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Google Droid is here: Can it go toe-to-toe with Apple’s iPhone?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Motorola, Droid, Android, GoogleThe flood of Google Droid mobile phone reviews in the past week suggests that if the two devices stepped into the ring together, it would end like the first Rocky movie. Like Apollo Creed, the iPhone would still be the champ by a split decision by virtue of its status as the smooth-stepping veteran in the marketplace (not to mention its friendship with iTunes), but the Droids that debuted Friday on Motorola and HTC devices have come out swinging and win a few key rounds.

In the iPhone, "Apple has created a tight product that is extremely elegant, fun to use and boasts not only a powerful piece of hardware but an almost infinite amount of third-party software," Ryan Kim blogged on "While it doesn’t match the iPhone’s simplicity and produce the same end result, Droid creates a hugely compelling package that is the best challenger yet to the iPhone." Kim’s bottom line: "The Droid doesn’t kill the iPhone so much as offer a credible alternative."

Each device includes features that the other can’t touch at this time. For the Droid, it’s the Verizon Wireless network (as opposed to the iPhone’s exclusivity with AT&T). For the iPhone, it’s a seamless link to Apple’s iTunes as well as a selection of about 100,000 applications through the Apple App Store (compared to the 12,000 apps available for the Google Android 2.0 operating system on which the Droids run). Cost is basically a wash, with the Motorola Droid at $200 (after a $100 mail-in rebate), the HTC Droid Eris at $100 (after a $100 rebate, although with fewer perks than Motorola’s version) and the iPhone running between $100 and $300, depending upon the model.

"The Droid’s external speaker is not only well integrated, it produces a richer sound than the iPhone’s," wrote Mercury News columnist Troy Wolverton. "It comes with a 16GB flash card that provides plenty of space for movies, pictures and music." However, Wolverton found the Motorola Droid’s phone call sound quality "disappointing" and because Android phones don’t work with iTunes and don’t come with anything like it, "getting songs and video onto the Droid can be much harder than with the iPhone." Wolverton’s bottom line: "I still think it comes up short against the iPhone, but I also think the Droid is probably the best smart-phone choice out there other than Apple’s iconic gadget."

The New York Times‘s David Pogue noted that the "Droid will sell like crazy, but 30 million iPhones is quite a head start." Ultimately, he wrote, the Droid wins on phone network, customizability, GPS navigation, speaker, physical keyboard, removable battery and openness (free operating system, mostly uncensored app store). The iPhone wins on "simplicity, refinement, thinness, design, Web browsing, music/video synching with your computer, accessory ecosystem and quality/quantity of the app store."

The Motorola Droid is the most powerful and fastest Google Android device to date, CNET weighed in, putting "some minor design issues and multimedia quibbles aside." The original T-Mobile G1 hit store shelves a year ago, debuting Google’s Android mobile operating system on an HTC handset. This next generation, according to CNET, embraces the openness of the Android platform and offers Verizon customers a smartphone that "certainly rivals the other touch-screen devices on the market."

As these the Droid and iPhone mature over time, expect at least as many sequels to this showdown as there were Rocky spin-offs.

Motorola Droid image © Motorola, Inc.

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  1. 1. fyngyrz 5:09 pm 11/6/2009

    so… what you’re saying is that they’re not equal at all, with a droid phone offering the hope of apps in the future, and the iPhone actually having them; the droid offering the hope of music and video in the future, and the iPhone actually having them; the droid devices large and clunky, and the iPhone sleek and stylish. But droid is open, like linux. Which, despite being (a) open and (b) free has been utterly unable to get past a dismal 3rd in the OS marketplace.

    Right. So, an iPhone it is.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Michael F 5:59 pm 11/6/2009

    Your transparent and biased hatred for a device you’ve undoubtedly never even seen in person, let alone touched or explored, comes off as a little pathetic.

    You like your iPhone. Good for you. No one cares. Just sayin’.

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  3. 3. candide 6:13 pm 11/6/2009

    The NY Times Pogue should not even be mentioned – if its not Apple he doesn’t like it.

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  4. 4. mbdsta 9:20 pm 11/6/2009


    As Obi-Wan said "This isn’t the droid you’re looking for. Move along."

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  5. 5. ishogun 12:25 am 11/7/2009

    There was a scientist who had spent a lifetime trying to make fecal matter into butter. After 20 years he submitted report to the Academy.
    "The significant progress has been achieved. I can spread it on a slice of bread like butter, but it still stinks". Somehow the story of iphone and iphone killers is very reminiscent of this one. They are almost like iphones, but still stink!

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  6. 6. DaveMart 3:45 am 11/7/2009

    Wow! A ‘review’ of the Droid which doesn’t even mention that it is also a sat-nav for your car!

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  7. 7. Aus_Roh 5:04 am 11/7/2009

    Finally, let’s hope this is the start of the end to the dominance of the iPhone. Not that the iPhone is rotten, just the company behind it. Apple II was once the dominant personal computer, but possibly if it were not for iPods or iPhones (or the 1997 Microsoft bail-out), Apple company would be appropriately extinct by now. Why? Despite Steve Jobs acting like a megalomaniac having inward vision of seeing every world personal computer being his hardware, with his OS, his supply-chain, other people wanted to make computers too, with the mature knowledge of the value shared interoperability. Enter Google Droid. Enter Motorola Droid, followed by HTC Droid Eris, followed by many more, with Droid apps for all. – Well I hope this is the situation. BTW, love the sensible Motorola keyboard & screen combo.

    “The two aren’t equal at all.” True. One is from the company of Apple II, and one is connected to a much larger world of interoperability – or many of us wish it to be with good-will.

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  8. 8. unconfused 11:48 am 11/7/2009

    I’m sure others will say the same thing, but your review is inaccurate because it isn’t the ‘Google Droid’. It is the Verizon Droid, with this particular phone by Motorola…using Google’s Android mobile OS. While with the iPhone you may not have to be specific, you will with Android based phones. I’m sure HTC wouldn’t appreciate you attributing SenseUI to Google, after all.

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  9. 9. jarred7747 12:02 pm 11/7/2009

    I’ve got a G1 and its way better than the iPhone. In my opinion the only draw back to the G1 is that it has a smaller app selection although every app that I could want is still available. Apple stuff is for novice users who don’t desire to learn how to use a complex device. The G1 device is more powerful and runs on a better OS. It’s has a longer learning curve but pay’s off in performance. Also the thicker device is due to the slide out keyboard which I wouldn’t give up for anything, it totally rocks.

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  10. 10. Kasubijo 2:12 pm 11/7/2009

    @ jarred 7747
    that could have been the least effective statement supporting your ridiculously crappy g1. Calling the iPhone a device for novice users only shows that you yourself are a novice. If you weren’t, you woul realize that all apple devices allow just as much customization an control as and droid. Just like @aus_roh, it seeems you simply lack the understanding that the fact us, apple designs and makes better devices than anyone in their field.

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  11. 11. hotch 3:39 pm 11/7/2009

    I have the original android and love it. Look up google navigator and you will be sold instantly.

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  12. 12. DrPhysics 6:26 pm 11/7/2009

    Apparently you didn’t read the article. The author pointed out that one big advantage the Android phones have is access to the Verizon network. I actually just went and looked at phones today. Your contention that the droid phones are "clunky" is simply wrong. The Eris is very sleek and from a design point of view is very much on par with the iphone.

    Further, you may not realize this but a lot of people don’t listen to music on their freaking phone.

    You are simply missing the whole point. Yes, the iphone is a great phone. However, what happened to the Apple computer is soon going to happen to the iphone. The Android platform will be offered on a variety of devices and in the not too distant future Android will be ran on many more phones than there are iphones.

    I for one will soon be getting the Eris. Do you know why? I am getting it because Verizon offers it. You are a full if you think the only factor is the phone itself. If I had a choice on the Verizon network between the iphone and the Android phone then it would be close, probably a coin toss. But give google a few years at this and do you really think that the google machine won’t provide an equal alternative to the iphone???

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  13. 13. JimTheHateMonger 6:47 pm 11/7/2009

    I keep seeing this statement that "Apple stuff is for novice users who don’t desire to learn how to use a complex device", plastered all over tech boards in these "insert phone model here" VS "Iphone" discussions, and I have no idea what that means. Is that somehow supposed to indicate that whichever handset is deemed the current "iphone killer", is a more complicated or intricate device? And if that is the case, why does being more complicated or intricate make it better? Isn’t the goal of a great product to be as consumer friendly as possible?

    Or does it mean that since the iphone is so user friendly, and not a hassle to use, that this in some way is it’s detriment? What, in this case makes the device you are arguing for so, "Complex"?

    By this reasoning that you offer, you could say that a handle with a shovel attached to it is for those who don’t desire to dig a hole with a more complex device, like a handle, minus the shovel.

    I have been playing with and hacking phones for quite some time, back to some of the early palm and windows mobile os smartphones, and have tinkered with MANY not-so user-friendly devices, so I can really apprecieate the clean design and ease of use of the iphone handset.

    I also like the potential of the Android os, but as far as hardware, in my humble opinion, it’s not fully realzed yet. It’s close, VERY close, but still not as polished and user friendly as the iphone. Perhaps it the iphones screen technology that makes it unnaturally easy to navigate throught the device; or perhaps it’s itunes integration that gives you such easy access to all of the media you could want. Whatever "it" is, whether you like Apple or not, they have set the bar with the iphone, which is why you see so many similarly designed devices taking aim at the iphone’s market.


    Enjoy your handle.



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  14. 14. JimTheHateMonger 6:52 pm 11/7/2009

    I completely agree with that. The android os has ALOT of promise, and I think once the hardware that it runs on can match and surpass Apples device, it will be a gadget to reckon with.

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  15. 15. el user 7:55 pm 11/7/2009

    Droid looks like a bit like Side Kick and keyboards are for Luddites. Apple is in a league of their own, in terms user interface and style. It’s an intelligence test – smart people choose Apple. The rest suffer with inferior computing and communication devices.

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  16. 16. Cosmic 8:45 pm 11/7/2009

    I have a G1 and it has music and everything I see on my friend’s iphone including the periodic table. Like jarred, I enjoy the slide out keyboard.

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  17. 17. ds 4:13 am 11/8/2009

    Now that Android based phones are coming out, I think we’ll be seeing some truly revolutionary apps coming out. A side effect of Apple’s "quality policing" and paid development plans is that it stifles the technology. It’s amazing how much the Mac has "borrowed" from Linux, so those iPhone-oPhiles shouldn’t worry too much about their product losing out.

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  18. 18. xlestattx 6:22 am 11/8/2009

    Ok seriously, I use my phone for two things–talking and texting. Thats it, period. No internet surfing because I have a computer at home that does that for me and I don’t have the obsessive urge to check a facecrook or twit-nerd page every 5 seconds. No music because when I’m working out, my MUCH smaller and MUCH more convenient MP3 player does that for me in a comfy little armband. No pictures because why do you need to capture every meaningless moment of day-to-day life with your bloody freaking phone?

    PDA style phones are really only necessary for people whose jobs demand them. Everyone else is just wasting their money and watching their life through a 3" phone screen rather than LIVING it. Put your damn phone down whether it’s an iphone or droid and go live for life for pete’s sake.

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  19. 19. proadventurer 11:00 am 11/8/2009

    if there wasn’t and iPhone there wouldn’t be this article. Before the iPhone I had not interest in a bumberry. If these phones can sync seamlessly with my OS and I don’t have to spend hours dinkink around with them to get this or that t work I’ll check them out. I still can’t believe people discuss networks like they are important or different. They all suck and want you to spend at least $60 a month on service.

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  20. 20. hotblack 12:37 pm 11/8/2009

    I love how emotionally charged discussion gets about… cellphones. It’s as if people have their whole identities rolled up in them, and feel personally offended if it is insinuated that their preferred device is less than the greatest thing ever conceived, or that ever will be.

    1. The iPhone will eventually be made available on other carries, possibly as early as 2010, possibly as late as 2012, due to various contracts on provider & technology.

    2. The Droids will have time to catch up, and this is a good start. The interface gets a little more organized, the devices will get sleeker and more durable, etc…

    3. Apple has completely shifted from the company it was 6 years ago. Saying it’s the same company it was 20 years ago is beyond absurd. They went from a dismal failure on the brink of collapse to one of the most successful companies in the world by making products that are ultimately enjoyable for people to use. At this point, they’re behind only MS, who is increasingly nervous about the market share they’re steadily losing. You can dislike of Apple’s past, or its North Korea-like approach, but to deny that they’ve been making bold moves & reaping the rewards, you’d have to be blindfolded.

    4. AT&T’s network sucks. Verizons billing dept sucks. Sprint is twiddling their thumbs. T-Mobile needs to get it together. This is why China is 5 years ahead of us in tech.

    5. All these devices will likely be in the garbage in 10 years time, and all this bickering deemed pointless.

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  21. 21. engg2000 12:57 pm 11/8/2009

    FYI, sony has an Android submission as well, not available till the first quarter of 2010 but it’s spec’s look impressive.

    Link to this
  22. 22. samiup 3:22 pm 11/8/2009

    actually, iTunes is an inconvenient of the iPhone, not a positive point as some reviewers claim it is.

    and honestly the iTunes argument the most ridiculous argument ever. because unless you are a die hard iFanBoy or a technology illiterate, you will notice that iTunes is actually not much of a good software, its buggy, notorious for its incompatibility with many versions of windows and even with many macBooks, it is not very user friendly and it does not give the user any control over his/her own files which is pathetic.

    if it was not for Apple pushing iTunes and dictating it to its users, the weak software wouldn’t have survived in an open software market.

    somehow, Apple successfully convinced its thin user base that limitation, dictation and heavy censorship are synonymous to performance, security and quality.

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  23. 23. geauxp 4:24 pm 11/8/2009

    not relevant to these devices but the funniest web page i’ve read in a long time is mr. maddox’s "the iphone is a piece of…"

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  24. 24. djsxxxx 5:45 pm 11/8/2009

    I have an iPod Touch (iPhone minus the phone) and a G1. I got the G1 because I have a T-Mobile family plan and didn’t want to switch. I love my iPod Touch and still use it a lot for entertainment but as a smart phone, I am just as glad I ended up with the G1. I like the keyboard, the ability to switch out batteries (picked up a couple of stock ones for $6 each) and the seamless integration with Google apps which are worlds better than Outlook. Like jarred7747 I’ve found apps that work well for anything I’ve wanted to do virtually all free. The Google voice search is amazing. It also didn’t take any more effort to learn to use the G1 than the iPod Touch. Apple makes some of the best software and hardware (certainly the slickest) available but they are so monopolistic they just shoot themselves in the foot. They may (or may not) have the best devices/software in the market but if they don’t open up they will end up a distance second in the smart phone market just like they are in for microcomputers.

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  25. 25. jack.123 6:03 pm 11/8/2009

    I am still looking for one, for the price that would do things I can’t mention here ,although a tricorder type device would be something fun to play with.

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  26. 26. Matisaro 11:17 pm 11/8/2009

    Fyngyrz: Spot on man, who needs these new Automobiles, promises of going places in the future, when horses go there today, promises of hayless fuel which rely on lol "gas stations" when hay grows everywhere. Horse drawn carriage it is.

    When you fault innovation on the beginning of its journey simply because it is beginning you stifle innovation. Is the droid as bold an improvement as the automobile was to the horse, no, but if your entire critique of the device is that it is new then you are as foolish as those who decry innovation in all its forms.

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  27. 27. raynman75006 4:46 am 11/9/2009

    How can this review miss the vast 3.7" screen (854×480 pixels – wow), the beautiful slide out keyboard, the incredibly sleak hardware design, the 5 megaixel camera (WITH FLASH), the ability to multiple programs at once (vs. apples’ inability), and the incredibly easy-to-use Android OS?

    Not to mention better battery life (which is new for android devices).

    This review is a joke written by apple fanboys… seriously.

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  28. 28. jmarbas 9:45 am 11/9/2009


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  29. 29. jmarbas 9:52 am 11/9/2009

    @Kasubijo My first computer was the apple IIc..which is now dead. I wanted to buy and Apple GS in 87 but alas that line is now…dead. So is the apple mac…its dead. The ipod which was born a few years ago…which is a short time in computer years will be dead soon too…give it about 10 years. And oh my young jedi…your precious iphone…just like EVERY SINGLE APPLE DEVICE AND COMPUTER THAT HAS EXISTED …will also soon become a thing of the past.

    Meanwhile unix which has been around before the apple has now morphed into linux which has itself morphed into android….which will eventually superseed the iphone.

    Please read up on your history before you try to spew out your prejudices towards the Apple corporation.

    spewing out a comment such as "…apple devices allow just as much customization an control as and droid…" shows that you have never used the android operating system…and shows to everyone reading this that you are not only extremely ignorant….but in fact A LIAR.

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  30. 30. RockyMissouri 5:21 pm 11/11/2009

    I LOVE my iPhone-I never thought I would enjoy it so much. The technology is humbling…

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  31. 31. RockyMissouri 5:29 pm 11/11/2009

    I am thoroughly enjoying this technology, and as I am an older person I am easily intimidated by gadgetry! But what I discovered, is that am ENJOYING it and encourage anyone to use it. I have found that I am more capable of learning as ever.

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