The summer of my Droid
A six-month fling with the Android-based smartphone could lead to a more permanent relationship
“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do,” sings HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” as astronaut Dave pulls its plug. Now I have my own miniature version of HAL in a Verizon Wireless Droid by Motorola, kindly lent to me for a six-month review stint by Sherri Cunningham at CP Communications. And like Dave, I’m going to have to pull the plug on it. But unlike HAL, this Droid didn’t malfunction. Far from it.
It’s been a whirlwind six months for me, cradling the Droid on the Washington Metro subway every morning and home every night. And as someone who railed against the smartphone-ization of life, I have to say, I’ve had to face my own smartphone addiction.
I used the Droid on the Metro in my daily trips to the GCN Lab in Falls Church, Va., out to the evening class I teach at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., and back home to Bethesda, Md. The Droid’s handy Web browser, gorgeous display screen and lighted, highly usable slide-out keyboard — it all worked like a charm. I almost never lost a signal, except one or two times as the Metro went under the Potomac River between the Foggy Bottom station in D.C. and the Courthouse Metro station in Arlington, Va. The charge would last all day. A few times the yellow indicator in the top right corner of the screen came on, saying it was time to recharge, but for the most part I got through whole days on one charge of an hour or less.
It let me keep in touch with my students and editors by e-mail during this peripatetic summer. And even though I don’t have a car at the moment, I ended up using the Car Home feature when I had to take taxis — it helped me give the cab driver better directions and saved some frustration.
But a few times I found myself leaning a little too heavily on the Droid. At a social gathering in May, I didn’t know anybody. Did I use what was left of my social skills to strike up a conversation about the weather with someone? No, I pulled out my Droid and started surfing. I had become what I once loathed, a person who walks around head down, staring at a smartphone. But I can’t blame the Droid for this — this was my own cowardly choice, to surf instead of socialize.
The apps that came pre-loaded onto my Droid all worked with a light tap of the thumb. I developed a serious YouTube habit on the long Metro rides home, watching the musical version of “Legally Blonde” a couple of times. Favorite clip: “How’s THIS for a personal essay?” You go, Elle Woods! Apps for news sites, photos, Gmail, Amazon.com, Facebook, games and the Weather Channel were also quite helpful on my daily trek within the Washington Beltway.
I didn’t have as much luck at the Android Market. I had trouble sifting through the thousands of apps to find one I really wanted. I downloaded a free calorie counter that was sort of lame — it seemed to require a lot of searching for something as simple as “piece of toast.” I just want to call up a food, click, and stick it into some sort of daily food diary. It went through an upgrade during the six months, adding a barcode feature so you could use the Droid’s built-in barcode scanner to scan a candy bar wrapper. The app would upload the nutritional information from the barcode, telling you how many of the candy bar’s 250 calories were from fat. You could then click to add this to your food diary. But it just seems like there are easier calorie-counting apps out there. Weight Watchers gets high marks for its mobile app, but alas, it’s not available for the Droid yet, only iPhones and BlackBerrys, nor is it free.
This Droid certainly enriched my summer and made the long commutes a lot more tolerable. I’m almost tempted to buy my own Droid, a shocking admission, given my track record of thriftiness. In short, to answer HAL’s musical question: Yes, I’d consider a more permanent relationship with a Droid.