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New Droid Earns iPhone Comparisons

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- If you like hefty, sharply rectangular, thin minicomputers to lug around in your pocket, Motorola's (MOT) Google's (GOOG - Get Report) Android "Droid" might be the phone for you.

The same size as the Apple (AAPL - Get Report) iPhone only slightly thicker, the Droid -- sold exclusively by Verizon (VZ - Get Report) -- is packed with enough features to take your mind off that other ultra-popular smartphone sold by AT&T (T - Get Report), or at least Verizon and Motorola hope so.

The Droid has an impressive list of features and performs very well, at least on Day One. Verizon will start selling the phone on Nov. 6 for $199 with a two-year contract.

A quick takeaway: Google fans will like the Web friendliness and familiar applications like Maps, Gmail and YouTube. The Android operating system moves quickly between applications. And the backlit slide-out Qwerty keyboard is a blessing for typists.

The Droid smartphone.

Some of the demerits include its pocket tugging weight. The Droid weights 5.96 oz, or 25% more than the iPhone. In addition to the heft, the phone has angular, pointy corners, a departure from the rounded edges of most phones. And the camera promises far more than it delivers.

But that said, here's a point-by-point rundown of the Droid phone's features after the first hours of trial use.
  • Display: The 3.7 inch touchscreen is vivid and uses the swipe and poke navigation with a vibrating touch confirmation. Motorola says the screen has multi-touch capability (pinch or spread finger control for zooming in and out) but the feature is not activated yet. And though the screen boasts more than twice the resolution of the iPhone, the picture wasn't dramatically better.
  • Keyboard: The full Qwerty keypad slides out with a firm thumb push and clicks into place. The sliding movement feels solid and reveals an ample typing surface. While sliders typically add more bulk, the Droid succeeds in giving users a great keypad without losing the slender form.
  • Design: Sleek but not quite elegant, the Droid has a black monolith appearance. The metal top is slightly shorter than the plastic keyboard bottom, giving the phone a distinct under bite.
  • Software: People who have used Android phones will find the Droid's interface very familiar. The Droid uses Android version 2.0, and the only noticeable difference so far seems to be the quicker screen changes and a refreshing lack of lockups.
  • Applications: Load your own. Quite a breakthrough for Verizon which did not insist on putting its media portal VCast on the phone. Pandora's music service works on Droid as does TheStreet's mobile application. One program in particular shined: Google Maps Navigation. The free Beta turn-by-turn satellite and cell network GPS mapping system features an optional satellite and street views feature that gives drivers pictures of landmarks and building fronts. Move over Garmin (GRMN - Get Report).
  • Multi-tasking: Verizon's anti-iPhone advertising points out Apple's inability to handle more than one program at a time. The Droid seems to be able to keep a number of programs running simultaneously.
  • Camera: The 5 megapixel camera with video, flash, auto focus and image stabilization sounds better than it worked. In the several initial shots, all the images were blurry and dim. This is a big disappointment unless there's some specific issue with the test phone.
  • Performance: Overall, strong. Gmail, as you might expect, works very well. After logging in, all your contacts are available in email as well as on your call list, automatically, whether you like it or not. The Google Webkit browser, though not officially Google Chrome mobile, was solid, with easy viewing and navigation.
  • The upshot: Motorola has supplied Verizon with its best touchscreen smartphone yet. Apple's iPhone, in its third year of booming popularity, now has a formidable challenger.

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