By Harry McCracken | Friday, November 6, 2009 at 2:05 am
Verizon Wireless starts selling its first Android phone, the Droid (“by Motorola”) today. I’ve been using a unit loaned to me by Verizon for a week, and remain mostly impressed: The Droid couples impressive hardware with the much-improved Android 2.0 OS, and the result is the first Android phone that’s fully worthy of being compared to the iPhone 3GS and Palm’s Pre. (It’s most definitely an example of the class of device that Walt Mossberg calls “super-smart phones.”)
I don’t expect every Verizon customer who’s currently lusting after the iPhone to buy a Droid instead, but I think a meaningful percentage will–and that overall, they’ll be pleased.
But the Droid is hardly above criticism. As I’ve been using one and mostly enjoying the experience, my mind has been racing ahead to…next year’s model. (I’m assuming there will be one: Already, Verizon is releasing another phone in the Droid lineup, the Droid Eris.)
So here’s my quick wishlist for the phone I’m calling the Droid II–the next major collaboration between Verizon, Motorola,and Google.
A better keyboard. I want to like the Droid’s wide QWERTY keyboard, but so far I can’t muster much enthusiasm for its feel–the overall thinness of the phone has resulted in keys without enough travel for truly satisfying typing. (I do like the fact that it frees up all of the handsome screen’s 854-by-480 pixels for content, not virtual keys.)
It’s gotta be possible to squeeze a better keyboard into the space the Droid has–for one thing, the little five-way controller to the right of the keys seems superfluous on a touchscreen device. Dump it, and you could widen the keys and make them more comfy. I’d also be tickled if the Droid II took a cue from the AT&T Tilt I used to carry and angled the screen up when you slid out the keyboard.
On the other hand, the Droid’s keyboard is one in a long line of landscape-mode models that have ultimately broken my heart. I keep thinking that wider is better, but the only handset manufacturer that consistently provides good keyboards is RIM–and it squeezes BlackBerry keyboards into a skinny portrait orientation. I’ve come to the conclusion that a narrower keyboard works better for thumb-typing, because it lets you reach any key with one of your thumbs without any unnatural stretching.
With that in mind, what if the Droid II took a cue from the Pre and provided a slide-out portrait mode keyboard? The image above is my crude, ugly mockup of what it might look like; the keyboard is swiped from a BlackBerry Bold. Give the keys a little more travel than on the Droid I, and you might have a keyboard that would make BlackBerry fans comfortable and at least some iPhone owners jealous.
Full-blown multitouch. The Droid’s hardware and operating system both support it–it’s just that neither the OS nor any of the bundled apps use it. Should be easy to fix: The Droid II should use pinching and pulling to adjust magnification in the browser, the photo viewer, and anywhere else that you need to resize your view.
A more streamlined interface. Android 2.0 is pretty pleasing overall, but it’s also a tad ungainly compared to the obsessive minimalism of the iPhone interface: Controlling the phone involves four buttons, a keyboard, a five-way controller, and, of course, a touchscreen. I don’t want to see all of that go away–I like the back button and wish the iPhone had something similar–but let’s put simplification and streamlining on the to-do list for Android 3.0, and hope that it’s ready in time for the Droid II.
A more impressive camera. The Droid I’s model sounds impressive, with five megapixels of resolution and a dual-LED flash. I found that it took nice pictures in adequate sunlight, but that interior shots in dim lighting came out murky. (The iPhone 3GS may have a third less pixels and lack flash, but its autofocus lens and image-processing technology add up to a camera that’s more than the sum of its specs.)
The Droid II doesn’t need any more megapixels, and if the case is going to stay thin there’s a limit to how much better the lens can get. But I’d like to think that improved imaging software could eke better pictures out of the same hardware.
Music syncing. Entertainment is the single area where the iPhone is most strikingly better than the Droid. For starters, the Droid lets you copy music from PC or Mac via USB, but provides no means of syncing tracks so that you don’t have to rummage around in folders to find stuff. The Droid II should avoid Pre-style iTunes-compatibility shenanigans, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t come with a utility to sync the phone with iTunes. Maybe Verizon can just put a custom version of DoubleTwist on the phone.
Movie downloads. The Droid I has a video player, but no features for acquiring content to watch beyond its built-in YouTube content. Man does not live by clips of laughing babies alone, so the Droid II should have a way to rent and buy films and TV shows. Maybe Verizon, Motorola, and/or Google can strike a deal with either Amazon (who supplies the Android music store) or CinemaNow.
A standard task manager. Maybe this is just a hangup of mine–I wish the iPhone had one too–and I’m aware there are third-party solutions, such as the nifty Remember the Milk. But I’d like to see Android get a standard task manager that integrates with Google’s online task service as well as Android’s e-mail and calendar meld with Gmail and Google Calendar.
A real ringer/vibration switch. Unlike the iPhone and the Pre, the Droid makes you look at the screen to set the phone to vibrate. A physical switch would let you silence the phone without taking it out of your pocket and annoying fellow theatergoers.
A screen built for the real world. The iPhone 3GS’s display has been remarkably durable in my experience (I’ve stepped on mine; no damage) and its oleophobic coating does a good job of keeping it desmudged. I’m actually not sure whether the Droid I has comparable features or not. But if it doesn’t, let’s get them on the II.
A bit more speed in certain places. For the most part, the Droid I is a pleasingly snappy performer–that’s one of the reasons it’s the best Android phone to date. There are, however, a few places where a little more optimization would make a world of difference. The phone app, for instance, feels surprisingly sluggish at times.
Even more apps. Android already has 12,000, which is enough to be valuable, but not enough to induce the giddy feeling you can get from iPhone’s 100,000 title App Store. I don’t know how many Android apps will be around by the time the Droid II ships, but I’m confident that it’ll be a healthy improvement on today’s total.
Okay, that’s enough wish-listing for now. Verizon customers (and everyone else, for that matter): Are you tempted to plunk down $199 (after $100 rebate and two-year contract) for today’s Droid?