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The Droid is Here -- Android 2.0 from Verizon Wireless

The Verizon Wireless Droid smartphone from Motorola shipped today, featuring the new Google Android 2.0 updated mobile phone software platform. I've been working with the Droid for a week, and am definitely impressed.

The phone, and the software, are solid -- clean, functional, responsive, and quite usable.

The physical design of the Droid is a slider phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, large 3.7" high-res (854 x 480) display, and 5 megapixel camera with LED flash.

It features integrated Wi-Fi for fast communications and browsing, and integrated GPS for location-aware searching and mapping.

The Android 2.0 platform supports fully-integrated voice search and multi-tasking for non-intrusive background downloads.

The Android platform is focused on syncing to your life online in the Google cloud, with Gmail and Google Contacts and Calendar. Android 2.0 does extends to more traditional business uses (multiple accounts, Exchange support), enhances the interface for responsive navigation and searching, and bulks up the camera with auto-setup, flash, and video (though the camera response is a tad sluggish).

However, the Droid with Android 2.0 is missing common functionality that will be expected by people interested in switching from PDA phone platforms like Windows Mobile and Palm, much less the BlackBerry or Apple iPhone. Particularly glaring are the absence of out-of-the-box support for syncing desktop data and files (as in Outlook and Office documents), and the lack of unified support for managing and syncing media. There's no Tasks or Memos applications at all, and Word and Excel documents can only be viewed by using an otherwise-hidden Quickoffice feature when you download in the Browser app.

In addition, the media support is very plain, with no built-in syncing or unified browsing as we're used to from iTunes. There's a Music app with limited organization (no categories or genres), and a Gallery app for displaying photos and videos, but organized only by folder. The Camera app does shoot photos up to 5 MP (2592 x 1936, JPEG) and videos at 720 x 480, but there's no built-in Voice recorder.

And there's no built-in syncing mechanism to manage and transfer collections of documents or files with a computer -- although you can mount the Droid over USB as an external drive and just drag and drop files from your computer. You also can manually sideload via microSD card, or download from online, depending on the type of media and where you can find it. For example, you can use the built-in Amazon MP3 Store app to buy and download songs and albums. You also can sync with tools like Windows Media Player, and the Motorola Media Link PC software can sync music, playlists, photos, and videos, plus backup and upload online.

The Google Android Marketplace does somewhat addresses these issues, with a variety of third-party applications, from a variety of developers, at a variety of prices (and level of support). So you can cobble together some missing applications (Notepad, PDF viewer), but it's still a clumsy combination with different interfaces, inconsistent features, and without common integrated syncing.

Still, it's fun to search the Android Marketplace, and I've had good luck so far with high-rated yet free applications, like a Wi-Fi analyzer, GPS status, NYC subway map, Weather channel, and the fun Google Sky map that responds to your viewing position. It's still clumsy to search long lists of apps on the handheld device, and would be much more helpful to be able to search and sync online.

Bottom line: The Droid is very impressive -- and tempting. It's still focused on online cloud computing services, but it's getting closer to filling my needs for a full organizer / pocket digital assistant that fully syncs with my digital life on the desktop. It's priced at $199.99 from Verizon, with a new 2-year agreement and $100 rebate.

The Droid has almost no built-in help, so see the Verizon support site for a user's guide and step-by-step instructions.

See my full article, Verizon Droid from Motorola: Android 2.0, for more on the Droid's design and features and technical specifications.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

Find the Verizon Droid from Motorola on Amazon.com

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