Motorola Droid X: The Best of the Droids

Motorola Droid X shines at multimedia playback and network performance but the interface can occasionally be sluggish

The follow-up to Motorola's wildly popular Droid on Verizon, the Droid X ($200 with a two-year service contract from Verizon; available July 15) is one of the hottest phones to debut this summer. Its specs outshine those on the other Droid phones available on the network, but it falters a bit when it comes to performance. Nonetheless, the Droid X is one of the top phones to debut this summer, on a par with both the HTC EVO 4G and the iPhone 4.

Like the original Droid, the Droid X has a black, soft rubberized back. Unlike the original, however, the X doesn't feel thick and clunky when held. This is due in part to the fact that the X does not have a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. But the X looks and feels much more refined than the original Droid. Its corners are more rounded and its rubberized edges make using it much more comfortable. Another welcome improvement: The X has physical hardware buttons (the familiar Menu, Home, Back, and Search buttons) as opposed to the original Droid's touch-sensitive buttons. The X's buttons are small and unobtrusive, too, and they light up brightly when activated. Overall, the Droid X looks much more elegant and modern than its predecessor.

The X also feels noticeably slimmer than the HTC EVO 4G, which also has a 4.3-inch display (The Droid X is 0.4 inch thick, while the EVO is 0.5 inch thick). Nevertheless, I prefer the EVO's rounded back. The Droid X has a flat back with a bump where the camera and flash are located. Though this bump isn't especially annoying, it is noticeable. The Droid X weighs in at 5.47 ounces--a bit less than the 6-ounce original Droid.

Aside from the four hardware buttons located below the display, the X has a small volume rocker and a skinny camera shutter key on the right spine of the phone. The power/unlock button sits at the top of the phone alongside the 3.5mm headphone jack. The left spine houses the micro-USB port and the X's HDMI port. The back houses the battery, the 8-megapixel camera with dual LED flash, and the external speaker. Unlike the EVO 4G, the Droid X doesn't have a kickstand in the back. I don't find myself using the EVO's kickstand all that often, but some users might consider its absence from the Droid X an important oversight.

The X's 4.3-inch, WVGA 854-by-480-resolution display is a knockout. Colors look vibrant and details are crisp. The capacitive screen was quite responsive to my taps and swipes, too. One small gripe is that the phone is extremely glossy and reflective, so it could be difficult to see in bright indoor lighting at times. It also faded in bright sunlight outdoors, but was visible enough to permit me to navigate around the interface. Tomorrow we will do a much closer examination of how the Droid X's display stacks up against the iPhone 4's and the HTC EVO 4G's tomorrow, so stay tuned.

The X's display uses multitouch technology, which is also supported in both the browser and in the photo gallery. Multitouch extends to the X's software keyboard, too, which makes typing on a virtual keyboard feel much more natural and comfortable. The best example of how improved multitouch on a virtual keyboard works is the fact that you can hold down shift and hit another letter and both will register. I also like the fact that you have the option to use Swype on the Droid X. Swype lets you type faster and more easily with one continuous finger or stylus motion across the screen keyboard. In my own experience, Swype takes some practice, but it is pretty useful once you get the hang of it.

New and Improved MotoBlur

When I first read rumors that the X would be running Motorola's skin for Android, Motoblur, I was a little frightened. Though I like Motoblur for the most part, I find it busy, cluttered, and a bit inelegant. It's fine for lower-end phones like the Cliq, Backflip, and Cliq XT, but for a super phone like the X?

Thankfully, Motoblur has been toned down a lot. Gone are the chaotic bubbles taking over your homescreens to deliver Facebook status updates from high-school friends you no longer speak to or updates from random RSS feeds you subscribe to. MotoBlur might not be as attractive as HTC Sense, but I liked how sharp the icons and text appeared and how easy and intuitive navigation was.

Motoblur has been reduced to two widget bubbles on one homescreen, which you can sync with your social networks. Another new feature in this version of MotoBlur is a navigation bar that lets you quickly switch between your various homescreens without having to flick through all of them to get to what you want.

Unfortunately, the Droid X does not run the latest version of Android, Android 2.2 (aka Froyo). At launch you're stuck with 2.1 until later this summer when Droid X (and hopefully other Droid phones on Verizon) get the 2.2 update. You of course get all of the standard Google Android applications: Gmail, Maps, YouTube, and Talk for instant messaging.

Multimedia Machine

With a 4.3-inch display, the Droid X is just begging to be a portable video player. A few third-party video apps come preinstalled, including a Blockbuster app for downloading and watching feature-length movies, Skype Mobile, NFL Mobile (though I couldn't actually access NFL Network videos at this time) and others. Verizon has also expanded its VCast portal for downloading and watching TV shows, news, sports games (including World Cup games!) and other content. YouTube videos had the standard amount of fuzziness when played on the Droid X. Luckily, like the EVO 4G, you get a feature called HQ that enables you to watch better-quality videos (if they are available). You simply press the HQ button in the corner of the video, and a crisper, larger video--one that actually uses the Droid X's entire screen real estate--will load. The Droid X also has DLNA and HDMI connectivity, which is a boon to media addicts.

8-Megapixel Camera Is Good, Not Great

The Motorola Droid X's camera has a respectable variety of features, a touch-friendly and easy-to-use interface, and pretty good image quality overall. So what's my issue with the camera? Well, it has two problems: the phone-as-a-camera ergonomics, and the shutter speed. The dedicated shutter button is simply too rigid and difficult to press. You have to push hard to get the camera to take a snapshot, and sometimes this results in blurry images. The phone's odd shape--with the bulge where the camera is--also affects picture-taking. I was tempted to rest my fingers on that bump to get a better grip on the phone, but of course that meant I was blocking the lens with my finger. The X's shutter speed seemed a bit sluggish, too, which resulted in a few blurry "action shot" photos. It isn't nearly as slow as the original Droid, however.

We'll update this section with a more in-depth look at the Droid X's camera after we put it through our subjective camera test. We'll also match it up head-to-head against other smartphones, including the iPhone 4, the HTC EVO 4G, and the Samsung Galaxy S, so check back tomorrow for full results.

Solid Performance

Powered by a 1GHz processor, the Droid X seemed fairly speedy. Applications launched quickly, and switching between applications and homescreens took very little time. The phone did lag in certain areas though. For example, scrolling through the main menu wasn't always smooth and responsive. And oddly, whenever I swiped to unlock the phone, it stuttered a bit.

Media-rich Web pages loaded quickly over Verizon's 3G network. I was impressed with how quickly photos and videos loaded on Of course, you can't play those videos until you get the Android 2.2 update, which will deliver Adobe Flash Player 10.1 (required to watch PCWorld's videos) to the X.

Call quality was very good over Verizon's network. My contacts were impressed with how clear my voice sounded, with little background noise--even during a blustery day in San Francisco. A few of my contacts sounded a bit tinny over the phone, but I'm not sure whether this was due to their phones or to the Droid X.

The Droid X is definitely one of the top smartphones coming out this summer. In features, design, and usability, it is right up there with the HTC EVO 4G and the iPhone 4. I wish that it were a little faster and that the camera ergonomics were a bit more user-friendly, but overall it is definitely one of the top Android phones available right now.

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Ginny Mies

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