Customers line up early to buy the Droid X

Editor’s Note: This story is excerpted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visit Computerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.

The Droid X, which may be the toughest smartphone yet to effectively challenge the iPhone, went on sale at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, starting with customers lined up outside a Columbia, Md., Verizon Wireless store.

The early buyers said the Droid X’s large 4.3-inch screen was a big draw. They also like the touchscreen’s responsiveness and the fast 1 GHz processor.

“It has a larger screen than the iPhone and the touchscreen is very responsive,” said one early buyer, Danny Choy, who bought his Droid X at a store near Miami and was interviewed by phone. The iPhone screen is 3.5 inches.

Choy said he tried a cousin’s iPhone and found its touchscreen keyboard hard to use. After only a few minutes with the Droid X, he found the Swipe typing application helpful for quick and accurate message writing.

An undergraduate student in biology at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Choy plans to use the Droid X mainly for access to medical applications and social networking. The iPhone was never on his buying list, he added, because his cousin has had reception problems over AT&T’s network, while Choy has had no connection problems over Verizon’s network on an older Samsung phone.

One buyer at the Columbia store, Tanya Schools, said having the ability to use the Droid X as a Wi-Fi hotspot to other devices was part of its allure. “With work and everything, I need Wi-Fi and I need the hotspot,” she said in a video recorded by Verizon and posted on its site. “I need things to be fast. The EnV3 didn’t hold up to that standard, but I’ve come in twice and played with the Droid X demo, and I’m blown away, absolutely blown away.”

Verizon officials said they were excited about the early turnout. They said the Droid X had sold out in some stores, but customers could order units to have them delivered to their homes.

The Droid X, manufactured by Motorola, sells for $200 after rebate and a two-year agreement with Verizon. It runs Google ‘s Android 2.1 operating system, but will be upgraded over the air to version 2.2, probably by late August. At that time, it will also be possible to download Adobe’s Flash 10.1 media player to the device.

Verizon, Motorola and Google heavily promoted the Droid X in advance of sales, even airing an unusual 60-second teaser ad the night before on television stations nationwide. The ad features pressure-suit clad actors entering a vault in an open strip mine in a desert locale, and follows them as they walk through a corridor before they confront a floating crystal object. It concludes with a blackout to the words, “tomorrow” and “Droid X.”

Another edgy Droid X TV ad began airing over past few days that features a close up of a human eye that turns into a robotic steel lens.

Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Brenda Raney said the latest ad was just one commercial in a campaign to promote the phone. She said future ads will “look different but stay with the same theme of how customers are transformed by the Droid X.”

Analysts have predicted that the entire Android community, especially Google, will go to great lengths to sell the Droid X. “Droid X is their answer to the iPhone,” said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. “I would expect them to spend megabucks promoting the thing.”

Gold said he’ll be watching how the Droid X sells compared with the iPhone 4, which had 1.7 million sales in the first three days it was available. While that figure will be hard to beat with only one Android model, “I think the X will do very well,” Gold said.

Danny Choy was one of the first customers in line at 8 a.m. to buy the Droid X smartphone at a Verizon Wireless store in Hiahleah, Fla. (Photo courtesy of Verizon Wireless)

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