Motorola's original Droid handset radically changed the smartphone market when it debuted on Verizon's network in 2009, giving the iPhone a serious challenger for the first time. The company's new Droid 3 ($199) seeks to build on this strong tradition with improvements such as a 4-inch qVGA screen, a dual-core CPU, and a large physical keyboard with a number row. However, in a world filled with 4G phones, can the 3G-only Droid 3 compete?
With a rubberized gray back that's easy to grip, a glossy gray trim, and a large glossy screen, the Droid 3 has a premium look and feel. Sliding the device open reveals its large five-row keyboard, which carries the same aesthetic with black letter keys and a metallic gray number row, both of which are backlit in light green.
Because the Droid 3 features a larger screen than the Droid 2 (4 vs 3.7 inches), it's bigger and weighs more. The newer device measures 4.9 x 2.5 x 0.5 inches and weighs a hefty 6.5 ounces, compared to 4.6 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches and 6 ounces for its predecessor. It's also a bit heavier than the HTC Thunderbolt (6.2 ounces).
The Droid 3's large, backlit physical keyboard is really the star of the show. We appreciate the dedicated number row and @ key, as well as the solid tactile feedback. However, we prefer the more spacious layout on the myTouch 4G slide to this more tightly packed one; we made more than a few typos before we got acclimated to the design. We also wish there was a .com key.
This phone's virtual keyboard offers optional haptic feedback and supports the multitouch gesture of holding Shift and a letter at the same time. We appreciated the generous key spacing on the virtual keyboard and found it easy to target letters. Swype keyboard fans will want to look elsewhere, as the popular alternative keyboard is not included.
Ports and Sharing
Like every other Android phone, the Droid 3 has a microUSB port for charging and syncing data and a 3.5-inch headphone jack for listening to music. It also has a mini HDMI output for connecting to your TV or monitor. A DLNA app allows you to share media wirelessly with other DLNA-compatible devices such as TVs and PCs.
The 4-inch qHD (960 x 540) resolution screen offers more pixels than the typical 800 x 480 panels we see on most Android phones. Images were bright if not overly vibrant and, due to the increased pixel density, even small article text was sharp and legible without us pinching to zoom. Viewing angles are quite wide; we were able to clearly view the display from a couple of feet away.
In addition to standard Android apps such as Gmail and Maps, the Droid 3 comes with Verizon services including VZ Navigator and the V Cast suite. Motorola also includes its own IM app, which allows AIM, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo users to chat. The Files app lets you navigate around the internal phone storage or SD card. The messaging app provides access to e-mail and text messages, as well as Facebook direct messages. If you want to see your Facebook wall, you'll need to download Facebook from the Android Market or visit the site in your browser.
The Droid 3's outdated 3G-only connectivity is its biggest drawback. Consider that the HTC Thunderbolt, which rides on Verizon's 4G LTE network, averaged 8.3 Mbps download speeds on Speedtest.net and got as high as 17 Mbps. The Droid 3 averaged just 1.5 Mbps and was never faster than 2 Mbps in areas with good Verizon connectivity. Upload speeds averaged just 483 Kbps.
The stock Android browser did a decent job of downloading and rendering web pages. We were able to load Laptopmag.com in 19.6 seconds, Space.com in a reasonable 17.3 seconds, and the mobile version of ESPN.com in an average of 6.3 seconds. However, on the Thunderbolt, we found mobile sites such as ESPN and the mobile NY Times loading in just 3 to 5 seconds.
The Droid 3 also has a hotspot feature that allows you to connect up to 5 devices at a time for an added fee of $20 per month for 2GB. Using the bundled hotspot app, it was easy for us to enable Wi-Fi tethering and set an SSID and password. Our tethered notebook averaged 1.1 Mbps downloads and 450 Kbps uploads on Speedtest.net.
The Droid 3 also comes with a SIM card to enable international use. Unfortunately, Verizon charges exorbitant rates for global roaming, such as $100 a month for just 70MB of data in Europe.
Specs and Performance
With its 1-GHz dual Core TI OMAP4430 CPU, the Droid 3 has enough oomph to master demanding tasks such as playing 3D games and streaming videos. When we tried playing the bundled trial of NOVA, a first-person shooter, motion was smooth and images were sharp. Similarly, streaming a Flash episode of Fringe from Fox.com at full screen provided impressive image quality and movement.
On the Android benchmark Linpack, the Droid 3 scored a strong 39, well above the 12.2 category average and the 27.5 offered by the HTC Thunderbolt. The T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide and its 1.2-GHz Snapdragon CPU was a bit stronger at 44.7.
The Droid 3 managed a similarly strong score of 6,963 on An3DBench, a synthetic test that measures graphics performance. That number is higher than the 6,266 smartphone category average and the 6,290 offered by the HTC Thunderbolt, but is just a tad behind the T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide's 7,098.
The 8-megapixel back-facing camera on the Droid 3 provided above-average image quality when shooting both indoors and outdoors. A bed of yellow flowers in sunlight looked particularly vibrant, but buildings in a skyline had a slight white haze.
The camera is also capable of capturing 1080p HD videos. When we shot an outdoor clip of a city block with cars coming down the street, colors were bright and images were sharp.
The Droid 3 also has a 2-MP front-facing camera for video chats, which snaps sharp images of its own. Unfortunately, Motorola doesn't pre-load the Droid 3 with any kind of video chat software, and the included Google Talk doesn't support video conferencing. Users can try downloading Fring or Qik from the Android Market, though they won't work well over 3G.
During most of our testing, the Droid 3 was loud and clear in terms of both incoming and outgoing audio. However, at one point in our testing, we were walking down a street and our call partner's voice kept cycling up and down in volume and clarity on two different calls. When we tried calling the same person with an original Droid in the same location at the same time, the incoming audio was flawless.
The Droid 3's speaker phone function was loud enough to fill a small room and did a good job of picking up our voice.
The Droid 3 lasted a fair 5 hours and 49 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. That's a little bit better than the 5:30 smartphone average and the paltry 3 hours and 56 minutes provided by the HTC Thunderbolt over 4G. However, the T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide lasted longer: 6:09.
Verizon claims that the Droid 3 will get 550 minutes of talk time and up to 300 hours of standby time with its 1540 mAH battery.
If you're on Verizon and want a phone with a physical keyboard, the Motorola Droid 3 is your best bet as of this writing, because of its sharp screen, powerful processor, and large keyboard. However, if you're not particular about getting a phone with a keyboard, we strongly recommend that you spend a little bit more on a 4G LTE phone such as the HTC Thunderbolt, which provides more than four times the data speeds. Or you could wait to get the Droid Bionic on Verizon, which will combine 4G LTE with a dual-core processor. And if you're not partial to Verizon and want a keyboard, the T-Mobile myTouch 4G is your best choice. The Droid 3 is a good device, but $199 is a lot to spend on an Android phone without 4G.