We get letters: Tips and tiffs over the Droid reviews

Was our reviewer unfair to the Droid? Some readers think he got it wrong in his review

One thing I love about mobile technology is how personal it is, and that leads to very mixed reactions among users to each device. The most common example is the love/hate reaction peole have to touch keyboards. In my reviews of the new Motorola Droid, several users complained about my alleged iPhone bias, called me to task for not noting several shortcuts, and think I'm biased against physical keyboards.

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Before I get into those issues: You may have noticed a change to this blog, whose author is now the InfoWorld Mobile Patrol. That means you, me, and other contributors. This blog will cover the wild and woolly world of mobile from multiple perspectives. Get yours included by sending your tips, complaints, news, and ideas to comments@infoworldmobile.com. Thanks!

[ Read InfoWorld's in-depth mobile deathmatch series: BlackBerry Bold vs. iPhone | Palm Pre vs. iPhone | Motorola Droid vs. iPhone. And see our deathmatch slideshows' head-to-head comparisons: BlackBerry Bold vs. iPhone | Palm Pre vs. iPhone | Motorola Droid vs. iPhone | Read our review of the HTC Droid Eris. ]

Droid shortcut tips
Let's start with the tips. There are indeed several shortcuts that make it easier to accomplish some of the tasks I criticized. I thank everyone for pointing them out, and here they are:

  • I missed a quick way to zoom on a Web page is to double-tap the screen. The first time zooms in, the second time zooms out. Note that this feature does not work on mobile-optimized Web pages, those whose widths are the same as the mobile screen -- it seems that the Android OS doesn't bother to zoom in a page that naturally fits the screen size. Too bad, because I often find the text small even on these optimized sites and like to zoom in anyhow. On the Droid, you can zoom in on such pages, but not with the double-tap shortcut.
  • I also missed a fairly quick way to delete an individual e-mail message: Just tap and hold. It opens the menu that contains the Delete option. However, I don't find that shortcut to be any faster than choosing the message by tapping its selection square, which automatically reveals a Delete button. Still, you might prefer the tap-and-hold method.
  • I missed a way to quickly move among open apps: Tap and hold the Home button, which opens a list of running apps from which you tap the app you want to switch to.

Clearly, I need to do more tap-and-holds and double-tapping to see what other shortcuts are hiding in the Android OS. These kinds of capabilities are ones you discover through extended usage -- the swipe-to-delete function for the iPhone's e-mail was also not immediately obvious -- and one of the joys of using a mobile device. Keep those tips coming!

The multitouch question
Several readers have criticized me for saying the Motorola Droid's screen isn't multitouch-capable. They claim the screen itself does support multitouch, but that none of the stock apps on the Droid support multitouch. I blamed the screen in my original reviews. I don't know if they're right; I've been unable to get an answer from Google, Motorola, or Verizon officialdom, though it was a Verizon employee who told me the fault was with the hardware. The HTC Droid Eris, which uses an older version of the Android OS, does support multitouch, though that could have been added through its Sense UI, which adds some really cool capabilities to the Eris and its apps. None of these four companies provides any detailed technical information on their Web sites, and their tech support staffs (which Google doesn't even have) only know what's in their databases, which isn't much.

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There is a YouTube video showing the Droid doing pinch and zoom with a third-party app, which lends credence to the claim the Droid hardware supports multitouch. If so, that's pathetic, as it means the Droid's default apps you use the most -- like the browser and map apps -- aren't gesture-capable, only third-party apps that you may or may not get. Just what we need: a UI where a basic capability is optional and thus inconsistently available.

If there's someone at Google or Motorola who can explain what is really happening, let me know -- I'm concerned about the lack of credible information out there. And, no matter what the technical explanation is, it's still a problem that the Motorola Droid (unlike the HTC Droid Eris) doesn't support multitouch gestures across its apps. But for now, I'll blame Motorola and the Android OS's stock apps, not the hardware.

The debate over the extra charge for corporate e-mail access
A while back, I reported that Verizon would charge customers $15 extra per month to access Exchange e-mail (what Verizon calls "corporate e-mail"). I got that fact straight from Brenda Raney, Verizon's spokeswoman for the Droid. A Verizon Store employee had told me of the charge, which is why I called Raney to confirm. Several readers and several Web sites have said the charge is only for certain types of business accounts; some of those Web sites cite Raney as their source, too. Well, I did ask Raney that when I first called her, and she said the extra fee applied to personal accounts as well business accounts.

So what's the truth? Here's what happened when I bought the Droid at the local Verizon Store and asked if the device was compatible with Exchange security policies. I was told that the device should be compatible but that I would have to pay $15 extra per month for that "corporate access," even though it was for a personal account. So I paid, as I had no choice. And when I called tech support later about my difficulties connecting to Exchange, the first thing the support rep did was make sure I was paying the extra $15 corporate e-mail monthly charge before she would help me.

The Droid doesn't support Exchange ActiveSync policies, it turns out, at least not the ones my company's server uses. And that extra $15 per month doesn't mean you get knowledgable support: The bright and eager rep said there was no information in the support databases about Exchange ActiveSync or security policies, and that corporate e-mail support was not something Verizon provided anyhow.

I know several people who've been able to access Exchange on the $30 monthly plan (using servers that have no ActiveSync policies enabled), so if you're silent to Verizon about your intended use of what it calls "corporate e-mail" and don't call for support on it, you can probably avoid the extra monthly charge. But the extra $15 monthly fee is not confined to specific business accounts as some readers and Web sites claim -- it applies to anyone who's honest.

Verizon should be ashamed to charge "corporate" users more for a corporate service it doesn't actually deliver -- the use of ActiveSync security policies is common in mid to large businesses that use Exchange. And why should users working for businesses that happen to use Exchange have to pay more than those who happen to use Gmail, POP, or IMAP e-mail? (Of course, this is par for the course: Verizon has several evil fees and even designs phones so you accidentally invoke them, as the New York Times' David Pogue reports.)

The alleged biases
I've been reviewing products for 25 years, so I usually ignore claims of bias. But as I said, mobile devices are personal devices, and our preferences affect how we feel about them. If you don't agree with my evaluation, that's great. But unless you want a review to be a mere recitation of feature specs, there's no way to avoid it containing opinions colored by my personal preferences and experience. I promise you this: I say what I believe, and I hope it's clear what my personal preferences are in my evaluations, so you can factor those in or out as you prefer. (In fact, I created a calculator that lets you do just that, to help choose a device that fits your preferences. Check out the Mobile Deathmatch Calculator.)

I prefer the iPhone. It's a better device overall. It has its flaws, which I've repeatedly noted, most recently in my "Ultimate mobile deathmatch" review. And even though Apple has had three versions to get it right -- remember the bad decision to not include physical volume controls in the first version? -- it still makes some bad mistakes (such as the mishandling of Exchange ActiveSync policies this fall).

But I honestly believe that the Android platform -- and moreso the Motorola Droid device itself -- has more flaws than the iPhone OS does, and roughly as many flaws as the Palm Pre's WebOS. Pus, both have had the benefit of seeing the iPhone OS, so I think it's inexcusable for them to deliver less than the iPhone (the lack of gestures in the Motorola Droid being a prime example). Different is fine; my praise of the Sense UI in the HTC Droid Eris attests to that. But why on earth would you come out with a product that is unnecessarily inferior to the standard you are trying to unseat?

The other two things that cause readers to have connniption fits are my criticisms of the Motorola Droid keyboard and my alleged avoidance of business-class BlackBerrys.

I'm sorry, but even with a week's usage, I can't get used to the Droid's physical keyboard. I did not have these issues with the BlackBerry Bold's keyboard, and although I had some complaints about the Palm Pre's keyboard, I found it to be much more usable. Buy hey, if the Motorola Droid keyboard works for you, use it! And if you think I simply hate physical keyboards (I don't, but they're not my preference, as they lock me into one screen orientation), then try out the devices yourself at a cell phone store to see what you think. Ultimately, it's your money.

And I have reviewed the BlackBerry Bold and Storm (through loaner units), so I'm by no means avoiding the BlackBerry when it comes to evaluations. I just won't pay for one with my own money.

I hope in my reviews that I've been clear that I really dislike the BlackBerry, but not merely because of the keyboard. It's the ungainly, primitive UI and the poor-quality Web browser and apps that get my goat. Yes, I know if you want HIPAA-level security, you have to use a BlackBerry, but that's a small part of the world. For those of us who aren't subject to such controls, there are better options than the BlackBerry.

Don't forget to be part of the InfoWorld Mobile Patrol send in your tips, complaints, news, and ideas to comments@infoworldmobile.com. Thanks!

This story, "We get letters: Tips and tiffs over the Droid reviews," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile at InfoWorld.com.