Droid 3 arrives as Verizon drops unlimited data plans

Verizon’s (s vz) latest smartphone launch coincides with a move away from unlimited data plans that goes into effect on Thursday. The Motorola Droid 3 is available online now and in stores on July 14 for $199 with a 2-year contract or $459 with no contract. Existing Verizon customers can upgrade their phone and keep their current unlimited data plan, but new customers must choose from three tiered data plans ranging in capacity from 2 GB to 10 GB per month. The new Droid is a welcome refresh over its predecessors, with a faster processor and support for global voice and data networks.

Among the highlighted features and specifications:

  • 1 GHz dual-core processor
  • 4-inch display, 960×540 (qHD) resolution
  • Android 2.3 (s goog) (Gingerbread) operating system
  • 8 megapixel rear camera with 8x zoom, LED flash, autofocus, 1080p (30 fps) video capture
  • Front-facing camera for video chat
  • 16 GB of internal storage, microSD expansion slot supporting 32 GB additional storage
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • GSM/HSPA support in up to 200 countries

With the improved display, dual-core processor, and GSM support for those that need it, the Droid 3 looks to be a worthy upgrade over the Droid 2. Adding a dedicated number row on the keyboard is a nice touch as well. I do wonder if Motorola (s mmi) is at risk for the old RAZR effect, however. Motorola focused on numerous minor variations of that popular smartphone and designed little else that inspired during the time of the RAZR. On paper, the new Droid 3 looks to be the pinnacle of design and hardware for the Droid line, so where will Motorola take it now?

That question will be answered in the long run, but a more timely question awaits: How will new customers react to and deal with the new tiered data plans from Verizon with the purchase of a Droid 3? Based on the limited noise generated when AT&T (s t) dropped unlimited plans for new customers last year, I suspect that few will balk, but it’s worth watching. And to Verizon’s credit, the company made a second announcement on Thursday: It will shoot free text messages to smartphone customers when their data usage hits thresholds of 50, 75, 90, 100, and 110 percent of their monthly plan limits.