Apple Inc.’s new-product launches tend to suck the oxygen from anyone else who dares unveil a gadget around the same time. Such is the fate of the Droid X, the sequel to the phone that launched Motorola Inc.’s comeback effort last year.
The Droid X, which Verizon Wireless and Motorola introduced the same week as the iPhone 4 and goes on sale July 15, probably hasn’t received as much attention as it should. While it lacks the iPhone’s polish and buzz, it’s definitely worth a look if you find yourself repelled rather than attracted by Apple’s gravitational-distortion field.
And as long as you have a big enough place to stash it. The Droid X is huge -- one of the largest smartphones I’ve ever used. Its 4.3-inch screen is 16 percent larger than the original Droid, known outside the U.S. as the Motorola Milestone, which was itself a hefty chunk of hardware. It’s 23 percent bigger than the 3.5-inch display on the iPhone.
Yet for all its girth, the Droid X is both thinner and lighter than its predecessor and not at all uncomfortable to hold, at least if your hand is large enough. Mine is, and I found a natural place for my index finger to grasp it, just where the rear of the case flares out to accommodate the 8-megapixel, dual-flash camera.
Motorola accomplished the reductions in weight and thickness by jettisoning the original Droid’s slide-out physical keyboard in favor of an onscreen one that, especially when in landscape mode, is a pleasure to use thanks to all that display real estate.
Like all Motorola smartphones, the Droid X runs Google Inc.’s Android operating system; the former king of wireless, which saw its fortunes tumble when it wasn’t able to come up with a successor to its smash-hit Razr line, scrapped its own operating-system development efforts a year or two ago.
Android continues to improve in terms of usability and the number of applications available -- now a claimed 70,000. And the Droid X can do some cool things the iPhone can’t. One is to act as a Wi-Fi signal for nearby laptop computers or other devices. The Mobile Hotspot feature costs an extra $20 for up to 2 gigabytes of data per month; that’s on top of the cost of the phone itself -- $199 after a $100 rebate -- plus a voice plan and $29.99 for unlimited data.
Loved or Loathed
The Droid X also makes use of Motorola’s MotoBlur software, which lets you combine content from Facebook, Twitter and other social-networking sites into a single stream. It’s a handy feature, much less obtrusive here than it is on Motorola’s Cliq phone, whose users seem split between loving it and loathing it.
The Droid X has a couple of advantages over the iPhone 4. It comes with 24 gigabytes of storage -- the comparably priced iPhone has 16 -- and you can expand the capacity to 40 gigabytes, where the more expensive iPhone 4 tops out at 32. The Droid also has a removable battery; a spare will come in particularly handy if you make much use of the power-sucking Mobile Hotspot.
Perhaps the Droid X’s biggest advantage over the iPhone is that it runs on Verizon Wireless, which enjoys a higher reputation than the AT&T Inc. network the iPhone is, for now at least, tethered to. Still, the iPhone 4 benefits from a larger universe of software -- Apple now claims more than 250,000 apps -- a sharper screen and a front-facing camera that allows for video calling over Wi-Fi. And it remains the smartphone gold standard for user-friendliness.
Not all the battle lines between the Droid X and iPhone 4 have yet been drawn. Google and Motorola are promising that an over-the-air upgrade this summer will allow the Droid X to run videos using Adobe Systems Inc.’s Flash software, which Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs has famously banished from the iPhone.
Verizon, which controls the Droid name, has slapped it on a number of phones, including several made by Motorola rival HTC Corp. Still, the Droid X provides more than enough features and performance to vault it to the head of the Droid line, at least for the meaty-pawed.
The original Droid was the first smartphone to really challenge the iPhone, and while Verizon’s huge marketing campaign helped make it a hit, it did little to dent Apple’s hegemony. That’s likely to be the Droid X’s fate too. In today’s much broader field of Android-based devices, it does a lot of things well -- but no one thing well enough.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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