Earlier this month Skatter Tech reviewed the Motorola Droid, now the flagship device for Verizon Wireless. Another phone, the HTC Droid Eris, was also announced that day, but was lost in all the attention and chaos. The Droid Eris is the Verizon Wireless version of the HTC Hero on Sprint, which we reviewed as well. We even snapped a few comparison shots to show off the visual hardware differences. While the Droid Eris doesn’t have nearly all the bells and whistles the Motorola Droid does, it’s more affordable and still has a lot of smartphone features to offer.
The Hardware – 4/5 stars
The Droid Eris is one of the best-looking smart phones I’ve come across. It’s definitely looks friendlier than the robotic Motorola Droid and cuter than it’s Sprint sibling the HTC Hero. It has an attractive soft black-coated finish and silver trims on the side. It’s fairly light weight and can slip into just about any pocket. There are four touch sensitive keys below the display: Home, Menu, Back, and Search. The inclusion of physical send and end keys are appreciated. HTC also implemented a special trackball for navigating the interface. It even lights up when notifications are available. There’s a standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the top, a 5 megapixel camera on the back, and a volume rocker on the side. I was slightly disappointed to find that the Eris uses a HTC proprietary USB cable and that microSD expansion slot (8GB card included, supports 16GB card max) was hidden behind the rear plate.
The Display – 4/5 stars
The HTC Eris sports a 3.2 inch capacitive touchscreen display with a 320 x 480 pixel resolution. The display is bright, has great viewing angles, and colors. The ambient light sensor automatically brightens up the display, making it easier to read, when outdoors and dims down the display to save battery life in darker areas. The built in proximity disables accidental inputs during phone calls by locking the display when held to your ear. The UI can also switch to a landscape mode from portrait using the built in accelerometer, but unfortunately only works in one direction. While most people would be quite satisfied with this display, they’ll still be stunned to see detail, quality, and difference in resolution when compared to the Motorola Droid. Despite that, it’s still looks great for the UI, images, web pages, and videos.
Camera & Camcorder – 4/5 stars
The HTC Droid Eris sports a 5 megapixel camera. It supports digital zoom and auto-focus, but unfortunately lacks a built in flash. Max image resolution is 2560 x 1712 pixels. The interface allows customizing the white balance and brightness. The advance settings reveals a self-timer, time stamp, geo-tagging, ISO, and other enhancement features. Launching the camera is a split second faster than the iPhone 3GS. The view finder was quite snappy and more responsive than I had expected. When it comes to capturing images, quality is about on par with the Motorola Droid. Just like most camera phones, the Droid Eris works great outdoors, but faces difficulty in low-light situations. The HTC Eris supports recording videos of any length, only limited by storage space, in a max resolution of 352 x 288 pixels. While the quality was decent, it’s still not a match to the Motorola Droid’s DVD quality recordings.
Music, Media, & Syncing – 5/5 stars
While the Apple iPhone has been known for it’s phenomenal media playback capabilities and an amazing user interface, it’s hard to have high expectations for other devices. The entire Android platform still isn’t entirely on par with Apple iPhone OS, but it gets quite close with the HTC Sense UI. With an included 8GB microSDHC card and support for up to 16GB of expansion, this is definitely a worthy alternative/replacement for a dedicated multimedia player. First off, there’s a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, so no adapters are needed. Syncing music is easy. The power cable is actually modular, it separates from the AC adapter plug, becoming a USB cable. Just plug it into a computer and tell the Eris to mount the microSD card from the notification menu. It immediately becomes a standard mass storage device, much like a USB flash drive. Unfortunately, there’s no official tool to sync music or other media, you’ll have to do it manually. Windows Media Player 12 in Windows 7 was able to work with the Droid Eris quite smoothly. Motorola actually offers a sync tool for their Droid. Once you get the music onto the device, there’s a neat little HTC widget that goes on any of the home screens. It lets you control playback and view album art without launching the player. Since it’s Android, the phone supports playing music through the built in player or through an application such as Pandora in the background while using other applications. The music player interface allows browsing your library by Artists, Albums, Playlists, Songs, Genres, and Composers. The Droid Eris also supports setting songs in your library as a ringtone and purchasing new tracks from the Amazon MP3 music store.
User Interface – 4/5 stars
The Droid Eris by HTC runs on version 1.5 of the Android Operating System. It’s a step behind the Motorola Droid which is running Android 2.0 and even the HTC My Touch 3G running on Android 1.6. The Droid Eris supposedly might get a jump to version 2.0 sometime next month. Despite that, the OS seems to be quite well polished for the most part. Especially with HTC using their Sense UI, the user experience and flow is vastly improved. In fact, I found that I liked the variety of widgets available on the Droid Eris over the flagship Motorola Droid. The only issue I found was occasional lag. Even with a 528MHz processor, 288MB of RAM, and 512MB of ROM, the HTC Eris is still not as snappy as the iPhone 3GS or the Motorola Droid. The messaging tools via both the Gmail App and the Mail client are both impressively powerful and compatible with just about any email service. (IMAP, POP, & Exchange supported) SMS/MMS integration is quite well implemented. It displays contact images and displays an entire conversation history. The Android OS also supports linking contacts to their Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter accounts. Simply clicking on a contact card will display their contact info, their location on a map, conversations with them, their Facebook status updates, their photos from social networks, and call history. It even syncs with Google Contacts and becomes available to modify and add too through a web browser. The on screen keyboard has both landscape and portrait modes with haptic (vibrating) feedback, making it fairly easy to use. While I wouldn’t be able to begin to mention all the amazing Applications available through the Android Marketplace, there are 10,000 of them available. The only thing this phone doesn’t have is the free Google Maps Navigator app with turn-by-turn voice guided directions that was originally available on the Motorola Droid and then became available to other Android v1.6 devices. The learning curve is quick and most customers will love it.
Call Quality – 5/5 stars
Over the week or two I’ve had this phone, I’ve definitely had a better signal and call quality compared to the Apple iPhone. The Verizon Wireless network was by far more superior in terms of signal strength, call quality, and 3G speeds in Northern California compared to AT&T’s network. I had no dropped calls with the Droid Eris, while I often couldn’t even place calls or had to redial multiple times with the iPhone 3GS. Call quality wasn’t anything special, but was clear and reliable. The SpeedTest.net App showed that the the ping time to the same servers with the Droid Eris had a tenth as much of lag over several tests as the iPhone 3GS. The download speeds with both AT&T and Verizon in the same spot at the same time were fairly identical for Download speeds coming in at 1400kbps for the iPhone 3GS and 1500kbps for the Droid Eris. However Upload speeds were quite astonishing, Verizon had a clear win with about 800kbps on average while AT&T struggled with a mere 100kbps. For the most part, the Droid Eris has great hardware and utilizes the excellent Verizon Wireless network seamlessly. If you enable WiFi to connect to a broadband network, things only get even better.
Battery Life – 4/5 stars
Most smart phones have fairly poor battery life since they are often running applications and constantly using cellular networks to check for email and retrieve other bits of data. The HTC Droid Eris has a replaceable 1300mAh lithium ion battery which can handle up to 5 hours of talk time or at least a week on standby. In reality those numbers were significantly less due to constant fiddling with the phone to use the browser, listen to music, reply to emails, or utilize any of the phone’s variety of features. Most customers will actually see about 3 hours of talk time and about 3 days worth of standby, which isn’t a bad thing. It just means you’re using your phone.
I was quite impressed and satisfied with the Droid Eris for Verizon Wireless just as we were with the HTC Hero on Sprint. It’s got all the goods needed to be a good smartphone from the Android operating system, a touch screen, a good camera, WiFi, and a App store. There’s plenty of features to keep you entertained, informed, and busy at all times. The HTC Sense UI takes the personalization and customizations features to a whole new level which customers will appreciate. It’s also cheapest Android device on the market costing just $99 after a $100 mail-in-rebate and signing a new 2-year contract. A data plan is required. If you are looking for a new entry level smartphone and don’t want to spend too much, this is definitely the best one out there.