Finally, a usable hardware keyboard

Of course, what’s really changed about the Droid 2 is the keyboard. I reviewed the original Droid a while back, and talked a lot about why I found the first Droid’s keyboard frustrating to the point of being unusable. What I was missing however was perspective on the original Droid’s refreshed keyboard, which has somewhat raised keys, and thus much better feedback. 

If you’re contemplating upgrading from the original device, just how much better the Droid 2’s keyboard will feel to you is purely a function of which revision of the original Droid you’re coming from. If you were an early adopter and got the first one, the difference is dramatic to the point of earth shattering. Most people I know with the first revision, concave-key sporting version don’t even use the hardware keyboard. However, if you’ve already got a later revision from hopping onboard later or RMA, the difference isn’t nearly as dramatic. 


Motorola Droid (original) Keyboard


Motorola Droid 2 Keyboard

The oversized Dpad is gone, which is good for most things as it just didn’t serve much purpose in Android, but did have get use in some game emulators and other programs. Android developers are likely going to build interaction paradigms around whatever inputs are present on a majority of devices, and there just doesn’t seem to be a majority of Android handsets with Dpads or optical trackpads. You’re not totally screwed if you needed directional controls, however, as the Droid 2 maintains up down left and right keys in the bottom right. What’s really nice about the Droid 2 keyboard is that the space picked up from ditching the DPad has been put to really good use. The keyboard is arranged in an offset pattern just like a real QWERTY keyboard should be. 

The domes themselves are also convex, just like they always should have been. Even better are raised bars on j and f for index finger placement—again, just like a real keyboard. 

There are dedicated search, microphone input, back, and ok buttons as well. The result is that with the exception of home, all of the capacitive buttons are present in landscape mode as well. There’s alt-lock in the place of caps lock, which is a bit odd, but everything you’d expect is here. 

The Droid 2 has pulled a complete 180 from the original Droid’s travesty of a keyboard. I’d say the device has gone from having one of the industry’s worst smartphone keyboards to arguably one of the best, if not the best. My only major complaint is that the top row of keys is too close to the slider—your fingers will occasionally brush the top. It just feels like there should be an extra millimeter or two of space, especially considering how there’s plenty of that at the bottom. Just look at the photos above and you'll clearly see that the original Droid had an extra mm or two at the top. If you've got long fingernails, this reduced space will definitely pose a problem. 

The keyboard slider assembly is likewise unchanged from the original Droid. There’s no spring assist—just friction. There are thankfully two clicks for keeping the phone in the closed or open position, but nothing more. Sliding the tray open and closed is smooth, but not very. 

After a week of use—greasy glossy back and scrapes from sliding mechanism

I don’t think anyone will complain about it, and don’t get me wrong—it isn’t a problem—but I’m left wondering why Motorola seriously couldn’t add two strips of Teflon to the slider and make it feel smooth as glass. HTC has done it forever. 

As it stands, you can clearly see the slider assembly making marks on the glossy back of the display, which begs another question: why the heck is this so glossy? Regardless, the addition of some teflon would make the Droid 2’s slider rightfully feel like a piece of precision engineering or an expensive micrometer. Otherwise, it feels forced and a bit cheap. There’s also one or two degrees of oreo effect when the keyboard tray is closed. In the open position, the mechanism is completely solid. 

The Droid 2's backlighting is adequate, but just a bit understated. I didn't have problems finding keys in the dark, but they're not super bright, just lit. 

On the whole, the Droid 2 feels much the same as the original device. What’s different is that Motorola has worked out the few hardware oddities (like that chin at the bottom) and smoothed over the hardware’s rough spots. Literally smoothed over—the 2 has gracefully rounded edges along the outside and slightly longer radius curves in most others.

The result is probably the most optimal balance between ties to the old Droid and a much needed refresh. 

Hardware Impressions and Subjective Analysis Virtual Keyboards - Multitouch, Swype, Swiftkey
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  • Brian Klug - Sunday, September 19, 2010 - link

    Thanks for calling me out on that, I totally suspected I had forgotten something important. Can't believe I did that. /facepalm

    -Brian
    Reply
  • stlc8tr - Sunday, September 19, 2010 - link

    "The Droid 2 has pulled a complete 180 from the original Droid’s travesty of a keyboard. I’d say the device has gone from having one of the industry’s worst smartphone keyboards to arguably one of the best, if not the best. "

    Really? Have you tried the Touch Pro2 keyboard? Good travel. Nice offset. Numbers row. Good spacing between keys. It's nearly perfect. That is by far the best keyboard that I've ever used.

    http://www.mobileguerilla.com/images/htc-touch-pro...
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Sunday, September 19, 2010 - link

    I had a Touch Pro and Touch Pro 2 for a long time. I have to agree - HTC has dominated the landscape keyboard landscape for a while, but on Android platform it's hard to beat the Droid 2 right now.

    Until we get the landscape HTC device that we've seen spy shots of. I don't think it has a codename yet, but it has that Touch Pro 2 keyboard.

    I think we definitely agree.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • wyvernknight - Sunday, September 19, 2010 - link

    I think the blur animation that you're talking about when you open and close the app drawer is simply a stock Android 2.2 animation and not a Motoblur add-on. Reply
  • hansel2099 - Sunday, September 19, 2010 - link

    muy buen celular Reply
  • lunarx3dfx - Sunday, September 19, 2010 - link

    This is very disappointing. Your reviews are always very informative and for the most part all inclusive, but I've noticed in the last few reviews the Palm Pre has been absent. Now, I know that most would say, well it's Palm, and they are pretty much dead. However, unlike the Nexus One, which is included in all these reviews, I'm sure there were more Pre's sold than the Nexus One meaning that there are probably a few consumers out there that would like to see how it stacks compared to a new phone that they might be considering. It's just a suggestion.

    Also, for those who might be wondering, my overclocked to 1 GHz Palm Pre scored as follows:
    Browsermark: 24492
    Sunspider: 11228

    I'd like to point out that those scores are still pretty high up on the list.
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Sunday, September 19, 2010 - link

    Hey lunarx3dfx, I've got a Palm Pre Plus here that we got in for review, so I haven't really been able to include benchmarks from those suites until now. It'll show up in the new benchmarks though. On stock clocks I get 22298 ms on sunspider and 12936 on browsermark. Those 1 GHz speeds are actually pretty impressive.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • ol1bit - Sunday, September 19, 2010 - link

    I think it's awesome that you are reviewing Smart Phones now. After all, they are truning more and more into computers.

    I've been into computers since the TSR-80 Color computer, and can't believe how far things have advances. http://oldcomputers.net/coco.html

    Anyway Thank You!
    Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Sunday, September 19, 2010 - link

    Brian, I commend you for this engineering review and attention to detail. You made some great observations, like the ridiculous waste of space when text messaging.

    The inability to delete the stupid verizon and google bookmarks is inexcusable. Not mentioned is also the inability to delete or even just hide the garbage apps that come by default, including Blockbuster and Amazon MP3. So much for "Droid Does". Droid Doesn't let you delete the preinstalled crap. Besides rooting of course.

    I noticed in a Verizon store using the X with the 2 side-by-side that the 2 has noticeably worse scrolling performance in the app list.

    As for that 1cm of empty space to the right of the keyboard, they should have used that to make the keyboard even bigger! It was wasted, in order to have the phone dip down 2mm near the edge, which really doesn't accomplish anything.

    A huge gripe I have is how syncing with facebook causes your entire contact list to be overtaken. The only remedy seems to be not not add facebook as an account, and give yourself a link to facebook.com on your desktop.

    I am disappointed with the ever-present touch screen lag. Clicking and scrolling anything has a lagged effect from your input. Unfortunately, many people lack lag sensitivity, so we end up with displays and phones that exhibit an acceptable amount of lag to a few designers or testers, which is unacceptable to guys like me.
    Reply
  • evilspoons - Sunday, September 19, 2010 - link

    I find it amusing how you're talking about the Droid 1 as if it's a dinosaur from the land of ancient, forgotten technology... yet it's still a year newer than the Blackberry I use all the time (Nov 2009 vs Aug 2008). Hmmm. Maybe it's time to upgrade.

    Only one of the local wireless carriers has the Droid 1 (sold as the Milestone because Droid is licensed to Verizon from Lucasfilm) and we just got it recently. The only recent-ish Android phone my current provider (Rogers) has is the Xperia X10. Ugh.

    It's really just an iPhone 4 or a 6-12 month out-of-date handset for us up in the Great White North.
    Reply

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