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

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Pieces parts
The Eris offers just about everything you'd expect in a modern smartphone: Bluetooth, 3G data, 802.11 Wi-Fi, a touchscreen, GPS, a 5-megapixel camera with video recording, a replaceable battery, and storage expansion with a microSD card. It lacks a physical keyboard, but that's actually a draw for me. I've disliked every physical keyboard I've ever used on a smartphone, and the on-screen keyboards work just fine.

The Eris wraps all these features into a very small, compact, and satisfyingly solid package. It feels good in your hand -- not too heavy or bulky, yet not too light.

I had no trouble whatsoever linking various Bluetooth devices to the Eris, and connecting to Wi-Fi networks was similarly simple. In my area, Verizon's 3G coverage is fast and widespread, especially when compared to AT&T's complete lack of 3G and spotty reception in the more rural areas. There's definitely some truth to Verizon's "There's a map for that" ads.

It's no surprise that the Android Market is roughly where Apple's App Store was in its infancy. There aren't a lot of apps, and they're nowhere near as polished as their iPhone analogs. After using an iPhone for years, I found that many of my go-to apps, including SSH and Sonos clients, simply weren't available. These will probably come in time, but for the moment, the lack of certain applications is bothersome if you've become accustomed to using them on a consistent basis.

The built-in applications are well formed and fairly intuitive, and there's certainly a focus on social networking; the Peep app for Twitter is a standard install, for instance, and there's a setting header for social networks that shows your status on Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr, as well as any others you might add. Communicating with these services is quick and simple, whether it's uploading a photo or posting to Facebook.

Connecting to an IMAP or POP server was straightforward, but confusion is circling around Exchange support. I had no problem connecting to a production Exchange server, but that appears to be highly dependent on security policies in place for Exchange. This means that Exchange integration will be hit or miss for many. On top of that, Verizon appears to be charging an extra $15 a month for Exchange use on the Droid, but only if you happen to mention you're going to use that feature, or subsequently call in for support of that feature. No, I don't get it either. Between that and the lack of central management features, the security of the Droid line might be best described as "minimal."

Storage and compatibility
As standard, the Eris comes with an 8GB microSD card, which is fairly large for an included flash memory card. It's accessed from a PC or Mac as a removable disk like any other flash drive, which is far simpler than the iPhone's reliance on iTunes for media updating. It's a somewhat cumbersome process to mount the microSD card on a system, however, requiring you to plug in the Eris, drop the notifications window from the status bar, click the notification that the USB cable is connected, then select Mount to present the microSD card to the system. But once that's done, you can drag and drop music and videos to the card, and retrieve photos either manually or with a photo management application.

Due to the flash-disk-like nature of the storage, you can use a Mac or PC to move content around, but the synchronization tools are PC-only, and do not function under Windows 7, requiring Vista or Windows XP. This is a bit of a problem for those who want to sync their address books with a Mac or with software other than Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express. I couldn't find a method to import standard contact lists in vCard format, for instance, as the only app in the Android Market that supposedly handles that crashed repeatedly when trying to import a few hundred contacts.

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