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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

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

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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 Seattlepi.com. "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.

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

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