Motorola has unveiled the successor to its Google Android-based Droid smartphone in the US - the Droid X. Its a superstar for multimedia playback and network performance, but the interface can occasionally be sluggish.

Motorola is launching its Droid X handset in the US on 15 July, but the company has not announced availability information for UK customers. Our US sister magazine PC World got an early look at the device.

The follow-up to Motorola's wildly popular Droid, the Droid X is one of the hottest phones to debut this summer. Its specs outshine those on the other Droid phones available on the network, but it falters a bit when it comes to performance. Nonetheless, the Droid X is on a par with the iPhone 4.

Like the original Droid, the Droid X smartphone has a black, soft rubberised back. Unlike the original, however, the X doesn't feel thick and clunky when held. This is due in part to the fact that the new Motorola handset doesn't have a slide-out qwerty keyboard. But the X looks and feels much more refined than the original Droid. Its corners are more rounded and its rubberised edges make using it much more comfortable. Another welcome improvement: the X has physical hardware buttons (the familiar Menu, Home, Back and Search buttons) as opposed to the original Droid's touch-sensitive buttons. The X's buttons are small and unobtrusive, too, and they light up brightly when activated. Overall, the Droid X looks much more elegant and modern than its predecessor.

The Motorola Droid X feels slim at 10mm thick, but a bump at the rear is quite noticeable. The Droid X weighs in at 155g - a bit less than the 170g original Droid.

Aside from the four hardware buttons located below the display, the Motorola Droid X has a small volume rocker and a skinny camera shutter key on the right spine of the phone. The power/unlock button sits at the top of the phone alongside the 3.5mm headphone jack. The left spine houses the micro-USB port and the X's HDMI port. The back houses the battery, the 8Mp camera with dual-LED flash and the external speaker.

The Motorola Droid X's 4.3in (854x480) display is a knockout. Colours look vibrant and details are crisp. The capacitive screen is quite responsive to taps and swipes, but it's also glossy and reflective. This could make it difficult to view in bright indoor lighting, and it also faded in bright sunlight outdoors.

The display uses multitouch technology, which is also supported in both the Motorola Droid X's browser and photo gallery. Multitouch extends to the X's software keyboard, too, which makes typing on a virtual keyboard feel much more natural and comfortable. The best example of how improved multitouch on a virtual keyboard works is the fact that you can hold down shift and hit another letter and both will register. We also like being able to use Swype on the Droid X. Swype lets you type faster and more easily with one continuous finger or stylus motion across the screen keyboard. Swype takes some practice, but it is pretty useful once you get the hang of it.

New and improved MotoBlur

When we first read rumours that the Droid X would be running Motorola's skin for Android, Motoblur, we were a little frightened. Although we like Motoblur for the most part, it's somewhat busy, cluttered and a bit inelegant. But Motoblur has been toned down. Gone are the chaotic bubbles taking over your homescreens to deliver updates from Facebook or RSS feeds. We also liked how sharp the icons and text appeared and how easy and intuitive navigation was.

Motoblur has been reduced to two widget bubbles on one homescreen, which you can sync with your social networks. Another new feature in this version of MotoBlur is a navigation bar that lets you quickly switch between your various homescreens on the Motorola Droid X without having to flick through all of them to get to what you want.

Unfortunately, the Motorola Droid X doesn't run the latest version of Android, Android 2.2 (aka Froyo). At launch, you're stuck with version 2.1. You still get all the standard Google Android applications, however, including Gmail, Maps, YouTube and Talk for instant messaging.

NEXT: a multimedia machine >>

Also see:
Apple iPhone 4 review

See also: Group test: what's the best smartphone?

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Motorola has unveiled the successor to its Google Android-based Droid smartphone in the US - the Droid X. Its a superstar for multimedia playback and network performance, but the interface can occasionally be sluggish.

Multimedia machine

With a 4.3in display, the Motorola Droid X is just begging to be a portable video player. A few third-party video apps come preinstalled, including a Blockbuster app for downloading and watching feature-length movies. YouTube videos had the standard amount of fuzziness when played on the Droid X, but a HQ feature lets you watch better-quality videos if they are available. You simply press the HQ button in the corner of the video, and a crisper, larger video - one that actually uses the Droid X's entire screen - will load. The Droid X also has DLNA and HDMI connectivity, which is a boon to media addicts.

8Mp camera is good, not great

The Motorola Droid X's camera has a respectable variety of features, a touch-friendly and easy-to-use interface, and pretty good image quality overall. But it has two problems: the phone-as-a-camera ergonomics and the shutter speed. The dedicated shutter button is simply too rigid and difficult to press. You have to push hard to get the camera to take a snapshot, and sometimes this results in blurry images. The phone's odd shape - with the bulge where the camera is - also affects picture-taking. We were tempted to rest our fingers on that bump to get a better grip on the phone, but that would mean blocking the lens with a finger. The X's shutter speed seemed a bit sluggish, too, which resulted in a few blurry action shots. It isn't nearly as slow as the original Droid handset, however.

Solid performance

Powered by a 1GHz processor, the Motorola Droid X seemed fairly speedy. Applications launched quickly, and switching between applications and homescreens took very little time. The phone did lag in certain areas though. For example, scrolling through the main menu wasn't always smooth and responsive. And oddly, whenever we swiped to unlock the phone, it stuttered a bit.

Media-rich web pages loaded quickly, and we were impressed with how quickly photos and videos loaded on our website. Of course, you can't play those videos until you get the Android 2.2 update, which will deliver Adobe Flash Player 10.1 (required to watch PCWorld's videos) to the Motorola Droid X.

Call quality was very good over the US Verizon network we tested it with. Voices sounded clear, and there was little background noise. A few of our contacts sounded a bit tinny over the phone, but we're not sure whether this was due to their phones or to the Motorola Droid X.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

 

Also see:
Apple iPhone 4 review

See also: Group test: what's the best smartphone?

Mobile phone deals

Motorola Droid X: Specs

  • Candybar Google Android-based smartphone
  • 1GHz processor
  • 4.3in (854x480) multitouch display
  • 8Mp camera with dual-lED flash
  • 8GB memory
  • claimed battery life: 220 hours (standby), 8 hours (talk time)
  • 66x127x10mm
  • 155g
  • Candybar Google Android-based smartphone
  • 1GHz processor
  • 4.3in (854x480) multitouch display
  • 8Mp camera with dual-lED flash
  • 8GB memory
  • claimed battery life: 220 hours (standby), 8 hours (talk time)
  • 66x127x10mm
  • 155g

OUR VERDICT

The Motorola Droid X is one of the top smartphones coming out this summer. In features, design, and usability, it is right up there with the iPhone 4. If only it were a little faster and the camera ergonomics were a bit more user-friendly.

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