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Overview

What's Good: Large, vivid display; Generally excellent performance including signal strength; Redesigned social networking features; Great soft QWERTY board; Above average camera

What's Bad: A few hard crashes during testing; Voice quality was good but not stunning considering the three-mic design; Custom apps don't offer performance of dedicated Twitter/Facebook apps; Limited HDMI-out functionality

The Verdict: The Motorola Droid X is the most powerful Android device in Verizon's lineup, and a very good smartphone, if you've got the hands for it

Introduction

Bigger is better, or so you'd think looking at the current batch of Android devices invading US carriers' shelves this summer. First came Sprint's HTC Evo 4G with its 4.3" display. Then came word that Samsung was pushing variants of its Galaxy S - and its 4" screen - to multiple US carriers. Next came Droid X, Verizon and Motorola's second-generation Android smartphone.



Droid X is a full touchscreen device featuring a 4.3" display, 8MP camera with HD video capture, and Google's Android OS 2.1 with a custom skin built around social networking features. In all of those ways, X is very similar to Evo 4G. So while comparisons between Droid X and Apple's new iPhone 4G as the current Verizon/AT&T flagships are apt, I actually think of Evo 4G, not iPhone, as Droid X's true head-to-head rival. No matter, though, we're not here to compare: We're here to get in-depth with Droid X.

Design and Features

Droid X is a big phone, but Motorola did a nice job of giving it a slightly long and narrow shape that makes it feel deceptively small(er) in the hand - if only ever so slightly so. The device is done up in dark grey and black plastic with a front panel that's dominated by that 4.3", 854 x 480 pixel capacitive touchscreen. Bordering the display to the top is a Motorola logo and indicator light/speaker array, while to the bottom you'll find a Verizon logo and the standard four-button panel of Android keys: Menu, Home, Back and Search. Notable is that Droid X employs old-school mechanical pushbuttons and not touch controls of the sort found on recent HTC and Samsung devices.

Droid X comes with a USB cable, a modular charger and manuals in its box. That's it. You do get a 16GB microSD card preinstalled, which compliments the phone's 8GB of internal storage quite nicely. The phone's spines are outfitted with a handful of ports and buttons, including microUSB and micro-HDMI out, a 3.5mm audio jack, a power/lock key and a rocker switch for volume. I was very happy to see a dedicated camera button placed perfectly for capturing still and moving images; makes me wonder why more of these so-called superphones with their high megapixel count cameras don't have similar buttons. The camera optics are housed in a bulge that runs across the back of the phone along the top edge and features a mechanical shutter (a rarity for a cell phone), dual-LED flash, and autofocus - it captures still photos at up to 8 megapixels of resolution, and video at 720p res at 24 frames per second.



Motorola designed Droid X to be as thin as possible - a scant 9.9mm in profile, except around the camera. The camera "hump" doesn't really get in the way of holding or using the phone, and doesn't throw its balance off, either. And as I said before, the narrow profile of the device makes it feel a bit smaller in hand than it really is, helping with one-handed usability. Don't get me wrong, this thing's a beast that makes a Droid Incredible or iPhone 4 look like a toddler in comparison, and you'll need a pretty large - or very stretchable? - hand to do much in the way of one-pawed work on X. But if you hold an Evo 4G and then hold a Droid X, you'll immediately notice how much wider the Evo feels.

In terms of features, Droid X is packed to the gills with just about everything a current high-end Android phone could offer, save a front camera and a kickstand. You get a multitouch display backed by voice-to-text and Swype for alternative text input, a three-microphone setup for enhanced noise cancellation, EV-DO Rev A and WiFi data with an optional mobile hotspot app ($20/month and up) and a giant 1570 mAh battery with a 1930 mAh extended life pack in the works. The phone runs Android 2.1 with a newly stripped-down version of the MotoBlur UI (is it really Moto Blur? or a set of widgets that doesn't really use Blur?), and Motorola has shown off Adobe Flash 10.1 running on Droid X, a feature that will come to users as part of the Android 2.2 update later this Summer.

Usability and Performance

Motorola has long put a premium on the quality of voice calls on their cellular phones. Kinda crazy, huh, a phone company trying to make phone calls sound better? Well, it's true! Towards the end of Motorola's pre-Android period they debuted something called CrystalTalk that made calls on phones like AT&T's Z9 sound really, really good. Now they're at it again with the Droid X's three-microphone setup. Two of X's mics are used for noise-cancellation while the third captures your voice, and the system can also be used during video capture by way of controllable "Scenes" that let you choose to capture audio from behind the camera (narration) or out in front (what you're filming).



The system works really well, but Droid X suffered from occasional call quality issues that had more to do with volume and clarity than background noise. Many of the calls I placed while testing in San Francisco and Oakland, CA sounded great, but a handful suffered from low volume on both ends, and then when turned the Droid X up a few notches the sound grew just a little too distorted for my liking. But overall voice calls were successful on the X, and the phone showed excellent signal strength from a variety of indoor and outdoor locations. Speaking of signal strength, data connectivity over Verizon's EV-DO Rev A network was swift and stable, and the mobile hotspot app worked very well for me (it's a $20/month option, plus overage charges).

Moving to Android, Droid X by and large performed like a champ and in terms of sheer speed should be considered in the same breath as Snapdragon-powered "superphones" like the Evo, Incredible and Nexus One. The 1-GHz TI OMAP 3630 processor powering X is no slouch, and has actually been benchmarked as a tick faster than the aforementioned Qualcomm chip. In practice, Droid X's combination of processor and software generally performed very well - though I was hamstrung by two hard crashes that caused the phone to reboot itself seemingly out of nowhere. I noticed some very minor lag here and there when navigating through the device's user interface, but app launch & performance were quick and scrolling, pinching and zooming through Web pages was very, very smooth.

In fact, I dare say that Droid X's capacitive multitouch display is the most responsive, smoothest scrolling and zooming touchscreen I've used on any Android device to date. I dare say it! The overly-roomy display also made for perhaps the best touch-typing experience I've ever had on a smartphone. Apple's soft QWERTY software for iPhone might be a little better, but Moto's tech is solid, and that big screen makes for big, easy to stab virtual buttons. Droid X also features Swype's love-it-or-leave-it one finger text input system. Being an Android phone you, of course, can also dictate texts and Emails to Droid X via integrated speech-to-text functionality.

Motorola's new incarnation of the MotoBlur UI seems to actually avoid the Blur backend system altogether - it's more a set of widgets than a full-blown UI skin like the original Blur found on AT&T's Backflip. The change is a welcomed one, as Droid X's approach to social networking extras is simpler, less intrusive, and easier to avoid altogether than the original MotoBlur. Instead of an in-your-face approach, Droid X opts for a subtle, modular approach, allowing you to log into all, some, or none of your social/service accounts instead of forcing you to create and log in to a new account on the MotoBlur servers. Suffice it to say that while Droid X's custom apps and widgets provide basic networked services that are ready to connect you to Twitter, Facebook, Weather, etc. right out of the box, anyone planning to use any of these services on a regular basis is better off installing other Android apps/widgets to get the job done. The functionality Moto serves up here is very limited, though the Unified Inbox that includes Twitter/Facebook/MySpace messages will prove handy to some.

Of course a smartphone this big has to have a strong multimedia bent to it, and Droid X does. The 854 x 480 display has a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio that's perfectly suited to watching video on the go, and it performed like a champ. Music (and all other sounds) sounded great when I plugged quality earphones into the phone's 3.5mm headphone jack, and I had no trouble pairing mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets to the phone. Droid X also features a micro HDMI out port, and while I was able to hook the phone up to an HD television, playback is limited to photos and videos in the device's gallery - I couldn't use the phone to shoot YouTube clips or other media out to my TV set.

I'm going to have to do some additional testing of Droid X's video camera, I think. For while I was impressed with still photos captured by the 8MP shooter with mechanical shutter, autofocus and dual-LED flash, I found the 720p HD video clips I took to be lacking. And yet several of my peers who reviewed the phone for other publications spoke glowingly about X's camcorder abilities. I think an HD video capture dogfight might be the only way to settle this one … stay tuned.

Conclusion

The original Motorola Droid for Verizon was a game-changer - it was the phone that really brought Droid to the masses, backed by VZW's network muscle and a massive marketing campaign. This newest Droid, the Droid X, won't be another game-changer but that doesn't mean it's not an excellent smartphone. Today's market is simply flooded with quality Android devices - even if several of the high-end ones seem to be on constant back-order - so while Droid was "the first Android phone on Verizon," Droid X will likely have to settle for "arguably the best Android phone on Verizon … for now."



Yes, Droid X is arguable the best Android phone on Verizon. It's faster than the original Droid, bigger than Droid Incredible, and is slated for an OS 2.2 update later this Summer that promises Flash 10.1 support. I got a demo of Flash running on X at the launch event, and playback of video and interactive content was smooth and easy on the eyes.

Personally, though, I'd likely opt for a Droid Incredible (or maybe the forthcoming Samsung Fascinate) over a Droid X if I were signing up for a Verizon account. Why? Size. For some, bigger is going to be better, but for others there's a sweetspot that lies somewhere between "small" and "jumbo." For me, Droid Incredible hits that sweetspot with its 3.7" display and a much more pocketable form factor that's well suited to one-hand use.

With Motorola and Verizon's new Droid X, the old axiom is truer than ever: Try before you buy. Maybe the best thing about Droid X is that in it Verizon now has a range of Android devices to suit almost all types: The touch plus keyboard Droid (and the coming Droid 2), the touch-only Droid Incredible, and now the supersized slate Droid X. All Verizon needs is a tiny Droid (think HTC Aria and Sony Ericsson X10 mini) and they'd have an Android for everybody. Sometimes choice is a good thing.


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