Motorola's Droid X: Big is beautiful, if you can fit it in your pocket
Whoa. That thing is huge.
It's a big phone -- at least by today's standards.
Motorola's Droid X is a Verizon Wireless smart phone worth looking at. The phone, powered by Google's Android operating system, will land in stores Thursday and cost $200 with a two-year contract, after a mail-in rebate. But skip it if you like wearing tight jeans.
The liquid crystal display is one of the largest, at 4.3 inches, and takes up practically the entire face of the device, save for four slivers of buttons.
The size is great for some tasks -- including eliciting surprised reactions from strangers on the street -- but it's overkill for most others.
For video watching, it outclasses the smaller gadgets. Bigger is indeed better for watching movies on the go. Overall, the device is about 2.6 inches wide by 5 inches long.
Older folks looking to dive into the fast-emerging world of smart phones should appreciate the large form for text that's easier to read and touch-screen buttons that are hard to miss. Just prepare to spend a few hours walking Grandma through the sometimes-convoluted interface.
Few phones sport screens quite as large as the Droid X -- the iPhone has a 3.5-inch display that is much sharper than any other; the Incredible is 3.7 inches with a high-contrast screen, a part that's in short supply worldwide. HTC's Evo 4G on Sprint, the only phone in the country with fourth-generation wireless data access, matches the Droid X in screen size.
However, Motorola's new Droid zooms past the Evo and most other Androids in the crucial area of battery life.
Google's software tends to be a battery hog. Thanks to the much-heralded "true multitasking" (unlike the iPhone's limited implementation), Google imposes little restriction on what the apps you install can do when you're not using them. For example, the Twitter app can keep sucking down tweets even while you're checking e-mail.
Motorola promises eight hours of talk time. A full battery can last a day or more, with moderate usage on Verizon's 3G network. That's even with the big screen, which gulps more battery power than smaller ones. If there's no outlet in sight, you could swap out the battery for a spare. Let's see your iPhone do that.
It's a good thing, too -- you'll probably need that extra charge if you plan to use the phone's Wi-Fi sharing ability. After paying a toll to Verizon, the phone can broadcast its 3G data signal to as many as five devices, essentially turning itself into a Wi-Fi hot spot. So it could provide Internet connections for laptops, iPads and even such Wi-Fi enabled cellphones as iPhones when they can't get signals on AT&T's network. Motorola conserves overall battery life on the phone with an app called Battery Manager that tweaks usage based on the time of day. But it won't save you in hot spot mode.
Even with all these features, the device is relatively thin, less than half an inch. A ridge on the back makes it easy to grip this hunk of plastic. Still, navigating the software one-handed can be difficult for people with smaller mitts. That's because Android placed the most crucial buttons at the poles of the device's face.
Point-and-shoot photographers will love this: The form factor feels a lot like a traditional digital camera. And it makes a fantastic replacement for one.
Hold the red button on the side of the device at any time, and it switches into camera mode. Turn it on its side, and you have access to a very capable 8-megapixel shooter with a dual flash. It also captures 720p high-def video. A miniature HDMI port lets you plug the Droid X into a TV to project movies onto the big screen.
The camera on the back is very nice, but unlike the Evo and iPhone 4, the Droid X lacks one on the front for video chat or for a vanity-friendly digital mirror.
Motorola has ditched the physical keyboard that adds unwanted thickness and limited utility to the original Droid. Also gone is the navigational rocker. Instead of a trackball or trackpad for scrolling through e-mails or fine-tuning text input, the only option is the touchscreen, which can be a bit finicky.
The first batch of Droid X devices will ship with version 2.1 of Android. The new 2.2, which is already available on some phones including Google's Nexus One, will be ready for download next month, according to a Verizon spokesman.
Aside from battery life and the camera, the Droid X isn't drastically superior to its cousin, the Droid Incredible. In the end it comes down to whether you prefer the bigger screen and can manage the larger bulge it makes in your pocket.
I know, the jokes are too easy.
-- Mark Milian
Video credit: Tim French / Los Angeles Times. Photos credit: Eric Thayer / Reuters