Monday, September 10, 2012

Product Review: Motorola Droid X2

My Palm Pre Plus went on the fritz again. The microphone wasn't working. I called tech support, who walked me through an update . . . after which the earpiece wasn't working either. It wasn't a huge deal; the speakerphone and bluetooth still worked, so it wasn't unusable. But when Verizon offered me a free Droid X2, on account of them having run out of replacement Palms, I took the opportunity. It meant giving up my free tethering, for which I must now pay an additional $30 per month on top of the $30 I pay for having a smartphone, but at least my unlimited data plan is grandfathered.

Google owns the phone; the rest of us are just visiting. You must have or create a Google account to use the phone, although it is possible to use other Google accounts not registered in the operating system in a web browser. For some reason, this makes me just a little nervous. I have two Google accounts: one under my real name, the other under my blogging persona. I'm not going to pretend that Google couldn't figure out that these two are one and the same, but somehow this process just makes it a little too obvious.

Processor: The X2 has a dual core 1GHz processor, which makes everything a lot snappier than the Palm or Touch 2G. It's probably on par with the iPad or iPhone 4S.

Screen: The screen is big, and advertises a 500x800 resolution or so. But the actual video quality is, as of this writing, inferior to my 2G Touch, as well to the Palm as near as I remember. I'm getting ugly compression artifacts, and skin tones especially have a reddish splotchy appearance. All the reviews of the X2 raved about the quality of its graphics, so maybe something is wrong with mine. On the other hand, I visited a Verizon store and their display model had exactly the same problem.

Interface: Not at all intuitive. The iPhone and iPod have a single button + power button. The Palm has only a power button (not counting the physical keypad). The X2 has four buttons across the bottom, plus a power button. I believe this is the standard Android interface. The button on the far left brings up the options for whatever application you happen to be using. Unfortunately, it means that you have to use it to get to simple functions that on other devices are already on the screen, so what on other devices is a one-press operation becomes a two-press operation, like "delete" for emails.

Applications:Speaking of email: Hotmail (Microsoft Live) Exchange isn't suppported. On the X2, a Microsoft Exchange account is called "corporate sync" (which took some figuring out). And you can add a Hotmail account, and the phone will tell you you've been successful. But then . . . nothing. Attempts to send or receive emails generate error messages, and contacts and calendar contents do not appear in the calendar and contacts applications. To use Hotmail Exchange on the X2, you must download and install a separate Hotmail application from "Windows + SEVEN" (which took a long time to figure out), and it must be installed from the "Google Play Store", not the Verizon store. The Play store is merely called "Play" on its icon in the apps directory, which I also had to spend time figuring out; do you see how all the counterintuition starts to add up?

The operation of the hotmail handler is, again, not especially intuitive, but it must be used in lieu of the native application. It does seem to do everything I need it to do, but I found myself having to google (hey!) the instructions for doing several things, like saving attachments separately from an incoming email, that ought to be intuitive. (To save an attachment, open the email and then press and hold the grey bar next to the attachment until the option to save it pops up. Who knew?)

Once the hotmail application is installed, MS Live calendars and contacts then become available to their respective Android applications. Weirdly, however, the user is not permitted to add contacts to his Hotmail contact list. Or rather, he can add a name, but (and I'm not making this up) only a name field is available: no email, no telephone number, nothing.

GPS: GPS works! At least it works outdoors. This may sound like a low bar, but it mostly didn't work at all on my Palm. And I should say here that it didn't work on the X2 right out of the box, but Verizon tech support told me to take the battery out with the phone still on (he was very specific about this), put them back in and turn it on. After that it worked. It seems accurate too, as accurate as the iPhone, which in my experience was the only phone whose GPS actually seemed to work. (The iPhone GPS also seems to work indoors.)

DHLA: This technology allows the user to stream video from another device in the same network, like a laptop or network drive. So I can access my entire video collection from my phone. The technology is available on other platforms, too, but I hadn't heard of it until using the Android, and so far it's the only platform on which I've actually managed to make it work.

Google Apps: Since Google owns the phone, they may a lot of applications for it that aren't available on other platforms. Some of these are pretty worthless -- the Google Reader app, for instance, isn't even as functional as the Google Reader mobile website, let alone Feeddler (alas, apparently not available for Android) -- but other are better. For instance, Google Navigator gives turn-by-turn driving directions in real time, not unlike VZ Navigator, except Google Navigator is a free download whereas VZ Navigator costs $10/month I think.


Anonymous said...

I bought the Samsung S111 last month. It also uses Android. It takes a while to get used to and you do have to google some instructuins.

But it is worth it.

I used the google nav in Norfolk to go many places. I never got a wrong turn and had plenty of notice for each turn.

Anonymous said...

AND voice command is awesome. Integreated voice to text or voice google. No typing required.

Anonymous said...

I made the transition to Android early this year, and I have been pleased for the most part. I am a big fan of the four-button configuration (though I wish they made the search button configurable), though I get where you're coming from with the extra presses.

I remember being generally unimpressed with the Motorola "Motoblur" interface. If you ever want to revamp things, shoot me an email. I have a Samsung but am no longer using the Samsung interface.

Sorry to hear about Hotmail. As bizarre as it seems, I had some difficulty getting my *GMail* to work (I think that's on Samsung rather than Android itself) and migrated to a third-party app (K-9 Mail), which may be a solution for you and Hotmail if you don't like the Hotmail app.

The Verizon store is useless. Stick with "Play" (I also dislike the name - used to be called Market) and/or give Amazon's store a try (Amazon will sell some apps banned by Google).

I am increasingly loving the tie-in with Google products. Having my address book, calendar, and all that set up through Google is working out quite well.

Anonymous said...

I do not use the address book because I cannot trust Android to keep it on the device. I know that it just can't help itself if the Google data miner comes knocking on the back door. I still carry important contact info in a paper notebook in my wallet. It is a shame that I can't use that great functionality just because I can't trust them.

Anonymous said...

I do not use the address book because I cannot trust Android to keep it on the device.

I agree that it's not trustworthy. I just run with it, though, and simply keep my address book on Google itself and not on the phone.

Dr. Φ said...

PH: I just tried voice commands for the first time. Pretty cool, but we have to remember the commands. There must be tricks for getting, say, periods at the end of sentences in a dictated email.

Trumwill: I don't really have a problem with google products; they seem as functional as MS Live, but I'm already using live and really don't want to change email addresses. I tried getting a exchange connection to Live with K9: no luck.

Yeah, I guess keeping my address book online with Google or anybody else is a security risk. But the convenience of not having to keep separate books for all my devices is worth it.

Okay, I installed Amazon App Store on the phone. What "banned in Play" apps do you recommend?

Anonymous said...

Come to think of it, I'm not positive which apps I've tried that you might be interested in. I first used it for apps to try to root the phone (which I doubt you're interested in) and in preparation for Google to "crack down" on some apps (like tethering ones).

I will say, though, that if you ever plan to use a Kindle tablet, any Play apps you've paid for won't install on it. So there's that. I still mostly use Play, but go back and forth. If you like games to kill time, Amazon's market has a free app a day and it's usually a little game of some sort.

Sorry to hear that the Exchange didn't work. There are some apps that don't use the main mail app as its foundation like K9 does, but I think those cost money.

Anonymous said...

open navagator. Tell it where you want to go. It will figure it out.

"starbucks" will find the closest one and plot a route to it.

heresolong said...

Say "period" and it will insert a period. Oddly enough. Not sure how you get the word "period" in an email though.