Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Droid X

The Droid X is Motorola's first retail device to use the company's custom UI atop Android 2.1, a skin that has been significantly restyled from the version found on Android 1.5 devices like the CLIQ, Devour, and CLIQ XT. But let's be clear: the Droid X doesn't use Blur. Actually, we'd initially been given conflicting answers from Motorola on whether the Droid X actually "runs" Blur, and we think we know why: as far as we can tell, the phone sidesteps Motorola's proprietary back end entirely, which has been a source of many of Blur's problems from day one -- delayed updates and the like. Instead, Moto appears to now be taking the same angle that most of its competitors are, pushing all of the aggregation horsepower down to the phone and taking its own servers out of the equation. In practice, what this means is that you no longer have a Blur account -- you just log in to your individual services (Twitter, Facebook, and the like) and the phone keeps track.

At a quick glance, the new skin -- Blur 2.1, or whatever you want to call it -- is cleaner, prettier, and just generally more modern than the skin it replaces, but that doesn't mean it's good. In fact, it feels as though Motorola heard and just completely misinterpreted the complaints about Blur to begin with, spending its energy making it less obvious that Blur is running without actually addressing any of its fundamental problems. Here's a great example: when you add a Twitter account, all of your Twitter follows automatically puke into your contacts list, which we'd complained about way back when we reviewed the CLIQ last year. Yes, you can sort, but what Motorola really needed to do here was make it optional the same way that Twitter's official Android app does.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blackberry Torch

The BlackBerry Torch only sold 150,000 units in its first three days? That's not bad at all. The real disappointment here is how deeply RIM bought into its own hype.

The hordes are proclaiming the Torch a massive failure, and they're right—but not because of how many units they sold. 150,000 handsets is a lot of phones. In fact, it's totally in line with other major launches of the last couple of years: Sprint sold that many Evo 4Gs in its first three days, and it's three times as many as the Palm Pre managed at launch.

Who it didn't compete with, of course, is the iPhone. The 3GS and 3G both moved a million over their opening weekends, and 1.7 million people took home an iPhone 4 at launch. And that's where RIM got into trouble.

The BlackBerry Torch wasn't just another phone to RIM. It was the phone, that RIM CEO Jim Balsillie openly described as "a quantum leap over anything that's out there." Multiple videos hyping BlackBerry 6 oozed a jazzy confidence that bordered on cocksure. A mysterious monolith display in AT&T stores cranked up the gears of the hype machine. They pushed this phone like it was their last chance.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


A big, big part of the EVO's draw is the 8 megapixel autofocus camera with dual LED flash and -- drum roll, please -- yes, 720p video recording. The shots had a little bit more splotchiness and noise (er, make that noise reduction) than we would've liked, but they still looked just great scaled down to monitor size; as with pretty much any phone camera, you're not going to want to blow these up and frame them for an art exhibition. What really blew us away wasn't the picture quality, but the shutter lag -- or rather, the lack thereof. You go to take a shot, and boom, the shot's taken. The biggest lag time is with autofocus, but even that's unusually quick for a phone; it got a little slower in low light, but that's to be expected.

iPhone 4

In his WWDC keynote, Steve Jobs likened the design of the iPhone 4 to that of a "beautiful, old Leica camera," and as we've said before, he wasn't off the mark. Instead of hewing to the curved, plasticky, silver-bezeled look of the iPhone 3G and 3GS, the company has turned the casing and face of the device into something decidedly more detailed and sophisticated. From the design aesthetic through to the actual build process, Jony Ive and his team have reset what we expect in an iPhone, coming up with something that clearly harkens back to the retro-future Braun designs of Dieter Rams. The iPhone 4 is made up of three basic parts: two pieces of smooth, strengthened glass, and a stainless steel band which wraps around the sides, top, and bottom of the phone. The effect is clean but not simple, and Apple has added little details, like altered volume buttons (what used to be a rocker is now separated into circular clickers labeled + and -), and notches in that metal band which serve to improve radio connections (more on that in a minute). The phone is noticeably thinner than the 3GS at .37 inches compared to .48 inches, but it weighs the same 4.8 ounces, making the whole package seem tighter and denser. It feels great in your hand, with good heft, although it might take a little time to get used to the lack of a rounded back if you're coming from the 3G or 3GS.