How do you differentiate between a "consumer" smart phone and a "business" smart phone? Motorola attempts to answer that question with the Droid Pro ($179 on Verizon), an Android 2.2 device with a physical QWERTY keyboard, a pre-installed light version of the Quickoffice Mobile Suite, and Microsoft Exchange support for secure corporate e-mail. But while Motorola has added these pro amenities, you'll need to make some sacrifices to carry this BlackBerry alternative, including a half inch of screen size. So should business users opt for the Droid Pro over consumer-focused Droids and RIM's latest devices? It depends on your priorities.
In many ways, the Droid Pro is a throwback, design-wise, to the many BlackBerry black slab imitators--an elongated 3.1-inch 480 x 320 HVGA touchscreen situated above a three-line QWERTY keyboard. Inserted into the silver-banded perimeter are a volume toggle and the micro USB jack on the left side, an assignable function key on the right, and a screen on/off and 3.5mm headphone jack up top. Around back, the 5-megapixel camera/LED flash assembly forms a bit of a hump, which makes the Pro a bit thinner than its stated 0.46-inch thickness.
The Droid Pro and Droid 2 have nearly identical dimensions, but the latter weighs more than a ounce more (4.7 vs. 6 ounces). But in addition to its larger display, the Droid 2 includes 8 GB of built-in memory and includes a built-in 8 GB microSD card, versus the 2 + 2 GB in the Droid Pro. This Droid has four capacitive buttons above the keyboard, which, while responsive, felt like a disconnect in that this handset has physical keys.
Behind the easily pried-off battery cover is the microSD card slot, which is guarded by a springy plastic bumper clip that's difficult to remove. However, you'll want to do this because you only get 2 GB out of the box.
By adding a QWERTY keyboard to its face, Motorola has reduced the space for a screen, thus the 3.1-inch 480 x 320 (HVGA) TFT display is larger but has a lower resolution than on the BlackBerry Tour and Torch (2.4 inches, 480 x 360), and 0.6 inches smaller than the 3.7-inch 854 x 480 WVGA screen on the Droid 2.
The Droid Pro's screen is not only smaller than other Droids', but it's not as crisp, either. Small text on websites is squint-inducing. You'll definitely need to zoom in on this device. On the other hand, apps such as Angry Birds looked fine on this scrunched display.
The Droid Pro's most important differentiating physical feature is its QWERTY keyboard. The tall rectangular keys are wedged, with the wedge ridge located on the right side of each key on the left-hand side of the keyboard, and toward the left on the right side. Keys and rows are arranged checkerboard-style rather than staggered and, even though they are jammed together, the wedge ridges help avoid accidental adjacent key presses.
Overall, the keys are large enough that you'll likely type with more accuracy and confidence on this layout than you would on a touchscreen-only phone. We also like that the keyboard never gets in the way of content. However, the keys felt a bit stiff, and required more effort than we'd like to type. The humped keys on the Droid 2 are larger, staggered, and slightly easier to use, but you have to slide out the keyboard to enter text, which can be a pain. And the Droid 2's layout doesn't offer as much travel. Having the keyboard always accessible can make a big difference, too, whether it's typing a quick tweet or using Android's universal search feature.
By comparison, keys on the typical BlackBerry are spaced apart a bit in slightly curved rows. This approach results in speedier typing on candy bar designs such as the BlackBerry Tour, but the Torch slider phone's keyboard feels flat compared to this device. We prefer the Droid Pro for typing.
The Droid Pro's smallish screen also affects how you interact with Android. Small icons mean you'll need better aim to ensure you hit the icon of your choice.As with all 2.2 Froyo phones, there are seven home screens, and each can be filled with a variety of widgets and "live" shortcut icons for a variety of functions such as calendar, Messages, Data Usage (handy for tracking roaming charges), Weather, social networking, and more.
To compensate for the small icons, Motorola included not only a side Action key, which can be programmed to one-touch open any app, but the Quick Launch Settings function, which allows you to map a function to each alpha key. Of course, you can always create touch-friendly home screen shortcuts for web bookmarks, individual contacts, and half a dozen other functions.
Most of the Droid Pro's primary business features aren't all that special for Android. Nearly all new Android phones running or upgraded to OS 2.0 or later include Microsoft Exchange. You merely need to make sure you get the correct settings from your company. Also included are corporate directory lookup, and, like the Droid 2, a unified calendar to sync an enterprise calendar with Google calendar. Merging personal with business PIM data into a single look-up source is always a good thing.
You'll also find a multi-headed VPN Client app for secure communications within a company's secure telephone network, especially handy for accessing voicemail from an office phone. The security-conscious will appreciate the Droid Pro's remote wipe capabilities for both the phone's internal and SD card memory and password support. Encryption for the phone and the SD card is due to be available sometime early next year.
The Droid Pro's other business feature is Quickoffice Mobile Suite, which lets you create and edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents and lets you read PowerPoint and PDF files. However, this is a light version, which doesn't include the ability to use remote doc apps such as Box.net, Dropbox, Google Docs, and Mobile Me, or to send files directly from the app. You are prompted once to upgrade to the full version of Quickoffice for half off the usual $19.99 price. This is misleading.
The full Quickoffice suite in the Android Market is not $19.99 but $9.99, the so-called discounted price for Pro owners. In other words, for the same 10 bucks, any Android phone owner--or iPhone owner--can buy the full version of Quickoffice. And with the Droid 2, you get more screen real estate for viewing documents.
Like all Droids, the Pro is powered by a 1-GHz processor, which seemed speedy. The Droid Pro scored 13.5 in Linpack, about the same as the Droid 2, and a touch above the average (12.5). However, its AN3DBench score of 7352 is about 1,000 points higher than the average (6,266) and the Droid 2 (6,189), most likely owing to the smaller resolution of this smart phone's screen.
Like other Verizon Android phones, the Droid Pro includes a mobile hotspot app that can connect up to five users. Connecting external devices--such as a Wi-Fi-only iPad--is ridiculously easy. Data rates were decent; the full CNN, ESPN and New York Times pages on an iPad each loaded in around 20 seconds. Using this feature can be a power hog, but the Droid Pro lasted more than five hours supplying a connection to an iPad. Sprint's Evo 4G lasted less than 4 hours in this mode.
Even though they both sport a 1-GHz processor, the Droid 2 consistently beat the Pro in loading web pages, usually by a couple of seconds but often by as much as 10-15 seconds to complete a more complicated page such as Laptopmag.com. Mobile-optimized sites such as CNN, ESPN and The New York Times loaded in 4-5 seconds, compared to 3-4 seconds on the Droid 2. In addition, the Droid 2's bookmarks are easier-to-find icons rather than the Droid Pro's text list. Also keep in mind that you can view 2-3 more headlines on the longer Droid 2 screen.
Just because the Droid Pro is a business phone doesn't mean it can't have some fun. Like the Droid 2, the Droid Pro includes a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash and a video recorder to capture 720 x 480 video, not the HD video capture found on most other smart phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Fascinate and the Droid X. Still photos often looked smudgy, especially in low or poor light, but indoor shots were surprisingly sharp. Perhaps not wishing to disappoint anyone because of the small screen size, there is not an included movie service other than YouTube, although you can download V Cast Video ($10 per month for the service).
Call Quality and Battery Life
The Droid Pro's call quality was just okay. We could make out most of the words from another caller, but some of her words were clipped, and there was an echo on our end at the beginning of our conversation. The speakerphone is nice and loud, which comes in handy for GPS navigation and listening to music.
The Droid Pro's rated talk time battery life is 6.5 hours, average for today's smart phones but far behind Droid 2's 9.6 hours. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing via 3G), the Pro lasted just 5 hours and 8 minutes, a full two hours less than the Droid 2, and about 20 minutes behind the average. But in "real life" usage, the Pro's battery lasted nearly two days of nearly constant usage--primarily web surfing, e-mailing, picture/video-taking and sharing, app searches and downloads, and a few test phone calls--without recharging.
The Motorola Droid 2 is not a BlackBerry-killer, but it is a fairly good Android device for business users who want a keyboard that's always at the ready and an extra layer of security than your typical Google phone. Plus, you can access a heck of a lot more apps on this device than anything from RIM. The biggest issue we have with the Droid Pro is the small and low-resolution display. For $30 less, the Droid 2 offers a larger, longer screen--perfectly sized and shaped for viewing spreadsheets and watching widescreen movies--a more spacious keyboard, 12 GB more memory, and hardier battery life. BlackBerrys also tend to last longer on a charge. The Droid Pro is an intriguing niche Android phone, but it's only worth the investment if you're willing to trade screen real estate for always having a QWERTY beneath your thumbs.