Motorola Droid Pro

The Motorola Droid Pro brings to fruition a form factor long desired on Android smartphones -- a full front-facing QWERTY keyboard. The easy comparison, of course, with with the BlackBerry, but let it not be forgotten that Motorola had a strong showing with the Q-series of Windows Mobile phones back in the day.

And that brings up a few interesting questions. Is Android -- primarily a touchscreen-optimized OS -- ready for a front-facing keyboard? And how does that affect how you use the touchscreen? Will we even need it? And will the Droid Pro’s slightly smaller touchscreen (at a mid-level resolution) be usable for someone coming from a high-end phone? Is it for stuffy suits? Can it still play games? And what’s all this talk about it being a “world phone.” Good questions, all. We’ll answer them, and more, after the break.

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Links, initial thoughts, and a hands-on redux

We've had our hands on the Droid Pro a few times now in the past month or so, getting our first look at it at CTIA. Dieter then shared his initial thoughts on the Droid Pro, and now we've come back for a few more details.

Youtube link for mobile viewing

Other links of note: Droid Pro specs | Droid Pro Gallery | Droid Pro Forums

 The Droid Pro hardware

Motorola Droid 2, Droid Pro and Droid X (from left)
From left, the Motorola Droid 2, Droid Pro and Droid X

The Motorola Droid Pro is your standard “candybar” form factor in that it’s a big black slab. It’s comparable in size to most other smartphones -- a tad taller than the Droid 2, a bit shorter than the Droid X. Exact dimensions are 61mm wide, 119mm tall and 11.7mm thin -- not much different than the ol’ Q9h, actually, just 6mm narrower and 1mm shorter.

The phone itself feels pretty good in the hand, if just a tad tall. Hold it in your left hand and your thumb rests perfectly on the volume rocker, and your index finger hits a button that by default opens the calendar. (Here’s another good sign this phone is being marketed at business-types, eh?) That button can be changed to open any other app you want.

Motorola Droid ProMotorola Droid Pro

Motorola Droid ProMotorola Droid Pro

The power button’s up top, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack. The standard microUSB port is on the bottom left bezel, and it lights up when plugged in.

The front of the Droid Pro is dominated by a 3.1-inch TFT LCD touchscreen. No, it’s not that newfangled AMOLED technology, nor is it at 320 pixels by 480 pixels a particularly high resolution -- most new high-end phones are 480x800. On paper, that lower resolution worried us. In actuality, the Droid Pro is very much usable. You’ll definitely notice the smaller screen and slightly lower resolution -- individual pixels are apparent but not necessarily pronounced -- but it’s not a deal-breaker. It’s just a trade-off for having a full QWERTY keyboard on the front of the device.

Motorola Droid Pro

For those of you who must have a notification light, the Droid Pro's got a small one just above the "M" in the Motorola Logo.

Note: By default, screen rotation is turned off. If you want to look at anything in the “landscape” (aka sideways) position, you’ll need to press the menu button, then choose “settings” and then “display,” and then check the “Auto-rotate screen” box.

No, it’s not the screen size or resolution that bother us on the front of the Droid Pro. If we had to pick one thing, it’s that the ambient light sensor is nearly worthless. If the screen’s going to be small and not high-res, it needs more brightness than what you’ll get automatically. Fortunately, you can set the brightness manually -- we’re pretty happy with it set about halfway.

Motorola Droid Pro

As for the keyboard, it’s small. It’s a tad cramped. But it has all the letters -- from A to Z -- and numbers -- 1 to 0 -- that you could ask for. Each key has an alternate function -- punctuation and the like -- which you trigger by first pressing the ALT key. There’s also a dedicated microphone button, so you don’t lose out on any one-touch voice-to-text action.

It's taken a little time to get used to having the the number keys span the top row, but that may just be because we're used to older Motorola keyboards (on which they were in a more traditional fashion). But we got over that.

We’re not sure how this hasn’t bothered us before, but you really should be able to long-press a physical key to trigger its alternate character. Can’t do it on the Droid Pro -- or any other phone, for that matter.

The keys themselves are pretty good. There’s just enough travel and clickability so that you know you pressed it. Each key is slightly slanted at the top, almost as if you started peeling back the skin from the top corners. It takes a little getting used to.

What’s under the hood

The Droid Pro is powered by a 1GHz TI OMAP processor, with 2GB of ROM (space on the phone) and about 477MB of memory free to run apps. It comes with a 2GB microSD card, which can be swapped out for up to a 32GB card.

Youtube link for mobile viewing

Funny thing about the Droid Pro: It’s got an oversized processor and undersized (and under-res’d) screen. And that means it practically flies when performing ordinary tasks. How fast? Put it this way: Verizon included the NFS Shift racing game -- and it’s flawless. OK, it’s a little lacking because of the screen size and resolution, but you don’t have to worry about the processor giving out. As for the real test? Yes, it plays Angry Birds just fine.

Motorola Droid Pro 

The battery door takes up the entire rear of the Droid Pro. It has a cutout for the 5MP camera and dual flashes, as well as the speakerphone. It’s thin plastic but feels pretty solid when attached. You pry it off from the bottom of the device. Once it’s removed, you have access to the 1420mAh battery, microSD card and SIM card slot.

 Motorola Droid Pro

The microSD card can be removed without first pulling the battery, which is good. But note that it’s not spring-loaded, and there’s a little tab that you have to depress first before sliding it out with your finger.

What’s a global phone?

OK, let’s talk about that SIM card. SIM cards are part of the GSM side of cell phone technology. The cards contain basic information such as your phone number, settings and can also store contact information. In the United States, AT&T and T-Mobile are GSM networks; Sprint and Verizon are CDMA and don’t use SIM cards.

Motorola Droid Pro SIM card

But the Droid Pro is different. It’s what’s known as a “World phone” or “Global” device. That means it comes with a SIM card and the proper radio frequencies to take advantage of it. And that means that you can take the phone overseas and use it on a GSM network most places in the world.

Droid Pro Network ModeYou’ll still need some kind of international data plan if you’re going to use the SIM card provided by Verizon (and its European parent company, Vodafone), but that’s it. No muss, no fuss.

If you want to use another carrier’s SIM card, you’re going to have to have a “SIM unlock code.” Verizon may give it to you -- it’s worth calling and asking. If not, there are plenty of websites that will give them to you for a small fee. You give them your ESN number, and they give you the unlock code. Then you can use (most) any other SIM you want.

But what about AT&T and T-Mobile? They’re GSM networks, and they share radio frequencies with the Droid Pro (except for T-Mobile 3G, which uses the oddball 1700MHz frequency). So you should be able to SIM unlock the phone and use the Droid Pro on those networks, right? Eh, not so much. Verizon’s locked down the Droid Pro even further so that you can’t use it on those networks in the United States, even if the phone is SIM unlocked. Not that too many people are actually going to try this, but it’s good to know that it’s not an option, at least until somebody hacks it open. Outside the U.S.? You should be good.

Youtube link for mobile viewing

The software

The Droid Pro ships with Android 2.2 -- aka Froyo. That’s just about the newest version of the Android OS, if you’re not counting a couple of phones on Android 2.2.1, and if you’re not counting that we’re expecting the announcement of Android 2.3 Gingerbread any time now.

Droid Pro appsThe phone has the same homescreen customizations that debuted earlier this year on the Droid X. (Call it the new Blur, or Motoblur or, yes, Phil Blur.) You’ve got the usual three buttons at the bottom for the phone dialer, app launcher and contacts. (Note to Motorola: Please change the contacts button to something more useful. We can get to the contacts through the phone dialer just fine, thank you very much.)

You have the usual seven home screens on which to put app shortcuts, widgets -- the works. Motorola’s loaded them up with the usual widgets -- social networking, updates, weather, some useful toggles for Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS and airplane mode), calendar, messages, search, music app, photo gallery, news reader -- a ton of stuff for a little phone, really.

Call it bloat if you must, but they’re really some useful widgets, and they have the added bonus of being resizeable if you want. (Tap and hold a widget. When you let go, it can be resized.)

Apps on the Droid Pro by default include:

3G Mobile Hotspot Alarm and Timer Amazon MP3 Backup Assistant
Browser Calculator Calendar Camcorder (video recording)
Camera (still photography) City ID (hasn’t gotten any more useful) Contacts Dialer
DLNA (streaming to DLNA-enabled TVs E-mail (non gmail) EMERGENCY (A way to get emergency alerts) Files (a handy file explorer)
Gallery Gmail Google Search Help Center
Google Latitude Google Listen Manage SIM card Maps (Google Maps)
Android Market Media Share Messaging (Single inbox) Music
My Accounts (add accounts to phone) My Verizon Mobile (account info) Navigation (Google Maps Navigation) News (RSS reader)
News and Weather (stock Android app) NFS Shift (racing game) Places (Google Location Search and recomm.) Quickoffice
Settings Skype Mobile Social Networking Talk (Gchat)
Task Manager Text Messaging Voice Command Voice Search
Voiecmail VPN YouTube  

A lot of that we could do without, but to each his (or her) own. Not preloaded are any of Verizon’s VCAST apps, and that makes us happy.

Oh, and notice that Task Manager? Yeah. It's an evil, EVIL task manager. Actually, the app itself is well done. If there's an app that hangs (I have the occasional problem with Seesmic not making a connection, for instance), you can use this to kill the app, and then reopen it. But please, PLEASE, don't use it to automatically kill apps that you think you don't want running. Because it's fine, you're wrong, and the Droid Pro has plenty of overhead to handle more than one thing at a time.

Motorola Profiles

The Droid Pro is the first of Motorola’s smartphone to sport the new Profiles feature. If you’re familiar with HTC Scenes, it’s the same thing. You get a prepackaged set of homescreens, set for “Home,” “Work” and “Weekend.” By default you’re working out of the “Home” profile. To switch profiles, you press the menu button and then choose “Profiles.”

Home profile

Motorola Droid Home Profile

Work profile

Motorola Droid Pro Work Profile

Weekend profile

Motorola Droid Pro Weekend profile

You can rename these profiles if you wish. (Go to Menu>Profile>Menu>Rename)

The camera

The Droid Pro has a rear-facing 5MP camera. It has the usual picture modes -- single shot, panorama, etc. -- as well as face detection. (Hit the camera settings to go into all of this.)

Motorola Droid Pro panoramic shot
(Click to open image full-size in a new window)

For all intents and purposes, it's your usual smartphone camera. Our one major complaint about it is that for all of the hardware buttons on the Droid Pro, you're stuck taking pictures using only the on-screen shutter.

Warning: Images below open full-size in a new window when clicked.

Motorola Droid Pro camera testMotorola Droid Pro camera test

Motorola Droid Pro camera testMotorola Droid Pro camera test

Video can be recorded at a maximum resolution of 720x480 -- not the full high-def you get from other smartphones, but it's passable.

Youtube link for mobile viewing

Other odds and ends

  • We had zero problems with the GPS on the Droid Pro. It locked on in about 12 seconds.
  • The speakerphone is above average -- Motorola continues to make great ones.
  • There are 14 steps between LOUD and vibrate, using the volume buttons.
  • Double-tap the home button to launch voice commands. (That's different than using the microphone button.
  • The web browser is your basic Android browser. Nothing special, it just works.
  • The only on-screen keyboard you have is the Motorola multitouch keyboard. No Swype. You can download others at your leisure.

Should I buy the Droid Pro?

Make no bones about it, the Droid Pro doesn't have the largest touchscreen out there. Nor is it at the highest resolution available today. But at 320x480 it's the same as the Palm Pre, and the iPhone 3GS. So we're not talking bottom of the barrel here.

What you do have is an Android phone with all the Google trimmings for anyone who wants a BlackBerry-style device, with all the Google services available and without the BlackBerry enterprise headaches (or cost, for that matter). And you can be sure that the Droid Pro is being targeted toward business professionals -- the included VPN client is a big deal.

Does that mean non-business types (what does that mean, anyway?) should stay away from the Droid Pro? Hardly. This is a form factor many of us have wanted on Android for quite some time. And Motorola has done an above average job marrying the front-QWERTY keyboard with a sizable touchscreen, powerful hardware and the latest Android operating system. The Droid Pro is available from Verizon Wireless for $179 after two-year contract and $100 rebate, but it's already available for less from other outlets.