Six Months with a Motorola Droid

I purchased a Motorola Droid on the day they first became available from Verizon Wireless (VZW) – November 6, 2009. Because my previous contract had expired, I’d been toying with the idea of switching to AT&T to get an iPhone, but when the “Droid Does” ads began to appear I decided to wait and take a look at it (I really wanted to stay with VZW). I was on vacation with my wife in Williamsburg, VA, and had seen a Verizon Wireless store near our timeshare. I didn’t expect them to have any Droids left in stock, but they did. After playing with the display unit for a few minutes, I decided to take the plunge.

The phone that the Droid replaced was a Palm Treo 755p (the “p” meaning that it was running PalmOS instead of Windows Mobile, which would have been a 755w).  When I first got the Palm, I liked it a lot, but that was before the iPhone redefined what a smartphone/PDA should be.  Also, the Treo started have issues about a year before I got rid of it – it would fail to ring when a call came in, or it would ring once and then reboot, or freeze requiring a battery removal to remedy.  Even before the Treo’s phone functionality began to have problems, I’d already given up on its PDA functionality; I’d started using an iPod Touch to store my contacts and calender, and to track my billable client time and mileage.  Carrying two devices was beginning to get old, and that’s when I started thinking about an iPhone.  Thankfully, my reluctance to have AT&T as my carrier caused me to procrastinate long enough for the Droid to be released.

One of the first, very pleasant surprises was when I turned the phone on and entered my gmail account information and my gmail contacts started populating the contacts list on the phone. The Calendar app worked similarly. Then when I started the Facebook app and entered my credentials it asked if I wanted to merge my Facebook friends’ contact information with the contacts on the phone. I continued to customize the phone, set up my home screen, and download and configure apps (and some games) to make it as useful as possible. All was well with the universe, until…

Then the sound volume while using the speakerphone began to diminish. Not much at first, but soon it was enough to make the speakerphone function unusable. A while after that, I noticed that the volume during non-speakerphone voice calls was diminishing. I can still use the phone by putting it up to my ear if I’m in a very quiet environment, but the least bit of background noise renders the phone unusable. The only solution I’ve found for this is to use a Bluetooth headset (I use a Plantronics Voyager Pro Bluetooth headset). While this headset is excellent, it is sometimes inconvenient to need to have it in my ear preemptively.

I really like Android as a platform, even though there are things that could be easier or more transparent.  For example, synchronizing media (music, videos, podcasts) to and from the phone can be a bit clumsy (yes, there are apps that are designed to do this, but I haven’t yet found one that works as well as I’d like and in the way I’d like for it to work (Songbird comes pretty close)). I’ve been able to find apps to do the things that I really need to do as well as some widgets to tailor my user experience. And the Google voice navigation is the best I’ve found yet (well, okay, I’ve only used three other GPS-based navigation systems, so I make room for the possibility that there may be a better one out there).

I’ve tried out quite a few apps – too many to list here – but have settled on a fairly spartan set that provide the functions that I need. I use gbaHours to track time and mileage, and I can highly recommend it. I use Seesmic as my Twitter client just like I did on the iPod Touch. I use the OliveTree Bible reader and content, again, just like I did on the iPod. I downloaded the Astro File Manager for when I need to look at a text file or find a file on the SD card. I also bought Documents To Go, which I had on the Palm Treo, and I use it for Word documents and Excel sheets. I installed the Pandora, WordPress, and Tumblr apps but I don’t really use them much. The built-in email, calendar, contacts, and messaging clients are all good enough for my needs so I haven’t looked for replacements.

Overall I’ve been very happy with the Droid. It provides in one device what previously required two. There are high quality apps that provide the functions I need. The music player works well once there is media on the phone to play. Youtube videos look great. Battery life is decent (I recharge pretty much every night, but sometimes I can get two days one a single charge). The Android Market is easy to navigate, and it’s possible to download apps from other sources including creating them using the freely available Android Software Development Kit (SDK).

Still, the issue with the volume on voice calls is driving me crazy.  While searching for a solution I found that many others are having the same issue. Unfortunately, none of the recommended fixes worked for me – not even a hard reset of the phone. So, I’m now thinking about ordering an HTC Droid Incredible from VZW. The only thing holding me back from doing that is the allure of the upcoming HTC Evo 4G due to be available from Sprint on June 4, 2010, which has everything that the Droid Incredible has plus Wi-Fi hotspot functionality (even though the Droid Incredible has the capability, VZW does not yet seem to offer the option to turn it on).

I need to do something soon, and I’ll be sure to write a post about it when I do – stay tuned!

Update – June 15, 2010

I finally overcame my reluctance to enter a Verizon Wireless store and stopped at the one on north Rt. 13 in Salisbury, MD, last Friday (Jun 11, 2010). While the store was busy, it wasn’t nearly as busy as it’s been the last few times I was there. I checked in at the self-serve kiosk and then wandered around while I waited for my turn with a service rep. The only thing I really looked at was the HTC Droid Incredible, which looks really nice.

After only a few minutes I got to talk to a service rep. She was very pleasant, and, more importantly, seemed very competent. After I explained the problem and recounted what I’d done trying to fix it – including doing a hard reset – she took my phone, reviewed the apps I had installed, installed the free Advanced Task Killer, killed all the tasks on my phone, and then called my phone number from a phone in the store. She was, of course, able to reproduce the problem. After fiddling with a few settings and a couple of more test calls, she determined that it was a hardware problem and ordered a replacement phone for me (can’t say “new phone” because the replacement phones, at least in my experience, are always refurbished units).

Total time spent: 48 minutes. Total cost to me: $0.00.

I received the replacement phone on June 15, 2010, along with instructions on how to transfer my service and a prepaid label t return the old phone. I backed up everything on my old phone with My Backup Pro (find it in the Android Market), and I also did a separate backup from within gbaHours, which is the app I use to track time and mileage for my consulting business. Then I removed the battery and SD card from the old phone (the replacement came with neither of those or any of the other accessories, which was fine with me) and transferred them to the new phone. After following the instructions to move my service to the new phone, I anxiously made a test call with the speakerphone. Success! The speakerphone was loud and clear, just like when I first got the Droid back in November 2009. I then held my breath while I tried a voice call using the phone as a normal handset. Success again! Woo-hoo!

Well, ahem, let’s see how long this lasts…


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Andy Anderson

Andy Anderson

The Information Technology "Renaissance Man." With a formal education in Computer Science and over 33 years of professional experience, Andy lived through the personal computing revolution and into the Internet Era. While still providing and managing mainstream commercial products, he now specializes in applying Open Source solutions and virtualization technology to small business IT issues.

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