By Eyder Peralta
Is the Droid really going to dig a nice deep grave for the iPhone?
I'll say this: If I had a Droid instead of an iPhone I wouldn't be jealous of iPhone users, because with all its warts, Motorola's highly anticipated, newest mobile offering is one of the rare, true alternatives to the iPhone.
It impresses, as soon as it comes out of the box. The screen is huge and the Android 2.0 interface, which the Droid is first to sport, is intuitive. One of the nicest perks is that as soon as you click on the preloaded Facebook app, the device asks you if you would like to synchronize your Facebook contacts with your phone. A click and few minutes later, all your friends and their pictures are effortlessly in your phone book. So there's no trying to dig out contacts out of an old SIM card and if your friends are responsible and keep up their Facebook profile, no need to update your records every time someone moves or changes their number.
This is one thing the Droid does better than pretty much anything out there: Information is completely integrated. That is to say that, for example, the Google Maps app seamlessly shows a restaurant's location, user reviews and the menu. It means within that same interface, you can switch to street view for a picture of the front door; you can check where your friends are using Google Latitude and when you're ready, head there using Google Navigator, the search behemoth's entrée into GPS-enabled, turn-by-turn, voice guidance routing.
The camera app lets you send geo-tagged photos to Picasa and the open nature of the Android operating system lets you add apps that allow one click publishing to all manner of sites.
The Droid is most certainly not the prettiest thing. It's a squared, featureless black box with a matte finish and Motorola has inexplicably peppered it with dark gold accents.
The bottom part of the phone stretches just a tad beyond the screen, a stylistic choice that's been extended even to the packaging. But it's weird and makes for strange ergonomics, because it forces the keyboard and screen off-center.
But this phone, you quickly learn, isn't concerned with looks, it's focused entirely on functionality: You can multitask to your heart's content, the five mega pixel camera includes a flash and if you wanted more space, the 16 gig micro SD chip can be easily replaced with a larger one. The screen slides out to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard and touchpad.
In some ways, if feels as though the phone makes no compromises. Everything the iPhone didn't have, Motorola decided to throw it in.
And here's the thing with the Droid: I think everyone, me included, wants to see a formidable iPhone challenger. Everyone is looking for a phone that blows the iPhone out of the water. I want this especially because the iPhone lives in a closed ecosystem, so it'd be a huge win for everyone if a phone living off open source software and a superior Verizon network succeeds. Just imagine not having to worry that Apple or AT&T is going to reject a killer app from Google or Slingplayer.
The Droid goes a long way toward fulfilling that promise. (With it you can stream live video using the 3G network, for example.) But will it be the proverbial Craigslist to the newspaper classifieds? Will it be the death of the iPhone? No.
And it all boils down to the little things, the things that make the iPhone elegant and refined and a pleasure to use. It's the fact that on the Droid's on-screen keyboard, you can't hold down the shift key to type in all caps. It's the fact that the Droid has no pinch-to-zoom function or that the scrolling action isn't as bouncy and smooth as on the iPhone. It's the fact that when they tried to fix all the iPhone's shortcomings, Motorola also didn't make any tough decisions, like getting rid of the touchpad in favor of a more useful and expansive keyboard.
When it comes down to it, the Droid is a worthy iPhone opponent. But more importantly, perhaps, it's proof that the rest of the mobile industry is ready to make formidable devices.