Last week I gave up my old first-generation iPhone and got a Motorola "Droid X". Here are my first impressions after using it for about a week.

I'd never really spent more than a couple minutes using an Android phone so I was a little worried that I might regret my choice after a day or two. That definitely hasn't happened. The Droid X is a great phone and I haven't missed the iPhone once.

Here's where the Droid X outshines the iPhone:

  • Speed. It's very, very, very fast. I used to marvel at how snappy my wife's iPhone 3GS was, compared to my 2G iPhone, but when I used her phone a couple days ago I was surprised at how slow it felt. Apps like Twitter, Facebook, and email are running in the background, so when you launch their UI they've already got the latest information waiting for you, and the startup time feels much faster than the iPhone.
  • The "back" button in the browser seems to do what I want, more intuitively. For example if you click on a link that opens a page in a new window, when you're done reading that page and hit "Back" it will also close the extra window. On the iPhone you have to close those windows yourself.
  • Customization. Like a new desktop machine, you'll spend a while disabling the factory defaults and setting them up in a way that makes sense to you.
  • Navigation shortcut icons. This is a feature I never heard about, and it blew my mind when I ran across it. One thing I do at the end of the work day is check the bus schedule. I can add a shortcut to my home screen that brings up the most appropriate bus directions from my current location to my home address (or any other address if you prefer). In one click, I have the upcoming bus routes home no matter where I am in the city.
  • Notifications. Unlike the iPhone, which shows incoming text messages and calendar alerts as a modal dialog box, Android has a very elegant notification system where incoming alerts accumulate in a notification bar at the top of the screen. When you pull it down, you can click on any item and process it, then simply hit the Back button when finished to return to your previous app. All of this happens extremely smoothly and without any hiccups, it honestly feels like all these apps are running simultaneously without bogging down the phone in the least. One thing I hated about the iPhone was having to leave the current app (like Scrabble, which had a 45-second startup time) just to reply to a text message, only to have to reload the app from scratch again. In Android this just wouldn't happen.
  • The "Swype" keyboard is blowing my mind. You place your finger down, drag through the letters, then let up, and it picks the right word 95% of the time. Occasionally it will ask you to pick from four of five choices, one of them is usually the right one. And if you have to, you can still type individual letters like a normal on-screen keyboard. The fact that you can even replace such core elements of the OS (like the keyboard or home screen) with third-party tools is fantastic and entirely foreign to an iPhone user.
  • While I was amazed that there is no built-in notes application (not even anything that syncs with Google Docs), I installed a third-party app which blows away the Apple note-taking application. A coworker recommended 3banana (by and it works great, syncs to their web-based UI, and lets you customize the font and color scheme. (Finally I don't have to look at cheesy handwriting font on cheesy notebook paper anymore.)
  • Built-in FM radio. This is going to come in handy on the bus. It even detects over-the-air song identification data for some stations (like my local KEXP).
  • The screen is fantastic. Sure the iPhone may technically have a higher DPI, but the DPI on this phone is still incredible. Even when I'm squinting and trying my best, I still can't see the pixels on normal text (for example icon labels, browser text, etc). Text is perfectly smooth and crisp.

Android isn't perfect. Here are the areas in which the iPhone does it better:

  • Overall UI polish. The iPhone has a much more consistent UI throughout its applications and it seems like Apple had a team of designers obsessing over every little detail for years. Android apps, even the standard built-in applications, have a lot more variation from app to app, and seem like they could use some of the same attention to detail. (Supposedly this is coming with the Gingerbread release.)
  • Unread email counts ("badge" counters). It's nice to be able to see how many messages you have without having to go into the email app. (There are Android widgets that will do exactly this but you have to download them separately.)
  • Better Exchange support. The Droid X supports Exchange but it gets connection errors maybe 25% or 50% of the time - I'm not sure if this is their implementation or if it's a problem with my corporate email server, but the iPhone never seemed to have this problem (or at least hid it from me).

There are three Droid X failures that are so shocking I never would have expected them, and am still amazed they exist in the 2.1 release of the OS:
  1. In the email applications, you cannot zoom in or out on the email content, nor can you copy any text to the clipboard! When you get an HTML-formatted email that we're all used to now from mailing lists, often you have to scroll left-to-right to read the whole thing. I'm really amazed at this.
  2. The browser gets into a hung state about once every couple days. It's happened to me three times in the past week. You can navigate to a URL and it will not get any data, and will just give up after about 60 seconds or so. The only way to fix it is to kill the Browser task with a third-party task-killer application, then it works great again. Seriously, Google makes one of the best browsers around (Chrome), and this problem usually crops up when I'm using the iGoogle customized homepage. This one blows my mind, you'd think they would have run into this more by now, since it's their own browser on their own OS on their own website.
  3. The music support on the phone is suprisingly primitive. So far I've been unable to get the music player to find the cover art for any albums (ripped via iTunes). Also, when you connect the Droid X to the computer via USB, the default connection style is "PC Mode" which seems like it's just a filesystem, but when you copy files the songs get ordered alphabetically, losing the correct album order. To copy with the correct album order you have to set the phone into "USB Mode" when connecting to the PC. This seems error-prone and convoluted, especially since it gives you full access to the entire SD card without any protection. If Google wants grandmas and non-technical folks to use Android, they are going to have to spend serious effort on simplifying this feature.

Regarding music, I saw a lot of articles recommending an app called doubleTwist. The phone-based player seemed fine (although it didn't recognize album art either), but the PC-based software was phenomenally bad. I won't even go into the many bugs but can only say, do not use that software expecting it to be an iTunes replacement, it is extremely buggy.

The first couple days I was a little surprised with the amount of customization that I had to do, but eventually I realized it's no different than a new PC, and that's exactly what I wanted when I picked Android. Apple is great at what is does by default, but groans when you try to stretch beyond that. Android on the other hand takes some investment of time (and a little bit of technical skill) to fully set up, but once you do, you have something that works just like you want it to.