The touch screen is every bit as responsive as the iPhone’s, and the Droid’s four touch keys–back, menu, home, and search–make it a little easier to switch between applications and tasks than the iPhone’s single home key. Though the specific touch screen motions are different, all will feel very familiar to users of most touch-screen phones, including the iPhone. Haptic feedback (a brief vibrating buzz to let you know definitively when you’ve hit one of the phone’s four keys) is another welcome addition.
But to me, the Droid’s handiest navigation feature is the status bar. Always visible at the top of the screen (except when videos are playing or the camera is active), the status bar displays different icons to notify you of incoming e-mails, missed calls, voice mails, or text or multimedia messages. Unlike iPhone notifications, which pop up in the middle of the screen, interrupting whatever you might be doing, the Droid’s notifications are unobtrusive yet useful. Touching the bar and dragging it down reveals details about each notification–for instance, which calls you missed, which accounts have e-mails waiting, or which widgets have received new information.
This ease of navigation is essential on the Droid, since it’s possible to run multiple applications at the same time with Google’s Android operating system. For the most part, I’ve grown accustomed to running just one application at a time on the iPhone. The strength of Android becomes apparent, though, when you decide to search the Web in the middle of, say, looking up a contact or using driving directions within Google Maps. Simply touching the back key or tapping the application icon takes you right back to where you were, instead of stopping and restarting the application, as on the iPhone. It seems like a little thing, but over the course of a day, it can add up to a pretty significant savings in time and frustration.
The Droid supports a large number of media file types (MP3, Apple’s AAC, MPEG-4, WAV, and WMA, to name just a few). It also has a YouTube application built in, like the iPhone, but that’s the only way to access video “over the air” on this phone. The Droid can access Amazon’s MP3 store, and Verizon says that its V Cast video and music services are coming to the Droid, but for the moment, it’s still much easier to get music and other media on the iPhone. It’s not terribly difficult to load files from a computer onto the Droid using the provided USB cable, but it’s a strictly manual process. Every time you want to add another video or song to the phone, you have to plug it in, locate the file on your computer, and drag and drop. Alternatively, you can upload media using the miniSD card slot.
I listened toa range of song styles, from rap to pop, on the built-in speaker of the iPhone, then the Droid. The Droid’s sound quality was at least equivalent to the iPhone’s, if not slightly better–but who listens to music that way? I couldn’t say the same for the sound quality of the phone itself, however. Something about the way the Droid processes voices lends them a tinny tone. This was true whether I used the handset, speakerphone or Bluetooth headset. And callers mentioned that my voice sounded “metallic,” regardless of the input I used. A small thing, maybe, but even though making phone calls may be the least of what these devices can do, I want them to do it well.
Battery life is a huge factor for many mobile users. On this count, the Droid is comparable to the iPhone–not better, not worse. In two separate tests, both phones clocked in at just about six hours of continuous use. The Droid, with its replaceable battery, offers the option of carrying an extra charged battery to swap in. However, with the number of devices available to provide extra battery life to the iPhone, this doesn’t feel like a major selling point to me. And let’s face it, by the time the battery needs to be replaced for good, there’s going to be a shinier, fancier, better phone out there that most gadget lovers will have to have.