Deathmatch: Motorola Droid versus iPhone

The iPhone has triumphed over all previous 'iPhone killers.' Does the Droid finally knock the iPhone off its pedestal?

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But the Droid's keyboard is awful. The keys hardly move, and they're flat and hard to distinguish from each other, so it's difficult to carry off the two-thumb touch-typing that a BlackBerry Bold or Palm Pre user would expect. It's hard to type accurately on it; I wish the Droid's sugegsted-spelling feature worked when I as typing on the physical keyboard, not just when tapping on the touch keyboard. I can type quickly on the BlackBerry Bold's keyboard, but I barely inched along on the Droid's physical keyboard. And the rocker-style trackball that works with the physical keyboard is equally awkward. Basically, the Droid's keyboard is a waste of hardware, and as you'll likely not use it, it simply drags down the phone, adding unnecessary thickness and weight.

The iPhone's screen is smaller than the Droid's, but it's sharper and consistently holds its brightness level. I like the idea of the Droid's larger screen, but it tends to flicker if you leave its autobrightness setting on. Also, the Droid's lack of gesture support, due to the absence of a multitouch screen, limits your ability to maneuver through apps and information.

Overall, the iPhone's UI is cleaner and more intuitive, as examples throughout this review have noted.

The voice quality of the Droid's phone is better than the iPhone's -- and in my home town of San Francisco, the reach of Verizon's 3G network is much more extensive than that of notoriously stingy AT&T, so I expect speedy data access to be more available to Droid users. The two devices rapidly eat through battery life, each lasting less than a workday on a single charge if used for regular data access and a few phone calls. You can carry a spare battery for the Droid but not the iPhone, though most people will instead keep a USB cable handy to charge the devices from their computers (both use proprietary cables).

The winner: The iPhone. The Droid's poor keyboard and lack of multitouch screen are inexcusable, and the fact that Motorola could think those were acceptable design choices reminds me why Motorola has been a nonentity in smartphones for the last decade. The fault is not just Motorola's, though; Google's OS also delivers an uneven UI. The Droid's Android OS suffers from an ailment common to most OSes: lack of user-oriented elegance. The Android UI is not terrible, but it clearly has not received the care and attention it deserves. It doesn't have to be this way; the HTC Droid Eris' Sense UI extensions show that an Android device can compete with the iPhone in terms of UI quality.

Deathmatch: Security and management
I was excited when I heard that the Droid would finally support Exchange servers. But as noted, it doesn't support Exchange ActiveSync security policies, so the Droid removes itself as a smartphone option for many organizations. By contrast, the iPhone supports a decent set of ActiveSync policies and thus can meet the compliance requirements of many companies.

The Droid's lack of concern over security extends beyond Exchange. It does not support on-device encryption, unlike the iPhone 3G S, and its palette of security features is quite limited: You can require a touch pattern as a sort of visual password to use the Droid upon startup or after a timeout (a nice feature), but there are no capabilities for, say, requiring complex passwords, disabling the device after several failed access attempts, or wiping the device remotely. The iPhone supports several such security methods, though you need to use the iPhone Configuration Utility to set up most of them, and you need either an Exchange connection or a MobileMe account to enable remote wiping.

The Droid supports two additional security features worth noting. One, you can set it so applications use security credentials, such as those supplied on an SD card. Two, you can set up VPN access using several VPN protocols. The iPhone also supports security credentials and VPNs, but because the iPhone does not support removable media, credentials must be installed via e-mail, URLs, or the iPhone Configuration Utility.

The Droid also falls short of the iPhone when it comes to manageability. The iPhone has limited management capabilities via the iPhone Configuration Utility -- which doesn't work over the air and can't enforce deployment of policies -- but that's better than the utter lack of management capabilities of the Droid. (Note that an increasing number of mobile management providers are promising iPhone and Android support, but that means getting an additional server product.)

The winner: The iPhone. Although it doesn't match the BlackBerry's security and manageability, it is far ahead of the Droid. Small and medium-size business can consider the iPhone seriously; the Droid is essentially an option only for businesses that don't have security or management practices in place.

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