Hands-on with Motorola's Droid X

Is Motorola's new Android device a compelling alternative to iPhone for touchscreen users?

Verizon Wireless on Thursday began selling Motorola's highly anticipated smartphone, the Droid X, a faster and multimedia-savvy successor to the original Droid that was introduced in October 2009. The smartphone will have to find a place in a competitive landscape that includes Apple's iPhone 4 and HTC's Evo 4G. I tested the Droid X over a few weeks, and conclude that its large (4.3-inch) screen and impressive battery life could make it attractive to buyers.

A brilliant large screen that makes the Droid X awkwardly large
The Droid X ($199 with two-year contract) has many design improvements over its predecessor, such as an on-screen keyboard. But the smartphone's most striking feature is a 4.3-inch screen, which is larger than the 3.7-inch screen of the original Droid. The screen size is on par with the Evo 4G, but smaller than Dell's Streak, which has a 5-inch screen. The Droid X can display images at an 854-by-480 pixel resolution, the same as the original Droid.

[ InfoWorld's Paul Venezia reveals whether the iPhone 4 lives up to its hype. | Galen Gruman explains how the Android OS doesn't meet business security needs. ]

The screen colors are vivid and bright, and the wider screen is great for watching video and browsing the Web. It's also easier to type faster on the virtual keyboard, with the letters spaced out wider. Despite the larger screen, the Droid X weighs just 155 grams (0.34 pounds), which is 14 grams lighter than the original Droid.

The screen dominates the front, with four small buttons at the bottom to access applications and navigate through windows. The volume buttons are on the right side, and the power button is on top. The back is rubberized, which provides a solid grip when using the device. The phone is thin and long, measuring 2.6 by 5.0 by 0.4 inches. Phone calls were stable, and the sound was clear on Verizon's network.

Although I appreciated the large screen, the Droid X feels oversized and inconvenient to carry in a pocket, even after a week of use.

Unlike the original Droid, the Droid X does not have a physical keyboard -- it uses the same type of onscreen keyboard as the HTC Droid Eris and iPhone. So if a touchscreen keyboard is not for you, neither is the Droid X.

Long battery life except for Wi-Fi and video
Motorola says the smartphone offers battery life of eight hours on continuous usage, and 220 hours of standby time. In my tests, the device delivered a battery life of more than a day with active 3G and sporadic Wi-Fi usage. Leaving the Wi-Fi on continuously did drain battery, so you need to use that feature selectively.

The battery also drained when shooting video. The smartphone has an 8-megapixel camera, and can capture 720p video, which is helpful in taking quick video for upload to sites like YouTube. The phone comes with dual-LED flash, and a camera application allows users to switch between the still and video cameras. The device has an HDMI port to view high-definition content on TVs.

Strong video capabilities push the phone into the territory of handheld video cameras, where Cisco's Flip rules the roost. However, the Flip does a better job at shooting video in low-light conditions than the Droid X. The Droid X also lacks a front-facing video camera, a feature available in Evo and Apple's iPhone 4G for video chat. That feature may be a logical addition to the next edition of Droid.

Fast and responsive, though not running the latest Android version
The smartphone is powered by an ARM processor running at 1GHz, so the Droid X is fast and responsive. It runs on Google's Android 2.1 OS, and Motorola has incorporated a souped-up interface that provides a clean look and quick access to online services like social networks. Motorola and Verizon have said Android 2.2 would be delivered over the next few months, which should improve the phone's underlying software stack.

The device can also function as a 3G hotspot and distribute a mobile broadband connection to up to five devices. The 3G mobile hotspot service costs $20 extra per month for 2GB of data transfer, according to Verizon.

The Droid X will inevitably be compared to the iPhone 4 and Evo 4G. The Android-based Evo 4G has a 4.3-inch screen and connects to 3G and the faster WiMax networks, but has been criticized for its poor battery life. The iPhone 4G has a smaller screen that can display images at higher resolutions, and it provides access to Apple's popular mobile entertainment and applications market place. The Droid X connects to the growing Android marketplace, and offers a good battery life if used smartly.

The Droid X is fast, attractive, and functional, even though it might be too large for some people and its touchscreen-only interface will turn off others. At $199, it could be an attractive option for customers, particularly Droid fans looking for improved performance and multimedia capabilities.

This article, "Hands-on with Motorola's Droid X," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com.

Related: