2011
07.02

Droid Inside X2

I was lurking on a conference call about a month ago, when the strangest thing happened. A series of touch-tones began intruding on the call, making further conferencing impossible. Since I had destinated at work, I decided to hang up and head for my office.

By Sunday night, three days later, it had become apparent that the Old (Motorola Original) Black Droid just wasn’t what she used to be. There were enough “phantom” touches to render it useless, and after much fiddling, I declared it totaled, and decided to move on. (Soon after I ordered the new phone, a colleague clued me in that the Droid’s apparent touch-screen failure was actually a screen-protector problem, so Old Droid’s fine now.)

I really, really wanted a physical keyboard, but I was also aware that I wanted to reach for as much platform performance as possible, because if I changed phones, I wanted to get at least another two or three Android versions hence. Physical Keyboards are getting hard to come by, which is slightly strange, since Android Froyo, even under Moto-Blur, seems to assume you have one, in various ways.  I looked longingly at the Droid 2 Global, but I really didn’t need to roam globally — when I go abroad, there’s almost always some other source of phone, so the need to slip a sim card into my CDMA phone is small, and doesn’t really provide any advantage. You’re going to use another number anyways.

So, I took a deep breath and went for the Droid X2. Dual Core, good chance for Ice Cream Sandwich readiness, and beyond, but no keyboard.  (My new X2 came with Froyo, and bright future for Gingerbread is on the horizon, we hope.)

The size of the thing is the first yay/boo item. The screen is big and beautiful, makes the phone a little big in-pocket.  The truth is that I can type about an order-of-magnitude faster on the X2′s soft keyboard than on the Droid’s physical. Still, I miss the deterministic cursor positioning of the trackpad.  If you think your text entry is OK, try writing Python code with it in SL4A; you’ll turn off all the auto-correction post-haste.

The X2 comes with a built-in 4 GB flash area which is mounts as “/sdcard” (aka /mnt/sdcard), which is where apps expect to find the SD card, and the removable sdcard ends up as “/sdcard-ext” (aka /mnt/sdcard-ext), which, once you get your mind around it, is nice.  What it means is that your bulky videos and stuff can go in /sdcard-ext, while the things you want to stay with the phone, like your PGP keys, important apps etc, go in /sdcard.

The lack of a slide-out keyboard makes putting a protective skin on it more plausible; my old Droid went through phases, with the hard snap-on plastic annoyance, later rubber pads stuck on strategic surfaces. Something that I really liked about Old Droid was its non-skid. My Original iPhone had been a constant nuisance because it wouldn’t stay put. It was too slippery, but with the rubber jacket on, it was hard to get in and out of pockets. The Droid had a nice rubberish coating on it that made it stay where I put it. The X2 is a little bit non-skid, but less so than Droid.

After running a couple of benchmarks on the new X2, and comparing with Droid, I noticed that although it goes faster, and is noticeably peppier during use, it may not be configured, as delivered to exploit both cores.

A cat of /proc/cpuinfo:

Processor        : ARMv7 Processor rev 0 (v7l)
processor        : 0
BogoMIPS        : 1992.29

Features        : swp half thumb fastmult vfp edsp vfpv3 vfpv3d16
CPU implementer        : 0x41
CPU architecture: 7
CPU variant        : 0x1
CPU part        : 0xc09
CPU revision        : 0

Hardware        : Daytona
Revision        : 83a0

Only reports one core, albeit one with 8 times the BogoMIPS that the Old Droid reports (249.15).

For so much hype about dual-core power, Droid X2′s do not tend to fare well with benchmarks, mine ranking at 12794 in Antutu (free in the market).

The Rub

One big bugaboo with Droid X2 — its video decoding is inexplicably buggy. From my extensive selection of MP4 files encoded over the last 7 years, some files play, and some just get stuck, or have a 20 second unsync between picture and sound. These files play reliably on PSP, iPhone, Droid, In Windows and Mac OS, with QuickTime, VLC, and Windows Media Player, and with various media players on Ubuntu, so don’t (sh, sh, don’t) tell me that Droid X2′s video decode is OK, or per spec when the others weren’t.  It’s broken, and it should have never shipped that way. Luckily, there is a decent work-around. Install MoboPlayer (for free, from the Market) and “MoboPlayer Codec for ARMV7FP3“, and then set it to use “Default Using Soft-Decoding”.  When you have done this, your extensive SouthPark and SpongeBob collection will be ready for the road again.

Several bloat-apps are included, but the two game demos I got, “Need For Speed: <something-something>”, and “Let’s Golf”, are deletable. The others, (evil-Blockbuster,  and some Verizon crap) are not. The bloat factor is annoying, but not to a prize-winning extent, by any means.

I am conflicted about the standard Android buttons. Why are they in a different order? (note to focus groups: don’t express your true feelings — lie to get what you want. Or maybe what I mean is “lie to get what I want”). There really wasn’t (sh, sh, no don’t) any good reason to rearrange the buttons. Also, they’re physical buttons, that require force to depress, which is completely different from Droid, and makes one-handed use more difficult. Of course, it was too easy to accidentally hit the Droid touch-buttons, so I concede the point, I guess. The camera has no physical button, but the one on Droid was a funky pain-in-the-ass, and I tended to use the on-screen one anyways.

Lastly, I would like to change the ever-present default icons at the bottom of the screen. Specifically, to remove the default Android mail app, which I don’t use.  A different kind of bloatware is the auto-install partition that pops up for MotoHelper, which apparently is simply another driver-update virus. This is a nuisance, and I suggest just changing your auto-insert settings to exclude it, rather than installing it. I installed it at home, and so far it’s pretty quiet, but at work I just told 7 to shut up about it.

Conclusion

So far, besides the video decode and various getting-to-know-one-another turbulences, the X2 and I are getting along pretty well. I hope for some cluefulness in the next update, but you know how that goes.

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