When the Motorola Droid launched on Verizon Wireless last fall, it made a big splash--among a certain kind of customer, at least. Marketed heavily toward men, the fast, sturdily built phone was a hit among guys and early adopters, but its hefty shape was a turnoff to some shoppers. While not explicitly aimed at women, the Devour ($149 after mail-in rebate; $99 through Best Buy) offers a sleeker aluminum design along with a more comfortable slide-out keyboard. It also includes the social networking-friendly Motoblur interface. The Devour may lack multitouch support and have a smaller screen than the Droid, but overall it's a very good value.
There's a reason comparisons between the Devour and Droid are so obvious, and it's not just because both are made by Motorola, run Android, and are sold through Verizon Wireless. At 5.9 ounces and 4.5 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches, the Devour is almost the same size (4.6 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches) and weight (6.0 ounces) as the Droid. The Devour has a less severe look, though, with an extruded aluminum finish, more contoured edges, and playful rubber and turquoise accents. Despite the rubber port covers and bumpers, the aluminum build is sexy (kind of like the smart phone equivalent of a MacBook Pro).
Click to enlargeBeneath the 3.1-inch display are touch-sensitive buttons with vibrating haptic feedback. These include Settings, Home, and Back. We noticed that the buttons provided weaker haptic feedback than the Droid, and that they felt less responsive. Oddly, there's no dedicated search button (as there is on the Droid), which sometimes proved inconvenient.
To the lower left of these touch-sensitive buttons is a small optical trackpad that doubles as a clickable button. Other connections include a mini-USB port on the left side of the phone. Next to it, a rubber door covers the battery compartment and the microSD Card slot (an 8GB microSD Card comes installed). This door takes effort to open, but that gave us confidence that our battery and memory card were both protected. On the other side are buttons for volume control, voice commands, and the camera. Finally, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge of the handset.
The 3.1-inch (480 x 320) display is smaller than the Droid's 3.7-inch screen, and it has a lower resolution (the Droid's is 854 x 480). This seems fair for the price, but the large bezel of the Devour makes you wish the screen were bigger. Unfortunately, the Devour does not support multitouch, so you can't pinch or zoom (even with third-party apps like the Dolphin Browser). Although the Devour's display looks vibrant on its own, it appears slightly washed out next to the Droid's, particularly when outdoors.
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In many ways, the Devour's raised keyboard is superior to the Droid's flat layout: the keys are about as large, but cushier. They provide better tactile feedback and we made fewer typing errors, too. The only caveat is that the Devour's layout isn't a typical QWERTY: it has a dedicated row of number keys on top and squeezes the space bar in between the V and B keys on the lowest line. We soon adjusted to the new layout; just be warned there is a slight learning curve.
From a design standpoint, we appreciate that the Devour's extruded aluminum finish continues on the keyboard deck, filling the space between keys. The springy feeling of opening the slide-out keyboard is also a pleasant change from the Droid, which takes effort to slide open.
The on-screen keyboard is slightly more cramped, since the 3.1-inch screen is smaller than other smart phones out there. The spelling correction is about as accurate (which is to say, not as smart as the iPhone's) as other Android handsets'. Ultimately, the biggest problem with the on-screen keyboard is the responsiveness of the display. Just as we sometimes had to tap the touch-sensitive haptic controls more than once, we occasionally had to apply more pressure to the virtual keyboard than we would have liked.
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The Devour runs on Android 1.6, a slightly older version of Android than what you'll find on the Droid or Nexus One. Although turn-by-turn navigation in Google Maps doesn't come baked in, you can go to Android Market > Downloads to acquire this update. Things you won't get: voice search and all of the eye candy (animated backgrounds, a 3D app launcher) that come with Android 2.1.
As with any Android device, you can add widgets by pressing down on the screen, or remove them by dragging them toward the app launcher, which doubles as a garbage bin. By default, Motoblur adds other widgets--such as a headline ticker, music player controls, and a clock--to the other home screens. We find this arrangement cluttered, but users can customize it.
The Devour runs Motoblur, Motorola's custom interface, on top of Android. This service, which we first saw on the Motorola Cliq, places social networking front and center. Widgets for Facebook and Twitter activity and incoming messages all appear on the main home screen by default. There are four other home screens, marked by a row of five small dots at the top of the display.
Syncing the Devour with all of your accounts is easy. When you first use the phone you'll create a Motoblur account, which entails providing your e-mail address and choosing a password. Then, you'll see a screen full of shortcuts to various services, including Facebook, MySpace, Photobucket, Picasa, and Twitter, among others. Select as many as you want, entering login information as you go; the Devour will verify the credentials for these various accounts all at once.
These widgets display one piece of information at a time. One widget, called Happenings, culled updates from all of our social networks, displaying the single most recent update made by our friends. Since we have hundreds of friends between Facebook and Twitter, we were bound to miss a lot unless we kept our eyes glued to our phone. However, the curious can always tap on this widget and scroll through cards, each of which displaying information about a friend's update, whether it was a status message or a change in phone number.
Click to enlargeSince Motoblur was first introduced, we've seen other operating systems and handset makers attempt something similar, drawing information about friends from myriad sources and displaying them on a single screen. Windows Phone 7 Series (not yet shipping) does this to elegant effect, as do HTC Sense and Samsung TouchWiz 3.0. It all comes down to user preference, but we would rather be able to see more than one piece of information at once. Then again, any more information, and the Motoblur UI would look even more cluttered.
Moreover, Motoblur's widgets aren't sufficient replacements for dedicated social networking apps. For instance, although you can update your status from the home screen and decide whether it will appear on a particular social network or all of them, you can't do things such as retweet friends' posts. Dedicated apps, such as Seesmic, offer more functionality.
Uniquely, the Devour includes Moto Phone Portal, an app that lets you sync and manage your phone from your PC's Web browser. You can do this by connecting via either USB or Wi-Fi. A URL will appear on your phone, which you must manually enter into your PC's browser. Then you'll have access to your phone's contact list and photos.
We used Moto Portal to get pictures off our phone, which spared us from having to use an SD Card reader and microSD Card adapter. We were able to view our photos as a slideshow and make simple edits, such as rotate and crop. Oddly, however, we were not able to access or transfer the movies we shot on the phone.
The Devour runs on a 600-MHz Qualcomm MSM7627 processor with 256MB RAM and 512MB ROM (the Droid has the same amount of RAM and ROM, but a 550-MHz Arm Cortex A8 processor). This processor features two ARM cores--a 600-MHz applications processor, and a 400-MHz modem processor. The phone responded speedily as we tapped the app launcher or swiped through home screens. In Google Maps, it took between 2 and 5 seconds to redraw the map as we panned around, depending on how complicated the scene. When we double-tapped to zoom in on the map, it consistently took less than a second to redraw the map in more detail.
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Like other Android handsets, the Devour has a unified contacts list, which amalgamates contacts from Gmail, Facebook, and other services. The phone is smart when it comes to duplicate entries: Jane Smith from your Gmail address book will be merged with Jane Smith, your Facebook friend. You can choose whether the photo thumbnails for your contacts come from Google, Facebook, Twitter, or any other network you use.
Users can sort through their contacts based on history (who you've had the most recent contact with), alphabetically, or by status (those with the most recent updates will appear on top). Once you select a contact, you can move back and forth between three similar tabs. For example, we were able to view our friend's contact info from the main tab, as well as recent correspondences with him and his recent updates in the other two tabs. Like an iPod, the phone flashes letters of the alphabet as you're scrolling through contacts, so you know when to stop and select the friend you're looking for.
E-Mail and Messaging
Like other Android phones, the Devour makes it particularly easy to sync with Gmail accounts, address books, and calendars. But the e-mail experience on the Devour is relatively limited. First off, business users are out of luck: the phone doesn't support Exchange, as the Droid does.
Secondly, the phone only syncs with one Google calendar at a time. So, if you have a personal Gmail account and a Google Apps e-mail address for work, you'll have to choose one. Whichever account you choose, the phone will also sync your contacts and calendar. Although you can only add one Google e-mail account, you can add an e-mail address with another domain (such as Yahoo or Hotmail).
Within the Messaging app, you'll find shortcuts for text messaging, as well as discrete Facebook and Twitter apps. A universal inbox lets you view all of your direct messages from these various services in one feed. This universal inbox even lumps in e-mails, as will be the case with Samsung's new bada OS.
As with other Android phones, beware that once you choose a Google e-mail account, you can't change or remove it unless you restore the phone to factory settings. You can, however, delete less critical accounts, such as Facebook or Twitter handles, without having to wipe the phone clean.
Apps and Services
Like all Android phones, the Devour has a shortcut to Android Market preloaded. The Market is rapidly growing, and currently has more than 20,000 applications. That's nowhere near the size of Apple's App Store, but we see the platform building momentum among app developers. While you won't find as many games, every practical category--Twitter, IM apps, etc.--offer multiple options. To read our most recent roundup of Android apps, click here.
The Devour supports many of Verizon Wireless' multimedia services and utilities, including VZ Navigator, V CAST Music with Rhapsody, V CAST Video, and Visual Voicemail. The Droid only offers Visual Voicemail.
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The Devour comes preloaded with Android's stock Web browser, which has never been our favorite since it doesn't do tabbed browsing. However, we recently awarded the free Dolphin browser our Editors' Choice award, and also expect the Opera Mobile 10 browser to be a strong choice when it becomes available in the Android Market.
On the plus side, the Devour currently supports Flash Lite, and Motorola says Flash 10 is coming soon.
The Devour loads websites about as fast as the Droid. We tested Verizon's 3G network in New York City. Over 3G, the phone took 13 seconds to load NYTimes.com, 5 to load ESPN.com, and 11 to load Laptopmag.com. Over Wi-Fi, it took 8, 5, and 9 seconds, respectively, to load the same sites. Meanwhile, over the same 3G network the Droid took 8 seconds to load NYTimes.com, 5 to load ESPN.com, and 12 to load Laptopmag.com. Over Wi-Fi, it took 7, 5, and 11 seconds to load these sites.
Camera and Multimedia
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Motorola equipped the Devour with a 3-megapixel camera with fixed focus (meaning it doesn't autofocus as you or the subject move). Images looked overcast with dim colors, even in bright fluorescent lighting. Our 5-MP photos taken with the Droid, which has autofocus, weren't just sharper, but less noisy with punchier colors. Ditto for video: our 720 x 480 (24 frames per second) video taken with the Droid showed less motion blur, and there was less background noise. The Devour's video, recorded at 23 fps, looked more washed out, and moving objects, such as people walking down the street, appeared softer. The sound was more garbled, too.
Android's stock music player has a simple interface, letting users navigate based on artist, song, album, or playlist (recently added music, by default, constitutes its own playlist). Since the phone has a 3.5mm headphone jack, you can use it with whatever headphones you like. When we paired the Devour with a high-end pair of noise cancelling headphones, we enjoyed strong bass notes and minimal tinniness. Bonus: we were able to listen to music even while using other apps.
Call Quality and Battery Life
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As a phone, the Devour's voice quality is serviceable, but not great. Although our callers didn't complain, when we left a voice message to ourselves our voice sounded scratchy and distant, even though we placed the call from a quiet room.
On a full charge, we were able to use the Devour for most of an afternoon, power it down overnight, and then use it throughout the next day as well. However, the battery life dipped noticeably when we started streaming music over Pandora. The power management settings are aggressive: the phone locks after just 30 seconds of no input. You can adjust this in the settings, choosing to have the display never lock, or for it to wait 10 minutes before doing so.
The Motorola Devour is a fast, affordable Android phone whose ample slide-out keyboard makes it an especially good choice for heavy texters. We still prefer the Motorola Droid ($199, also on Verizon Wireless) because of its larger, higher-res screen, superior 5-MP camera, support for Exchange and multiple Gmail accounts, and voice search. However, for just $99 (through Best Buy) the Devour is arguably the best smart phone Verizon sells for under $100, particularly for people who like the idea of having their social networking and news updates just a glance away. The $79 Droid Eris has a sharper 5-MP camera and multitouch support, but if you want a physical keyboard the Devour is a compelling choice.