Motorola Droid/Milestone with Google Navigation by Larry Leviton, AE9E (April 2010)

This review covers the Motorola Droid running Google Android software version 2.0.1. The Motorola Milestone is the GSM equivalent sold outside the United States. Version 2.1 is covered at the end.

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As a loyal Verizon Wireless customer I am entitled to a new phone every year. Ironically, the last time I bought a cell phone was 7 years ago. I really wanted an Apple iPhone that works on Verizon's CDMA network, but that is not available yet. My primary purpose is to surf the internet and write applications. Surfing the mobile web on a dumb phone just doesn't cut it. Droid's high resolution screen is absolutely brilliant for surfing the internet, even better than the iPhone. Its so clear I can sometimes read a web page without enlargement.

WidgetsThe Droid has its problems. Most of the problems are with the Google Android operating system. As time goes on Google will fix these problems, or so I hope. That's one of the advantages of a smart phone. So to keep this review short I am only going to mention some of the problems I encountered and how I worked around them.

The biggest problem is learning how to use the Droid. The solution is to read the user guide found on Motorola's support web site. The user guide is very well written and explains how to use some really handy although hidden features. Sometimes if I had a problem I just Googled it and found the solution online.

The ringer is too easily turned off by accidentally pressing the side volume control buttons. Google needs to add a software lockout. Meanwhile a free application called Volume Control by New Developer fixes this problem (sort of).

The browser lacks multi-touch zoom. There's a free browser called Dolphin that includes multi-touch. However, Dolphin lacks other features, so I prefer the default browser. Once I understood how bookmarks worked, I loved the browser, even without multi-touch.

Most of the applications lack help information. A link to online help would be useful.

The email lacks a sorting feature. The iPhone and Blackberry Curve have a sorting feature. There are quirks with long emails. Supposedly the Droid supports secure corporate email, but I've read a lot of complaints about this.

Speech recognition is fantastic but is available for only a few applications. Its limited to searching your phone and the internet. You can't dictate an email using it.

Playing music through stereo headphones (not included) sounds excellent. Downloading music requires mounting the USB, an extra step not required by the Apple iPhone, but after that its as simple as copying and pasting an entire folder from your computer to the Droid. It even downloads Apple iTunes music. The Droid automatically sorts the music by Artist, Albums and Songs. This is identical to the iPhone.

It took me about two weeks of playing with the Droid to become proficient at it.

Motorola Hardware

The physical keyboard has received a lot of bad press (pun intended). I find it's usable if I use my finger tips. I like the fact that you can see the full screen while typing. I like how opening the keyboard forces the display into landscape mode. You can't do that with an iPhone. The keyboard also contains a direction pad. The direction pad is handy when trying to click on a web page filled with hyperlinks, checkboxes and buttons. Its similar to the track ball on the HTC Droid or Blackberry Curve, but I like the arrow keys better. The iPhone lacks a direction pad.

The plastic case is so slippery that I dropped the Droid twice. This is fixed by buying an after market rubberized case cover. This also gives my fingers a place to rest so that they don't accidentally touch the lower front buttons. My cover came with a holster that lacked a top latch. The holster protects the screen from being scratched. When I wear the holster on my belt I can't feel the vibrator, so I prefer putting it in my pocket.

The battery cover falls off too easily. This is fixed using cellophane tape.

The keyboard back light is controlled by a light sensor to save battery power but sometimes its erratic.

The camera is slow at taking pictures and the pictures seem grainy when taken in dim light. The camera seems to work faster after the first picture is taken.

The voice quality of phone calls is excellent on both sides of the conversion. For comparison, the voice quality on the Blackberry Curve sounds muffled. I prefer using a hands free Bluetooth connection when driving. The Bluetooth address book worked fine on every device that I tried. The Droid never dropped a phone call.

The Droid is heavier than the iPhone. The additional weight is due to the large removable battery. Most reviews attribute the weight to the physical keyboard.

A lot of people complain that the battery life is too short, but I think this complaint is unreasonable. The display is a power hog and will drain the battery within two hours if left constantly on. With the display off, the battery will last for days. Maybe the battery would last longer if Motorola would lower the minimum brightness setting. The lowest screen setting is too bright in a dark room.

Car-Home ScreenFree Navigation (Beta) Application

The free voice navigation application was introduced with Android software version 2.0. It was a well kept secret and caught the GPS industry by surprise.

The most common way to launch GPS navigation is through the car-home screen, press voice search, say "Navigate to pizza in Palo Alto" and off you go. It took me five days to drive to Palo Alto from Chicago. Seriously, if you've never experienced it, it's amazing.

In navigation mode the display stays on and speech comes out the rear speaker.

The navigation app works by downloading maps and routing instructions from the phone network or WiFi connection. After the information is loaded you don't need a wireless connection.

As you follow the voice instructions, the screen automatically tracks your location using the built-in GPS receiver. The GPS receiver is as accurate and sensitive as any PND (Personal Navigation Device).

If you drive off route, the Droid will get new routing instructions through the wireless connection. It's seamless and I noticed no delay.

If you drive off route and a wireless connection is not available, no voice warning is given. The display shows "Follow the Route" but the maps will continue to track your location.

If you drive back on route, the voice instructions will resume.

If you receive a phone call during the trip, the voice instructions will continue even though the Verizon network can not do voice and data concurrently.

I-43Street View of I-43Satellite View of I-43Touching the display stops screen tracking. It is not obvious how to resume screen tracking. This is one of the few applications that includes online help and its quite good. Click here to see the online help.

The navigation application doesn't do everything that a PND does, but it does enough well enough that you don't need a PND.
For example, it doesn't show your arrival time, but it shows estimated driving time and updates it as you get closer to your destination. There's no night time display or speed warnings.

When you arrive at your destination it shows a picture of your destination, which is a nice touch.

Additional menus allow the choice of routing by automobile, public transportation or on foot. Icons showing restaurants, cash machines, parking, etc. can be enabled or disabled.

On several trips it took me unnecessarily out of my way, but it got me to my destination.

The voice directions are in a female voice and for the most part are clear and include spoken street names. Often the street name is spoken twice. I think this is a bug, but its still helpful.

The mobile mount (not included) uses a suction cup and contains magnets that automatically launch the car-home screen when the Droid is mounted. It will not work with my rubberized case cover.

I still prefer using my dashboard friction mounted PND. Suction mounts attract thieves. I simply lift my PND off the floor and onto the dashboard. The battery cable is already attached. Phone calls are made through the Bluetooth interface.

But the reality is that once you own a smart phone with GPS navigation, its unlikely that you're going to buy a PND.

Google TrafficGoogle Maps with Traffic Information

Google maps show traffic flow using green, yellow and red lines. Most of this information comes from tracking cell phones using tower location in real time. The traffic information is more extensive than it was three years ago.

The screen shot shows a traffic map with navigation route (shown in blue). Not only did Google route me out of my way, but it routed me through a traffic jam (shown in red) near a shopping mall.

On several occasions I found the traffic maps to be helpful. On one occasion traffic was piling onto an expressway during a snow storm. The maps showed the expressway was congested for its entire length but the surrounding highways were empty. I got off at the next exit. The surrounding highways weren't plowed, but at least I was moving.

On another occasion conditions were just the opposite. The map showed it was clear sailing once I crawled past the next exit.

Traffic maps are a time saver and are available on any smart phone with a web browser. They are also available on the latest PNDs.  Check discount prices here.

Summary

The Motorola Droid is currently Verizon's best smart phone for surfing the internet but lacks some of the refinements found on the Apple iPhone. The free GPS Navigation feature is a killer application, but its unlikely to kill the PND market due to the $30/month additional charge for data service.

Weather and News ScreenAndroid Version 2.1
 
In April 2010 Verizon Wireless pushed Android version 2.1 wirelessly to my phone. Installation was easy and all configuration settings were maintained.
 
Email is more reliable. The previous version had trouble receiving and deleting Hotmail messages.Yahoo email was added (3G only).
 
Multi-touch zoom was added to the default browser, but problems remain regarding text entry.
 
Some new apps were added including News and Weather, Goggles (visual search), and 3D Gallery (pictures turn sideways).
 
But two fundamental software problems were not fixed. The telephone ringer can accidentally be disabled and the dimmest display setting is too bright.
 
Horizontal and vertical sensing seems improved. The camera seems faster. But the keyboard back light is still erratic.

After six months of use I rarely use the physical keyboard as I am too lazy to pull out the keyboard. I hit the delete key a lot to correct typing mistakes, especially at night when I am tired.
 
I have drained the battery several times because of too much internet use.  Recharging from a computer's USB port is real handy.
 
The Droid has not locked up for months but I am constantly using Advanced Task Killer to save battery power and have disabled Javascript.
 
My original review failed to mention that the Droid overheats when used as a navigation device for long periods of time. If too hot the Droid will shut off in the middle of a phone call. I am not sure if the overheating problem is with the battery or the mobile charger. The Droid does not overheat when powered by an AC charger.
 
On several occasions I have been in traffic jams that crept along just fast enough to make it dangerous to activate traffic data while driving.
 
With the price of PNDs falling, perhaps a new PND is in my future.  Check discount prices here.

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Route with two alternate routesScreen shows automobile route with two alternate routes.  Driving distance and time are shown at the top.
  Routing instructions to O'hare AirportScreen shows spoken driving instructions.
Route with 2 alternate routesPressing the menu button pops up menu selections.

Select Traffic View, Satellite View, etc.Screen shows layers selection.

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