Watch out RIM, the Motorola is out to get your enterprise customers with the Motorola Droid Pro ($180 with a two-year contract from Verizon). This smartphone, unveiled at Motorola’s press event at CTIA Fall 2010 in San Francisco, has some features ideal for business users and IT professionals. The other features and specs, however, aren’t enough to entice the everyday user. On top of that, call quality is surprisingly uneven.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Droid Pro is its BlackBerry-esque design. The first Droid to sport a vertical physical keyboard, the Pro is designed for one-handed texting. This phone isn’t exactly eye-catching; the hybrid full touchscreen with vertical QWERTY keyboard gives it an awkward appearance. Measuring 4.69-by-2.36-by-0.46-inches thick, the Pro does feel pretty good in hand, especially while you’re typing. It is also quite lightweight, weighing 4.7 ounces. When I initially played with the Droid Pro, I thought that it felt plasticky and not all that durable. After actually using it for an extended amount of time, however, I’m pretty impressed with the build quality. It feels solid in hand and the slightly glossy black plastic body with chrome detailing gives it a high-end, yet minimalist look.
The display doesn’t hold a candle to larger, higher resolution screens seen on phones like the Motorola Droid X or the 3.1-inch 320-by-480 display is sufficient for viewing your inbox or doing some casual Web browsing. Below the display, you’ll find the typical Android touch-sensitive buttons: Menu, Home, Back and Search. The left spine of the Pro houses the volume rocker and the micro-USB port. On the right spine, you’ll find a shortcut button that you can customize for whatever you need frequent and quick access to. This is incredibly easy to set up; you just go to your Settings > Applications > Quick launch. I programmed this button to launch my inbox.
The keyboard seems a bit narrow, but it is pretty easy to type on. The keys are nicely sculpted (and remarkably similar to the newer BlackBerry models) with a curve ridge across the top to prevent finger slippage. Though the keyboard is on the small side, it packs in a lot of useful keys. You get a dedicated voice command key, an “@” key, a whole row dedicated to numbers and a nicely-sized spacebar. Unfortunately, there’s no “.com” key, but I’ll live. I was able to bang out a few long e-mails and texts quickly with very little error.
Android for business
As the name implies, the Pro packs in a slew of features for business users and IT professionals. It has VPN support for multiple profiles, enhanced data encryption for both your phone and your microSD card (this feature won’t be rolled out until 2011, however), a built-in task manager (so you don’t need to download a third-party manager), remote wipe capabilities, Exchange-based device management and advanced password protection. You can also edit documents via the pre-installed Quick Office Device management application. The Pro is also a global handset and will support voice calling and data in over 200 countries worldwide making it ideal for those who travel frequently for business.
The Droid Pro also has mobile hotspot capabilities, a boon for business users. You can connect up to five devices to the mobile hotspot and I had no issues getting my Wi-Fi devices up and running.
The Droid Pro has total support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, another useful feature for business users. It is a snap to get your Gmail account up and running (this is Android after all) as well as any other POP3 or IMAP e-mail account.
Other than these additional features, the user interface is almost identical to the Motorola Droid 2. Running Android 2.2, the Pro also sports the MotoBlur skin except sans the MotoBlur cloud service (probably why Motorola isn’t calling this skin MotoBlur). The skin has been toned down a lot in comparison to the version on the Backflip and the Cliq. Gone are the chaotic bubbles taking over your homescreens to deliver Facebook status updates from high-school friends you no longer speak to or updates from random RSS feeds you subscribe to. MotoBlur isn’t as attractive as HTC Sense, but I liked how sharp the icons and text appeared and how easy and intuitive navigation was.
The skin features two widget bubbles on one homescreen, which you can sync with your social networks. There is also a navigation bar that lets you quickly switch between your various homescreens without having to flick through all of them to get to what you want.
Unfortunately, the skin interferes with some of the features in the native Android 2.2 OS. While you can upload pictures to your Google Picasa account, you can’t view photos from that account. It seems nitpicky, but what if you’re visiting family across the country and want to show them photos of your vacation without whipping out your laptop? Especially when you can see your Picasa album on vanilla Android 2.2?
Additionally, you’re stuck with the Motoblur camera interface; you don’t get the refined interface that comes with Android 2.2. For example, in order to bring up your shooting options in Motoblur, you have to touch the right side of the screen. And when you tilt the phone/camera, the controls don’t rotate. With Android 2.2, these controls are always exposed on your screen. It is a tiny detail, but why adopt a custom skin on certain apps only to make them worse?
Of course, you get all of the standard Google Android applications: Gmail, Maps, YouTube, and Talk for instant messaging. There’s an annoying amount of bloatware, like NFL Mobile, NFS Shift, and some Verizon-branded apps, but a few useful apps are thrown in there, such as Skype Mobile.
Like other Motorola Droid phones we’ve reviewed, the Pro’s 5-megapixel camera with a dual-LED flash isn’t all that impressive. As I mentioned previously, you get Motorola’s camera UI, which isn’t my favorite, but you get a good amount of scene modes and effects as well as face detection and geotagging. Photos taken indoors weren’t the best; colors looked washed out and details were fuzzy. My outdoor photos fared slightly better, but they weren’t all that impressive. The camcorder is equally mediocre; my 720-by-480 pixel resolution videos looked pretty fuzzy, but good enough for capturing short clips.
For your multimedia needs, you get the standard (although dull) Android media player. The player supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, H.263, H.264, MPEG-4 video and music files.
We tested network performance using the FCC-approved Ookla Speedtest.net application. Over Verizon’s 3G network in San Francisco, the Droid Pro averaged download speeds of 1340 kbps and upload speeds of 1061 kbps. This is quite fast and it showed in my hands-on use of the browser and various apps. These speeds will of course vary wherever you’re located.
Call quality was pretty dismal. There was a quiet, but annoying hum in the background of all of my calls. In one call, the hum went away for a few minutes, but then returned to irritate me. There was also a strange hollow sound for a few of my calls. It sounded like I was making phone calls in a tunnel. I think this might have something to do with the background noise cancellation microphones in the phone. Fortunately, none of my calls were dropped during my tests as Verizon has very good coverage in San Francisco.
The everyday smartphone shopper will probably pass on the Droid Pro, but it has the security and enterprise features to please any business or IT professional. Additionally, the form factor is ideal for quickly banging out e-mails and messages. It is unfortunate that the call quality is so strange though, or else the Droid Pro would be the perfect business phone.