As smart phones get bigger and brighter touch screens, the line between handsets and tablet computers has gotten blurry.
The Droid X ($200 with a Verizon Wireless contract and rebate), the latest addition to Motorola Inc.'s popular Droid smart phone line, purports to be on the handset side. In reality, the phone walks a tightrope between the two categories by packing a 4.3-inch touch screen, speedy processor and an 8-megapixel camera in a matte black package that runs Google's Android operating system.
All this screen real estate is great for multimedia fans, as videos, websites and photos look fantastic on the Droid X. And the phone has oodles of good features, too. Still, it is a phone, and chances are you'll want to make a call at some point — something I found rather awkward due to its shape and size.
Let's start with the screen. At 4.3 inches diagonally, it may not sound huge, but for a cell phone this is fairly enormous. For comparison, the iPhone 4's generously sized screen is 3.5 inches and the original Droid phone, which Motorola released late last year, is 3.7.
The Droid X's screen isn't just large; it's also brilliant and crisp. It's really fun to watch videos on it, read Facebook status updates from little on-screen "widgets," check e-mails and poke around online. Colors look bright, and text is easy to read.
The handset, which comes out July 15, excels at video playback in particular. I tested this by trying a "beta" version of a new application from Blockbuster Inc. that lets you rent or buy movies right on the phone. Verizon is including this on the Droid X. Although the application had a slim selection of movies during my test and downloads them only over Wi-Fi, it was pretty easy to sign up for a Blockbuster account right on the phone and use the app to rent a flick. I checked out "Shutter Island" for $4 and it downloaded in about 15 minutes. It was mine for 24 hours once I started playing it, and it looked great.
The screen also benefits the Droid X's camera, which includes a bright dual-LED flash. It was easy to take photos with such a generous viewfinder, and I enjoyed flipping through the results on the phone — something you could do with a friend without feeling like the gadget was too tiny. You can also take high-definition videos, and if you aren't in the mood to play them on the phone you can use its HDMI port to connect the phone to a TV and watch your cinematic genius on a bigger screen.
With all this focus on its display, I thought the Droid X would quickly suck up battery life. It surprised me by lasting through a day of heavy usage, including lots of talk time, instant messaging, Web surfing and video watching.
The big touch screen does have its drawbacks, though. While calls generally sounded good on the Droid X, I had a hard time talking on it while holding it up to my ear. The phone has a slim back that is wider at the top (where the camera and flash sit), and holding this ultra-wide slice next to my head never got comfortable.
And watching "Shutter Island" made me realize the Droid X could benefit from having a kick stand like that on HTC's Evo 4G phone, and a better-positioned speaker. After about 20 minutes, I got sick of holding the phone at a good angle, and when I placed it on a flat surface it muffled the speaker on its back.
The display also means that the phone is a back-pocket handset, if you feel comfortable having it in your pocket at all. There was no way it would fit unobtrusively in the front of my jeans.
The Droid X runs version 2.1 of Google's Android operating system, which means it is easy to navigate and is filled with goodies like Google's free turn-by-turn navigation application. It also can act as a wireless hot spot for connecting other phones or computers to the Web, which is a cool feature but you'll have to pay Verizon an extra $20 per month to use it.
The Droid X is slated to get even better later this summer, when Verizon upgrades it to the newest Android software, version 2.2, through an over-the-air download. That should make the phone run faster and improve the camera, though it's already very capable. The phone will also get Adobe's Flash Player 10.1 for checking out Flash videos on websites like Hulu, which would be a great addition for such a display-centric phone.
Even with all the bells and whistles, its design means the Droid X is not for everyone. If you're more into chatting on your cell phone than couching out with it, it probably won't be the best pick. But if you would rather indulge in videos and Web surfing, this category-blurring phone makes the cut.