Test Center review: HTC Droid Eris, the under-Droid

While everyone's talking (or not) about the Motorola Droid, they would do well to consider the slicker, smoother, cheaper HTC Droid Eris

Bottom Line

The HTC Droid Eris packs lots of good stuff into a small, sleek package, but it can't run Android 2.0. It does make the most of Android 1.5, with all the bells and whistles you'd expect from a modern smartphone. It can't compare with the iPhone 3G or 3G S in most ways, but for our money it's the better Droid.

It's apparently not common knowledge that there are actually two Droids: the Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Eris. They're both Android-based phones, but significantly different in form and firmware. The Motorola Droid is a slider phone with a large screen and a physical keyboard that runs Android 2.0. The Droid Eris is cheaper, with a slower CPU and no dedicated GPU, but it's also far slicker than the Motorola Droid.

I played with both Droids for a few minutes at my surprisingly uncrowded local Verizon store, and it quickly became clear that the HTC Droid Eris was the sleeker unit. At $199 with a one-year contract and $100 mail-in rebate, it's cheaper, too. In fact, it seemed that most of my fellow shoppers gravitated to the Eris over the Motorola, which feels and looks like a brick and sports a nearly unusable keyboard. So I picked the Eris.

[ Is Android 2.0 the iPhone killer at last? | Video preview: See the Android 2.0 Droid in action]

For a longtime iPhone user, the Eris is at once familiar and totally foreign. The touchscreen has similar functions such as simple scrolling and wiping to change screens, but also includes four function buttons below the screen. These buttons provide quick access to the home screen or a menu for the current application; return you to the previous screen; and launch a search function. Thus, to someone used to dealing with only a touchscreen, the flow of application interaction is somewhat stilted, with commands and selections requiring taps to the screen intermingled with taps to one of these buttons.

These buttons are in addition to the standard call answer/call hangup buttons and the inexplicable rollerball. For someone coming to a Droid from a mobile other than an iPhone, these interface elements are unlikely to be as noticeable, but when your reflexes are aligned to iPhone functions, they can be distracting.

Android inside
The initial layout of Android 1.5 on the Eris is quite pleasing. The home screen offers a customizable selection of application shortcuts and a heads-up display with the current time and weather. Off to each side of this screen are three "desktop" screens that can be populated with widgets, application shortcuts, or any mixture of the two. The standard widgets, including an e-mail quick-viewer and a text messaging app, are extremely handy. The e-mail quick-viewer, for example, shows the last received e-mail and lets you flip back in your inbox easily, without opening the full e-mail client.

On the other desktop screens, you can easily drop in launchers for any application, additional widgets such as the one for Google search, and shortcuts to common tasks such as turning Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on or off. Once you grok the concept of having multiple configurable screens rather than, say, the iPhone's launcher-only screens, you'll appreciate the wealth of possibilities.

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Test Center Scorecard
 
 15%15%10%20%10%15%15% 
HTC Droid Eris7575977

6.5

Fair

InfoWorld Scorecard
Web and Internet support (15.0%)
Application support (10.0%)
Security and management (20.0%)
Usability (15.0%)
Voice capabilities (10.0%)
Personal technologies (15.0%)
Business connectivity (15.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
HTC Droid Eris 7.0 7.0 5.0 7.0 9.0 7.0 5.0 6.5
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