all of my docs, but there is still little ability to edit them on Android. This is something I hope is addressed in the near future.

The Droid is truly a full-fledged multi-purpose device.  Not only phone, email and browser, but also a music player, e-reader and gps navigation device. And pretty damn good at all of these as well.  Using both Pandora and music files I added to the phone’s 16gb memory card, the Droid is a decent sounding music player that will be very handy when I don’t feel like carrying my iPod in addition to the phone.  Installing Amazon’s free Kindle app to the phone turns it into a legitimate ebook reader as well. And while  I haven’t used it for a long trip yet, I have played with the built-in navigation program while making some trips around town.  Built on the Google Maps platform, the Droid’s GPS application rivals any standalone unit in functionality from what I have seen so far. The ability to map addresses from the calendar app and the contact book, as well as voice search for destinations are very nice features of the Droid’s GPS function.

Which brings us to the Android Marketplace – the Droid’s “app store.” Granted, it is still about 1/4 of the size of the iPhone app store when talking about sheer numbers.  But developers have unfettered and unfiltered access to provide their offerings. I have yet to pay for an application from the Android Marketplace, yet I have installed some 50 applications on my phone, and save for document support, I can’t think of anything I can’t do with my Droid that I want to  do.  Among the apps that have been truly useful to me already, and that I would recommend to any Droid user:

Astro File Manager – This application allows you to manage all file types you have added to your phone.  Of primary importance is the ability to attach any file on your phone to an email.  The Droid’s standard  file management only allows you to attach photos, so this app is a must get if you want to email other file types.

Advanced Task Killer – Unlike the iPhone, the Droid allows yo to run multiple apps at the same time. While this is a great feature, it can be hell on battery life since there is no easy way to stop an app once you have started it. But, the democratic Android user community has offered multiple solutions to this through these task killer apps.  With a few touches to the screen, you can choose which apps you want to keep running, and which apps you want to stop.

Gmote –A very cool little app you install to your phone and computer.  This application allows you to use your Android device as a remote control for media files on your computer.  Really nice for viewing downloaded videos, and handy at a party if you are playing music from your PC.

Google Sky Map – Perhaps my favorite of the Google apps, this tool uses GPS to show you what stars you are looking at in the sky. Simply point the phone where you are looking, and the map labels all of the celestial bodies.

Key Ring – Goofy, but convenient.  This app allows you to use a UPC scanner (another free app) to enter all of your shopping discount cards into your phone.  Instead of carrying 16 cards in your wallet and on your key ring, this app displays a scannable UPC code on the phone’s screen that the clerk at your favorite store can use to get you your discount.

The social media big boys all have their applications too.  The stock Twitter application is useful and user-friendly, though I look forward to trying out some of the other Twitter applications offered in the marketplace.  While mostly unremarkable, the Foursquare application does what it should.  Unfortunately, I am not a huge fan of the Facebook application. You can see your entire news feed,  make posts, comment, upload pictures and sync contact info, but not all is perfect.  Too many situations in the app force the user to launch their browser and open the actual Facebook site to get the info they are looking for.  The worst performance of the app is when a user posts an external link.  If you try to click an external link from the news feed, the application simply takes you to the user who posted its profile page.  Even from here, you cannot access the link – you must first open Facebook in your browser – all a bit clunky.

Now granted, most if not all of these things can be achieved on the iPhone, so why use Droid?  First off, I am not a fan of the AT&T network – I have used it here in Savannah, and the coverage is infuriating.  Second – I like the openness of the Android App Market. Users do a very good job of weeding out what is and what isn’t useful through app  ratings.  I don’t need the phone manufacturer deciding what apps I can and can’t have access to. Third – a replaceable battery-  the battery life on the droid is solid, but I am a heavy user and have drained it in a day while using a ton of data.  The option to be able to pop in a back up battery at any point is more than a little convenient.

Thinking about making the jump?  Drop me a line and I can share other thoughts.