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Motorola Droid Pro Review

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The Motorola Droid Pro represents Motorola’s latest attempts to take Android into the enterprise space and tackle incumbent Research in Motion. Positioned as a BlackBerry challenger, the Motorola Droid Pro brings the consumer-based Android ecosystem along with a BlackBerry-inspired keyboard design that Motorola hopes will seduce corporate users into switching to its design, and for the most part, Motorola did a good job of balancing work and play to achieve a balance between Android and Blackberry. In the several months that I’ve been using the device, I have been pleased with the Droid Pro’s performance, but there are some caveats that you’ll find out in this review.

Video: Motorola Droid Pro Demo at CTIA Fall Unveiling, October 2010

Hardware:
The Motorola Droid Pro is a glossy smartphone that’s surrounded by a chrome band going around the sides of the device. The front side of the device is completely engulfed by the 3.1-inch portrait-oriented HVGA capacitive touchscreen and the Blackberry-style keyboard with keys that have beveled edges to aid in texting and typing.

Video: Motorola Droid Pro Quick Look Video Review

Right convenience key

BlackBerry users will be right at home with this device. There’s a power button at top along with a 3.5 mm headphone jack. On the left hand side you have the volume rocker and a micro USB charge and sync port. On the right hand side, there’s a nice quick key, or as BlackBerry users call a convenience key, that will allow users to configure what action to assign to the button. On my device, I had set up the convenience key to open my Gmail app so I don’t have to fumble around with the touchscreen.

Display:
The devie has a 3.1-inch portrait-oriented screen with a resolution of HVGA. While most high-end Android smartphones ship with either a FWVGA or WVGA screen, the lower HVGA resolution looks good as it is on a smaller display. I had no problem with text, except smaller fonts, but you can always use the device’s capacitive touch display to perform a pinch-to-zoom gesture to enlarge what you’re looking at. Webpages rendered fine and e-books from Kindle, Nook, and Google all rendered fine.

Keyboard:
The device supports a software keyboard when oriented in landscape mode (with the use of the on-board accelerometer) and hardware keyboard. The nice thing about the Droid Pro is that you get auto-complete and auto-correct on both the software and hardware keyboard. That’s a big plus as many devices don’t automatically check and correct your spelling when using a hardware keyboard.

The keys on the hardware keyboard are arranged in a contiguous arrangement with beveled edges around the keys, similar to those on a BlackBerry Bold, Torch or Tour keyboard. This really aids in typing. My concern with the keyboard, at least on the unit that I had, is that the keys are a little bit stiff to press, which gave me finger-fatigue after composing an email. While the keys offer similar travel to the keys on a BlackBerry Bold or Tour, the keys on the Droid Pro were a bit stiffer and harder to press.

Another small issue that I had was that the last row of the keyboard, the one with the spacebar, was too close to the bottom edge of the Droid Pro. While this made for a cleaner, sleaker look and shows that Motorola made good use of space, as a BlackBerry user, I find that if there was a bit more room at the bottom to create a lip, it would be more comfortable to rest my fingers and reach for the lower rows of keys while holding the device. As the Droid Pro is a portrait-oriented device, meaning that it feels longer with a longer screen, the device will feel a bit top heavy if you’re holding the device at the bottom while typing.

The experience with the software keyboard is similar to that on a Droid X.

Video: Software Keyboard and Text Input on a Droid X

Navigation Buttons:
The Droid Pro is equipped with four capacitive touch navigation buttons between the screen and the keyboard. Those buttons, from left to right, are for: Menu, Home, Back, and Search. These buttons are typical on most Android devices and are of the same layout as those on the Droid X and Droid 2 so users upgrading from any of those devices should be familiar. However, the keys are a bit different than on the Droid 1, which offers the four buttons in the following layout: Home, Menu, Back, and Search. Users upgrading from a Droid 1 will need some time adjusting to the keys here.

Unlike newer BlackBerry smartphones, the Droid Pro does not have an optical trackpad for navigation. That means that you’ll have to interact more with the screen. This won’t be a big deal for most users, but I can imagine cases where an optical trackpad would be more handle, like scrolling through lists or emails where you don’t want to take your fingers too far off the keyboard and up the longer portrait-oriented screen to flick through. For most users, this will be a non-issue but BlackBerry lovers will miss having a trackball or trackpad.

User Interface:
Motorola had employed a widgets UI on top of Android 2.2 Froyo. While this is similar to the MOTO BLUR UI, Motorola says that the UI on the Droid Pro is not MOTO BLUR.

The nice thing about the widgets is that if you don’t want to use them, you can always remove them or replace them with downloadable widgets from Android Market. Also, the widgets are re-sizable, meaning that if you can fit more widgets onto a screen if you need to by making them smaller.

The widgets UI is similar to that found on the Droid X and Droid 2.

Video: Widgets UI on Motorola’s Android Smartphone

Additionally, the device supports up to 7 home screens.

As the device runs Android 2.2, Adobe Flash 10.1 Mobile is supported.

Camera:
The Droid Pro, like the Droid 2, supports a 5-megapixel camera with dual LED flash. The downside is that Motorola had chosen to not support HD video recording. That means the highest resolution video that can be captured on the Droid Pro is VGA.

Motorola made some good UI enhancements to the camera’s user interface. Like on the Droid X and Droid 2, the camera provides for effects and settings adjustments to both video and still image captures.

Video: Software–Camera UI Enhancements Made by Motorola on Droid X

Video: Video Camera on Droid X–Note: Droid Pro does not record in 720p HD

Profiles:
A nice feature that Motorola had included with the Droid Pro is the use of profiles. There are three profiles that you can configure–work, home, and weekend. Under each of these profiles, you can customize the ringtone, background and wallpaper, widgets, shortcuts, and home screens. That way, for instance, if you’re at work, you can set the work theme to be more professional and set up useful widgets, like the calendar widget. When you’re at home, you can set up a more personal theme with widgets such as Motorola’s social networking widget, which aggregates your social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

World Phone Capabilities:
As the Droid Pro is a world phone, the device is slated to work in 220 countries. It comes equipped with a SIM card and a charger with charging tips and adapters to work in various countries. The Droid Pro will support Verizon Wireless’s CDMA network at home with 3G EV-DO support. Internationally, it supports quad-band GSM/EDGE and tri-band HSPA.

The phone does theoretically support AT&T’s network in the States, though because it is software- and SIM-locked, you cannot use it with AT&T even if you unlock the SIM.

Speed:
Powered by a 1 GHz processor, the device feels zippy. There were no noticeable slow downs.

Storage:
The device comes with a 2 GB storage card and 2 GB of internal storage, though only about 1 GB is accessible to the end-user. The 2 GB storage card can be swapped out with an optional micro SDHC card, of which 32 GB is the maximum card.

Email:
Email seemed to be one of those areas that drained battery life quicker than anticipated. While setting up Gmail accounts was flawless and provided for a great push user experience, setting up POP/IMAP accounts and Exchange accounts seemed to diminish the battery extremely quick. With multiple accounts of just Gmail providing moderate to heavy push email delivery, I averaged around 10 hours on a given day. However, when I removed Gmail and added several Exchange accounts, I found that my battery life plummeted to about 3 to 6 hours on a single charge, far less than acceptable for an enterprise system.

It’s unclear though if the stunted battery life with multiple Exchange accounts is specific to the Droid Pro, Motorola’s Android phones, or Android phones in general. I have repeated the multiple Exchange account configurations on various Android smartphones made by HTC and Samsung and have found the shortened battery life to be true.

That said, using a single Exchange account won’t be as demanding on your battery and you should be able to last about 8-10 hours on a single charge. The email client that Motorola had provided with the Droid Pro is similar to that on the company’s Droid X and Droid 2, and provides a number of customizations including style options, font sizes, and text fonts. From bold to italics and bulleted lists to varying fonts of different sizes, you can create a rich email message like you could on a desktop.

Consumers who are looking for a messaging friendly device will be pleased with the Droid Pro, especially those who use the device for SMS or Gmail. The device provides good push support thanks to Google and the keyboard makes text entry easy.

The nice thing about email is that if you set up an Exchange, IMAP, or POP account, you can view it in Motorola’s Universal Inbox along with SMS messages, and social messaging updates from Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. The downside, though, is that Gmail messages won’t be integrated as Gmail accounts are handled through Google’s Gmail app, unless you set it up as an Exchange account (via Google Sync), or a POP/IMAP account, though that may result in diminished battery life as mentioned before. Setting up Gmail as a POP or IMAP account also would negate the push benefits of Gmail and would result in pull emails where the Droid Pro would check with the server on an interval basis to see if there are new emails.

Phone:
Phone calls sounded decent on the Droid Pro and the rear-facing loudspeaker sounded clear and loud. With the Droid Pro, I did experience a number of dropped calls, and I am not sure if that issue is due to using the phone in a relatively weak 3G reception at my house, or if it is due to the phone trying to connect a data connection and try to fetch emails in the background while I am on a call. Sometimes, I did notice that calls either dropped or failed on the network when the phone tried to switch between a 2G and 3G network connection. Other times, it seems that something that required a data connection was trying to refresh in the background, forcing the dropped call for the data connection to go through as the Droid Pro cannot handle simultaneous voice and data over 3G on Verizon’s CDMA network. Whatever the reason, it is something that could potentially be fixed via a software update and needs to be fixed if the device is targeted at conference-calling business professionals.

Enterprise Enhancements:
Motorola had made some enhancements to the Droid Pro that will help make IT administrators happy with features such as remote wipe and additions to the Calendar app that will allow users to propose alternative times for meetings.

Battery Life:
Perhaps the biggest downside of the Droid Pro is the battery life. While BlackBerry smartphones have long been known to be strong on the battery life department, the challenger Droid Pro falls short. On a BlackBerry, I’d get anywhere between 2-3 days of battery life with just Web browsing and push email. On a Droid Pro, battery life falls to about 8-10 hours. If you’re a heavy talker, push email user, Exchange user, or non-Gmail user, I’d highly recommend carrying around a spare battery or charger.

The device utilizes the same 1390 mAh battery that’s on the Droid 1 and Droid 2. Users of those device can use their existing battery as a spare if they need to.

Conclusion:
Motorola had placed a lot of thought into the Droid Pro in creating an Android BlackBerry killer. An attractive design, usable keyboard, and the multimedia-friendliness of Android help the Droid Pro stand out in the sea of smartphones. As a challenger to RIM, the Droid Pro could improve on battery life, which is the device’s biggest drawback in a corporate environment. Those who prefer a solid one-piece candy-bar design in a smartphone will find a lot to love about the Droid Pro, especially those who favor a keyboard, and more specifically a front-facing keyboard.

Motorola placing Android on a BlackBerry form factor breathes new life into the historically stoic, stodgy form factor. With a nice camera UI, games through Android Market, a capable Web browser, and multimedia capabilities, the Droid Pro shines in the consumer department. The phone is neither all work nor all play; the profiles feature will allow users to set up their smartphones to balance work and life. The Droid Pro will be able to multi-task work, play, life, and fun no matter where you take it in the world as it is a 3G world phone.

In the few months that I’ve spent with the Droid Pro, I’ve been extremely pleased with the device. As a BlackBerry user, I enjoy having a nicely designed front-facing keyboard with the Android OS.

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

7 Comments

  1. JR

    02/02/2011 at 8:44 pm

    I would love to see a front-facing camera.

  2. Anonymous

    02/03/2011 at 6:12 am

    The droid pro IS NOT a good replacement for the Blackberry. The DP is a computer for Apps first and a phone and email machine second. There are several key differences not mentioned here:
    1. The DP is NOT email-oriented like the BB. With the BB, you get an email notification, pick up your BB and you are looking at the latest email received. With the DP, you pick it up, unlock the phone, navigate to the email app, open the email folder, and select an email to read. Way more cumbersome.
    2. The email app that comes with the DP is awful. Maybe it works better with Outlook email, but interfacing and working with Cox was nearly impossible, I had to resort to a 3rd party app.
    3. The DP polls for email every few minutes (depending on how you set it). If you run a PC with email app that does the same thing, they may conflict, locking the other app out for a short period of time. There were never any conflicts with BB.
    4. Apps like my real time stock quotes/charts lose connectivity on the BB and are unable to reconnect without exiting and restarting. This could be app-specific, but it seems to happen with other apps as well, and with general things like wi-fi. I never had this problem on the BB.
    5. I want to set a specific aural (non-vibrate) ringtone for text notifcation from a specific source like I had with BB, that persists even if phone is in vibrate mode. With DP, this does not seem possible.

  3. FNM

    02/08/2011 at 4:16 pm

    Unfortunately, I enjoyed using the Droid Pro as my main business phone until the past two weeks when I’ve encountered the Google-generated problem of sending sms texts to one recipient, which are arbitrarily sent to entirely new recipients without any warning. Seeing as how Google has been in no hurry to fix this and have not determined a timeline for when they will, it has essentially rendered my ability to text useless since I cannot risk having a personal text sent to a business contact by mistake. Ridiculous.

  4. Allan

    09/22/2011 at 12:27 am

    The battery life is horrendous.

  5. hellokitty2011

    10/05/2011 at 9:12 pm

    I complete agree with the above comments. I “inherited” this phone from my dad who complianed the battery life was short and icons are small.  I thought it was just because he was 78.  But, alas, battery lasts about 1/6th of the time of my blackberry.  I have to plug it in at least twice a day instead of every 3 days.  You can’t tell if you get a new e-mail, new voice mail or new text, unlike the blackberry which shows an alert.  I miss my crackberry a lot now. Too bad the roller ball is not working anymore as I feel like I have regressed in phones instead of progressing to a more sophisticated phone.

  6. motorola droid

    01/08/2012 at 8:24 pm

    Thank you for the write up, it was super helpful. I’ve yet to see anyone, personally, using this phone which is why I was curious about it when I heard of it.

  7. Pingback: Android Smartphones With Physical Keyboards Aren't Dead Yet

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