Hangover 2, Cars 2, Transformers 3, Mission Impossible IV. Yup, it's another summer of sequels, and some of them will live up to the hype while others will just feel like they were phoned in. Judging by the lack of hoopla surrounding the Motorola Droid X2 for Verizon Wireless ($199), it looks like this sequel might fall in the latter category. Although it packs a faster dual-core processor than its predecessor and a sharper screen, the Droid X2 lacks the 4G connectivity of pricier superphones such as the HTC Thunderbolt and the Droid Charge. It also looks practically identical to the original Droid X. Does this sequel do enough to make you want to get off the couch?
It would be a stretch to even call the design of the Droid X2 a refresh. Motorola basically painted the same exact handset black instead of dark gray. You still get the same four narrow buttons beneath the screen, microUSB and HDMI ports on the left, volume buttons on the right, and a power button and headphone jack up top. We continue to like the soft-touch feel of the back, but we've grown a little tired of the bulge where the 8-megapixel camera and flash reside.
Motorola decided to chuck the dedicated camera button that sat on the bottom right side. Why would you take away a feature that's so convenient? The company says that it was based on customer feedback and to reduce lag, but we would prefer that Motorola found a way to keep it and speed up performance. Also missing from the Droid X2 is a front-facing camera, which is really disappointing since the upcoming Android 2.3 upgrade will add video calling capability via Google Talk.
Like the original Droid, the Droid X2 weighs 5.5 ounces and measures 5 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches. That's still a reasonable weight and size for a phone with a 4.3-inch screen, but the Samsung Droid Charge is even lighter (5 ounces).
At least Motorola has made over the display. The Droid X2 features a qHD (960 x 540-pixel) screen that's sharper and brighter than the panel found on the Droid X (854 x 480). Having more pixels also means the Droid X2 can fit more info on the screen, which we noticed when we loaded ESPN.com on both handsets. The X2's anti-reflective display also benefits from wider viewing angles, so you can share videos and other content with others without the picture washing out. Worried about nicks? The screen is also scratch-resistant.
As far as multitouch keyboards go, the layout on the Droid X2 continues to be among the fastest and most accurate on any smartphone. Although haptic feedback can feel like it's dragging you, the subtle buzzing on this handset felt more reassuring than distracting. (You can always turn it off.) If you're not into thumb-typing, the Droid X2 also includes a Swype keyboard you can activate, which lets you enter words quickly by tracing a line between letters.
Software and Interface]
Motorola and Verizon Wireless promise that this Android 2.2 phone will see an upgrade to Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but who knows when that will happen. In the meantime, the Droid X2 offers some welcome tweaks to the Motoblur interface. For instance, when you press and hold the home button, you'll see more recently opened apps than you could on the Droid X. Motorola also attempts to better organize your apps with a category bar on the apps screen that lets you toggle between All Apps, Downloaded, and Recent. When you press and hold an app on this screen, you can add it to the home screen or create a new group.
The Droid X2 continues to feature seven home screens, which you can now see all at once by tapping the Home button while you're viewing the main home screen. You'll still find resizable widgets, such as ones for your calendar, photo gallery, and music. But a new dock along the bottom of the home screen presents four shortcuts which you can edit. While it's subtle, we appreciate that menus have black text on a white background instead of white on black. It just seems more user-friendly. The bundled Task Manager, which lets you easily close apps, is another nice touch.
Motoblur aggregates social-networking updates from Facebook and Twitter on the Droid X2, and it lets you set your status for both services with a single post. We especially like Motorola's Facebook and Twitter widgets, which display a 3D carousel of the latest updates from your friends. However, the dedicated social-networking app only shows your main Twitter feed, not mentions or direct messages. HTC does a better job with its Friend Stream app.
Equipped with a 1-GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor and 512MB of RAM, the Droid X2 smoked its predecessor when running various Android benchmarks. For example, in the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the X2 notched 2,662, compared to a lowly 778 for the original Droid X. And on the An3DBench graphics benchmark, the Droid X2 scored 7,416, about three times higher than the Droid X.
By comparison, the dual-core-powered Motorola Atrix 4G with the same Tegra chip scored a lower 1,631 in the same CPU test but a higher 9,908 in the graphics test. And the Tegra-powered T-Mobile G2x turned in lower scores in both tests of 1,152 and 5,995, respectively. Still, we found the G2x to be slightly more responsive when opening apps and flipping through home screens, so we're assuming the Motoblur software drags things down a bit.
What the Droid X2 can do that the original Droid X can't is literally mirror anything that's on the display when connecting to a larger monitor or TV with up to a 1080p resolution. Just plug in a microHDMI cable and you can view anything (apps, movies, games) on the big screen. We plugged the phone into a 32-inch Samsung TV and within just a few seconds we were playing Angry Birds. You can also use DLNA technology to stream media wirelessly to compatible TVs and other AV gear.
Web Browsing and 3G Speed
Despite the fact that the Motorola Droid X2 lacks 4G, it loaded sites fairly quickly on our tests, thanks in part to its dual-core processor. The phone took 6 seconds to render CNN.com and ESPN.com, 7 seconds to load Yahoo.com, and 9 seconds to load the mobile version of NYTimes.com. Verizon's 4G LTE phones generally take 4 to 5 seconds, but we don't think most users will complain about the X2's web speeds.
You'll notice more of a difference when loading the full desktop versions of sites and loading videos. The X2 took 23 seconds to load the full NYTimes.com, versus just 14 for the 4G-powered Samsung Droid Charge.
As for pure throughput, the Droid X2 didn't wow, which means you might want to think twice about paying extra to use this phone as a mobile hotspot ($20 per month for 2GB). The X2 averaged 573 Kbps on the Speedtest.net app, and a pitiful 152 Kbps on the uplink. The Droid Charge averaged 16.6 Mbps downloads and 5.3 Mbps uploads.
Camera and Camcorder
The 8-MP camera on the Droid X2 is capable of snapping detailed photos, but the slow shutter speed caused some of our shots (including one of a fruit stand) to come out somewhat blurry. On the plus side, the dual-LED flash continues to be powerful, helping us take sharp images without blowing out the subject. Just make sure you get close. A new gallery app makes it fun to flip through your photos using a 3D-like carousel.
Unfortunately, the Droid X2's 720p camcorder footage exhibited a very annoying flaw. Almost every clip we shot had serious stuttering, marring otherwise good-looking video. We're assuming a software/firmware update will address this issue.
If you're wondering whether having a dual-core processor impacts battery life, it definitely does in the case of the Droid X2. After running our battery test for 1 hour and 4 minutes, the X2 had 80 percent juice left. (Unfortunately, the phone lost 3G connectivity at that point.) If we extrapolate, the X2 should last about 5 hours and 20 minutes on a charge, versus 7:42 for the original Droid X and 5:39 for the average smartphone. The Droid Charge lasted 6:42 in 4G mode, but the HTC Thunderbolt could only muster 3:56.
Editors' Note: We will update this review once we're able to re-run the battery test completely.
Music and Video
Slowly but surely, Android is catching up to iOS in the multimedia arena. Sort of. Although you can't buy music through the service yet, Music Beta by Google lets you upload 20,000 tunes to the cloud for streaming on the go. And movie rentals (but not TV shows) will be coming to Android 2.2 phones such as the Droid X2 within weeks. In the meantime, you can get your fix via the Blockbuster and Verizon's V Cast apps.
Thanks to its Tegra guts, the Droid X2 certainly has the chops to play HD content. When we played a high-quality version of the X-Men: First Class trailer, we saw smooth action and popping colors. The back-mounted speaker on the X2 also impresses; we filled a small room with sound when streaming Kings of Leon's "True Love Way" at max volume--without much distortion.
Motorola bundles several of its own apps, including Dialer and a Contact app that imports photos from your social networks, a Files app for working with files on internal storage or shared folders, and the handy aforementioned Task Manager. The Social Networking app feels bare-bones compared to dedicated apps such as Tweetdeck, but at least you can see Facebook and Twitter updates in a single stream.
Verizon brings several apps to the Droid X2 party as well, such as Blockbuster for renting movies (it wasn't up and running when we wrote this review), and trials of fun games such as Let's Golf 2 and Need for Speed Shift. The level of detail in the former was pretty stunning, even though it took a while for each level to load. You'll also find Quickoffice for viewing and editing Office documents, and Slacker for free Internet radio. At the moment, at least, the NFL Mobile app is really only good for keeping tabs on lockout news.
It's always a good sign when another caller says that they can't tell you're calling from a speakerphone, and that's exactly what happened when we dialed a colleague. He noted that call quality was just as crisp when we turned the speaker off. On our end of the line, the X2 sounded pretty pristine as well.
The Motorola Droid X2 improves on one of the best phones of 2010 in some significant ways. You get a much better display and dual-core power for the same price, plus the ability to instantly share content over HDMI. Motorola has also done a pretty good job refreshing of its Motoblur software to make Android a little more user-friendly than the stock build of the OS. Too bad the X2 lacks 4G and a front-facing camera, pretty standard features nowadays for high-end Android phones. The stuttering camcorder and shorter battery life than the Droid X also don't help this smartphone's cause.
If you don't mind a 3G-only phone, in this price range we prefer the iPhone 4 and the HTC Incredible 2 for Verizon Wireless because of their more pocket-friendly designs, better interfaces, and front-facing cameras. And if you want 4G, you should consider spending more to get the HTC Thunderbolt or the Samsung Droid Charge. Or just wait to snatch up the dual-core, 4G-packing Motorola Droid Bionic. As far as sequels go, the Droid X2 is solid, but it's no blockbuster.