Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/3826/motorola-droid-x-thoroughly-reviewed



You have to hand it to Motorola; as little as a year ago their future looked bleak. Android was still in its infancy and lacking polish, mainstream devices running it were few, and there weren’t public or visible signs of any forthcoming devices which would challenge the dominance of BlackBerry or iOS, especially from Motorola. A few months later, they launched the Motorola Droid, and a few months after the floodgates opened up - out has poured a steady stream of relatively polished devices running Android 2.x. It’s been breakneck almost, with new flagships every 3 months on average - the latest is Motorola’s Droid X on Verizon - henceforth just 'X.'

You also have to hand it to Verizon for getting its act together. Previously, they were infamous for crippling device hardware and OSes - the Touch Pro notoriously lacked an entire row of keys, and half the RAM. Their smartphone lineup also used to consist entirely of BlackBerries and Windows Mobile devices. That’s all changed.

Since the first Motorola Droid, they’ve been probably the single most vocal proponent of Android, embracing and billing their lineup of “Droids” as serious iPhone alternatives. The unique combination of being the largest carrier and the largest 3G footprint (and the  perception of having above average coverage) has resulted in massive growth of the Android platform. That’s definitely a turnaround for two giants.

Eight months after launch, the Motorola Droid is now a relatively old piece of kit. It’s amazing how fast the market is moving - the fact that an 8 month old handset is now obsolete is a testament to just how breakneck this pace is.

Motorola and HTC are now locked in a battle for dominance of the Android segment on the nation’s largest carrier. On one side is the HTC Incredible, on the other is the X and eventually the Droid 2. Across the aisle at Sprint, HTC has the EVO 4G. If you’re interested in a smartphone of the Android variety, you’ve got the most options ever right now, and the X is the newest contender. Let’s dive in.
 



Meet the Droid X

The X is big, eXtreme, even. In many ways, the X is Motorola’s EVO, sans 4G. Both pack 4.3 inch screens, but no keyboard. In fact, the X is slightly taller than the HTC EVO by  5.6 mm on paper (127.5 for the X, 121.9 for the EVO), which itself is impressive. That’s not to say it’s unusably large, or that the size is a problem, but it’s a big phone that commands big pockets.

Everything about the X seems like it can be followed up with a “that’s what she said.” The thing’s size, performance, how long it lasts - on battery of course. Seriously, you can mentally add that onto so many sentences, it seems as if the EVO and X are both answers to the proverbial question “why not?”

In reality, the 4.x” size screen phones seem a class of their own now, of which the EVO and X are newest members. Until we grow larger thumbs (genetic modification perhaps?) I think this is the upper limit for smartphone screen size until we get foldable screens. Any larger, and your thumb literally can’t sweep out far enough to reach the far corners of the screen. Anand has stated before that his cutoff size for when the tablet segment starts is at 5 inches; I think that’s right on the money.
 

The X increases the screen size of the original Droid, while maintaining the somewhat unique FWVGA 854x480 resolution of the original Droid (Motorola erroneously maintains this is WVGA), compared to the more standard WVGA 800x480 resolution of other Android devices. The result is that dot pitch is a bit higher on the X than the EVO. It’s interesting that Motorola is sticking to FWVGA - this is admittedly exactly 16:9 aspect ratio and excellent for anamorphic videos, but no doubt still gives developers a bit of pause.

The other major change the X brings is TI's OMAP 3630 SoC with a 1GHz CPU core, but more on that in a bit.

The X is also thin. Really thin. The majority of the device is 9.9 mm thick, while the top of the device is 1.4 cm. Motorola has made a tradeoff here - make the rest of the device thin and wide at the expense of a bulge in another location. That bulge, unsurprisingly, is the camera. The camera’s optical system simply requires a certain throw distance. Motorola could’ve made the entire device a uniform (and beefy) thickness, or do what it did and make a phone with a bit of a step.

The step isn’t a problem at all. I couldn’t feel it in my pocket, don’t think it’s ugly, and it has the added benefit of keeping most of the device propped up off of whatever surface it’s on. The result is that you won’t scratch the camera cover, won’t scratch the back of the device, and won’t have the device rock and roll from having a curved backside. The other positive is that when rested, the device is propped up at a few degrees.

But probably the biggest and most welcome change is that Motorola has ditched the ubiquitous capacitive buttons that have been an intermittent annoyance on some Android devices.

Some phones have pulled it off perfectly - the EVO’s buttons work fine, and the Motorola Droids that I’ve played with were perfect - but on others it’s a real scourge. On my Nexus One, the entire digitizer intermittently decides that keyboard presses map to menu, home, or back at times. Apparently I’m not alone either.

On the X, the row of buttons are the real uncut deal, and they’re perfect. There are really two sets of rocker buttons - the leftmost two is one rocker, the rightmost two are the other - but you won’t notice. They don’t jut out a lot, and don’t get pressed accidentally in the pocket. Right below the row of buttons in the center is one of three microphones on the X.

Up at the top of the X is the proximity sensor, notification LED and handset speaker. The proximity sensors are on the right side under the plastic, and the LED is on the left. There’s also the ambient light sensor up there.

On the right side of the phone are the volume up/down buttons, and the two level camera button. Motorola made a sort of big deal about their gold colored camera button on the original Droid, so I’m really confused why it’s a metallic red now. The volume rocker on the original Droid used to be stiff and problematic, the X’s is perfect. The camera button still requires a lot of force to click in all the way, and remains the only way to actually trigger camera capture.

Moving around to the other side are the Micro-USB and Micro-HDMI ports. They’re a bit close together - maybe I’m special, but more than once I found myself trying to plug the USB charger into the HDMI port on accident.

Up top, there’s the power/lock button, 1/8” headphone jack, and a second microphone port. The top is slightly tilted - thankfully the power button doesn’t stick out normal to this surface, but rather perpendicular with respect to the display. Otherwise it’d get worn in really odd and probably fail fast.

The bottom is where things are interesting. There’s the slightly raised 14 mm bulge where the camera and LED flash are, which rolls off over part of the battery door to the 9.9 mm thickness area. Finally, down at the bottom is the third of the X’s microphones, and a slit for the speakerphone. You can slide a fingernail in there, but there’s thankfully a fine mesh preventing pocket lint from collecting inside. The Motorola logo has some pattern to it, so it shouldn’t rub off.

In the Motorola Droid review, I talked a lot about the beefy metal battery door. I’m pleased to report that the X has one as well, and it slides on and off snug and secure, doesn’t creak, doesn’t vibrate. It’s solid. Under that door is battery - you have to pull up on a tab to get the battery out. Once it’s out, you can get to the preinstalled 16 GB microSD card. The card doesn’t have a push-click mechanism, it simply slides in and out.

My only complaint about this pull tab battery release arrangement is that you pull and rotate the battery about the wrong axis. The battery slides in and goes down along its long axis, while the tab pulls up and kind of pries the battery against the way it slides in. I could see someone - if they’re not careful - being aggressive and breaking something, but I’ve yanked the battery numerous times to get the SD card out and haven’t broken anything yet. Just be careful.

Looking carefully, there’s a gold contact switch next to the pull tab which clearly makes contact with the metal underside of the battery door. You can see where it’s made contact with the door and left a little mark as well. More on that later.

The plastic exterior on the X feels rubbery - it’s got a grippy tack that has lasted a few solid weeks of my greasy hands, and doesn’t slide around. On the front at the very top and very bottom, the plastic bits seem to actually be a stiff rubber. Not sure why you’d want those parts rubber, but they feel different and more rubbery.


Left: Motorola Droid. Right: Motorola Droid X.

Overall, the build quality of the X is solid. Motorola has pulled off two high end Android phones that really feel good and inspire a lot of confidence. There’s no give or play with any of the buttons, the volume buttons aren’t loose and broken out of the box like some Droids were, and the grippy plastic makes it feel even better. Again, I think having the phone tilt a few degrees and not rest completely flat on surfaces will help the back not get scratched up.
 



As I mentioned before, the X's obvious close comparison is the HTC EVO 4G. As noted, the X is a few millimeters taller than even the EVO. Not by much, but still notable.

The next interesting comparison is the original Motorola Droid, at least until the Droid 2 comes later this summer. My friend gracioiusly left me his original Droid for the purposes of this review and physical comparison - ironically he's since replaced it with an HTC Incredible, and after playing with my X, will replace it as soon as he can get an X.

From top to bottom in this following photo is the iPhone 4, HTC EVO, X, Droid, and Nexus One.

Splayed out on a surface, from left to right; X, HTC EVO, Droid, Nexus One, iPhone 4. We'll talk more about the displays later. My Droid 1 unfortunately lacked a battery which is why the display is off, but later on I'll show a comparison.

 

Packaging

We’ve talked about packaging briefly with other smartphones, so we might as well talk about the X’s. It’s there and it’s square. Honestly, the X’s box is a bit spartan, but since Verizon is intent on selling lots of these things, it needs a good pallet density. The X rests inside with little space at top and bottom to spare.

Inside are just the necessities. You get a micro-USB cable which is a short 3 feet or so, and the USB charger. There’s 5 booklets of stuff about phones probably giving you cancer, and a getting started guide in two languages you won’t ever read. None of this paperwork is actually the manual (for that, you have to go online and grab the linked PDF).

I wish the X’s bundled USB cable was longer. I don’t know what other people do, but I usually put my phone on my nightstand. Maybe it’s just me, but 3 feet isn’t enough to let the phone be plugged in, or in my hands in bed. I almost always end up buying a huge USB extender cable (I’m looking at you, Apple). The Nexus One thankfully came with a generously long cable. Maybe I’m being too picky.

As I noted, the unbranded, class 4 16 GB MicroSD card comes preinstalled in the X. There’s no case, box, or packaging for it, but 16 GB is pretty generous for a MicroSD card.
 



Years ago, before we hit the power wall, CPU innovation happened at a slow but steady pace. Every five years or so we’d get a new microprocessor architecture and every couple of years we’d get smaller transistors.

The smaller transistors made chips run cooler and at higher clock speeds. The shrink in die area also paved the way for new features, but between major architectural shifts those features normally came in the form of larger caches.

Texas Instruments’ move from the OMAP 3430, used in phones like the Palm Pre, to the OMAP 3630 used in the Droid X is reminiscent of this sort of steady progress I mentioned above.

The OMAP 3430 was built on a 65nm process (like Qualcomm's Snapdragon), while the 3630 is a 45nm shrink (like Apple's A4). Architecturally the two SoCs are very similar. They both use a standard ARM Cortex A8 CPU paired with an Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX 530 GPU. The two SoCs fit in the same size package (12mm x 12mm BGA) and are ball compatible. If a customer wanted to, it could simply drop in a 3630 into an existing 3430 design with minimal engineering efforts.

Note that the most direct competitor to the 3630 is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon. While TI uses a standard Cortex A8 core from ARM, Qualcomm designed its own low power ARMv7 based core that is similar, but not identical to the Cortex A8. Both are dual-issue, in-order architectures - they’re like the original Pentium, but in your phone. Qualcomm also integrated the cellular modem into the Snapdragon SoC while TI’s OMAP 3 is a strict application processor - the modem is housed in a separate chip.

On the CPU side TI doubled the L1 cache of the 3430 to 64KB (32KB instruction, 32KB data). The L2 cache remains unchanged at 256KB. We won’t get a larger L2 until the OMAP 4, which will ship with a 1MB L2 shared among its two cores. There are the usual tweaks and bug fixes which may improve performance per clock a little bit over the 3430, but overall the 3630 just gets a larger L1 as a result of the die shrink - oh and a much higher clock speed.

The Cortex A8 now runs at up to 1GHz. The OMAP 3430 topped out at 800MHz in shipping configurations but most vendors ran it at sub-600MHz speeds to save power. The 3630 in the Droid X runs at a full 1GHz. It's worth pointing out that Qualcomm was able to hit 1GHz on a similar architecture at 65nm by designing its core from the ground up. There's clearly value in these custom designs from a performance and time to market standpoint. These advantages will only become more critical as the SoC performance wars heat up.

Power Consumption

The OMAP 3 as well as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoC support dynamic voltage and frequency scaling. Based on application demand and cues from the OS the CPU clock speed and voltage can vary. The Cortex A8 in the OMAP 3630 will drop down to the low 300MHz range when idle at the Android home screen and ramp all the way up to 1GHz when needed.


TI's OMAP 3630 running at full tilt


...and automatically underclocked to 446MHz under lighter load

This is nothing unique to the OMAP 3630, but it shows that frequency and voltage scaling is alive and well in Android.

TI supports full power and clock gating. All major IP blocks are placed on their own power islands, so based on input from the OS the CPU, GPU, video decoder, etc... can ramp down depending on the application needs at the time. The power and clock gating is no more granular in the 3630 than it was in the 3430. What has changed however are operating voltages.

While the 3430 needed 1.35V to hit 720MHz, the 3630 can reach 1GHz at around 1.26V. That still sounds a bit high to me but at the same clock speed, thanks to voltage scaling, you can drop power by around 30% compared to the 3430.

Coupled with the dynamic voltage/frequency scaling of all OMAP 3 parts this means that overall power efficiency should be better on the 3630 vs. the 3430. The added CPU performance in the form of larger L1 caches and a higher clock speed should make tasks complete quicker and allow the 3630 to get to a lower voltage state than the 3430 was ever able to reach.

Samsung has already shown off 1.2GHz+ versions of its Cortex A8 based SoC at 45nm, so I would expect to see higher clocked versions of the 45nm OMAP 3 family to follow at some point in time.



The OMAP GPU - Powered by Imagination Technologies

TI continues to license its GPUs from Imagination Technologies. Rather than move to the PowerVR SGX 535 used by Apple and Intel, TI stuck with the same PowerVR SGX 530 core used in the OMAP 3430. The difference between the SGX 530 and 535 is as follows.

ImgTec refers to the execution hardware in its Series 5 GPUs as a Universal Scalable Shader Engine (USSE). Each USSE pipe can execute a 2-wide vector or up to a 4-way SIMD scalar op in a single clock. Both the SGX 530 and 535 have two USSE pipes from what I can tell.

The SGX 535 used in Apple’s A4 and Intel’s Atom Z600 series apparently have a second texturing unit and DirectX 9L support.

We’d expect that 3D apps on smartphones are more compute bound these days so it’s difficult to say how much you lose by going with the SGX 530 vs. 535. Until we get a Moorestown dev kit running Android we won’t be able to shed much light on that.

While the OMAP 3430 ran the GPU core at ~110MHz, the 3630 ramps it up to 200MHz. We’re seeing a lot of convergence around this 200MHz mark at 45nm. Intel runs the SGX 535 in Moorestown (Atom Z600 series) at 200MHz as well and I believe that’s what Apple uses in the A4 as well.

The 80% increase in GPU clock speed should result in significant real world GPU performance improvements. Just as with the CPU, there are no significant architectural changes to the GPU - it just runs faster.

The memory controller is still a 32-bit LPDDR1 interface, but can now run at up to 200MHz (the 3430 was limited to 166MHz). Should a customer choose to go for 200MHz LPDDR1 you’d get a 20% increase in memory bandwidth which will come in handy with the faster GPU in 3D apps for sure.

The GPU Performance Showdown: Snapdragon vs. OMAP 3630

When Brian first started cranking on the Droid X review he wanted to put the Qualcomm Adreno 200 vs. PowerVR SGX debate to rest. We had always reported that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon GPU was slower than the PowerVR SGX used in Apple’s A4 and TI’s OMAP 3, but we didn’t have a good idea of how much slower. Until now that is.

Armed with the Google Nexus One (Snapdragon QSD8250), Motorola Droid (OMAP 3430) and Motorola Droid X (OMAP 3630) all running Android 2.x (the N1 was running 2.2) we polished off one of the most popular GPU benchmarks of our time: Quake III Arena.

The kwaak3 project ported Q3A from a Nokia N900 version to Android. With a bit of elbow grease and getting around the lack of touchscreen keyboard support, we got the benchmark running. All scores were generated at default graphics quality settings and at native resolution, which unfortunately means the Droid X has around 7% more pixels to render than the other Android devices.

Even with the handicap, the 200MHz PowerVR SGX 530 core manages double the frame rate of the Adreno 200 in the Nexus One’s Snapdragon. Even the 110MHz SGX 530 is faster.

Here’s another interesting tidbit - we’re actually CPU bound on all of these platforms running demo four in Q3A:


Droid X (OMAP 3630) CPU utilization while running Quake III Arena

Intel is talking about greater than 100 fps frame rates with Atom Z600, meaning that the advantage is strictly on the CPU side. This also tells us that the PowerVR SGX 530 may even be a good fit for next year’s Cortex A9 based SoCs, even though TI has already committed to using the SGX 540 in its OMAP 4 line.

Neocore is another popular GPU benchmark, although this one is written for Qualcomm’s Adreno 200. The OpenGL ES 1.1 benchmark is mostly a GPU test but also stresses the platform as a whole. Running on our OMAP 3 based phones we see an average of 50% CPU utilization during the test.


The Droid X (OMAP 3630) CPU utilization while running Neocore

Interestingly enough, running the same test on a Snapdragon platform shows higher CPU utilization:


The Nexus One (Snapdragon) CPU utilization while running Neocore

The benchmark could be very well optimized for Qualcomm’s Scorpion core resulting in better CPU utilization compared to a Cortex A8.

The Adreno 200 in the Nexus One and EVO 4G outperforms the PowerVR SGX in the original Droid by 4 - 14%. This isn’t a surprise given the Qualcomm branding on the benchmark. The 45nm SGX 530 running at 200MHz puts all question to rest, the OMAP 3630 is 53% faster than Snapdragon.

The comparison here is obviously more than just GPU to GPU. We’re dealing with different CPU cores (ARM Cortex A8 vs. Qualcomm Scorpion), different memory controllers, different caches, and different drivers. Just as we’ve seen in the desktop GPU race, driver and benchmark optimizations have a lot to do with 3D performance results. I put more faith in the Quake 3 results, however those too came from a port optimized for PowerVR’s SGX.



CPU and General Use Performance

Snapdragon is what Qualcomm calls its SoC, but the CPU itself is called Scorpion. Scorpion is very similar to ARM’s Cortex A8, but with potentially twice the Neon (SIMD FP) throughput. In day to day use however, I don’t expect to see a huge difference between the Scorpion and A8 CPU cores used by Qualcomm and TI respectively.

We’ll start with the targeted browser tests, first SunSpider. A javascript performance test, this benchmark is completely network independent but it measures the performance of the browser as well as the underlying hardware.

SunSpider shows the Droid X roughly on par with the Nexus One running Android 2.1, and a bit slower than the HTC offerings. This benchmark is as much of a software test as it is a hardware one since the move to Froyo (Android 2.2) cuts benchmark times in more than half.

The performance delta from the original Droid to the Droid X is extremely pronounced here. The Droid is just plain slow, and to think it wasn’t that long ago that we were begging manufacturers to use the Cortex A8. The X is a major step forward compared to last year’s high end smartphones.

Next up is the Rightware BrowserMark. This test combines JavaScript and HTML rendering performance:

BrowserMark puts the Droid X in the same league as other Android 2.1 phones. In terms of real world web browsing it doesn’t look like there’s any real difference between the OMAP 3630 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon.

Turning an eye towards the real world we have a WiFi web page loading test. Here we’ve got a local copy of the AnandTech front page and we’re loading it over WiFi. Note that these results can’t be compared to previous tests as they are running in a slightly different environment than in previous reviews.

The lower level synthetic CPU tests mostly echo our findings thus far - there's very little difference in CPU performance between the OMAP 3630 and Qualcomm's Snapdragon.

The Linpack and Pi tests are very much compiler benchmarks as well as platform tests. We’ve actually had to remove the Froyo Nexus One results from the Linpack graph simply because they make the graph unreadable - Froyo is nearly 3x the speed of the fastest Android 2.1 phone here.

On a relatively level playing field, with all phones running Android 2.1, the Droid X is around twice the speed of the original Droid. The OMAP 3630 even holds a performance advantage over Snapdragon in this test. While Linpack as a workload isn’t very representative of what most people will do with their phones, it is a great FP and cache benchmark.

From a CPU and platform perspective, TI’s OMAP 3630 appears to be just as fast as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoC. The two perform very similarly across the board regardless of benchmark. The OMAP most visible advantage is in its GPU. The PowerVR SGX 530, especially running at 200MHz in the OMAP 3630, is at least 50% faster than the present day competition in other Android phones. It should be similar to performance offered by Apple’s A4.



Of course, any discussion of the OMAP 3630 series would be incomplete without mention of the recent headlines involving Motorola’s potentially locked down bootloader.

The original controversy stemmed from speculation that Motorola would be blowing e-Fuses on the OMAP platform. If you’ve been following console modifications the last few years, you’ll likely recall that Microsoft has been using and blowing e-fuses for years now to prevent users from downgrading the Xbox 360 kernel. The reality is that TI has included mobile security and e-fuses through M-Shield on their SoCs for some time now, including the OMAP 3430 on the original Droid. We pinged TI just to clarify our suspicions:

“TI's M-Shield technology, which is integrated on the OMAP processors, does include OEM-specific, one-time-programmable keys (e-fuse) that are only accessible from inside the secure environment for authentication and encryption. It is up to our customers - Motorola in this case - to comment on how this component is utilized on our chips.”

So M-Shield and e-fuses have always been on the TI datasheet, Motorola has just decided to use them on the X. It’s highly likely that the X will have an encrypted and locked down bootloader just like the original Droid’s European cousin, the Motorola Milestone - a device which is still unbroken months later. If Motorola goes this route, it’s possible that it will be a long time before we see the same kind of custom ROMs on the X as we did the original Droid, and if a phone’s bootloader isn’t unlocked within a few months, the phone will likely be forgotten and replaced with the latest and greatest. 

Motorola’s official statement on the matter is that while they won’t be bricking devices, they will be enforcing official firmware for the OS and baseband - and the mechanism for doing so is with e-fuses. The result is that if you aren’t running updated and approved software (assumedly OS and baseband), the X will go into recovery mode and won’t boot until approved software is re-installed. 

Motorola is in an interesting bind here - there are carrier requirements and other legal requirements which force them to lock the bootloader. However, bootloaders from HTC devices are famously (in fact, possibly purposefully) easy to crack, making it easy for anyone to cook and flash their own ROMs and enable all kinds of customization. If the X truly is as locked down or more locked down than the Milestone, it might not even see that kind of development at all. As it stands now, if that kind of modification is important to you, you’re better off with an HTC device.

Android’s openness is an interesting subject. The platform is undeniably more open, but users are still forced to unlock bootloaders and flash custom ROMs, or root their devices to play around with things like overclocking or even loading different skins (Sense, Blur, stock, or others). Though it’s unquestionably less locked down than iOS, Google and its partners could do well to take a look at Nokia, which famously provides instructions for and even encourages users to gain root on devices like the N900. 



What's Next? OMAP 4 in 2011, Mainstream 3630

While we've already seen hardware based on it today, in 2011 TI expects that its high end customers will be shipping devices based on the OMAP 4 SoC. Like NVIDIA’s Tegra 2, OMAP 4 will use ARM’s first Out of Order microprocessor - the Cortex A9. The L2 cache will jump to a beefy (for a mobile SoC) 1MB, the memory interface will be upgraded to LPDDR2 and overall performance will take a big step forward towards Intel’s Atom platform.

With that in mind, where will this leave today’s 3630? The mainstream market of course.

Today, SoCs like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and TI’s OMAP 3630 are found only in the highest end flagship phones. ARM11 based offerings are still quite popular elsewhere in the market. Eventually, TI expects this to change.

The move to 45nm will allow TI to move the 3630 and its derivatives into more mainstream devices. The OMAP 4 however will push the 3630 down and become the new flagship SoC going forward. In other words, the Cortex A8 will finally start replacing ARM11 in mainstream smartphones.



Software - Android 2.1

I want some froyo already.

The X launched with Android 2.1, although Motorola emphatically promises that they will update the X to 2.2 “late summer.” That update will bring all the Froyo goodness I’ve been enjoying on my Nexus One since the update, including flash, tweaks to the UI, much improved responsiveness, and “update all” in the market among a host of others.


Droid X Software - after OTA Update

To be honest, using 2.1 on the X makes it just feel old after using my Nexus One with 2.2 solidly for a few weeks. I can understand Motorola wanting to launch the X as soon as possible, but launching mid summer and promising a platform-changing and relatively major update by late summer is a bit puzzling.

Motorola Droid reviews written running 2.0 at launch read totally different than reviews from the device running 2.1. So too will the X will be changed from 2.1 to 2.2. Hopefully we’ll still have our X when the update hits, because 2.2 honestly makes 2.1 feel old in so many ways. I’ve been spoiled running my Nexus One with froyo more than I thought possible. That’s not to say that 2.1 isn’t totally manageable and workable, it’s just that for a phone launching right now, the update can’t come soon enough.

MOTOBLUR lite edition

Motorola has rolled a lite version of their BLUR interface and skin into the X. It isn’t the full on intrusive BLUR that the CLIQ or Devour featured. It’s not as much of a reskinning as HTC’s sense, but still does change the UI.

MOTOBLUR lite - it's honestly minimalist

The phone comes out of box with Blur widgets all over the home screens. Literally every single one has Motorola widgets and shortcuts, a number of which I immediately dragged to the trash.

Motorola tries to roll all of your social network messaging into a unified messaging application (whose icon consistently confuses me with Gmail’s shorcut icon). It’s a good idea that ended up pushing me over the Twitter API call limit a bunch of times on other devices, but does pull down Facebook messages and others effectively. 

Social Networking Unified Inbox - Great in theory, not perfect in practice

I’m just left wondering what use having this done is when Facebook and Twitter offer their own applications and integration - you can inadvertently wind up with two duplicate Facebook icons and inboxes in the messaging app.

But a lot of it I think is quite tasteful. The clock, calendar, and weather widgets are well done, arguably a bit better than Android’s default. The contacts shortcuts are also not bad. They still aren’t as nice as some of HTC Sense’s, but not nearly as bad as I expected them to be. Motorola keeps its widgets in a different tab when you long press on the home screen, so they’re not mixed into your main widgets library. If you don’t like ‘em, they’re segmented away in a separate menu entirely.

Blur Widgets - Not bad

The other interesting thing is the way most of the BLUR widgets are resizable. Long press on the widget, and up pop some resize handles at the corners. They’re a tiny hard to get the hang of at first, but you can then drag and resize the widget entirely. I think that’s kind of cool - for example, you can resize the date/calendar widget and see a ton of events instead of just one. Pull down the contacts widget, and you get more shortcuts. Make the weather widget longer, and you get more detail.

Blur widgets can be resized dynamically

The rest of the sense tweaks seem to make the interface actually less busy than stock Android. The signal icons are simple, the shade has no texture when you pull it out, and the applications launcher is just a bunch of application tiles. There’s no 3D cube effect like the Nexus One (which still feels laggy to me), nor a pop up shade like the old Droid, or a button and tray like Sense.

I feel like most of the Blur additions are pretty minimalist, thankfully.

The only major annoyance is what happens to the three icons at the bottom when you change screens left or right. Normally, you see three icons - phone, the applications launcher, and contacts. If you drag back and forth to change which home screen you’re on, however, this changes to a home logo and dots corresponding to the 7 home screens.


It changes from the bottom to the top when you're touching the screen.

The problem is that this visualization to let you know what screen you’re on (which itself seems a bit extraneous unless you’re spatially challenged) gets in the way of tapping on the applications launcher - it will replace the 3 icons for a full 3 seconds. I inevitably end up sliding to a different home screen, wanting to launch the app launcher, and tapping on home. It’s frustrating. I guess the icons are useful if you want to tap on a specific page, but seriously, it gets in the way.
 



FM Radio

The X, like the EVO and a number of other smartphones also doubles as an extremely expensive FM radio. 

FM Radio

The application is a bit different and has the same masculine red-robot theme to it that the whole Droid brand does. It works well and even tunes the radio data broadcast names and info. There was also a scan and auto create presets feature. It didn’t find one or two stations that I could tune manually, but that’s forgivable.

Skype Mobile

The X bundles Skype Mobile, a Verizon exclusive for BlackBerry and Android smartphones. The situation is relatively interesting. While skype to skype calls are free, and skype always is ready to receive calls, the implementation seems to be little more than a skype number and dialer - calls actually go over Verizon’s 1xRTT network same as any other voice call. Turn the cellular radio off, and you’ll find pretty quickly that you can’t place calls over WiFi data. As a result, call quality over Skype is exactly the same as a normal cellular call on CDMA.

Skype Mobile - Works only over Verizon Wireless

It works, but what everyone is really waiting for is bonafide Skype (with real VoIP) on Android. Complete with video calling support.

Keyboards on the X

While we’re on the subject of what software comes preinstalled on the X, we might as well talk about the keyboard. The X comes with two keyboards, Swype, and the Blur customized multitouch keyboard. In effect, I’d argue that the X comes with the best keyboards I’ve seen preloaded on an Android device yet.

Multitouch Keyboard

Before I dive into Swype, let’s talk about the default selected Blur multitouch keyboard. In a word, it’s awesome.

Default Multitouch Keyboard - Characters, Symbols

The combination of being relatively clean, basic, visual, and the larger screen size makes the multitouch keyboard excellent. I found myself typing on the X just as fast as I could on other devices right out of the box, despite not having a hardware keyboard. To some extent, the Blur keyboard is seems to derive key placement inspiration from iOS, but has slightly taller keys.

I’ve talked with a lot of people who love the HTC Sense keyboard - I found that although it was better than the default Android keyboard, it still was far too visually busy and distracting. This is one place where I think Motorola has actually added something valuable to Android on the X - a multitouch keyboard without more extras that just make it visually confusing.

There’s a few other things that the Blur interface adds to text input. Start typing, and for the first couple of keystrokes, you’ll see a red circle with others around it - it’s a symbol that begs you to tap and hold.

Magnification, Press Gesture - iOS inspired much?

Do just that, and you’ll get the eyeglass-like cursor place tool exactly like what iOS has. If you long press without the red circle being present, you’ll get the normal pop up to edit text and change the input method.

Honestly, I think this is perfect. It’s a ripoff of iOS, but even Jobs acknowledges the value of copying from great artists. In this regard, I think the Motorola customization offers something valuable.



Swype Keyboard

It isn’t enabled by default, but comes preloaded. I think it arguably is one of the largest steps forward in virtual keyboard interaction paradigms since the first iPhone’s usable virtual keyboard, perhaps since graffiti in Palm OS. Anyone remember those single stroke gestures? I had them down so pat back in the day I could nearly crank 30-40 WPM.

Regardless, Swype itself is a different and somewhat mind-bending way of inputting text. Instead of tapping and having the touch-up stroke denote a keypress, Swype works based on continual smooth swipes across the keyboard, with sharp changes in direction and a few other gestures denoting the characters that create a given word. You don’t input the entire word character by character, but swipe over the characters that form the word. Swype does some math behind the scenes, decides what word you likely meant based on those characters you passed, and pops out a word.

It’s mindbending because you run your finger across the keyboard instead of tapping. It’s even more of a twist because you might have to relearn the QWERTY layout a bit - I felt my mind CPU use go to 100% the first few words I tried. With a few days of practice, I was screaming along. The only side effect is that typing on a normal keyboard now feels odd; the first time I went back to my keyboard I found myself wanting to swype.

Left: Default installed keyboards, Middle: Typing "just," Right: Attempting to type "dood"

Most of it is straightfoward - trace out what characters make up the word - but there are a few other things you need to do for special cases. For words with a character that repeats immediately, like “hello,” you make a circle over the character. For capitalization, swipe off the top of the keyboard and then back down.

If Swype doesn’t know the word you’re trying to input, or there are multiple possible words that could be formed with the keys you’ve passed over, it’ll pop up a box and prompt you to select which one you meant.

Of course, you don’t necessarily have to always use the swype gestures on their keyboard - you can tap and press just like a normal keyboard. In fact, for words that swype doesn’t know, this is how you teach it.

I can understand why Swype is shipped with the X disabled, but it’s such a great and different input method that I’m honestly left wondering why Google doesn’t acquire and license it across the entire platform. Sure, it takes some time to learn, but the Swype tutorial is excellent - I went from no knowledge to swyping away in under 10 minutes. That's much easier than the learning curve graffitti threw at users, for example.

The stock Android keyboard is completely depressing. In fact, it’s pretty much the one thing left on Android on the platform which makes me wince. The X’s excellent Blur multitouch keyboard and even better swype input methods more than mitigate the mammoth device lacking a hardware keyboard. The sheer size of the screen is what really makes it easy to type.



DLNA Media Sharing

One of the other bullet points the X touts over the HTC Incredible is DLNA compatible media sharing. The X will prompt you when a connection is available whenever you’re joined to a WiFi network with a DLNA device, unless you uncheck a configuration box.

DLNA Media Sharing

I enabled sharing on my X with all of the file stores on the device. The result was moderate success. My PS3 saw the X immediately, and upon connection handshake the X asked if the PS3 should be allowed to connect.

PS3 - DLNA

If you shared Photos, Video, and Music, all three will show up. Playing back photos worked on the PS3, but loading the images themselves took a while and brought CPU use on the X to its highest 1 GHz clock state each time and network throughput to a solid 5 megabits/s. I wouldn’t expect the phone to last long under that kind of load.

Photos immediately worked fine, videos were a different story. The problem is that the 3gp/3g2 video format isn’t part of the DLNA spec - the result was that I couldn’t play any of the videos on the PS3. Similarly with music, even though Android plays back and likes ogg vorbis music (which I’ve encoded a bit of my library to for Android), it won’t work over DLNA.

That’s nobody’s fault but the DLNA spec - it’s just a drawback.

As for the Xbox 360, although I would get a prompt on the X that the device wanted to connect (which I approved), the X never showed up in the list of sources for content playback. It just wouldn’t do anything.
 



Micro HDMI Out

So what about that micro HDMI port on the device? The X joins a small number of smartphones packing an HDMI port of the micro variety. I’m going to start by just noting that it’s very difficult to find one of these cables except at a carrier store. Ironically, I got Anand’s HTC EVO 4G the same day I was planning on doing media center testing with the X and proceeded to spend the next few hours searching for a cable - neither the X nor the EVO bundle even an adapter. I ended up having luck at a Sprint store - point is that these cables aren’t very popular yet.

So how does HDMI out work? Its functionality is very basic right now and is limited largely to playing back a slideshow of photos from the gallery application, or video playback. I found that although the pictures slideshow worked fine, the transitions were slightly low framerate, the photos never filled up my display entirely (not even aspect ratio correct stretched, just centered and small), and generally it left me wondering why anyone wouldn’t just use DLNA to view them over something else. Maybe throw in some Ken Burns effect eyecandy, Motorola?


Playing back a video captured on the X - the phone turns into a control interface

Videos captured on the phone itself played like I expected them to and sounded excellent as well.

Motorola will have a media dock available which promises a few more things, specifically audio playback, but without rooting and modding the device HDMI out is a bit limited. You can’t make the entire Android interface appear on your TV, for example.

There’s an HDMI settings menu in the settings menu. Inside, you can set the video output format to a maximum of 720P. I left it on automatic. There’s no other configuration here - nothing for whether you want HDMI to be the device’s sound out method, video out method, or anything else. It’s just this.

720P out does work, but 1080P is what I'm really holding out for, with bitstreaming please?

While the EVO supports YouTube over HDMI, the X does not. Videos that you can browse to and open with a file browser play over HDMI whenever the cable is connected. I had the most success with MP4 videos using the H.264 codec at 1500 kbps. I tried every type of audio profile but couldn’t get surround working on the X - for whatever reason I could only get stereo.

The music player also for whatever reason doesn’t play over HDMI when the cable is connected. However, with a bit of trickery I could get pandora or whatever audio I wanted playing over the HDMI out. Just fire up the music, then fire up gallery. Boom, all your audio will go over HDMI. It’s handy I guess if you’ve got an A/V receiver but don’t have a headphone 1/8” audio cable laying around.

When you’re doing anything that has HDMI output enabled (the photo gallery or video playback), the device turns into a basic control interface like I showed before. There are some monstrous buttons and one at the top left to exit out of HDMI playback.  

Remember HTC’s excuse that the reason for the 30 FPS framerate cap was HDMI video playback? I was curious and used the Droid2Dtest application others have used on the EVO which showed the 30 FPS cap on the X.

The X is capped to 60 FPS, unlike the EVO’s 30, as shown in the overlaid screenshots above which I've annotated. Yep.

Perhaps the discrepancy is that HTC needed the 30 FPS cap for YouTube playback (which the X lacks). Either way, it’s clear that the reason HTC was capping the EVO is a bit more complicated than just for HDMI out. It’s also possible that the SoC difference is the case - remember that the Snapdragon SoC has the Adreno 200 GPU whereas the OMAP 3630 in the X has PowerVR SGX 530. It’s entirely possible HTC’s cap was there for hardware limitation reasons.

Motorola's Gallery

I mentioned the gallery while talking about HDMI out - it isn’t the Android gallery experienced on stock devices. Motorola has clearly rolled something of its own, and though it isn’t as flashy, it does get the job done.

I also noticed that it seemed a bit faster at loading previews than the stock android gallery, though at times I was still left staring at a ton of blank thumbnails.

 
Rotate the phone into landscape and you also get a cover flow like 3D view you can slide along. The framerate here is super fluid.

 


 



Connectivity

The X supports CDMA 800/1900 and Ev-DO Revision A for data. There’s also Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, and WiFi 802.11g/n. I did notice N working at 72 megabits/s which seems to be the standard negotiated N connection speed for smartphones lately.

I’m somewhat of a speedtest freak, and I’ve run just shy of 100 speedtests on the X over cellular data. My average downstream speed has come to 0.91 megabits/s, upload is 0.73 megabits/s. This is completely on par with what I’d expect from CDMA 200 Ev-DO Rev.A networks. Though it isn’t anything special, I give the X credit for performing up to par, especially considering the number of... erm... devices that are shipping with some variety of radio problem.

Unfortunately, I did experience a lot of disconnections when connecting to N wireless networks. Searching online, a lot of people seem to be experiencing the same issue. Initially this posed a big problem for our WiFi page loading battery life benchmark, as I had to keep checking every 10 minutes to see if the phone was still connected. Later, I tried connecting to my WRT54G-TM running tomato (802.11g) and completed the test with a solid connection.

Later, I ran my WiFi throughput tests and noticed that the connection would drop on 802.11n whenever throughput started to go very fast, as it approached real N rates on my network. I switched back and forth between a WRT600N and latest generation Airport Extreme - both elicited the same behavior. The connection would drop, and sometimes not resume until I manually turned WiFi off and back on. This is very similar to some of the connectivity issues I’ve experienced with immature 802.11n stacks on the desktop, or due to chipset incompatibilities. Connecting to 802.11g, I was able to hold a solid connection without trouble.

Clearly the problem seems to be with the WiFi stack when connected to 802.11n networks. Hopefully this will be corrected in the future with some software update. There were rumors that this would be fixed with the July 19th update to 1.13.604 - it seems that review units were pushed this update a week early, as I saw it a while ago. WiFi still drops and reconnects periodically even running this version of the software and baseband.

Throughput on the X while downloading a 100 MB PDF stored locally was 16.8 megabits/s.

I also noticed that the X has longer wireless range than the EVO. I’ve been asked in the past to test wireless range - the X, Nexus One, and iPhone 4 I had on hand all kept stable WiFi connections to roughly the same distance.

Cellular Antennas

There’s also been a bit of discussion lately about the X’s diversity antenna configuration. If nothing else, the iPhone 4 antenna controversy has drawn attention to the fact that attenuation due to the composition of your hand happens on all devices.


Getting signal strength in dBm on Android is as easy as about -> status. Or a documented dialer code.

So how does the X fare? I saw a worst case drop of 15 dB on the X, cupping it tightly death grip style. I had an original Droid side by side and saw the same signal (-89 dBm at my house), so reception without holding the phone is unscientifically the same. The X drops signal about the same amount of signal due to attenuation from your hand being in the way as every other smartphone with an internal antenna. 15 dB is completely typical.

Signal Attenuation Comparison in dB - Lower is Better
  Cupping Tightly Holding Naturally On an Open Palm Holding Naturally Inside Case
Droid X 15.0 5.1 4.5 NA
iPhone 4 24.6 19.8 9.2 7.2
iPhone 3GS 14.3 1.9 0.2 3.2
HTC Nexus One 17.7 10.7 6.7 7.7

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with the X’s spatially diverse antennas - I could make signal drop when holding the bottom of the phone, which is standard placement area for smartphone antennas these days, yet no drop happened when I cupped the top half tightly. I’m not saying definitively that there isn’t spatial diversity for the cellular antenna, just that I could never see evidence of it in the numbers. Perhaps Motorola is doing something much more subtle, or the value being reported in Field Trial is only for the bottom antenna - it’s entirely possible that the reporting I saw in the Field Trial and About -> Status doesn't reflect what the baseband is seeing.

I noticed something else curious and briefly made mention of it before. On the back of the phone under the battery door, there’s a gold contact that makes contact with the battery door. There are also three metal connectors that make contact with the tabs that lock the door in place.

Is the X pulling an iPhone 4 with creative antenna design? It seems possible, though I’m not sure what it’s being used for. WiFi signal strength is the same with the battery door on and off, as is cellular, and GPS. It also isn’t being used to tell if the door is on or not, as the device works the same with it on or off. Perhaps this is just for grounding.



Camera

The X, like the EVO and Incredible, packs an 8 megapixel Omnivision camera SoC, most likely the OmniVision OV8810 (same as the EVO and Incredible) with 1.4 µm square pixels. This sensor has a reported sensitivity of 650 mV/lux-sec, and is likewise backside illuminated. For comparison, the iPhone 4’s 5 megapixel OV5650 SoC has a sensitivity of 1300 mV/lux-sec and pixel sizes 1.75 µm square.


OV8810 - The Sensor in X, Incredible, and EVO 4G

Sensitivity in this case refers to just how much voltage a pixel creates per 1 lux-sec (one lux of light for one second) of exposure. Thus, more voltage is better and results in higher SNR, and less noise on the image.

If you recall back to our iPhone 4 piece, I talked a lot about why backside illumination is relevant as pixel sizes continue to shrink. Quantum efficiency (sensitivity) is one critical reason, but the other is quantum blurring negatively affecting image contrast (MTF). If you’re interested, you can read more here.

Camera Interface

Details of the camera SoC aside, the X foregoes the typical Android camera interface and instead brings its own. It’s different than the one used on the original Droid, and not like HTC’s interface.

On the right are some quick access buttons for scenes, effects, flash, and switching to video. Press menu, and you’ll get picture modes, tags, and settings. Confused yet as to what the difference between scenes, effects, and modes are?

Scenes allows you to set some quick shooting scenarios that the camera will hopefully adjust for. There’s auto, portrait, landcape, sport, night portrait, sunset, macro, and steady shot. I left the camera on auto for all of the test shots. Effects lets you apply filters to the images, such as black and white, negative, sepia, solarize, red green or blue tint, or normal if you’re feeling generic. Flash as expected comes with auto, on, and off modes.

Camera Settings

In the top left, you can tap on a tag symbol and toggle GPS assisted location tagging, or custom tags. Hit up settings, and you can change the picture resolution between full 8 MP, 6 MP widescreen, 5 MP medium, and small 3 or 2 MP presets. There also are settings for ISO equivalent sensitivity and exposure. The camera also promises face detection for autofocus, more on that later. The volume buttons control digital zoom.

I mentioned earlier that the X got an OTA update about midway through my time with it. One of the things it addressed was a camera complaint I had begun documenting but is obviously irrelevant now. Before the OTA update, the image preview was higher resolution, but white balance and other color correction effects didn’t show up in the live preview. In effect, the snapped photo was often an entirely different temperature, and looked entirely different. Since the update, Motorola has made the live preview accurately reflect the color temperature of the captured photo, at the cost of a sizable chunk of resolution.

It’s hard to describe how the preview looks now, but it’s no longer of native resolution on the screen, instead appearing slightly blurry and of lower resolution. Viewing the captured photo shows the native quality, but the preview and live view aren’t how the used to be. I took side by side photos of the same subject with an EVO, but even there it's difficult to really see how much the preview differs - either way, it's there. It just doesn't look as good.

Camera launch is between 3-4 seconds now, another of the things the OTA update addressed. It’s relatively speedy but not instantaneous, though none of the smartphone camera launches are. Motorola again uses a colored, two-position dedicated button for shutter control.
 



Still Captures

What’s particularly interesting about the X is that it contains a bonafide mechanical shutter system that actually actuates. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s there. In what testing I’ve done, the shutter actually seems to activate of the time in low light situations than in bright light outdoors, which is a bit paradoxical to me. If you look close in the video, you can actually see the lens assembly go in and out for focusing, which is pretty normal.

Stills themselves aren’t amazing on the Droid X, but a definite step up from the camera on the Motorola Droid. If you’re making that jump, the difference will be a welcome improvement in camera quality.

You can compare all of the shots we’ve taken at 7 different locations in the gallery below. I’ve updated the results with an example shot from a Nikon D80 DSLR as well for comparison as something of a baseline. We’ve now got photos from the Droid X, EVO 4G, HTC Incredible, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, KIN ONE, KIN TWO (which has the competing 8 megapixel Sony IMX046 SoC), Motorola Droid, N900, and Nexus One. Location 7 and 4 are the most interesting, in my estimation.

The shots really speak for themselves. The EVO 4G and Incredible tend to oversaturate and over-sharpen, and the iPhone 4 does have some over-saturation of its own.



What I found particularly interesting about the X’s shooting modes for stills was in picture modes. The X will let you shoot stills very quickly at the expense of quality - they’re captured at 1 megapixel - in multi-shot mode. You don’t get to dictate when the exposures take place, 6 photos are just captured in rapid succession.

Next, there’s a self portrait mode that uses face detection to take your photo whenever it sees a face. Remember face detection I hit on earlier? This is an interesting application for it. Unfortunately, it refuses to detect my face and take the photo about 80% of the time. I even used my notebook’s built in webcam to monitor what was going on and if my face was in the frame. Even perfectly centered, most of the time inexplicably no dice. It even pops up a “no faces detected” box after 30 seconds. Apparently I’m a vampire or somesuch living undead.

But what I found really intriguing was the included auto stitch panorama mode. This is one of the most interesting applications I’ve seen for the compass; location aware image stitching. That’s right, you go into this mode, and can stitch together six images. That’s been done before, sure, but in the bottom left, you get an augmented reality preview showing how far you need to rotate to the next position before a photo is automatically captured. Repeat the process, and the software stitches the images back together automatically.


Panorama - Stitched entirely on the X

It’s hard to really describe how it works without a video, so I took one of me making the above panorama:

There’s just something so right about this process - I shouldn’t have to manually overlay bits of the previous image if the smartphone already has a good enough compass to know what direction we’re pointed, so do it in software! The X does precisely that.
 



Video

The X joins a number of smartphones shooting 720P video. It shoots 1280x720 video in MPEG-4 format at a full 30 FPS with AAC audio. This is up from the 24 FPS of the original Motorola Droid as mentioned earlier. Average video bitrate is nearly 1 megabyte/s. As expected, you can force the LED on and shoot video with illumination. 720P video capture is limited to 30 minutes at a time.

The layout of the video interface is virtually identical to the still interface. You can launch camcorder to get directly to shooting video, or just use camera for stills, or either one and switch between.

I found video quality to be almost as good as the iPhone 4’s, which is arguably the current leader. The EVO 4G’s video looks oversaturated and uses a noticeably worse audio codec, AMR narrowband. Though video bitrate is almost the same, I notice more blocking in the EVO 4G’s video than the X’s. I shot the X and EVO videos in the same hand at the exact same time, so feel free to do comparison on your own. Still, it’s hard to deny that the X’s video doesn’t look much more like what you’d expect, and the difference is all software and that SoC difference surprisingly.

Motorola Droid X

HTC EVO 4G

Nexus One

iPhone 4

iPhone 3GS

HTC Droid Incredible

Motorola Droid

Nokia N900


The X also uses that three microphone array to do a lot of special noise canceling. The result is four different audio “scenes” for the user when in video mode. Everyday captures audio from every microphone, outdoors reduces wind noise, concert is for preventing microphone distortion and capturing loud music videos, narrative is for capturing videos while commenting on the scene, and lastly subject is for capturing video with audio from the front of the camera. I tried all of the audio scenes with the exception of subject, and found that they actually do a decently good job.

I’m impressed with how good of a job the narrative mode did - while shooting the video I couldn’t hear myself talk most of the time and didn’t expect much in the way of results. My test videos are the following:

Droid X - Outdoor Setting

Droid X - Narrative Setting

Droid X - Everyday Setting

Droid X - Concert Setting

Unless I’m mistaken, the X has the most microphones of any smartphone on the market, and I think Motorola has put some interesting use scenarios together with their five different sound scenes. It’s interesting that Motorola bills the X as a camcorder, dedicating a special application tile to camcorder over stills.

But that's not all, there's also video shooting modes that are a bit special, same as there were camera modes for stills. The X provides settings for slow motion and fast motion. When I saw the slow motion setting, I immediately suspected that higher framerate would come at the cost of video resolution. Really there are two reasons for that - pixel binning to gather enough light given a faster (shorter) integration time, and to keep the load on the SoC video encoder block the same.

As you'll see shortly, my suspicions were correct. Slow motion video is shot at 320x240 with no audio. Similarly, fast motion mode seems to reduce sampling but keep the encoded rate the same, similarly there is no audio in the file.

Droid X - Slow Motion Setting

Droid X - Fast Motion Setting

I did encounter one rather catastrophic crash while testing. After changing microphone effect modes, the camera preview went portrait, ditched all of the control interface, and refused to quit. After a minute of mashing the home button, I was able to finally get back to the home screen, but launching the camera again yielded the same thing. This all happened live, right where I was shooting test videos on the corner.


See what's wrong?

A reboot solved the whole thing, but perhaps this is something Motorola could take a look at fixing.
 



Hotspot Use

 
Optional WiFi tethering is finally becoming a top-tier smartphone feature, with a number of recent smartphones offering out of the box hotspot functionality for an additional monthly fee. The X is no exception and also packs WiFi hotspot functionality. The obvious comparison is the EVO 4G’s built in tethering interface. Next to it, the X’s looks a bit barebones, only offering very basic configuration and an active users list.

The EVO’s has more eye candy but really no additional functionality. It’ll be interesting to see how HTC and Motorola integrate the WiFi tethering features from froyo into their platforms. For an extra $20/month, the X will allow up to 5 devices to connect, with a 2 GB per month cap. The EVO allows 8 users to connect.

I decided we needed to do some real-world hotspot testing and find out what battery life really looks like. To do so, I loaded up four tabs of our page loading suite which loads through a set of more than a dozen pages every 20 seconds. Two tabs with 1-4 flash ads, two tabs with no flash ads. I also fired up a 64 kilobit/s streaming radio station. All of this was on one wireless client in the same room. The screen is off, and any other background applications were killed before launch.

It’s a heavy load, but not unlike what you could potentially see in the real world. I also tested my Nexus One, but had some instability and lost connection before the test completed. After tweaking my setup, I got some numbers.

We see that the EVO and X alike have very similar tethering lifetime. I noticed that the EVO’s wireless range was notably less, however. Looking at the numbers, it seems possible that Android's native implementation in Froyo offers a small but notable battery life benefit.

General Battery Life

When I tested the original Droid, I was shocked by the long call time battery life. True to form, the X also has impressively long CDMA talk time. For being a big phone, the X also pulls some impressive other battery numbers thanks to being the second device on the market with a 45 nm process SoC.

The results are definitely interesting - the X has the longest battery life among devices running Android 2.1.
 



Screen

The X, like the original Droid and HTC EVO, uses a traditional LCD TFT display instead of AMOLED like we’ve seen in the Nexus One and HTC Incredible. As noted earlier, the X also keeps the same FWVGA resolution as the original Droid, but increases screen size to 4.3 inches.

Left: Motorola Droid, Right: Motorola Droid X (Same size)

The result is that PPI drops from 266 on the Motorola Droid to 228 on the X. The EVO uses a more Android standard 800 x 480 WVGA resolution, but has slightly lower PPI at 217. The end result is that pixels are more visible on the EVO than the X, losing out to the original Droid. For reference the iPhone 4 comes in at 330 PPI.


Left to right: EVO 4G, Droid X, Nexus One, iPhone 4

One of the first things that struck me about the X’s screen was that it appeared undersaturated at first glance. To some extent, this is the result of me being used to looking at oversaturated Android elements on AMOLED devices. I’ve only spent a limited time with the EVO display, but it looks like HTC has increased saturation to make it look comparable to the HTC Incredible.

It’s more than likely that what the display looks like on the X is actually how the Android UI really looks. This could be a problem of perception for people that buy the X; even though the display itself might be more representative of what colors really look like, because it isn’t oversaturated (and thus what people are used to seeing), it might set wrong impressions about color accuracy.

As noted before, the HTC Incredible and Nexus One displays show 0 nits of brightness on our i1D2 colorimeter, so contrast is technically nearly infinite, which is why they’re omitted from the contrast chart.

Outdoors, smartphone displays still photograph poorly and don't look great either. However, I found the X to be no less enjoyable than any other device outside if you were patient and careful to keep it in the shade.

It certainly looks and seems better than the Nexus One's AMOLED display, furthering the bad rap that AMOLED has for outside viewability.
 
I've added a gallery with all of the screen comparison shots at native resolution if you want to do a detailed comparison of your own.
 

Speakerphone

In keeping with our smartphone reviews, I measured the loudness of the X’s speakerphone using an Extech sound meter 6 inches above the display of the device. I call an automated weather report ASOS number, and wait for the call to complete. The average loudness in dBA is reported below. In all cases, ambient noise floor is a controlled 51.8 dBA.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice I updated the display and speakerphone charts with data from the HTC EVO since Anand sent his my way. Here, we see the EVO 4G taking the loudness crown by a decent margin. The X’s speakerphone is decently loud, but not the absolute loudest in the pack.

 



Conclusions

It’s hard to argue that the new Motorola Droid X hasn’t captured the Android performance and flagship crown once again. Eight months after the original Motorola Droid, Motorola has launched a worthy successor. Further into the summer, we'll see a true followuup to the original Droid - the Droid 2. It will pack an improved hardware keyboard, the same size and form factor as the first Droid, and probably the same SoC as the X.


Motorola Droid X. Image Courtesy of Sarah Trainor.

The X brings a lot more than just a bigger screen and the Blur interface - after the iPhone 4, it's the second phone on the market with a 45nm SoC. TI's OMAP 3630 is the new Snapdragon. You get the same real world performance as a 1GHz Snapdragon, but with much better GPU performance. Unfortunately for TI the latter only really matters in 3D games, which are still at their infancy on smartphones.There's still some occasional choppiness scrolling through menus, but that seems to be an Android thing
 
The battery life offered by Motorola's design (both hardware and software) and the OMAP 3630 is just great. Despite its size the Droid X lastest the longest on a single charge of any Android phone we've tested thus far. While the iPhone 4 lasts longer for browsing, the X is our new champion for talk time weighing in at just under 9 hours. We're only a generation or two away from all smartphones having better-than-notebook battery life for all of our major tasks.
 
If you're on Verizon and prefer the larger screen, the Droid X takes our pick for the best Android phone on the market today. All we really need is a good Nexus One successor for those users who want something a bit smaller, and maybe an entirely new form factor for the ultimate smallest in devices.
 
From a higher vantagepoint, the Droid X isn't going to change your opinion on Android. If you love the OS then you'll be very happy with the device. While we would definitely appreciate Froyo on the X today, we're starting to get really excited about Android 3.0 (Gingerbread) due out by the end of the year. 
 
There are also OMAP 4 and Tegra 2 to keep in mind. While the 3630 is the cream of the crop today, in less than 12 months it'll move down to mainstream and we'll be pining for the next wave of dual-core Cortex A9 smartphones. We wouldn't recommend waiting another year if you need a new phone, but just plan on wanting to upgrade really bad next year.

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