Droid the sleek new telephone

For a while I was the coolest nerd on the block last week because I had a review unit of Verizon’s “Droid” phone on my desk before the official release date.

Behold: The Droid. Will this be the ‘iPhone killer’?

For a while I was the coolest nerd on the block last week because I had a review unit of Verizon’s “Droid” phone on my desk before the official release date.

This prompted lots of visits from long-lost friends and plenty of Star Wars jokes (“This is the droid I was looking for . . . ”) but finally after the flock left I was left with a few days to poke around on the phone myself.

My conclusion was this was the first phone since my old bag phone that I really want to buy myself.

Sure, I have read all the hype about this being an “iPhone killer” and all that and I am not quite in that crowd. But what the Droid has that the iPhone does not have is significant. And that “thing” is the Verizon network.

When I talk to iPhone users, most of them are pretty happy with the phone (aside from the lack of a replaceable battery) but are pretty miserable about AT&T, the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the United States.

Users whine that the data service is slow or unreliable, that 3G is spotty; that MMS is unavailable. So for me, the latest battle is less about the phone and more about the network.

Enter the Droid, the sleek new baby from Verizon. It’s running the Android Operating System from Google, the huge open-source gorilla on the planet, up against notoriously closed and private Apple. Who will win the application development race? All intelligent bets will be on Google here, at least in terms of volume if not quality.

The phone itself is lovely. The gleaming black Droid has a beautiful high-res screen, multi-tasking apps, a free turn-by-turn GPS navigational system from Google (that actually works) and both a touch keypad and hardware keypad, trumping the iPhone.

The main appeal of this phone for me is the screen, which is breathtakingly lovely (854 x 440 pixels compared to the iPhone’s 480 x 320)

Browsing the Web is actually fun on this screen, compared to the pain of my Windows Mobile phone. More than once trying to find a movie show time on my Web-enabled phone, I ended up just driving to the theater instead of enduring my phone’s screen. With the Droid, the Web is actually useful again.

The interface is fantastic and my office e-mail (on Microsoft Exchange) installed like a champ.

My home email (a typical POP3 account) installed in seconds. All worked as expected.

Music and multimedia was good but this is where the iPhone will win the day simply because Apple has iTunes, the best music store and product out there today, compared with Amazon.com on the Droid.

However, the Droid has a five megapixel camera (remember when those cost a couple grand by themselves?) and a flash with 16 gigs of storage (upgradeable to 32 gigs.)

In summary, this is a very cool computer that happens to be a good phone. Google, Motorola and Verizon have worked together to make a fine device that is worthy of your look.

The Droid will cost US$200 with a two-year agreement and it’s well worth that on the current market.

James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is jim@cyberdads.com

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