The back of the Droid Eris says "With Google," and it certainly is. The OS is tightly coupled to Google's various services, including Maps, Google Voice, and Gmail, among others. In fact, a Gmail account is basically required to take advantage of several of the phone's features. The Verizon associate made sure that I had a Gmail account during the initial setup, and the phone synchronizes contacts between the two -- which irks the privacy part of my brain, especially since there isn't a good way to synchronize contacts with any other address books. Google's fingerprints are everywhere on Android, and in most cases, that's a good thing, but there are times when you might want to de-couple from the mothership.
Google Voice certainly counts as a plus. You can quickly and easily link your Google Voice account to the Droid Eris, and set it to use Google Voice for all calls, only international calls, no calls, or to ask you every time you place a call. For those who use Google Voice regularly, this is a big deal -- especially after Apple dropped the Google Voice app from the App Store.
There are several items about the Droid Eris that just flat-out bug me. One is that the device is somewhat underpowered by a 528MHz CPU. Screen changes and application launches force you to endure inordinately long waits, interrupting normal, fluid use. If there's anything you can say about the iPhone, it's that it keeps up with you, while the Eris will stutter if you start switching between apps quickly or push it a bit.
The rollerball at the bottom of the Eris is a disaster. There's no need for it that I can see, and it just gets in the way. Also, the hangup/power button on the bottom of the phone, which is used to lock and unlock the screen, isn't very ergonomically sound and it's difficult to access with one hand. I also have to wonder about the sense of making the hangup button the one you press to wake up the phone.
There's also the matter of the keypress vibrate. Every time you hit a button or a letter on the on-screen keyboard, the Eris vibrates just a little. This so-called haptic feedback has always annoyed me. Amazingly there's no way to disable this "feature" throughout the phone. You can disable it for the onscreen keyboard, but not for other tapping functions.
When all is said and done, the HTC Droid Eris is a step down from the iPhone 3G or 3G S in form and function, but represents a significant step forward for Verizon phone offerings. Unlike other Verizon phones, the OS isn't horribly crippled, and the Android Market will hopefully grow quickly.
But it would seem that they missed the mark. If you could somehow take the significantly faster Motorola Droid and marry it to the Eris form factor, you'd have a faster, sleeker Android 2.0 smartphone than anything currently offered. Throw in some significant security and management features, and a much faster CPU, and we'd really be talking. There's much to like about the Motorola Droid and the Eris, but they're each missing several things -- things that the iPhone 3G S has.
Of course, the iPhone is still tethered to AT&T's troublesome network, so maybe the best bet of all is for the iPhone to land on Verizon's network. Unless and until that happens, the HTC Droid Eris is a capable smartphone on a better network.
This story, "InfoWorld review: HTC Droid Eris out-Droids the Droid," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile, Google Android, and iPhone at InfoWorld.com.
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