Droid/Milestone with Google
Navigation by Larry Leviton, AE9E (April
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
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.
The 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
buttons. Google needs to add a
software lockout. Meanwhile a free
application called Volume Control by New Developer fixes this
problem (sort of).
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
It even downloads Apple iTunes music. The Droid automatically sorts the
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.
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
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
muffled. I prefer using a hands free Bluetooth
connection when driving. The Bluetooth address book worked fine on
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
battery. Most reviews attribute the weight to the
A lot of people complain that the battery life is too short, but I
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
lowest screen setting is too bright in a dark room.
Free 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.
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
In navigation mode the display stays on and speech comes out the
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
continue even though the Verizon network can not do voice and data
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
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
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
I think this is a bug, but its still helpful.
The mobile mount (not included) uses a suction cup and contains magnets
automatically launch the car-home screen when the Droid is mounted.
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
But the reality is that once you own a smart phone with GPS navigation,
its unlikely that you're going to buy a PND.
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
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
web browser. They are also available on the latest PNDs. Check
discount prices here.
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.
In April 2010 Verizon Wireless pushed Android version 2.1 wirelessly to
my phone. Installation was easy and all configuration settings were
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
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
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
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
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
discount prices here.
Screen shows automobile route
with two alternate routes.
Driving distance and time are shown at the top.
Screen shows spoken driving
Pressing the menu button pops up menu
Screen shows layers selection.
Copyrights owned by Larry Leviton
and the GPS Information Website (©2010)