Verizon updates Droid software; Users hope it fixes echo problem

Update will be phased in over the next week

An over-the-air software update to the Droid smartphone started yesterday, but it wasn't clear whether the 14 enhancements address a voice echo problem that hundreds of users complained about in online forums.

The much-anticipated update went to a "small percentage of handsets" yesterday and the update, identified as ESD56, will be phased in over the next week or so, a Verizon Wireless spokeswoman confirmed early today via e-mail.

The enhancements come from Verizon Wireless, Motorola and Google, which is behind the Android operating system that runs on the Motorola Droid. An update to the Droid Eris smartphone from HTC is "planned but a date has not yet been confirmed," the spokeswoman added.

The Motorola Droid update is based on Google's release of a software developer kit for Android 2.0.2 on Dec. 6. The most noticeable modifications improve the Droid's camera autofocus capability and the phone's voice reception, the spokeswoman added.

However, it remains unclear whether the list of official fixes offers any relief to hundreds of customers who have complained of a voice echo heard by recipients of calls made from Droid phones. At least 300 comments at a Motorola online support forum refer to the subject, " Droid phone sound quality is not great ," and most comments refer to audio echo problems noticed by people whom Droid users are calling.

One Motorola Droid user, John Davis, said he has enjoyed all aspects of his Droid except for the phone itself. "Almost from day one there has been an annoying echo primarily with the person on the receiving end," he wrote in an e-mail to Computerworld US. Davis, a physician, bought his phone the first day it was available at a Verizon store near Boston.

Despite the many online complaints of a similar problem from Droid users, he couldn't get Verizon store officials to listen to him, he said. "Each time I returned to the store, now three times, I have been treated increasingly like an Android from out of space until [a recent] Friday when I threw a nutty in the store and screamed out for attention," he wrote. "The techs were clueless."

Davis said his son, an engineer at Cisco Systems Inc., helped him decrease the echo somewhat by adjusting the phone's settings so that when the echo shows up, Davis must fidget with the speaker button to lessen the echo.

But Davis was still awaiting the update, which was rumored to start on Dec. 11, but now appears to have started four days earlier. Davis said his son believes the update is designed to address the issue, and so do many on an online forum. However, the official update documentation says only that one of the 14 improvements is listed as "audio for incoming calls is improved." A separate improvement says that Bluetooth functions are improved with "background echo ... eliminated" but only in reference to Bluetooth usage.

The full list also includes improvements to OS stability, battery life and camera auto focus. Davis said he had no significant problems with his camera, but is still eager to have the update for the camera focus.

Ironically, many reviewers of the Motorola Droid found it has superlative sound quality , so the echo problem could be a function of networks as well as the Droid, many forum users have noted.

A Motorola support forums manager, identified online only as Matt, called attention to the update yesterday with a link to the separate Motorola forum on sound quality, implying that the improvements could help the echo problem.

The Verizon spokeswoman did not answer directly whether the updates fix the echo problem, saying only that descriptions of the audio problem on forums are "subjective," but she offered to provide a fuller explanation later.

Verizon has noted that to get the free update, the Droid device needs to have 40% or more power available if it's not connected to an external power source and 20% power available to it if connected to a power source.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld (US)
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