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Droid 2 reviews hail keyboard, stamina, but camera gives pause

Aug 19, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Motorola's Droid 2 has received mostly positive reviews from a variety of sources including the ones summed up here, more or less in order of their approval: Ars Technica, eWEEK, PC Mag, PC World, and Engadget. Reviewers generally loved the new keyboard and disliked the camera and MotoBlur UI, while Engadget encountered connectivity problems.

Now available for over a week now from Verizon Wireless, Motorola's heir to the original Droid, the Droid 2 does not appear to have suffered yet from shortages. The same cannot be said for the somewhat higher powered, keyboard-free Droid X. Both phones are available for $200 with rebate and contract.

Motorola Droid 2

(Click to enlarge)

The Droid 2 is the first phone to ship with Android 2.2 ("Froyo"), and compared to the popular Droid, which is also now available with Froyo, it runs it on a faster 1GHz Texas Instruments OMAP3630, the same SoC used by the Droid X. The phone ships with 8GB of internal flash, and an 8GB memory card.

The Droid 2 lacks the 4.3-inch display of the Droid X, sticking with the Droid's 3.7-inch WVGA touchscreen, and its five-megapixel camera (same as the original Droid) can't match the Droid X's eight-megapixel model, either, but other features are fairly similar.

The Droid 2 measures 4.58 x 2.38 x 0.54 inches, weighs six ounces, and offers a redesigned QWERTY keyboard, with improved spacing and response. Other features are said to include 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, and aGPS, as well as the usual high-end array of sensors. (For more details on the Droid 2, see our original coverage, here.)

iFixit teardown impressed with design

This week, our sister publication eWEEK ran a story summarizing an iFixit tear-down of the device (see link at the end of the article along with links to the other reviews). According to the story, iFixit found the phone to be highly similar under the hood to the original Droid except for the differences noted above, including "a SanDisk 8GB NAND flash package soldered to its main board."

The iFixit teardown concludes, "Motorola certainly took the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' route by keeping everything people didn't complain about exactly the same and upgrading the bits that mattered."

As noted, the five major reviews summarized here generally lauded the keyboard and battery life, slammed the camera, gave mixed reviews on performance, and offered a sideways sneer at the MotoBlur UI skin, which is the same toned-down version offered on the Droid X.

Here's a brief rundown on each evaluation, starting with Ars Technica's glowing review, and descending to Engadget (which rates the phone below the Droid X, Droid Incredible, and even the original Droid). 

Ars Technica:"A worthy update"

The Ars Technica review by Ryan Paul gives high marks to the Droid 2's design. "Build quality is good — arguably a slight step up from the Droid X," writes Paul. "The phone feels absolutely solid in the hand, though the keyboard makes it a bit chunky. The simple aesthetic improvement to the exterior compared to the original Droid is pleasant."

Paul also praises the redesigned keyboard, which is almost universally heralded in these reviews for vastly improving on the Droid's cramped, poorly designed keys. Still, the keyboard does not quite match Paul's favorite, the (Windows Mobile-based) HTC Touch Pro 2.

"The raised keys are a modest improvement over the original keyboard," Paul writes. "Typing on the Droid 2 is comfortable and relatively effortless."

Droid 2 (left) and original Droid (right), showing redesigned keyboard
(Click on either to enlarge)

Paul also likes the 3.7-inch, 854 x 480 display, which he prefers to the larger screen on the Droid X. Still, it does not hold a candle to Samsung's Super AMOLED displays on the Galaxy S phones, he adds.

The review notes that, as with the Droid X, battery life is much improved over the Droid. Motorola claims the Droid 2 offers 575 minutes of usage time (or 15 hours of standby), compared to the original Droid's 385 minutes of usage time or 270 minutes standby.

Paul even has some kind words to say about the much maligned MotoBlur interface, writing, "the custom widgets still need some work, but Motorola's sophisticated messaging application is extremely impressive."

In the end, ArsTechnica lists only one complaint: the "stomach-churning awfulness" of the phone's default ringtone. Of course, that's easy enough to change, the review notes.

Paul concludes, "There is nothing especially novel or ambitious about the phone, but it's a good update to a high-quality classic," he writes. "It will give Verizon a tried-and-true winner to pit against Sprint's formidable Epic 4G. The pairing of a solid QWERTY with a great messaging application will also make the Droid 2 an excellent choice for mobile productivity junkies."

eWEEK: "A vast improvement"

On eWEEK, Google specialist Clint Boulton is almost as generous with his praise for the Droid 2 as is Ars Technica. According to Boulton, who focuses as much on Android 2.2 features as the phone itself, the browser is indeed much faster than that of the original Droid running Android 2.1. Otherwise, he could not tell any large performance difference between the Droid 2 and the Droid.

Boulton loves the 3.7-inch display, which he says is the perfect size for a smartphone, and he is greatly impressed with the battery performance. The performance is even better than that of the Droid X, he claims, which he believes is likely due to the larger screen on the Droid X.

"I let the Droid 2 battery fend for itself for a day and a half, despite using it for several calls and running several Web applications and doing several Web searches before requiring a recharge," he writes.

Boulton also praises the improved keyboard, although he says it can't match RMI's BlackBerry Bold. He found the virtual touchscreen keyboard to be way too narrow, however, a complaint mentioned by other reviewers. "The [virtual] keyboard is my biggest pet peeve about the Droid 2," he adds.

The Droid 2's five-megapixel camera and video playback "were serviceable if not pedestrian," Boulton writes. Compared to the Droid 2's DVD-quality video capture, the Droid X shines with its 720p video capture and HDMI output, he notes.

Boulton refers to the published complaints about connection problems, and says he encountered no problems with dropped calls where he has tested the phone in Connecticut.

He does note, however, that the Droid 2's signal "seems a bit compromised, sometimes fading out of 3G." Overall, though, call quality was "clear and crisp," he adds.

Boulton also takes some of the latest Froyo apps for a spin and finds the new voice capabilities and downloadable Voice Actions to be worthy additions. He also likes the new Chrome to Phone feature.

"Leveraging Google's cloud-to-device messaging API, Chrome to Phone lets users send links or highlighted text from Chrome Web browser on a desktop or laptop to a smartphone for reading on the go," he writes.

Despite a few problems such as the virtual keyboard, and the lack of pinch-to-zoom capability, Boulton writes, "The Droid 2 is a great phone if you do a lot of texting for work or play." He concludes that the phone "is a vast improvement over the original Motorola Droid."

PC Mag: Faster than a speeding Droid X

PC Mag gave the Droid X an Editor's Choice award, but the Droid 2 does not quite make the cut. Sascha Segan's review dutifully praises the phone's vastly improved keyboard, but says it's still tight compared to the Samsung Epic 4G. Voice quality is praised, and no dropped calls or other problems were found, and the eight hours of battery life Segan encountered is said to be "excellent."

PC Mag was the only review to go out of his way to praise the phone's performance. "Interestingly, the Droid 2 did dramatically better in our benchmarks than the Droid X did, even though the two phones use the same 1-GHz TI OMAP chipset," writes Segan. "The difference seems to be Android 2.2, which has juiced up the benchmark results in some way."

He adds that both phones perform "somewhat faster" than HTC's Droid Incredible.

Segan also had fewer problems with the camera. "It overexposes shots, but at least they're sharp," he notes. And despite the lesser video resolution, compared to the Droid X, "videos are smooth and sharp at 30 frames per second," Segan adds.

The review's only major complaint appears to be with the phone's poor Bluetooth support. "While you can trigger voice dialing over a Bluetooth headset, you can't issue the commands over the headset, eliminating the point of the exercise," he writes.

The review finds the MotoBlur interface to be less intrusive than HTC's Sense or Samsung's TouchWiz, and as with ArsTechnica, the messaging integration features are lauded.

Segan concludes by giving the phone a solid four-star rating (compared to 4 ½ for the Droid X), and writes, "Droid 2 is clearly the best smartphone with a keyboard on Verizon."

PC World: A "mediocre camera"

The Ginny Mies review in PC World joins other reviews in praising the design of the Droid 2, and calls the keyboard a big improvement. Still, Mies notes a few flaws with the keyboard, although she does not note a smartphone slider that is better.

"The top keys are very close to the ledge of the display, so your fingers are constantly knocking against it," write Mies. "Additionally, the keys felt mushy and not as tactile as I prefer for physical keyboards."

Mies praises the phone's speed improvement over the Droid, and praises the new version of MotoBlur over the earlier versions with their confusion of widget bubbles. Still, the MotoBlur camera widget is flawed, she says, as is the "mediocre" camera itself.

Mies finds the camera's image quality poor compared to other five-megapixel models, with listed problems including a "greenish cast," a "ghostly aura," and "graininess." Meanwhile, "video quality was decent, although a bit pixelated when capturing fast-moving objects," she adds.

Call quality was fine, and no dropped calls were encountered, she writes. However, the expected boost in browser performance did not materialize on the Droid 2 the way it did when running Froyo on a Nexus One, she adds.

Mies concludes, "If you're looking to get your money's worth, go with the Droid X or Droid Incredible. If your heart is set on a physical keyboard, however, you'll be perfectly happy with the Droid 2."

Engadget: A failure to translate

Engadget had several problems with the Droid 2, but reviewer Chris Ziegler encountered none with the design, and he also praises the keyboard improvements. As for the battery, he notes that Engadget's team of reviewers was able to get "a full day's use from the battery and into the start of the second," a major improvement over the Droid.

Like several of the other reviewers, Ziegler was surprised that Motorola didn't bother to upgrade the Droid's camera. "The original Droid has a famously bad shooter, and we regret to say the Droid 2 doesn't seem to be much better," he writes. "Autofocus is still noisy and slow, macro mode doesn't really work, and images are often hazy and heavily artifacted."

Ziegler is also fairly scathing about MotoBlur and other apps added by Motorola and Verizon. MotoBlur, he writes, is "a questionably-useful skin atop stock Android with a bunch of bloatware pre-installed."

He goes on to note, "Don't get us wrong, things like Swype, DLNA support and the 3G Mobile Hotspot app are welcome additions — but look, if we want NFS Shift, we'd rather just be able to download it from the Market, thank you very much."

Engadget's previous tests on other phones showed significant performance improvements with Android 2.2, especially with the browser, but with the Droid 2, only the browser showed a notable boost, says the review.

Boot-up was said to be surprisingly slow, although Ziegler notes, "We've noticed that the Droid X seems to inexplicably "warm up" and get faster over time, and indeed, we've seen some improvement after a day with the Droid 2 — very odd."

The review's biggest problem with the Droid 2 is with signal strength, which as described in a recent eWEEK story, has been noted by a number of other early users. "Signal strength was a major issue for all four Engadget editors who've been able to spend time with four different Droid 2s in different parts of the country this week," writes Ziegler.

"Symptoms include a wildly fluctuating meter while the phone's sitting still, weak or no reception in places where you're usually fine on Verizon, and a complete lack of data service," he adds. "We're used to seeing 3G drop to EDGE, GPRS, or disappear completely on our iPhones on AT&T, but it's a rarity on Verizon — so to see our Droid 2's data indicator flip-flop from EV-DO to 1xRTT and then disappear entirely was really alarming."

Ziegler - and eWEEK — believe that the signal problem can be improved with a software update, as opposed to the iPad's free bumper case solution to its antenna problems.

Still, the signal problems, along with the MotoBlur interface and other issues were enough for Engadget to essentially give the phone a thumbs down. "If you're just looking for the baddest-ass Android phone on Verizon that money can buy, we'd recommend a Droid X or Droid Incredible any day over this, especially since all three are the same price — unless you're hell-bent on going with a physical keyboard, of course," writes Ziegler.

"Both of those other handsets offer superior cameras, a better UI (in the case of the Incredible), and a better display (in the case of the X)."

Finally, for the coup de grace, he writes, "In fact, we're pretty sure we'd rather have a Froyo-equipped Droid over a Droid 2, especially since the 2's new processor fails to translate into huge performance gains that you can feel in your day-to-day usage."


The eWEEK story on the iFixit tear-down of the Droid 2 may be found here.

The ArsTechnica review of the Droid 2 may be found here.

The eWEEK review of the Droid 2 may be found here.

The PC Mag review should be here.

The PC World review of the Droid 2 should be here.

The Engadget review may be found here.

The eWEEK story on the Droid 2's alleged signal strength problems may be found here.

Finally, for a visual take on the Droid 2, eWEEK has posted a slide show, here.

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