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The new Verizon Droid: perfect for the AT&T haters?

Verizon's new high-powered smartphone, the Motorola Droid, is a fun little device and a worthy opponent to Apple Inc.'s hit iPhone.

The Droid, which went on sale today for $199, is the first smartphone to incorporate the latest version of the Google Android operating system. Motorola did a fine job of integrating the operating system with the phone's hardware, making phone-calling, emailing, Web-surfing and media playing all fairly intuitive -- though ultimately not quite as slick as what the iPhone offers.

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For Verizon, the stakes are high as AT&T has posted a growing subscriber base, thanks to the new iPhone 3GS, which also sells for $199.

Verizon is widely considered to have a very good network, while Motorola has had strong-selling phones in the past. But both companies have struggled in recent years to come up with a response to the popular iPhone – that is, until this Droid.

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I got a demo unit today and have played with it for several hours. Sure, the Droid is boxy and slightly thicker and heavier than the sleek, svelte iPhone. But it's a solid device with an easy-on-the-thumbs touchscreen and user interface.

It has a five megapixel camera, with a flash and zoom function and which also shoots video. The iPhone's camera, by comparison, is 3 megapixels and has auto-focus, but it doesn't zoom. Yet the Droid's camera moves too slow in taking a picture after you press the touch-screen button.

Moving through the screens and opening up the applications, the Droid feels almost as fast as the iPhone 3GS, Apple's latest model. In a side-by-side comparisons of the Droid and the iPhone 3GS, the YouTube app actually opened a few seconds quicker on the Droid than the iPhone, and streamed a high-definition video in crystal clarity.

The Droid connects to Amazon.com's digital music offering. The iPhone, however, tightly integrates with iTunes and, has the edge in user interface for media playback. Same with Web browsing: Apple's Safari browser on the iPhone is a little more snappy than the Droid's browser. But honestly, expect Web browsing on the Droid to get better as Google updates the platform.

Perhaps the killer app that defines the Droid right now is Google Maps and its new navigation offering. This free functionality turns the phone into a virtual GPS unit, giving the user turn-by-turn voice navigation. No longer do you have to take your eyes off the road to look at a small screen -- all you have to do is listen to the guiding voice.

An optional bracket allows you to mount the Droid in the horizontal position on your windshield, for easy use while driving.

It remains to be seen if Google will make the same navigation app available for free on the iPhone. If so, such a free app would undercut other, pricey paid apps that offer similar GPS functionality through Apple's App Store.

Some more features that help it stand apart from the iPhone: The Droid offers a replaceable battery and a slot for removable memory card. So the phone comes with a 16 gigabyte SD memory card, but you can expand it to 32 gigabytes with a new card.

The iPhone 3GS comes in two models – a 16 gigabyte and a 32 gigabyte – and their memory is not removable.

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The Droid has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, while the iPhone does not have a physical keyboard. The Droid's keys however, are a little small and flat – for those of you with chubby, stubby thumbs and fingers, beware. It can get cramped when you're typing. The iPhone's touch-screen keyboard has a better feel and responsiveness than the Droid's offering.

Perhaps the big difference between the two phones: their respective application offerings. Apple now offers around 100,000 applications through its App Store. Google's Android Market, by comparison, has around 10,000. But you can expect more and more developers to fill in the Android Market with their app offerings.

For many consumers, 10,000 apps may be more than enough to convince them to buy a Droid.

(photo credit: AP)


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