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Most geeks have been curious about Motorola’s Droid, the first phone to run the newest version of Google’s mobile phone operating system, and the first Android phone on Verizon Wireless, the biggest mobile network in the United States. I took the Droid, which goes on sale Friday, for a test drive–literally, evaluating the phone on a Sunday morning road trip around Austin, TX.

Instead of the soft curves and rounded edges brought into vogue by the iPhone, the Droid has a brick-like look and feel. It’s angular and solid, with a flashing green LED on the front to notify you of waiting e-mails, text messages, or voice mails. The QWERTY keyboard slider has a nice, smooth action and locks easily into place. While the Droid matches the iPhone very closely on size, the slider does make the phone ever-so-slightly thicker. The Droid’s heft (169 grams to the iPhone’s 3GS’s 135) also meant that, while I barely notice the iPhone in a jacket or jeans pocket any more, the Droid’s weight was more appreciable, pulling the left side of my jacket down on my neck.

The Droid’s screen resolution, at 9.3 centimeters diagonally and 480 by 854 pixels, is incredibly sharp and bright, noticeably more so than the iPhone (which has an 8.9-centimeter diagonal screen with 480-by-320-pixel resolution).

Setting up the Droid was dead simple. Using Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Talk was as easy as entering my Google account username and password once. The phone can support multiple Google accounts, and Android 2.0 adds support for Microsoft’s Exchange e-mail server, used by many companies, allowing you to sync e-mails, contacts, and appointments from a corporate Outlook account as well. I did have trouble displaying some Outlook e-mails that displayed perfectly on my iPhone, but I encountered this with fewer than one in 50 messages or so–a minor annoyance.

Pairing Bluetooth devices was also very straightforward; my Plantronics headset was up and running in less than five minutes. One feature I could not get to work, however, was the Wi-Fi connection. I tried accessing four different Wi-Fi networks in three different locations and could never get the Droid to connect. My laptop and iPhone both joined all of these networks without any trouble.

Learning to navigate the Droid’s touch screen is fairly intuitive, as well. The phone has three customizable “home” screens, on which you can add shortcuts to applications and file folders, as well as active widgets. Available widgets include a power manager that allows you to turn power-hungry features such as GPS, Bluetooth, and e-mail syncing on and off with a single touch; a Google search box; or live updates from various weather, news, or sports services.

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Credit: Erika Jonietz

Tagged: Communications, iPhone, Android, app store, Motorola, Droid

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