What’s the Best Android Phone for Verizon Right Now? Droid X

With new Google Android handsets hitting the scene on what feels like a weekly basis, it’s difficult for phone makers and carriers to differentiate between the various devices. Motorola has tried to stand out with hardware nuances like the odd-folding BackFlip and with software such as Motoblur. Both approaches gave it the “good college try,” but fell far short of the sales enjoyed by the first Android 2.0 phone, the Motorola Droid. For the first time however, Motorola has exceeded the original Droid with its successor, the Motorola Droid X, available on the Verizon Wireless network.

As the current owner of a Google Nexus One, I feared that Droid X and its 4.3-inch display would be too large for my small hands. I’m glad that Motorola proved me wrong — even with my small 5’5″ frame, the Droid X turns out to be quite comfortable to use and carry. The main reason is the width of the device. Even though this is a large phone in comparison to most competitors, it’s relatively narrow — perhaps 2 millimeters wider than my wife’s iPhone 3GS and is mostly thinner than my Nexus One as shown in the image gallery below. Yet the 854×480 resolution on the larger screen makes it joy to surf the web, watch videos or read e-books, even when outside in full sunlight.

Running Android 2.1, Droid X has plenty of horsepower to take advantage of the large LCD screen. Like similar high-end Android phones currently available, Motorola (s mot) chose a 1 GHz processor, but opted for a Texas Instruments (s txn) chip over one from Qualcomm (s qcom) — a brand commonly used in HTC handsets like my Nexus One or the Sprint EVO 4G (s s). (Related: our EVO vs Droid X head-to-head battle) A PowerVR SGX530 graphics chip does the heavy video lifting — between that and the CPU, Droid X is peppy overall and excels when handling video. For the benchmark geeks out there, I recommend this excellent AndroidCentral video comparing Droid X with the EVO and Nexus One — the video frame-rate tests are of particular note, showing how smooth and fluid video can be on Droid X.

Speaking of video, Droid X can capture plenty of it at a high quality. The phone has 8 GB of internal memory and includes a 16 GB removable microSD card. The 8 megapixel camera sensor is supported by two LED flash bulbs and can take still images or 720p high-def movies. The camera application is simple to use — as is the dedicated camera button on the side of Droid X — and offers more photography options than most average consumers could use, ranging from scene modes to an outstanding panoramic mode that stitches six images together for a super-wide view.

Motorola made it easy to get such images and videos to the big screen by adding a mini-HDMI jack to connect Droid X to an HDTV. Unfortunately, Droid X doesn’t include such a cable with the phone, so that’s an additional expense for those who want it. And that HDMI output is only useful for certain activities — you can’t pipe content from the included Blockbuster application or YouTube from handset to HDTV, for example. Motorola does include both a DLNA and Media Share application for media transfer and control, however.

The Blockbuster movie rental software is one of only a few pre-loaded applications. Unlike many other phones, Verizon didn’t load up the device with carrier-specific applications, which is a plus. And the software that is included or was created by Motorola is another benefit. Droid X accepts voice input natively with Android, but also works with a Nuance-powered (s nuan) voice control applications. The FM Radio software pulls in signals by using a connected headset and Skype Mobile — currently a Verizon exclusive — is pre-installed. And even though you won’t notice it upon first glance, Motoblur is there, but in a far more subtle manner.

Instead of the “in your face” social networking updates present on other Motoblur devices, Motorola opted to tame the experience with custom widgets that can be installed or ignored. Unless you configure them, the phone won’t use them. While this is a positive step, I ended up turning off the Motorola widgets after a day or two because third-party apps often provide more functionality or more information on a single display, and are often more customizable in terms of alerts. Motorola’s social widget for Twitter, for example, shows one tweet at a time — to see more, you tap it and then swipe along tweet by tweet.

One piece of software that impresses is the 3G Mobile Hotspot function. The service costs $20 per month for 2 GB of data, but turns the Droid X into a portable hotspot, able to share the 3G connection with five Wi-Fi devices. The software supports WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption for security and works fantastic. I’ve used it to surf the web on my iPad Wi-Fi (s aapl)and saw average speeds around 1.5 Mbps — plenty fast enough for browsing on a mobile device.

Of course, a mobile device is only as good as its input system and here’s where the combination of a large display and good software really shine. I’ve found it difficult to go back to my Nexus One from the Droid X because I can type so much faster on the bigger screen. The little bit of extra display makes a huge difference. And for those that struggle with an on-screen QWERTY keyboard, the Droid X includes Swype. This software allows you to trace words on the virtual keyboard — you only lift a finger between words. Swype says you can approach speeds of 50 wpm and although I can’t quite hit that mark, the software does make text entry very easy. Overall, navigation is better on the big screen too, helped by the physical buttons under the display — I like these better than the touch sensitive ones on my Nexus One.

At the end of the day, Droid X can’t just be a pocketable computer that plays media, takes pictures and surfs the web. After all, it’s a phone too, so voice quality and battery life are important. Droid X is a stellar phone, thanks in part to three different microphones that help reduce or even eliminate background noise. The speakerphone on the backside of Droid X is more than adequate too — when I put callers on the speakerphone, they were hard pressed to tell the difference. And battery life is quite good as well. The replaceable 1500 mAh battery should see all but the heaviest power-users through a full day. Keeping the display on or using the mobile hotspot often will drain the battery faster, of course. But Motorola has three customizable power-saving themes to help keep Droid X running.

Right now, I think the Droid X is the best Android handset available through Verizon Wireless, mainly because the display is larger and a higher resolution than the Droid Incredible (which is having supply issues). With Android, there’s always another hot new handset around the corner — like the Droid 2 or Samsung Galaxy S, for example — but if I was looking for an Android phone on Verizon, Droid X would be at the top of my list. Verizon says that Droid X will see an update to Android 2.2 by end of summer — bringing faster speeds and Adobe Flash support — which will make the device even more appealing.

Verizon is currently selling the Droid X for $299 with a new 2-year contract, but there is a $100 mail-in rebate bringing the net hardware cost down to $199. And although this won’t help current Droid owners, any Verizon customer with a contract expiring by the end of 2010 is eligible for this pricing. I answered initial Droid X questions last week, but will have the evaluation unit for a bit yet, so don’t hesitate to ask specific questions in the comments so I can try to address them.

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