What You Need to Know About the Droid

droid-by-motorola-front-open-vzw-eye1Verizon Wireless (s VZ) launches the Motorola (s mot) Droid this Friday (as if you hadn’t heard), and the carrier is opening “many” of its 2,000 retail outlets early (7 a.m. or 8 a.m. local time) to accommodate what it hopes is a rush of new customers. Call your local store for hours if you’re interested in being among the first to get your hands on the gadget. Meanwhile, here are a few other things you should keep in mind if you’re considering going Droid:

  • The phone will sell for $199 with a two-year agreement and a $100 mail-in rebate. Users who don’t want to wait until Friday or deal with the hassle of mailing in for a rebate can pre-order the device at Best Buy, where the rebate will be applied instantly.
  • As our friends at BillShrink have illustrated, expect to pay $110 a month for a mid-range plan with 450 900 minutes of talk time for the Droid, or $150 for an unlimited plan. Both rates match AT&T’s (s t) offerings for iPhone service.
  • The Droid comes with a 16GB SD card to help offset its meager 256 MB of on-board memory. For more memory you’ll need to pick up a 32GB SD card.
  • Android Market’s inventory of 10,000+ apps pales compared to Apple’s (a aapl) 100,000-title-plus App Store, but it’s a solid start for the year-old storefront.
  • Google (s goog) apps such as Maps, Latitude, Voice Search, Gmail and Calendar are included, and Droid is the first phone to feature the impressive new Google Maps Navigation.
  • The Droid is the first handset to run Android 2.0 (dubbed “Eclair”), which includes new features such as a combined inbox for multiple email accounts, a virtual keyboard with improved layout and word completion, and “Quick Contact,” which enables a user to call, email or send an SMS simply by clicking on a contact or photo.

Whether the Cupertino gang has anything to fear in the Droid is a matter of some debate. But Motorola’s handset clearly has the firepower to move the needle in the fast-moving smartphone world, and I expect the gadget to sell very well this holiday season in the wake of Verizon’s marketing blitz.